Indonesia | Economics

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The fatal misconception of population control

For the holiday, I decided to finish Michael Connelly's Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population. It's an excellent history of how a hypothesis -- that unchecked, population growth will result in all sorts of problems -- became an ideology that got translated into policies and spun out of control to ruin many lives of women, mostly in developing countries. From the book's concluding chapter:
The great tragedy of population control, the fatal misconception, was to think that one could know other people's interests better than they knew it themselves. But if the idea of planning other people's families is now discredited, this very human tendency is still with us. The essence of population control... was to make rules for other people without having to answer to them. It appealed to the rich and powerful because, with the spread of emancipatory movements and the integration of markets, it began to appear easier and more profitable to control populations than to control territory. That is why opponents were correct in viewing it as another chapter in the unfinished history of imperialism.


The book is full of examples of how good intentions is a poor substitute for good evidence when devising (and scaling up) public policies. Yet, this seems to be the default mode of policy-making -- not only in Indonesia, but also within many international organizations and NGOs. Personally, I find this rather scary.

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4 Comments:

  • info yang sangat menarik, tapi saya mohon dimaafkan, karena belum baca bukunya saya masih tidak paham, saya harap bung Arya mau beri penjelasan lebih banyak lagi.
    terimaksih sebelumnya.

    By Anonymous iskandar_zii@yahoo.co.uk, at 3/24/2009 01:02:00 am  

  • very interesting thoughts. will have to get back on this later.

    By Blogger treespotter, at 9/24/2009 03:36:00 pm  

  • Arya:

    I come from Indonesia. I am living here in the Netherlands with my boyfriend, and we are not (yet) married. And yet, before I left the country, it was really really difficult for me to obtain birth control. My friend works in the BKKBN, and I know they don't provide even any information on birth control, they just print brochures so they can use up their budget and get paid.

    Maybe some "population groups" made mistakes. But it is a mistake to oppose the groups that are trying to help women have reproducitve control over their own bodies.

    The recent financial crisis is proof that unregulated markets are just as dangerous (to the world) as foolish social policies. But I doubt that you have stoppped promoting the value of markets to help the development of Indonesia.

    Some social policies (against crime, drugs, etc.) are well-intentioned, if imperfect. Until you are a woman, you will never know what it is like to be told that you are "not allowed" to receive birth control because there is no NGO to provide it (and the government refuses to do so).

    Perhaps you should spend more time in the country trying to understand the needs of the people, rather than theorizing about what is good or bad.

    Terima Kasih.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/21/2010 09:51:00 am  

  • Anonymous (@2/21/2010 09:51:00 AM):

    I think you misunderstood what I'm against in my last paragraph. I'm neither against birth control nor NGOs promoting reproductive rights. What I'm against is pushing for program scale-up based on ideology instead of evidence.

    The book told a story of Western bureaucrats who in believing the notion of population explosion, wanted to limit population growth, mainly in developing countries. In doing so, they even promoted dubious health practices that hurt women, and kept doing so for a while even in the face of evidence against them. That's what I think is scary.

    It's one thing to give women the rights over their bodies. It's another to finance and support government coercion to force women to limit their fertility that were harmful to their health in developing countries -- just because you're afraid of the spectre of population explosion, yet were politically unable to implement population control policy at home.

    By Blogger Arya Gaduh, at 2/21/2010 10:40:00 am  

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