Over-population of a particular kind contributes to planetary environmental degradation, poverty, and wars without end. Thanks to Oxfam, we know just who the offending individuals are. Eight people now have the same wealth as the poorest half the world’s population.
Heading the list of the world’s richest is Microsoft magnate Bill Gates; number three is investor Warren Buffett. The Gates Foundation, bolstered by Buffett’s fortune, is the world’s largest private charity. Without a hint of irony, the foundation’s website describes their vision to ‘develop strategies to address some of the world’s most challenging inequities’.
The supreme irony of our modern era – really a contradiction – is that the forces of production have developed to the level that there is a material basis for eliminating poverty for the first time in human history. Yet the relations of production are such that unprecedented accumulations of wealth are ensured, threatening our very existence with destruction by either WMDs or ecocide also for the first time in human history.
The Gates Foundation is a leading modern promoter of the neo-Malthusian gospel of over-population, which has historical antecedents in British cleric Thomas Malthus’s theories of 1798. The ideology of over-population diverts criticisms of capitalist social relations of unequal distribution, serving to justify a system that creates needs without the means of satisfying them.
After World War II, Malthusian theory was resurrected to support the ideological initiatives of the ascendant US superpower and its cohorts. This ideological initiative in the service of international capital took place in the context of a wave of national liberation struggles in the post-war period. Peasant tillers of the soil were demanding land reform. To this rightful claim, the Cold Warriors offered population control coupled with the commercialization of land using the model of US agribusiness.
According to the Gates Foundation, population growth ‘contribute(s) significantly to the global burden of disease, environmental degradation, poverty, and conflict’.
Conceptually underlying this particular understanding of the dynamics of human population growth is that these deleterious effects are somehow natural, because human reproductive activity is itself natural. In fact, poverty and environmental destruction are not simply and inevitably natural consequences of the human condition but are mediated by particular historical circumstances.
The high fertility rates of the poor and the high resource consumption rates of the rich are both environmental issues that should not be counter-posed, but should be seen as keys to understanding a single larger solution to environmental destruction.
Poverty is an inevitable by-product of a socio-economic system that generates increasingly inequitable wealth. Wealth is linked as a driver of population growth because the high fertility rates of the poor are a response to their precarious condition. A large family is the poor person’s work force and retirement fund.
The more trenchant predicament, though, is not so much a moral one that the super-rich have too much money and live in obscene luxury, but the political one that they have too much power. Let them keep their mansions and yachts, if only they’d hand over their senators, generals, and presidents.
We do have an over-population problem – too many too rich people. The capitalist system, which creates both great wealth with unsustainable consumption rates and great poverty with unsustainable population growth rates, is the fundamental adversary of the environment.
Surely ending wealth inequality and the capitalist system that produces it must top the to-do-list.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Too Many People in the World: Names Named’.