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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Defusing the population time-bomb - with facts.


A must read for population planning enthusiasts is the latest article in the prestigious British magazine the economist entitled “falling fertility – how the population problem is solving itself. The main message of the report is that in developing countries fertility is falling and families are shrinking in places considered overpopulated. Indeed the fertility rate of half the world is now 2.1 % or less, which is associated with “replacement rate of fertility” to use a demographic jargon, referring that elusive number consistent with a stable population. More importantly, this country has now joined this magic circle of countries with falling fertility rates which include Brazil, Indonesia and India. Parenthetically between 2020 and 2050 the world’s fertility rate will fall below the global replacement rate.

What are the implications of this discovery? First and foremost, it means that the neo- Malthusian concern about overcrowded countries or “population explosion” is itself being exploded. In fact the so-called population bomb, a favorite expression among population planning enthusiasts, has been effectively defused by facts.

Demographers and population experts have coined a new phrase –“goldilocks period “-when a generation or two in which fertility is neither too high nor too low and in which there are few dependent children, few dependent grandparents – and a bulge of adults in the middle who, if conditions are right, make the factories hum’ (this are direct quotes from the economist magazine of late which discusses the subject) transition “like ours, the fall to replacement fertility, albeit a bit later than neighboring countries, is a unique and precious opportunity.

As early as 2004 ,the Newsweek magazine writing about the “baby bust” wrote about a problem of having too few people in more and more countries who went whole hog into population control policies without an exit strategy.

This covers most of Western Europe and neighbored like China, Japan and Singapore who are now trying very hard to get back to replacement level fertility. The problem is that when the contraceptive mentality sets in, there is no way, as they are now finding out in many countries like Singapore and France who are trying their level best to make couples reproduce more with generous incentives ,that this mentality cannot be reversed. One will notice that this attitude is permeating the more opulent Filipino couples who find that having children cramps their style in their pursuit of the dolce vita. As a result the world is being threatened by a demographic free-fall as its fertility rates does a nosedive.

The September 2004 article of Newsweek singles out the Philippines as a”country still growing, whose educated workforce looks likely to break out of low-status jobs as nannies and gardeners and move up the global professional ladder” in demographic terms, this bulge in the middle of the population profile, properly managed, can yield even more income to this country than the approximately p800 billion which our overseas workers donate to their families every year. Indeed today the conventional wisdom is that Asians and South Americans are enjoying fertility rates that have been described as “neither too hot nor too cold”. What is even more interesting is that population researchers like David bloom of Harvard’s school of public health has coined a new term –the “demographic dividend” enjoyed by the above which he ascribed as accounting for no less than a third of east Asian growth from is not difficult to appreciate the fact that plentiful Chinese labor, moderately priced is now threatening the first world economies. Indeed it is the surplus labor in this part of the globe that is attracting direct foreign investments from developed countries which have priced their labor out of the labor market in the world.

The United Nations has reported that some factors have conjoined to produce the demographic tsunami. One factor is rapid urbanization; in the rural areas children are considered assets.

They help out in the farm, whether in cutting and loading cane or planting palay or help in the household chores while watching the younger ones while mom and dad are out in the field and at a later date remit earnings derived from employment in the cities .once families move into the city children rapidly become liabilities in overcrowded areas and cramped quarters where people literally live side by side.

Increasing female literacy and enrollment in schools which has facilitated employment plus the worldwide phenomenon of late marriages has definitely encouraged decreasing fertility in the globe.

Philip Longman a population expert at the new America foundation in Washington in his book entitled “the empty cradle: how falling birthrates threaten world prosperity and what to do about it “discusses how population and economic growth are closely correlated.

He concludes thus “there are people who cling to the hope that you have a vibrant economy without a growing population, but mainstream economists are pessimistic”. Perhaps our expert has compared the graveyard atmosphere in the malls in Singapore with the hustle and bustle in our megamalls. Need we say more?

Ergo before our neo-malthusians get carried away with their anti-natalist enthusiasm we offer them some food for thought. in the meantime let us think of population redistribution through spatial planning and rural mobilization to relieve the overburdened megacities. Perhaps an honest to goodness local government empowerment and real decentralization can do the trick!

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