Let The Free Market Handle Population

Gone are the days of advocating for zero population growth (ZPG). Now, as advocated for by Diane Francis in Canada’s Financial Post, a Chinese-style one-child policy is being called for. It is my position that such an idea is ludicrous, and that the pursuit of free market principles premised upon individual rights will react far more quickly and effectively to any threats posed by population growth – both now, and in the future.

A one-child policy, if ever implemented world-wide, would result not in ZPG, but rather negative population growth (NPG). This is due to the replacement rate being approximately two children per couple. This reduction in births, it is argued, is needed to prevent an overpopulation of humans on the planet; it is fundamentally the growth rate in humans that should be the world’s call to action, not climate change premised on anthropogenic sources. It is my further view that both initiatives are fundmentally flawed – and for essentially the same reason. The questions any rational thinking person ought to ask in the face of a one-child policy suggestion are what does this notion of “policy,” as it relates to human reproduction, mean; how should humans view population trends; and what is the natural tide in growth, composition, and distribution of people relative to the social systems in which they are immersed.

A policy, as opposed to a recommendation, implies an enforceable regime of behavior, action, or inaction, applied to some distinguishable group of things; in this case, humans. Moreover, it further implies the use of physical force in its implementation and operation. If there are no consequences for not adhering to a set of guidelines, then it is not really a policy, but rather merely an unenforceable recommendation. It should be clear to anyone who values individual rights that the mere notion of a behavioral regime that directs or manipulates by force the reproductive functions of individuals (human beings) is simply untenable.

Individual rights are premised upon the idea that any government must be, fundamentally, subordinated to the individual (of, for, and by, the people). That unique American idea, that abstraction, when applied to a whole nation created the most productive and free society in the history of the planet; it is profoundly premised upon this concept of the natural rights of the individual. To invert this fundamental is to usher in ideologies of tyranny over not just the actions and liberty of men in their daily lives, but over their minds and their natural right to procreate. There is nothing in this world more fundamentally wrong, or frightening, than such an inversion. The fundamental human/individual right to control ones body, and its reproduction, ought to go without question. Yet, here we are with a major news outlet essentially toying with this idea.

There is, however, a proper analysis one can make. First of all, one would want to take a look at the effects of capitalistic principles geographically. Which countries of the world have embraced free market ideas, and what was the result in terms of standards of living, individual rights, and the efficient allocation of resources relative to production. Secondly, what are the fertility statistics world-wide. Lastly, is there a relationship between population changes and the application free market principles.

To approach this, I used an economic freedom index and compared it to the total fertility rate by country1. I am implicitly assuming here that the freedom index will suffice as a proxy ranking for countries to see where free market principles and individual rights are maximized (or less abundant). Economic freedom, as measured by the index used here, is defined as: “the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.”2

Total fertility was used as it is a more robust measure than simply the birth rate, and is the fertility rate as a measure of the births per 1000 women, categorized according to a specific composition of mothers in the population. Below are the results from my comparisons of data accumulated from the CIA3 (US Central Intelligence Agency), and The Heritage Foundation4.

The results show that the typical relationship is a lower fertility rate per 1000 women in countries that have higher levels of individual rights, if one imputes this from higher levels of economic freedom.

Moreover, those countries with less economic freedom (meaning either more government controls over the economic life of its citizens, or a lack of industrialization and economic progress), creating the inversion mentioned above, show higher fertility rates. Such data ought not be surprising, but clearly flies in the face of this idea of the need for a “policy” that would force individuals to make decisions about their reproductive future. Such a policy is a diminution of individual rights and fully consistent with a lowering of economic freedom. Yet, clearly, embracing economic freedom and individual rights gets you a lowered fertility rate without the force of government.

As groups embrace free market principles, respect and defend private property rights, and in all ways improve their standards of living they tend to increase their productive capacity. Opportunities arise that were not previously available, as well as the ability to engage in more personal pursuits. More leisure time coupled with more opportunity are direct results of the efficiency gains to be had through economic freedom, and women will pursue those opportunities, goals and dreams. It results in less of a need, or desire, to rear large families, and a higher value placed on personal achievement.

The relationships are there and seem fairly robust showing that as nations become more advanced and industrious, coupled with economic freedom (implying individual rights), people choose to have fewer children than in those places that are not as industrious, or free. Moreover, the free market sends signals to people in many different ways and these economic signals guide potential parents regarding when and how many offspring to raise. These signals from the market are all too often muted by the intervention of the government.. For example, look at America since 1900. Market interventions, the creation of fiat money through the Federal Reserve System and Treasury actions, massive social programs, and now “free health care” incentivize individuals and lead them to believe that if they have children a substantial part of the cost will be born by others. In fact, one can argue that several generations of people have been raised to simply assume the children will be cared for, regardless their ability to pay for food, shelter, clothing, schooling, heathcare, and old-age benefits. So, again, it ought not be surprising that in areas where economic freedom is low (or dropping) that true market signals do not get through – this will result in either too many or not enough children being brought into the world relative to the individual resources available.

If “policy-makers” are concerned about overpopulation, the social system of capitalism is clearly the most effective means of dealing with it in a rational, intelligent way. Economic freedom and development needs to be broadened and expanded to those areas of the world where birth rates are highest. In developed and advanced countries the temptation to introduce the inversion, engage in market manipulations, and otherwise reduce economic freedom must be resisted. More opportunity, freedom, individual rights and prosperity will quickly adjust unsustainably high birth rates in less developed areas, while real market signals will adjust populations elsewhere. Ironically, this is the very same prescription that is needed in any so-called climate debate. In most instances above, just replace the idea of a one-child policy with a CO2 cap policy and you’ll see the light.. Bottom line: Let the market be free, and attend to the proper relationship of individual rights verses collective rights – whole populations will rise and fall as need be for the survival, prosperity and highest attainable living standards for the human race..

1My summary results were obtained from analyzing all the available data from the two sources below. The complete comparison set was not reproduced, only the first 37 in the comparison – but all 180+ countries were compared..
2,4 Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom: http://www.heritage.org/Index/
3CIA Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2127rank.html

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