Birth Control and Unemployment
“New Generation,” a journal which exists to popularise “the voluntary control of population in all countries,” prints in its July issue criticisms of articles in the June Socialist Standard. The gist of the criticisms is that unemployment is caused by density of population. “New Generation” writes as follows:—
Let us next remark that unemployment would have been much rifer than it is now if it had not been for birth control. Since 1876 the birth rate has fallen from 36 to 14 per thousand. If unemployment is rife even with a birth rate of 14. what would it have been if the birth rate had remain at 36?
The theory behind this argument is that if the annual increase of population were larger than it is at present, the excess population could not find employment, or alternatively if they did find employment wages would be depressed. The first point of notice is that whereas the population in 1876 was under 36 millions it is now about 48 millions. From which we might deduce, according to the reasoning of the “New Generation,” that the additional 13 million would all be unemployed, or alternatively the wage level would be much lower than it was in 1876. But “New Generation” is not prepared to maintain either of these propositions, as will be seen from their two further statements:—
There is no reason to believe that unemployment has increased within historical times.
Birth control has not abolished unemployment, but it has enabled both the employed and the unemployed workers to have a far higher standard of life than they could have had if the birth rate had remained where it stood 65 years ago.
The fallacy of the theory of the birth controllers is in supposing that unemployment is a direct result of the size of population in a given area of land, thus ignoring the form of social organisation, capitalism. If their theory were correct how could the big fluctuations’ of unemployment be explained, that take place without a material change of population? In June, 1924, registered unemployed numbered about one million. In June, 1932, the figure was not far short of three millions. In June, 1939, it was 1,350,000. It will take more than birth control to explain such fluctuations.
Unemployment actually grows because the capitalist, for the time, cannot sell his products at a profit, and this in turn accompanies a huge glut of products on the market. If, like the “New Generation,” we ignored capitalism and treated unemployment as if it resulted directly from population we could re-write the paragraph quoted at the beginning of this article, as follows:—
“Since 1876 the birthrate has fallen from 36 to 14 per thousand. There are therefore far fewer young children who do not compete for jobs themselves and are all the time consuming goods and thus making work for the unemployed. If only we could get back to a birthrate of 36 per thousand how much more work there would be to absorb the unemployed.”
It will be seen that this statement is nearly as absurd as the reverse statement made by the “New Generation.” It is not quite as absurd, however, because in fact capitalism flourishes on waste, as can be seen during this war. The amount of wealth produced for destruction in the form of war material is enormous. Millions have been withdrawn from industry yet simultaneously the production of home grown food has been increased so that now two-thirds of the food is home grown. At the same time there is no longer any unemployment to speak of. Capitalism cannot do this under peace conditions when the amount of employment is determined by the ability of the capitalists to make profits, but given Socialism the energies now devoted to war and waste could be added to the existing production of food, clothing, etc., so that all could live in comfort.
Is it only necessary to add that “New Generation” also ignores the failure of their theory to fit the facts of different countries. They quote Professor Kimble that “more land has usually meant better conditions of life,” and illustrate this by asking “Why is the standard of life so much higher in the U.S.A. than in Germany or Japan ?”