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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

The War Against Population: The Economics and Ideology of World Population Control

by Jacqueline Kasun

(Revised Edition) San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999, 309 pp.

Reviewed by Raymond J. Adamek, Ph.D.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

Kent State University, Ohio

This book is a thoroughly researched and documented study of the population control movement and its allies in the sex education/adolescent pregnancy and environmental movements in the United States and throughout the world via U.S. and United Nations’ government and private organization programs. The focus is on the years from the 1960s through 2000, with projections to the future.  (The author covers the early history of the population control movement from Malthus to Margaret Sanger and others in Chapter 7).  As the subtitle suggests, Kasun deals with the economics, politics and ideology of the movement.

In Chapter One, “’Overpopulation: The Unexamined Dogma,” Kasun cites a mid-1970s traveling exhibit for schoolchildren which stated: “… there are too many people in the world.  We are running out of space.  We are running out of energy.  We are running out of food.  And … we are running out of time.”  While successfully challenging each of these assertions with data in Chapter 2, “Scarcity or Lifeboat Economics: Which is Right?” Kasun notes that, while undertaking vast population control programs, we have never seriously debated the prior question—does the government “have the right or duty to preside over the reproductive process?”

Her book is an attempt to address this question.  Kasun’s main contention in Chapter 3, “Plan vs. Market in Population Control” is that “the dynamics of the market as compared with those of the planned economy show that the market imposes [economic and other] constraints on its participants so that they have strong incentives not to do anything to excess.  As a result … there is no need for public efforts to restrain, or encourage, reproduction.”  On the other hand, noting the worldwide trend toward planned economies, she states: “Economic interventions by public planners are not … self-limiting; they produce conditions that inspire or require still further interventions, leading almost inevitably to the control of reproduction.”  Subtle or not-so subtle coercion to achieve population goals result.  Kasun cites over 50 reports and studies to support her contention. 

In Chapter 4, “United States Foreign Aid and Population Control,” Kasun covers the legislative and organizational history of the global reach of our population control programs from 1965 through the 1990s.  She notes that, “Early in the 1970s the United States foreign aid bureaucracy … voiced their intent to bring about ‘a two-child family on the average’ throughout the world by the year 2000.”  U.S. tax money for population control went to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and United Nations agencies such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNFPA, UNESCO, UNICEF and the International Labor Organization and other organizations.  For many countries, accepting family planning “aid” was a condition of receiving general aid.  Resentment grew as coercion and deception increased.  In Indonesia, for example, “family planners were reported to have inserted IUD’s at ‘gunpoint.’”  In India, cash payments were offered “on condition that 75 percent of all men in the village submit to vasectomy.” In the Philippines, “anti-tetanus vaccine given to women contained an abortifacient drug.”

Although a softening of the population program came with the Reagan administration, Bill Clinton’s administration reversed that trend.  Objections to the promotion of contraception, abortion and sterilization in the U.N. and at conferences began to solidify.  At the 1994 Cairo population conference, Polish, Islamic and other nations dissented from the continuing emphasis on population control.  Several country representatives worried about their nations’ declining population and “Dr. Margaret Ogola, a Kenyan pediatrician, disputed the claim of ‘unmet need’ for family planning.  She said that foreign aid givers have lavished pills, condoms, and IUDs on hospitals and clinics in Kenya but that simple medicines for common diseases such as malaria and pneumonia are unavailable,” while birth control pills were making women susceptible to AIDS.  Kasun concludes that while the population control movement began to experience some setbacks, “…as long as U.S. law requires countries receiving American aid to control population growth and as long as the American president can tie trade with the mighty U.S. economy to population control, the movement will be able to carry on.” 

In Chapter Five, “Promoting the New Philosophy: The Sex Education Movement,” Kasun echo’s William Ball’s study of population control by noting that “the adoption of such a sweeping [population control] policy demands a method of promulgating what is no less than a new philosophy.  People must be made to believe in the obligation to limit population in order to bow to the restrictions and the invasions of their privacy.”  Hence, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare issued a report calling for sex education in the schools.  Enter the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) with their promotion of contraception, abortion and a pleasure-centered rather than reproduction-centered view of sex.  Abstinence programs were discouraged and discounted as ineffectual, the role of parents/religion were minimized, and the early (pre-kindergarten) introduction of children to sexual pleasures promoted.  Individual rights were emphasized, while the only responsibilities expected were to “be protected” and to observe mutual consent.

