Thursday, July 11, 2019

50 Years Ago: Population and Poverty (1986)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have long been familiar with the argument that poverty is due to over-population, and that if the workers would only decrease the size of their families they would all be better off. Now we are introduced to the opposite argument, from a catholic, Father Woodlock. In a statement to the Evening Standard (January 15th) he pointed out that a falling population means fewer soldiers to defend the Empire, and that in addition it means greater poverty for the workers.
 Only short-sighted economists fail to notice that fall in the birth rate will not help the condition of the working classes, but accompanied by the noticeably increased longevity of our people, will put a much heavier burden on the workers.
 They will be fewer, but in the future they will have to support a much increased number of aged and unemployable dependants. Propagandists of the spread of the birth-control movement never seem to aver this.
We can agree with Father Woodlock that those who preach birth control as a cure for poverty and unemployment are completely in the wrong, but in rejecting that fallacy Father Woodlock embraces another. It is true that a population containing a large proportion of people unable to work may be at a disadvantage compared with one containing a higher proportion of able-bodied men and women in the prime of life, but we are not living in a system of society in which the problem of wealth production is as simple as that. Under capitalism large numbers of people — the propertied class — are not engaged in wealth production and have no desire or necessity to be so engaged. Consequently the burden resting on the shoulders of the workers is not that of keeping only themselves and their own dependants, but, in addition, of keeping the propertied class in luxury and idleness or non-productive activity. and of keeping all the military and civil hangers-on of the capitalist system. The wealth producers are not engaged in producing for themselves, but of producing wealth for the capitalist class alone to own and control.
(From an editorial Quins, Quads and Poverty, Socialist Standard, February 1936.)

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