Editorial: Population and Poverty

We are told by a correspondent (J. Caldwell, Glasgow), that the article “Housing and Festivals” in our December, 1951, issue “overlooks the need for the poorer classes to restrict or curtail their procreative activities. Study Malthus, abolish all religious superstition and get down to birth control. India, China, etc., etc., should be a lesson to all.”

Our correspondent tells us that India and China “should be a lesson to all” but does not tell us what the lesson is. If we are to assume that our correspondent means that where the population increases the workers are poor and that in countries where the population does not increase but declines the workers are not poor the answer is simple: the working class are poor in all countries. The population in Ireland has declined enormously during the past 100 years and is still falling. It fell from 2,971,992 in 1926 to 2,955,107 in 1946. By contrast the population in Great Britain, America, Canada, Australia, and in the world generally increased greatly during the same periods. Are we then to believe that in Ireland the workers are no longer poor, or are less poor than the workers in other countries named? If our correspondent really believes this he should supply evidence.

France is another country in which population has declined (from 41,835,000 in 1931 to 40,503,000 in 1946). Are the French workers no longer poor?

One interesting point about our correspondent’s case is that he does not offer the benefits of birth control to the capitalists but only to “the poorer classes.” In other words, though he apparently thinks that birth control will make the poor rich he does not think that the lack of it will make the rich poor.

What we need to be told by those who hold our correspondent’s view is how their alleged cure for poverty is supposed to operate. They argue that there are too many workers and that a reduction of their number would enable the smaller number to push up wages.

This argument overlooks the fact that under capitalism the number of workers who can get work is not a fixed number, it depends on whether capitalist production is expanding or contracting. At present there are some 22 million workers in employment and not only is unemployment relatively low but, according to the Ministry of Labour (Labour Gazette, Jan. 1952). the number of registered unemployed 302,956 is actually less than the number of unfilled vacancies 335,686. (The explanation is of course that the vacancies may be in areas where there are no unemployed workers suitable for the kind of work). Our correspondent wants the number of workers to be decreased. Let us suppose therefore that his propaganda succeeded in reducing the number from 22 million to say 21 million. But in 1931 according to the Ministry of Labour (21st Abstract of Labour Statistics, page 14), the total number of persons available for work was 21,000,000. Were the workers then in the happy position of being less poor, or not poor at all? By no means, for at that time capitalism was in one of its depressions and there were 2½ millions out of work!

While capitalism continues the working class, whether more or less numerous than what our correspondent regards as the proper number, will continue to be exploited. Not birth control but Socialism is required to abolish poverty.