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Seven Billion Reasons to Celebrate

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The seven billionth member of humanity is coming. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the ugly underside of today’s international 'population movement.'

We do not know exactly when he or she will arrive—the U.S. Census Bureau says it may not be until March next year, while the United Nations’ Population Division suggests it already happened yesterday—but the seven billionth member of humanity is going to be joining the planet very soon.

We cannot tell with certainty where he or she will be born, but given the odds—less than 10 percent of today’s babies are born in North America, Europe, Oceania, or Japan—the child will most likely be born in what the UN calls the “less developed regions.”

The Times of India opines that this baby is more likely to be born in India—which currently accounts for 18 percent of the world’s newborns—than in any other country, and within India, is most likely to be born in Uttar Pradesh, the state which claims about a fifth of the nation’s overall births. But there is also a good chance the baby will be born in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly a fourth of the globe’s births are now occurring. China (with about 12 percent of the world’s births), Indonesia, and Pakistan (the latter two with just under 4 percent of the world’s total apiece) would certainly be in the running as well.

By anyone’s lights, the advent of Baby Seven Billion will be a historic moment, but the global high command for population policy evidently is in no welcoming mood for this innocent child.

As the Financial Times reported late last week:

In contrast to the photographs feting the symbolic sixth billionth birth in 1999, the UN is deliberately avoiding selecting a similar baby to mark this year’s milestone, in a move that Babtunde Osotimehin, executive director of the [UN Fund for Population, or UNFPA], said showed the need for reflection rather than celebration.

“Reflection” rather than “celebration”?

Can we talk honestly, just for a moment? When was the last time anyone heard bien-pensants in population policy circles bemoaning a surfeit of blond-haired, blue-eyed babies? Think about it.

Since 1999, the per capita GDPs of the low income economies have jumped by an average of more than 40 percent.

As these graceless official preparations for Baby Seven Billion inadvertently indicate, there is an ugly underside to today’s international “population movement” (whose enthusiasts no longer prefer to be called “population controllers”).

It is an underside whose intellectual heritage traces back to the heyday of eugenics, with its then-explicit emphasis on the imperative of pruning away “the unfit” from the human race. As Ur-eugenicist and population-controller Margaret Sanger, the mother of these modern efforts, declared in the 1920s,

Feeble-mindedness perpetuates itself from the ranks of those who are blandly indifferent to their racial responsibilities. And it is largely this type of humanity we are now drawing upon to perpetuate our world for the generations to come.

And lest anyone forget: those high-minded eugenic precepts were parent to the concept of unlebenswertes Leben (roughly translated, “lives not worth living,” as determined by those other than the particular souls in question)—a notion that would fatefully come into vogue in Germany during that country’s darkest hour.

For obvious reasons, this is a pedigree that today’s population controllers do not strain to highlight.

And incidentally: what of this veil of tears into which Baby Seven Billion is being born? Baby Six Billion is now about 12 years old (having been born in 1999)—and Baby Five Billion has recently marked his or her 24th birthday (he or she was born in early 1987). The world has changed over these years—and not for the worse, if material living standards are our benchmark.

The child will most likely be born in what the UN calls the 'less developed regions.'

Since 1987, according to the World Bank, life expectancy for the planet as a whole has risen by 4 years, to 69, adult literacy rates have increased by over 8 points, to 84 percent, and per capita income (in real 2005 PPP-adjusted dollars) has risen by over 50 percent, the ongoing global economic crisis notwithstanding.

These gains, to be sure, were unevenly distributed. Even so, since 1999, according to the World Bank’s numbers, the per capita GDPs of the low income economies have jumped by an average of more than 40 percent and the percentage of children completing primary school has risen by 16 points, to 65 percent. Over those same dozen years, the risk of infant mortality in these low income economies has dropped by about 1 percent per annum.

The plain fact is that Baby Seven Billion will have a greater chance to live to adulthood and receive an education—and a lower chance of suffering extreme material poverty—than a child at any previous juncture in history. This prospect, in and of itself, should be a cause for celebration.

Nicholas Eberstadt is the Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute.

FURTHER READING: Eberstadt also writes “Fewer Babies, for Better or Worse,” “Demography and Japan's Future,” “Demographic Trends Cloud China's Long-Term Economic Outlook,” and “World Population Prospects and the Global Economic Outlook.”

Image by Darren Wamboldt | Bergman Group

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