Monday, Oct. 28, 1957


IN ITS massive struggle for a greater share of the world's wealth, mankind's underprivileged majority is on a collision course with the most violent explosion of population in world history. Its path was charted in San Francisco by the University of California's Sociologist Kingsley Davis, who is also U.S. delegate to the U.N. Population Commission. Warned Davis: "Any discussion of future economic development which ignores population growth is fallacious."

The world's 2.7 billion population has almost doubled in the past 70 years, is expected to redouble every 42 years hereafter, and is rapidly approaching the level (top estimate: 7 billion) beyond which scientists believe the earth can no longer sustain all its inhabitants. "It is hard to avoid the conclusion that human multiplication has gotten out of hand," said Sociologist Davis, "that this unanticipated situation cannot continue."

The Poor Get Poorer. The upsurge, Davis explained, was caused not by a rise in birth rates but by a drastic fall in death rates. Its most worrisome aspect is that the increase has occurred primarily in underdeveloped countries where U.S. and U.N. public health programs have warred on such diseases as malaria, endemic syphilis and yaws. In Ceylon, for example, the death rate has tumbled 34% in one year, 70% in ten years. Populations promptly shot up, since birth rates in most of these nations remain at their traditionally high level.

The profound economic and political significance of this runaway human inflation is that the two-thirds of mankind who live in the world's underdeveloped countries are now multiplying twice as fast as in industrialized societies. To support the extra population these countries are least able to afford, they are forced to consume less and produce more, and are falling ever lower in living standards. Said Dr. A. Eugene Staley, Stanford Research Institute's senior international economist: "Despite all the vaunted technological and economic progress of modern times, there are probably more poverty-stricken people in the world today than there were 50 years ago."

Pakistan to Peoria. While poverty is as old as mankind, a new and resentful awareness of poverty on the part of millions has become one of the most powerful forces in soth century society. This "revolution of rising expectations," as Economist Staley called it, has only intensified the struggle to seek a more abundant life. In India, for example, the market for bicycles is booming upward at 30% a year, while shoe sales are rising only 4%. Explained one village bicycle salesman: "The villagers are getting lazy. They don't want to walk any more; they want bicycles." While modern communications have whetted consumer appetites in Pakistan as in Peoria, the danger is that nations whose production continues to lag far behind their hopes of material progress will resort to political extremes that will plunge them deeper into want.

Though governments of underdeveloped countries are under constant pressure to achieve economic and social gains, they cannot realistically hope to match in a few years the living standards built up by Western nations over the centuries. In Mexico, for example, noted Dr. David McCord Wright, professor of economics and political science at Montreal's McGill University, the value of goods and services produced per capita in 1955 was $187, v. $2,343 in the U.S. Even to increase the per capita gross national product to the present U.S. level by 1980−when Mexico's population will have doubled−Mexico would have to boost national output 2,500% (to $156 billion) and invest the astronomical sum of some $400 billion in capital. In Burma the same goal would take an 8,900% boost in G.N.P.

Functionless Fertility. To achieve any lasting solution for poverty, underdeveloped nations must thus not only race to create enough jobs for the expanding work force but must succeed in boosting per capita gross national product at least 5% annually (v. 2.5% for the U.S. in 1957), with up-to-date machinery and management methods, hydroelectric energy, nuclear power, research to find substitutes for earth's dwindling resources. This means also, as Economist Staley urged, that governments must be prepared to make a "deep-going transformation in methods of work, in education, in administration, even in social institutions like the family and religion."

In Japan, which supports 91 million people in an area the size of Montana, a nine-year-old birth-control program has already cut the birth rate almost in half (to 1.2% annually). The free world's most extensive contraception campaign is expected to achieve similar results in less industrialized India. A major problem facing underdeveloped nations is what scientists call "functionless fertility"−the peasant's tendency to continue having large families even when he no longer has to insure himself against a high death rate. India's economic planners say their biggest problem is still to convince the agrarian population that with smaller families and more efficient production they can greatly increase their standards of living.