Monday, Jan. 11, 1960

The Numbers Game

(See Cover) From the doorway of a tumble-down Singapore tenement one morning last week, the wife of a Chinese stevedore watched her five naked children scrambling in the teeming street and prayed that the baby she was soon to bear would be a boy. In a camp for Palestinian refugees outside the Jordanian city of Jericho, Mrs. Shamma Mohamed Sammour complacently accepted congratulations on the birth of her ninth child—a girl whom the Sammours decided to name Sariah, which in Arabic means rich. On his Brazilian ranch, lean, energetic Berlino de Andrade, 67, confided to friends that he had decided to have no more children, but was unworried by the problem of supporting the 36 he had already sired. Said Berlino: "If I can't do anything better for them, I can always raise them as God raises potatoes."

Regardless of faith, color or condition, humans all around the earth last week were busily demonstrating the truth of the proposition that everybody loves a baby. In Washington's Commerce Department Building, a light atop the "U.S. population clock" flashed every eleven seconds to mark the birth of another American. If a "world population clock" existed, it would have been flashing three times a second. Enough little Indians were being born to add the equivalent of another New York City to the world's population every year, and enough little Chinese to add another Canada. As 1960 began, the world's population stood at 2.8 billion; within 40 years, predicted U.N. experts, it would be somewhere between 6 and 7 billion.

Long a hot topic among pundits, whose jargon phrase for it is "the population explosion," the startling 20th century surge in humanity's rate of reproduction may be as fateful to history as the H-bomb and the Sputnik, but it gets less public attention. Today two-thirds of the human race does not get enough to eat. And it is among the hungry peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America that the population explosion is most violent. In 1900 there was one European for every two Asians; by 2000 there will probably be four Asians for every European, and perhaps twice as many Americans living south of the Rio Grande as north of it. If, by then, all that faces the growing masses of what is euphemistically called "the underdeveloped nations" is endless, grinding poverty, their fury may well shake the earth.

The Doctor's Discovery. As much as nuclear energy, the population explosion is a product of the Western scientific revolution. In 1798—the year that the Rev. Thomas Malthus "proved" that the earth's capacity to produce food was no match for man's capacity to reproduce —Britain's Dr. Edward Jenner discovered that smallpox could be prevented by vaccination, and thereby opened the road to modern medicine's many techniques of "death control." This knowledge, when transferred from the industrial nations of the West to Latin America, Africa and Asia—where a medical investment of 14¢ a citizen has been known to cut a country's death rate by 50%—sent rates of population increase soaring even when birth rates stayed steady. In Ceylon after World War II, the spraying of once malarial areas with DDT produced a 33% population increase (from 6.8 million to 9.1 million) within little more than a decade.

Almost everywhere outside Northern Europe and North America, the apparent consequences of death control are apt to be appalling. In Palermo, 62-year-old Gaetano di Fazio and his wife share their verminous four-room flat (which has neither water nor heat) with 13 children and grandchildren, five of whom sleep in a single bed. In Kerala, on India's southwest coast, 2,000,000 of a total population of 15 million are unemployed. In Egypt, where 25 million people now live on little more cultivated land than 10 million lived on in 1900, per capita income has steadily declined.

Said a so-year-old fellah from the Nile delta recently; "When I was a boy, the people of our village regularly ate meat once a week on market day, and we often ate eggs. Today we must live on corn and beans." Even in the prosperous nations of the West, the population explosion has created planning problems that the politicians and public alike often prefer to ignore. In Paris, Rome, London and Manhattan, traffic engineers have all but admitted defeat against ever increasing swarms of cars. In California, statisticians estimate that Los Angeles County alone ought to spend $7.5 billion on new and improved roads and build at least 775 new 18-room elementary schools between now and 1970.

Men & Formulas. As the world's people have multiplied, so have warnings of disaster. Social scientists argue that poorer nations, with populations increasing as fast as or faster than their agricultural and industrial production, are condemning themselves to perennial and deepening poverty. Physical scientists, such as U.S.

Naturalist Fairfield Osborn, author of Our Plundered Planet, say that mankind is spending the earth's resources at a drunken-sailor rate, will ultimately denude the earth of its minerals and destroy its capacity to produce food.

