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by George C. Leef, Posted May 1, 2009
Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits by Steven W. Mosher (Transaction Publishers, 2008); 300 pages.
You have probably never heard of Dr. Reimert Ravenholt, but he was one of the most influential people of the 20th century. More than anyone else, Ravenholt was responsible for putting together the worldwide network of population-control programs and agencies. Appointed in 1966 to be the first director of the Office of Population in the United States Agency for International Development, Ravenholt was an arch-Malthusian who saw human fertility as a looming planetary disaster. Backed by a large supply of federal tax dollars, he zealously went about promoting contraception, sterilization, and abortion as the cure for the “plague” of too many children.
The result of Ravenholt’s global crusade against human fertility (which almost always proceeds under such euphemisms as “family planning” or “reproductive health”) has been what Steven Mosher calls in his book Population Control the “white pestilence” — that is, a dearth of children in the population. Mosher, president of Population Research Institute, argues strongly that the Malthusian worry that people would breed themselves into disaster was always wrong, but we do face, if not a disaster, at least severe socioeconomic problems from the fact that in many countries the fertility rate has been below the population-replacement rate for decades.
Mosher has put his finger on another instance of the general case that government intervention in the spontaneous order of the world is counterproductive. When government intervenes, resources are squandered to “solve” a small or imaginary problem and in doing so it creates a large and real problem. I’m delighted that the author has shown that the population-control movement is another of those blunders. As he puts it,
For over half a century, the population controllers have perpetrated a gigantic, costly and inhumane fraud upon the human race, defrauding the people of developing countries of their progeny and the people of the developed world their pocketbooks.
A passionately held but erroneous belief supported by government money and force is always harmful, and Mosher makes a good case that the population- control crusade is one of the worst ever.
The population-control bureaucracy, he shows, usually relies on deception, coercion, and even violence to accomplish its objectives. Local officials are generally paid (with money that came initially from American taxpayers) on the basis of the number of sterilizations and abortions they bring about. Most of them are not much concerned about the rights of the individuals. Mosher recounts many heart-wrenching stories about the despicable tactics of the anti-childbirth enforcers. In any population, you’ll find a percentage of people who have no qualms about using force against their fellow citizens. In Nazi Germany, they were drawn to the Gestapo; in the Soviet Union, to the KGB. Today, that kind of person can find satisfying employment in the “family planning” apparatus in many countries in Asia, Africa, and South America.