On This, Church and State Agree, Population Should Grow, Not Shrink

Nov 2 2017 - I thought of writing this essay on population at this time when our thoughts are turned towards both the dead and the living with equal reverence.

Let’s hear it first from Pope Francis.

Last Saturday, October 28, the pontiff told (Re)Thinking Europe, a project sponsored by the European bishops’ conference (COMECE):

Yen Makabenta

“Europe is suffering from a period of dramatic sterility. Not only because Europe has fewer children, and all too many were denied the right to be born, but also because there has been a failure to pass on the material and cultural tools that young people need to face the future.”

“A Europe that rediscovers itself as a community will surely be a source of development for herself and for the whole world,” he said.

EU, a tired grandmother
In an earlier address to the European parliament, the pontiff described the European Union as “a tired grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant.”

He said on Saturday, that he found Europe to be “increasingly distinguished by a plurality of cultures and religions” but warned of the dangers of erecting “walls of indifference and fear” when it came to assimilating migrants who “are more a resource than a burden.”

For Francis, “leaders together share responsibility for promoting a Europe that is an inclusive community,” as it looks to meet challenges including the “imbalances caused by a soulless globalization.”

Among the pope’s audience were European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans and EU parliament chief Antonio Tajani.

They heard Pope Francis insist that Europe “is not a mass of statistics or institutions, but is made up of people” who should not be “reduced to an abstract.”

The West’s demographic imbalance

From the side of the state, listen to the voice of the Iron Lady, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In her book Statecraft (Harper Collins,London,2002), she is even more emphatic on the subject of population: “The facts about population in the world today are not subject to dispute. In the developed world, population is either shrinking or stagnating. In the less developed world, too, the projected rate of population growth is rapidly slowing.”

”Perhaps the single most pressing problem for Western economies and societies is demographic imbalance, in part reflecting the sharp decline in fertility rates. Underpopulation, not overpopulation, is the West’s worry. After years during which it was thought irresponsible to have more than two children, there is even talk of a return to ‘natalist’ policies to encourage larger families.”

Thatcher recalled that it was her fellow Englishman, Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834)who started the fuss about population growth. In his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed that an increase in a nation’s food production improved the well-being of the populace, but the improvement was temporary because it led to population growth, which in turn restored the original per capita production level. In other words, mankind had a propensity to utilize abundance for population growth rather than for maintaining a high standard of living, a view that has become known as the “Malthusian trap” or the “Malthusian specter.” Populations had a tendency to grow until the lower class suffered hardship and want and greater susceptibility to famine and disease.

Malthus and his successors were mistaken on many points. The real tendency, to which a large body of evidence points, is for families to have fewer children as societies become richer and more urbanized.

Today, because of human creativity and technology, less farmland is producing more food. There has been a dramatic fall in the number of famines. Food surpluses are a major headache. Far from starving, more and more of the world is threatened by the ill-effects of obesity.

Thatcher concluded her discussion with these words: “It is extremely doubtful whether population policies of any kind are likely to yield much benefit. They may well indeed do harm. Governments are not more likely to make sensible judgments about how many people should be born than about how many cars should be produced. It is best for people to be left to make their decision. The real challenge for government is to respond intelligently and farsightedly to the changes that occur.”

The Philippines and its young population

This brings us to my sub-topic in this column: the Philippines and its young population of over 104 million, and what it means for the Filipino future.

No discussion of the Philippines has much substance, unless you delve into the subject of its population, and its surpassing importance for the future.

According to the estimate of the Commission on Population (Popcom) of the Philippines and the US Central Intelligence Agency(CIA), and the population clock of the Philippines, the real time projected population of the Philippines as of November 1, 2017, is 104,840,636.

This is based on the 2015 Census of Population which recorded a population of 100,981,437.

The2017 projection is based on the 2015 population growth rate of 1.72 percent.

Added features of the Philippine population are:
o The Philippines’ population is equivalent to 1.39 percent of the total world population.
o The Philippines ranks number 13 in the list of countries (and dependencies) by population.
o The population density in the Philippines is 352 per sq km.
o The total land area is 298,170 sq km.
o 44.4 percent of the population is urban (46,543,718 people in 2017)
o The median age in the Philippines is 24.3 years.

The Philippines is one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, with GDP growth of well over 6 percent for nearly a decade.

One key reason for this dynamism is the high proportion of the country’s working-age population, which also has a high literacy rate of over 90 percent. This constitutes its demographic dividend, which I have discussed in detail in some earlier columns.

Over 10 million Filipinos today are employed in foreign lands as overseas workers. They remit an average of over $26 billion annually to their families back home.

The young population has also fueled the growth of the country’s business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, which generate earnings of some $25 billion annually.

A new level of credibility
This finally is the hopeful part about the Philippines today. With a young population of nearly 105 million, with the economy growing at well over 6 percent, with strong and good relations with global powers (the United States, China. Japan, Russia and Europe), and with a confident and reformist government in place, the country is developing a new level of credibility in the world. Foreign countries see it as a reliable partner and friend. The international business community now believes that the country is creating a fair and dynamic business environment where they can prosper.

The prosperity and stability, which were built first in Japan, then in Korea and Taiwan, and then in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia may be finally coming to the Philippines.

Many Filipinos have started to feel that they are part of something bigger than their once insular view of the world.

It all began, I submit, when Filipinos stopped worrying that there are so many of them.


This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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