TCS Daily


Is This 'An Occasion to Celebrate'?

By Sauvik Chakraverti - August 27, 2003 12:00 AM

My friend Sunondo has four children. I asked him which one he loved the most and he said the youngest one. Now, this is contrary to Carl Menger's law of diminishing marginal utility, which holds that the more we have of anything, the less we love it. So, if it was cake you were consuming, the first slice would be heaven, but by the fourth you would be sick and want to throw the rest of cake into the waste bin. How come Carl Menger's law -- and law it is -- applies for cake and for everything else we have, but not for children?

 

I ask this question in a particular context: that of the so-called "population problem" which has had a host of Third World governments, including mine in India, taking out stringent policies in order to limit the number of children people have. Recently, in India, many states have debarred candidates with more than two children from contesting local elections. If every succeeding child gives us more pleasure, what sense does it make to penalize fertility?


In China, the "one-child norm" was enforced because, after several generations, there were millions of Chinese with no brothers, no sisters, no aunts, no uncles, no cousins, two parents and four grandparents. What is better for a child? A large family? Or a strong state?

 

The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus worried that a growing population would outstrip a society's ability to feed itself. At the time he was writing, Malthus had many eminent classical liberal economists opposing his predictions of doom. Jean Baptiste Say and Frederic Bastiat both wrote tellingly of the mistake Malthus was making: assuming technology to be constant. In modern times, the economist Lord P.T. Bauer was a prominent critic of the "population problem" and, after him, Julian Simon proved convincingly that human beings are not a problem, but the world's "ultimate resource."

 

The planet Earth is bountiful. There will always be an abundance of resources, including energy, so long as we allow human beings the freedom to utilize the Earth's bounty and serve the needs of mankind through the free market and the price mechanism.

 

However, Third World governments and the United Nations are still on the side of Malthus. The Indian Parliament, in a unanimous resolution recently passed on the 50th year of independence, asserted that population was India's biggest problem. That is, the representatives of the people were united in saying that their constituents and their children were a problem.

 

And as for the United Nations, recently a baby girl was born and promptly billed as India's billionth citizen. The UNFPA representative in New Delhi said in a press statement, "This is not an occasion to celebrate." What should we celebrate instead -- the fact that tens of thousands die on our unsafe streets every year?

 

India is an overwhelmingly young country; 96 percent of the people are below the age of 59; 74 percent are below the age of 39; and 34 percent are below the age of 15. This young country is ruled by aged rulers who believe that our babies should not have been born. What could be worse than that?

 

Third World governments like those of China and India, which endorse the population problem and coerce citizens into having fewer children, should be disgraced, as should the UN. Every couple in the world should be free to decide how many children they can have. And every child should be welcomed into the world. Every birth should be celebrated and every death mourned. And it is not just additional children that give us pleasure: This pleasure is multiplied when we have more and more grandchildren. Carl Menger may have been the Emperor of Economics, but his "law" certainly overlooked the issue of reproduction. So let us have more children; let every child give us increasing marginal utility; let us have more and more grandchildren too, where marginal utility is even higher, and let us bury the ghost of Thomas Robert Malthus who was, after all, a priest who disapproved of poor English people having sex.

 

Sauvik Chakraverti, is a winner of the Frederic Bastiat Award for journalism (2002). He was senior assistant editor at The Economic Times in New Delhi, and is the author of Antidote: Essays against the Socialist Indian State (2000), Free Your Mind: A Beginners Guide to Political Economy (2002), Antidote 2: For Liberal Governance (2003), Antidote 3: From the Hair of Shiva to Hair of the Prophet and Other Essays (in press).
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