Convinced—or at least shaken—by those warnings, increasing numbers of experts and nonexperts argue that death control must be offset by birth control. In July 1959, a presidential committee to study U.S. foreign aid, headed by Major General William Draper, implicitly recommended that the U.S. should help poorer nations set up birth control programs, and by year's end, virtually every would-be U.S. presidential candidate had felt obliged to take a stand against Government sponsorship of contraception abroad (TIME, Dec. 7 et seq.}. With or without birth control programs, says Sir Charles Darwin, grandson of the author of the theory of evolution, humanity is going to breed itself into chaos, and if the present increase rate continues, the time will come when there will be "standing room only" signs all over the earth.

But the only safe generalization about long-range population predictions is that they have always proved wrong. When Malthus foresaw mass starvation in Europe unless its people stopped breeding, he failed to reckon with the industrial revolution and the agricultural potential of the Americas. Latter-day players of the Malthusian numbers game, who foresee global economic ruin in one, two or six centuries, usually fail to reckon sufficiently on the unknowable potentialities of science and the unpredictable turn of events. Says the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: "With the present rate of increase, it can be calculated that in 600 years the number of human beings on earth will be such that there will be only one square meter for each to live on. It goes without saying that this can never take place; something will happen to prevent it."

Sunlight & Sea Water. Today, as in Malthus' time, the world has vast amounts of empty space left—particularly in Australia, Africa and Latin America (where the rate of population growth is even higher than in Asia). Brazil's vast Amazon basin, amounting to nearly one-twentieth of the land surface of the earth, is still virgin soil. In Ethiopia alone, more than 180 million of the world's most fertile acres lie fallow. Even in crowded Asia, great tracts of potentially arable land, such as the Philippine island of Mindanao and the central highlands of South Viet Nam, remain uncultivated. Meanwhile, the U.S., surfeited with food, has put 22.5 million acres of once productive land into its soil bank.

But without opening up any new land, the world's food production could be vastly increased. In 1959, India spent over $300 million on food imports and resigned itself to importing 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 tons of grain a year for the "next several years." Yet there is no technological reason why India could not triple her grain production by matching Japanese crop yield per acre. The difference between Indian and Japanese agricultural productivity lies in the Japanese farmer's use of insecticides, better seed, and vastly more chemical fertilizer. If all the world employed its potentially arable land as effectively as do Holland's skilled farmers, British Economist Colin Clark estimates that present agricultural techniques would support 28 billion people (ten times the present world population) at a European level of diet. "The basic raw materials for the industries of the future," says Caltech's Geochemist Harrison Brown, "will be sea water, air, ordinary rock, sedimentary deposits of limestone and phosphate, rock, and sunlight. All the ingredients essential to a highly industrialized society are present in the combination of those substances." The dwindling of usable supplies of fresh water is being matched by steady progress toward a cheap method of desalinizing sea water; nuclear energy has dispelled the neo-Malthusians' favorite bogeyman of exhausted coal and oil deposits; and should the earth's supply of uranium ever be used up, men could turn to solar energy—which is already used in Japan to operate 200,000 water heaters.

In the Pincers. But though the whole world is capable of multiplying without disaster, individual nations—and individual families—find plenty to worry about. "If our population continues to increase as rapidly as it is doing." sighed Pakistan's Soldier-President Ayub Khan recently, "we will soon have nothing to eat and will all become cannibals." In tiny Formosa, where a population of 10,000,000 is increasing by about 1,000 per day, former Peking University Chancellor Chiang Monlin warns: "Here it is like someone breathing into a small paper bag; something will burst." Complains India's Nehru: "You cannot rest. The population is increasing. They want more food, more clothing, more houses, more education—more and more." Implicit in Nehru's plaint is the central fact about the population explosion: as a rule, "overpopulation" is simply a way of talking about too many poor people. Poverty-stricken India's rate of population growth—an estimated 2% a year—is little higher than that of the prosperous U.S. (1.8%). Even in those poorer nations where natural increase rates (births minus deaths) run a whopping 3% a year, people are generally eating better than ever before in their history. But as part of what is often called the worldwide "revolution of expectations," they are demanding to eat —and live—still better.

