Courtesy Reuters

The Population Crisis: Reasons for Hope

A discussion of the crisis of population growth must be organized around two sharply contrasting themes: one, of almost unrivaled dangers; the other, of new hope that it may be resolved during the remainder of this century. It is difficult to overstate the importance of either theme. The dangers threaten the entire process of modernization among the two-thirds of the world's people in the technologically backward nations, and thereby the maintenance of their political coherence; they threaten, indeed, a catastrophic loss of life. The hope lies in the fact that there is now new reason to think that, if the world is willing to bend its energies toward solving the problems, it can go far toward doing so during the coming decades. The time has passed when the problem must be viewed as insuperable.

In what follows, I shall be concerned with the technologically backward nations. The question here is not what population they might ultimately be capable of supporting if they achieve a high state of development. At present they are desperately poor, grossly uneducated and badly organized to make use of what knowledge they have. They have to start from where they are, and not from where they should like to be. The problem in the real world is that the rate of population growth is proving to be a major obstacle to economic development. Mounting rates of population growth are proving to be almost insuperable obstacles to the technological development on which our future hopes must depend. The heart of the demographic problem is that of slowing the rate of population growth sufficiently to permit the development of the lagging economies and of doing this in the next two or three decades.

The case is now too well known to require detailed documentation. Most of the newly developing nations have populations that are growing by at least 2.5 percent per year. Moreover, those with slower rates of growth have negligible health protection and will quickly come to that rate

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