Thus, the sex education and population control movements were allied.  For example, Kasun notes that “A UNESCO brochure gives several reasons for the organization’s passionate interest in sex education: not only to prevent AIDS, but to promote sustainable development and to build ‘responsibility’ in pupils so that they do not overpopulate the world. … Using ‘clarification of values,’ it will overcome the ‘traditional stereotypes of male and female.’ … the brochure emphasizes that this new ‘population education’ will permeate all school subject matter. It will ‘change mental habits and attitudes,’ and children will become the educators of their parents.’”

In Chapter Six, “Adolescent Pregnancy: Government Family Planning on the Home Front,” Kasun examines how the concern with teenage pregnancy (the teen birth rate in 1978 “was at its lowest level in forty years”) was exploited to increase population control funds.  She concludes, “Looking back, it’s hard to think of what more the older generation could have done to encourage reckless behavior by the young.  It was a generation of parents and teachers, … manipulated by a government-funded information machine under the command of a cabal determined to reduce the population and ‘improve’ its quality. … With the aid of millions of federal dollars, a politicized research establishment operating within the hallowed halls of leading universities amassed and publicized spurious evidence condemning ‘teenage pregnancy’ as a scourge.  In panic, Congress established a publicly funded sex industry to educate the young, form their values, and deal with the fruits of their sexual lives.  Focusing on the young was essential to the aims of the movement.  In order to foster a public belief in the need for the government to limit population and a tolerance for whatever methods this entails, the efficient way is to begin with children in the formative years, whose attitudes and reproductive lives can be molded and who can transmit the new orthodoxy to coming, though shrinking, generations.”  As with previous chapters, Kasun cites many studies and original sources to back up her conclusions.  

As noted above, Chapter Seven, “The Movement, Its History, and Its Leaders,” starts with the work of Thomas Malthus and brings us forward in some detail to the present day.   It ends with a thumbnail sketch of the leadership, focus, budgets, source of funds and interconnections of some 40 organizations active in the population control movement.

In Chapter Eight, “Government and Family Planning Now and in the Future,” after outlining the assumptions, assertions and errors of the population control movement, Kasun believes that nevertheless, “It would seem that the cause of population control is gathering steam.”  She concludes, “Only a radical repudiation of the philosophy of social planning could reverse this trend.  And the disavowal must be total—encompassing the religious, political, social, and economic traditions and values.  It must renounce the nineteenth-century dogmas that deny to human life its divine creation and divine purpose.  It must challenge the faith that human beings, when duly enlightened and led, can create paradise on earth either by technological ‘progress’ or by going ‘back to Nature.’  It must reject the modern view of the individual and society, in which the individual is ‘meaningful’ only insofar as he ‘contributes’ to the society, as judged by the leaders.  It must eradicate the autocratic presumption that an elite leadership can know an individual’s interests better than he can know them himself.  It must overturn the notion that a selfless bureaucracy is infallible in correcting the ‘abuses’ of the private sector.  And it must renounce the belief that the highest good is reached in physical perfection and sensual pleasure.  Above all, it must reject the dogma that denies an absolute, unchanging good, understood and honored by all, and substitutes a progression of changing values adapted to the ‘needs’ of the day by a social clique.  It must reject the fallacious notion that although there are no fixed standards of the good and bad, an enlightened leadership can discern the way to a better life.”

And so this struggle continues to the present day.  Ironically, both due the efforts of the population control movement and the social forces of modernization, the United States’ and the world’s real problem is population decline, not a population explosion.  In his 2013 book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, Jonathan V. Last points out that Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book The Population Bomb, was not only “totally and completely wrong” in its dire predictions, but that it was released “at the exact moment when the very opposite of his prediction was unfolding: Fertility rates in America and across the world had been declining gradually for decades, but beginning in 1968 they sank like a stone.”


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