Monday, 31 May 2010
In Nicholas Kristof's editoral "Poverty and the Pill," he makes the case poverty in Africa is linked to over-population, people having too many kids for the economy to support. Read the whole thing here.
Yet birth control as an economic panacea is unsupported.
His strongest evidence that decreasing births will decrease poverty is this: "What’s more, each dollar spent on contraception would actually reduce total medical spending by $1.40 by reducing sums spent on unplanned births and abortions, the study said."
Ok, spend 1$, save $1.40. Let's do the math. You are still spending 1/1.4. That is equals 29% savings. You are still spending 71% of the amount you were before. Less than 30% savings? Kristof's presentation of the amount saved is misleading. Poverty is not from the babies. The economic problems of the region are pervasive for manifold complex reasons. How is decreasing births going to affect anything else? Why would it suddenly make all other illnesses, medical problems, public corruption, lack of education, an arid climate, etc go away?
Even if women are having fewer children, people will still need tons of medical care, food and other basic necessities. Why not spend money on those things so that women don't have to die in child birth, so that people can afford the children they want, so that basic illnesses can be treated with decent facilities and tools?
Another thing here, is that people want the children for the most part. "As Mitch and I drove through villages, we asked many women how many babies they would ideally have. Most said five or six, and a few said 10." Many of these people actually want their children? Is that not ok with Kristof? Who are we to tell anyone else how many children they should or should not have?
Further, men think many children is a sign of their virility. Even the women said, “If a woman doesn’t have a baby every two or three years, people will say she’s sterile." Sounds like more of social issue in general. If people think children are natural and good and that not having children is bad, what is contraception going to do about that? If the babies stop all of sudden, that won't change social attitudes. Who are we to judge social attitudes anyway?
So what if you don't want kids? Don't have sex. How does using each other for physical pleasure with total abandon lead to happiness and money? Now if people want unrestrained sex without babies, throwing condoms at them treats the symptom not the disease. We can't pretend that frequent intercourse with multiple partners doesn't have consequences. Having a lot of sex leads to a lot of STDs, especially AIDS. You can wear a condom, but that doesn't take away all risks of all diseases. Teaching the role of sexuality and love would actually be hugely beneficial (and have very few expenses). Advocating restraint, respect, love and monogamy can and has gone a long way towards to changing dangerous behaviors and attitudes instead of just putting a band-aid on it.
Kristof posits that without reform if a woman cannot afford birth control, "she may just keep on producing babies." Firstly, I'm not sure why he talks of children as if they are non-persons, like "producing babies" is tantamount to nuclear waste. Secondly, respect in marriages needs to be cultivated. If the wife really does not want a child, and the husband is forcing himself on her, that is a problem. The solution is emphasizing the need to love and values your spouse, not just making it so that the abuse (unrestrained behavior) continues but doesn't leave a visible outcome. And if they both don't want a baby, the reality is that babies are the biological outcome of sex. So they will need to come to terms that reality: whether by avoiding sex or accepting children is up to them.
However, the main fear implied in the article is actually fear of complications in child birth. In the first quotation in the article, a woman states that she is afraid of getting pregnant again after having a life-threatening delivery, which makes it sound like fear of death is the issue here, rather than the child. And that is valid. The solution, though, is improved medical care in general. Contraception cannot produce that on its own.
So I'm not really sure why Kristof connects contraception to improved economics. Western countries developed way before birth control did. The advent of contraception did not jump-start America from third world country and turn it into a world power, so there's no reason to think that it will solve all of Africa's economic hardships. Honestly, population growth fuels the economy by providing more people who can work and come up with solutions. Please tell me how an aging population generates growth? A country can't just skip all other development and progress and go straight to birth control as some sort of cure-all (which it isn't anyway).
In the interest of full disclosure: yes, I am a Catholic. But I am not critiquing Kristof's piece just because it advocates birth control. I honestly think that the article makes little sense whether you support contraception or not. I do not see the connection is trying to between the pill and poverty. The poverty is not from the babies, and getting rid of the babies is not going to alleviate anything else.
What do you think is the best way to help alleviate poverty? Do you think Kristof has a point, that contraception would be helpful? How would it help? How should we approach the issue of global suffering and poverty in general?