Sunday, February 28, 2010

My revised plan to save the world.

This is not one for the faint of heart, though it is less so than my initial two iterations of plans along the same lines (which are too harsh to post).  The inspiration for this comes from a debate held earlier today at the St. Louis Ethical Society, which I caught wind of through the St. Louis Atheist Meetup Group, concerning the following question: "Should China's One Child Policy Be Adopted in Other Poor Countries?"  The debate itself was not very good - the only halfway-decent speaker was a pro-life Missouri Lobbyist on the wrong side of the question.  Presentation skills aside, though, the two on the good side (both members of Citizens for Global Solutions of St. Louis) outlined a good argument for the protagonist view.

First of all, I should point out that this argument is pointless unless you accept the fact that the world population is excessive, and thus a contributing cause of many of the problems we face - the earth's resources are finite, after all.  And according to the below Wikipedia rendition of a graph from a recent UN report projecting population growth, things could get worse unless some action is taken:

The CGS members' view, set forth in a handout, was that there are three (though they combined #2 and #3 into one) reasons for recommending the one-child-per-family policy in poor countries:
  1. China was able to greatly increase the well-being of its own citizens by use of this policy.  Other poor countries could do the same.
  2. China also greatly helped to limit the population growth of the world as a whole, thus preserving (or rather, minimizing the destruction of) the natural resources available worldwide.
  3. Policies of national governments are one of the major factors in dealing with the population problem.
They also provided a few qualifications of their position.
  1. Although their claim is a normative one, they do not advocate that poor countries should be compelled to adopt the policy - they believe that it should be evident that such in a policy is in their best interest.
  2. They recommend flexibility for particular situations - e.g., minorities and families in rural areas - when adopting the policy.
  3. They recommend the use of strong financial incentives and public opinion in implementing the policy.  This includes making population control measures (condoms, birth-control pills, tubal ligations, nonsurgical vasectomies) freely available and offering privileges (free education, subsidized health care, guaranteed unemployment income) only to first-born children.
  4. They expressly reject the use of abortions, instead recommending that unwanted babies be made available for adoption by rural families (where additional labor would be useful).
  5. They recognize that the policy should be brought to an end if a country thinks that some unanticipated situation requires a change (e.g., an epidemic or natural disaster).
Of course this plan is not without potential problems.  The opposition brought up the following worries:
  1. First off, such a policy may seem to amount to a restriction of freedom, and this would probably be the case if implemented in a brutal, authoritative fashion.  One might be able to justify strict enforcement, and therefore limitation of liberty, by some utilitarian argument - thus overcoming the harm principle.  Regardless, the plan set forth relies on economic incentives, allowing people to choose not to comply at the risk of losing these incentives.  My worry, though, is that this may be a naive view: poor and uneducated people in these countries may not understand enough to make what I take to clearly be the proper choice.  There's also the worry that people will try to cheat the system.
  2. The lobbyist pointed out that China resorted to forced abortions and other brutal measures to implement the policy.  This may be the case, but the CGS does not advocate the use of abortions.  As mentioned above, implementation would be mostly financially driven.
  3. Another worry by the lobbyist is that unborn females would be targets for abortion since parents would prefer their single child to be a male.  In China this has resulted in a 1.17:1 ratio of males to females in the latest generation, which he claims has caused Chinese men to resort to illegal trafficking of women from neighboring countries.  Even if this is a pervasive problem, which I doubt, there is a logical limit to its effect.  At some point people have to realize that aborting females is a bad idea.  Maybe not being able to marry off their sons will be a way of sparking this realization.
  4. Yet another counterpoint was that China has too few young people to support their aging parents and grandparents, especially as life expectancy increases.  While I can sympathize to an extent, I would choose the problem of not being able to care for old people over that of having children continuously born into inescapable poverty.
All in all, I believe that the basic idea of such a policy is a sound one, and that it should be adopted in the Third World.  Furthermore, the arguments presented against do little to weaken it.

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