Friday, November 11, 2016

What population crisis?

Whenever members of the Socialist Party assert that mankind can end poverty and hunger, we are invariably challenged it is not possible due to the population explosion. Critics tell us that overpopulation would be a barrier to the establishment of socialism as a society of abundance.

The population “crisis” portrays human beings as populating the planet in "unprecedented numbers" and "devouring" its resources like a plague of locusts. All the world’s problems can be traced to too many people, they tell us. First of all, we all should be thinking more qualitatively than quantitatively. Human beings are not a matter of statistical numbers to be placed on a graph. Arithmetic which disregards the actual social context of demographics is incredibly short-sighted. We live in a capitalistic society in which "grow-or-die" accumulation is literally a law of economic survival and competition is the motor of "progress." Competing businesses in a "dog-eat-dog" market must out-produce one another if they are to remain in existence. They must plunder the soil, cut down the world’s forests, kill off its wildlife, pollute its air and foul its waterways not because their intentions are necessarily bad, (although they usually are) but because they must simply economically survive. Would timber companies, mining and drilling corporations and agribusiness render the redwood and Douglas fir forests safer for grizzly bears if - given capitalism's need to accumulate and produce for their own sake - California's population were reduced to one million people? Only a radical restructuring of society as a whole can end the commercial compulsion.

In most countries, birth rates have fallen beyond the national replacement rate and some nations are experiencing population declines. Nor is food supply lagging behind overall population growth. Marx observed that every society has its own "law of population." Demographic policy is always an expression of social policy and the type of society in which a given population lives. Today, most NGOs on the ground would say political factors play a large role in famines than either economic or environmental ones. Poor governance, mismanagement, and conflict contribute to food shortages. The technical problem of providing enough for everyone has long been solved. The real problem is how can human society be arranged to allow sufficient to be produced and distributed amongst mankind. The Socialist Party holds that the only social system which will ensure this is one in which wealth is produced solely to meet human needs on the basis of the common ownership of the resources of the world by the whole of mankind. Today under capitalism, food is not produced to meet human needs and indeed could not be since the resources of the world do not belong to mankind but only to a privileged few. That food is not produced to meet human needs cannot be denied, otherwise, there is no sensible reason why, with the possibility of adequately feeding everybody, millions starve and many millions are undernourished. Food is produced to be sold on a market, and increasingly the world market, with a view to profit. The starving and undernourished millions of the world do not constitute a market as they cannot pay for the food they need. So they are left to starve. Capitalism does indeed have a food problem but not an overpopulation problem.

And when things go wrong we see capitalism at its most vicious. The stark fact is that capitalism is responsible for the starvation of millions of people. Given modern technology, famine is avoidable: wherever it occurs the blame must be laid at the door of the social system that is incapable of meeting human needs. It is not overpopulation that is the problem. Only when the fetters which capitalism places on production have been removed by establishing the common ownership of the means of life can mankind set about ending the threat of famine. Not only is capitalism in effect a system of artificial scarcity, it is also a system of organised waste. Socialist society will use the resources of the earth to ensure that every man, woman, and child is amply fed, clothed and sheltered. Capitalism cannot do this — it does not exist for this purpose!

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