The political consequences of the revolution of expectations, and the increasing numerical preponderance of Asians, Africans and Latin Americans, inspire much of the nervous U.S. and European punditry about overpopulation. Already, the argument goes, the Afro-Asian nations in the U.N. (about to be bolstered further by newly created African states) form a political bloc outweighing the West; in time, unless pacified with rapid economic help, they are apt to turn more violently against the West. "Europe," says an Italian economist, "will soon be between black and yellow pincers, and that will be the end of us." France's Charles de Gaulle is convinced that Russia will one day be driven into the arms of the West by the expansion of "the yellow multitude that is China."

All this has the Sunday supplement flavor of William Randolph Hearst's obsession with "the yellow peril." Peking and Moscow may well fall out one day—but probably not over geography. The peoples of Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa have so far been too busy squabbling among themselves to gang up on anybody else. And in an H-bomb world, large population is no longer everything in military terms.

The altruism of those Westerners who want Asians to practice birth control is not always conceded. They are greeted with suspicion and hostility when they say they want to protect the health of mothers and give children a better start in life (though Asian peasant women who already have three or four children often covertly seek out ways to prevent further pregnancies). In Indonesia a few years ago. a woman doctor who tried to propagandize for contraception was charged by the press with trying to reimpose Western imperialism by the roundabout means of limiting Indonesia's population. In Jamaica the city wall of Kingston still bears the bitter scrawl: BIRTH CONTROL—A PLAN TO KILL NEGROES.

Words v. Deeds. So far, birth control campaigns, even when given government support (as in India), have had a hard time of it. Birth control advocates and research scientists look ahead to "the pill" —the still-undiscovered oral contraceptive cheap enough to suit the pocketbooks of impoverished Latinos, Asians and Africans and simple enough to be understood by all. Resistance to the idea of birth control is often a complex of emotional, moral, philosophical and economic attitudes. In Latin America, the Philippines, South Viet Nam and Ceylon, the Roman Catholic prohibition of contraception is felt. India still echoes to the sexual dictum of Gandhi that "union is a crime when desire for progeny is absent." In Pakistan the standard male reaction to birth control is "a man must have children or he is not a man" throughout the Moslem world, there is the belief that children are "a gift of Allah"; and in many places, a barren woman is an object of pity. In lands where death comes early and often, those who wish extra hands in the fields fear to have few children. In rural Ceylon, people look upon large families as the first step to political influence; so, on an international scale, do ambitious leaders of small states—such as Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah.

Red China, whose population is variously estimated to be anywhere from 580 million to 680 million, has had a curiously confused attitude toward bigness—alternating between a desire for manpower and a concern for so many mouths to feed. Early in 1956, Peking turned on a birth control campaign that plugged everything from up-to-date devices to the favorite oral contraceptive of Chinese herbalists: live tadpoles. But in 1958, Red China's bosses quietly dropped birth control, now preach the gospel according to Karl Marx: an increase in population is always an increase in capital.

Reproduction seems to be one field where private enterprise always triumphs. Historically, governments and churches have had remarkably little success in influencing breeding habits. In most Western countries, the difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant birth rates is slight or nonexistent. In Fascist Italy, all the martial exhortations of Il Duce failed to persuade Italians to increase the size of their families. And in India, where Nehru boasts "there is more official talk and action on birth control than in any other country," government planners recently conceded that they had been a mere 46 million low in their original estimate of India's population by 1966.

Population experts still have no real idea what makes people decide to have more or fewer babies. The 19th century fall in the French birth rate is generally attributed to a Napoleonic law that required division of a man's land among his heirs and hence prompted French peasants to have fewer heirs; yet in Indonesia, where a similar law exists, the population goes on growing. Both in Japan, where doctors performed a million legal abortions last year, and in Puerto Rico, where women have become so enthusiastic about sterilization that it is known simply as "la operation," the slowdown in population increase is often attributed to a rising level of education and economic wellbeing. But to the confusion of the experts came the unforeseen baby boom in the postwar U.S.—at a time when education and incomes were at an alltime high. The boom shows no sign of abating.

Beaten by Baboons. If not by birth control, how are the poor nations to cope with the millions who lack enough food or adequate housing? The familiar answer used to be emigration. The 50,000 Puerto Ricans who migrate to the U.S. each year have helped to ease the strain on Puerto Rico's economy, and the 400,000 Algerians working in France contribute heavily to the meager living standards of the people back home. But racial barriers exclude a mass movement out of Asia. Besides, to keep Asia's population stable would require the emigration of 25 million people a year.

