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Shane Mage

A Crowded Planet

(Fall 1962)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.4, Fall 1962, pp.125-126.
Transcribed &marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Common Sense About a Starving World
by Ritchie Calder
MacMillan, N.Y. 1962, $2.95, pp. 176.

At present there are three billion human inhabitants on the surface of this planet. For the majority of them – of us – hunger, malnutrition, are the “normal” human condition. They dwell perpetually on the margin of starvation. Yet, under the life-extending impetus of modern preventive medicine, this population cannot but increase to four billion by 1980 and, if present birth rates are not radically lowered, must exceed six billion by the end of the century. Despite all efforts to increase the food supply will this exploding population, as the modern disciples of Malthus predict, inevitably push mankind beyond the margin of starvation? The current economic crisis in China is proof that this danger is quite real and imminent. Can it be overcome? In Common Sense About a Starving World Prof. Ritchie Calder argues, in a simple and direct exposition aimed at the broadest public, that the real question is not whether starvation can be prevented, but whether it will be.

All too frequently the problem of population is posed in the falsified form of a debate between the followers of Malthus and of St. Paul. To the “Malthusian” contention that food supplies cannot be increased drastically, leaving rigid limitation of population as the only salvation, the “Pauline” spokesmen John XXIII and Mao Tse-tung reply that if every baby brings an additional mouth to feed it also brings an additional pair of hands able to produce more than enough nourishment. Rapid population growth, far from being considered a danger, is thus presented as a positive good.

The “common sense” view of Prof. Calder refutes both these dogmatic positions. A brief but telling survey of the world’s agricultural resources shows that even on the basis of present technology, through raising the productivity of now-cultivated land to the average level of the advanced countries and through extension of cultivation into what are now desert and tundra regions, it is possible to provide a satisfactory diet for a greatly augmented world population.

But this should give scant comfort to the “Pauline” anti-Malthusians. As Calder points out, “the alarming factor is not the number, but the time.” The people of the world demand, and are entitled to, a decent standard of living not centuries from now but within the next few decades. This can be achieved if a vast and carefully planned program of investment is carried out on a world scale (a program which, as Calder recognizes, will far surpass what the advanced capitalist societies are presently willing to accept).

Even under the most favorable form of social organization this development effort will for a long time be restrained by objective limits: the full utilization of existing productive capacity and the finite, depletable reserves of the natural factors of production (land surface, timber, organic fuels, minerals). If these limits apply for the next 40 years (and the longer the delay before a real development program is started the longer will they apply) a difference of 1% per year in the rate of population growth will mean a difference of 50% in the average living standard at the end of the century! In fact the difference would be even greater, since every retardation in the increase of living standards is paid for by a lower rate of increase of labor productivity.

It thus emerges clearly that birth control as the major factor in population planning is not a substitute for intensive economic development but a necessary component part of an effort aimed first of all at a rapid increase of production. As Calder states in conclusion,

“I am, as I hope this book has shown, completely committed to family planning and population control but I am equally convinced that we shall not substantially modify the figures for 1980. It is therefore essential that we contrive the means to feed them all in twenty years time. We must mobilize the wisdom and the science of the world – put the best brains and the most money behind the efforts to resolve our predicament.”

How is this to be done, given the willingness of the great imperialist powers to squander vast resources in war production and their refusal to allot more than derisory alms to world economic development? Our response: socialist reorganization of the world economy. Calder, though his approach is implicity socialist, confines himself to posing the task, not discussion of the answers. Subject to this reservation, and given its purpose as a popularization of the subject, Prof. Calder’s book has considerable value.

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