Population and Economics: A Complex Relationship
It permeates everything we do at the Commission on Population and Development. It’s an automatic assumption. Presumed to be so. It’s the premise we rely on to make policy decisions. The formula is simple: in order to achieve economic growth and human development, there have to be fewer people so that our finite resources can be distributed equitably. This doctrine, so unequivocally determined that it cannot be questioned, seems to make sense. We have a limited number of resources. People keep on living longer and having children, so population is growing exponentially. Since resources need to be spread out, and don’t multiply exponentially, the only solution is to have fewer people to consume them. The alternative is what Malthus predicted: poverty and then death.
Well there’s a problem with the simple formula: people are complex. They’re wildcards. They’re not always predictable. And the best part? The creativity of the human person, manifesting itself in a myriad of ways across the generations, has inestimable value and the potential to bring society out of poverty.
You see, even if resources are tight, the human person is capable of spreading them around so that everyone gets his share. After all, it is the human person who has developed the medical knowledge and tools to increase life expectancy by leaps and bounds across the developed and developing world in the last century. The point is, we have the resources, but the resources just don’t get to everyone. That’s where the genius of the human person, applying the knowledge and skills he has developed through education, can transform the world.
This all brings us to the present Commission, where we are reviewing the ICPD Programme of Action within the context of “fertility, reproductive health and development.” What could we possibly say that is new, if the assumption is that lowered fertility will increase economic prosperity and human development? As young people, we hope that a reevaluation of the relationship between population and economics can occur, so that together we can find person-centered approaches to development.
The first step towards a person-centered approach is to recognize that people are drivers of development and not hindrances it. It is people who discover, through developing new technologies and systems of production and management, how to interact with the world in a more efficient way to promote human flourishing. In order to encourage this activity, it is necessary to invest in human capital by investing in the things that human beings need for fulfillment and productivity: education, healthcare and families.
Education is necessary for human beings to further economic growth. And educated citizen can educate future generations, contribute more in the workplace, and engage society politically, thus contributing to economic growth. An educated citizen is an empowered citizen.
Healthcare is an absolute necessity if human beings are to fulfill their potential in all spheres of society. If parents are not healthy, their children are not healthy. If employees are not healthy, productivity goes down. Healthcare allows citizens to spend a longer time in employment. All of this is a prerequisite to economic and human development.
When governments strengthen and support families, the place where all people first understand their potential to contribute to society and their roles in economic and social development, they support economic growth. For many, families are the means of staying out of poverty, so when they thrive, future generations thrive.
It’s time to reexamine what we think about the relationship between people and economics. The young people of the world are waiting for this conversation.
WYA Declaration on Population and Economics
New York, March 2011
We are young people of diverse ethnic, religious, cultural, and economic backgrounds from every region of the world. Many of us are from the developing world, which has large, young populations capable of innovation and creativity, a driver of economic growth. Some of us are from the developed world, which currently has lower fertility rates, ageing populations and in some cases stalled economic growth. As young people, we are concerned about the relationship between population and economic prosperity. A proper understanding of this relationship is necessary in order to propose policies that will reduce poverty and lead to both human and economic flourishing.
The economy is the system of production and management of material wealth in a given society. Proper social and cultural development is a necessary condition for, rather than a result of, a thriving economy. When societies are built upon respect for human dignity and the family, sustainable economic growth follows, demonstrating that cultural and human capital are the primary resources driving overall human development.
The intangibility of human capital makes the relationship between population and economics complex. The potential of the human person to generate wealth using knowledge, skills and creativity is unique and reflects an aspect of human dignity. Therefore, investing in the human person, in a climate of freedom and respect, leads to integral human development and economic growth. Investing in the human person requires investing in healthcare and education, as healthy and educated persons can reach their potential in the workplace, engage civilly and raise healthy families, thus contributing to the economy. A society that recognizes, supports, and encourages the value of occupations that respect human dignity, including informal care-giving, allows for the maximization of human capital and economic growth.
Since human capital is our most important resource, responsible stewardship is a necessary condition of sustainable economic development. Population management programs categorize human beings, especially vulnerable populations, as burdens instead of essential participants in long-term economic development. The premise that fixed resources and equitable distribution require fewer individuals is not only flawed but inconsistent with human dignity. Population management programs ignore the real causes of economic growth: anti-corruption policies, protection of basic human rights, access to education and investment in infrastructure.
Human capital is first and best developed within the family, the basic unit of society. It is within the family that children first understand their dignity, realize their potential and are prepared to be responsible agents of economic and social development. We recognize that both the role of the mother and the father are significant to the child’s development. Civil society, governments, and international institutions can play an important role in the development of human capital by creating supportive environments in which families thrive.
We call on civil society, governments and international institutions to invest in the human person, and to work with us to build societies which foster economic and human flourishing.