In nations whose population is badly distributed, internal migration is a possibility. In the lush valleys of eastern Bolivia, labor is so scarce that soldiers have to be called in to harvest the sugar crop; yet one-third of Bolivia's population continues to live in the Andes, scratching a barely human existence out of dwindling tin deposits. In Indonesia, three-quarters of the nation's close to 90 million people live in cheek-by-jowl squalor on the island of Java, while most of neighboring Sumatra is left in jungle. But habit and human contrariness being what it is, few Javanese will even consider moving to fertile Sumatra. And in Uganda, tribesmen from the overpopulated hills, hopefully resettled in the lowlands by the government, frequently trek back home after their new fields are raided by elephants or baboons.

The Labor Thieves. In nations with a high technology, there is literal truth in Ben Franklin's dictum: "We can never have too many People (nor too much Money)." In the 15 years since V-E day, West Germany has absorbed 12.8 million refugees from East Germany and Eastern Europe; yet thanks to soaring living standards and industrial production. West German employers today are so desperate for labor that they are reduced to stealing it from each other. In the U.S., most economists cite the baby boom as one of their reasons for business optimism: in the short run, the 4,400,000 infants to be born during 1960 mean $3 billion more in the till for manufacturers of baby food, clothing, furniture, toys, and accessories.

For industrialized nations, the danger is not in overpopulation but in under-population. Soviet Russia, where the government awards the Order of Maternal Glory to mothers of seven or more children, had to scrap its last five-year plan partly because of labor shortages.* Presumably, Russia's own manpower shortage and the proximity of all those Chinese is what Khrushchev had in mind five years ago, when he declared: "If another 100 million were added to our 200 million, even that would not be enough." In similar spirit, Australia, which 30 years ago was a continent-sized Sleepy Hollow, has admitted 1.4 million new European settlers since World War II.

The result: in the past decade, Australian gross national product has soared from $4.9 billion to $13 billion.

In theory, there is no reason why nearly all the underdeveloped nations should not ultimately achieve a level of technology that will enable them to satisfy their own revolution of expectations.

"Man," notes Indian Finance Minister Morarji Desai, "has always had the ability to produce more food than he needs." Lack of mineral resources, often cited as an insurmountable barrier to the industrialization of many Asian nations, did not prevent the industrialization of Japan. Modernization is an intricate process, involving a balance between agricultural, technological and industrial growth. But given intelligent economic and political management and injections of Western aid, most—though not all—Asian, African and Latin American nations ought to be able to turn the trick.

The Upper Limit. For men like Sir Charles Darwin, who predicts that 20th century man's descendants will look back to this as "the golden age of earth," any suggestion that the population explosion can end in anything other than global misery is pure Micawberism—feckless reliance on the belief that"something will turn up." In fact, even Darwin's stoutest opponents mostly agree with German Expert Winfried Bolls who argues: "We have no time to lose. If we are unable to master the economic and sociological challenge which confronts us, we will be heading for catastrophe." The fundamental difference of opinion over the population explosion is between those who have confidence in man's ability to go on mastering his environment and those who do not.

In 1955, during a Princeton seminar on "Limits of Earth," the University of Michigan's Professor Kenneth Boulding summarized the argument:

A Conservationist's Lament

The world is finite, resources are

scarce, Things are bad and will be worse . . .

Fire will rage with Man to fan it, Soon we'll have a plundered planet. People breed like fertile rabbits, People have disgusting habits . . .

The Technologist's Reply

Man's potential is quite terrific, You can't go back to the Neolithic. The cream is there for us to skim it, Knowledge is power and the sky's the limit . . .

For the world's pessimists, there should be food for thought in the fact that in the four years since Dr. Boulding wrote, even the sky has ceased to be the limit for man. But on earth, the continuing problem of population will demand the skill of science, the wisdom of government, the good will of all men. Population, as much as anything else, will determine the direction history takes.

* Russia's 1959 census, which reported a population of almost 209 million (v. a pre-1956 claim of 220 million), seemed to confirm what Western experts had long suspected: for the first decade after World War II, Stalin deliberately sought to conceal from the West how badly wartime casualties (between 15 million and 20 million) had cut into Russian manpower.