Saturday, June 07, 2008

It isn't the "root"...

... but it hardly helps.

Jose Romero writes "Population Not Root Cause of Philippines' Woes" in response to Ernie Pernia's commentary "RP Food Crisis Not Simply A Supply Problem" and manages to set up and strike down a strawman. Romero notices the last part critiquing the Catholic Church's population policy and creates a phantom argument to demolish.

In his article Pernia does not say that a large population is the "root" of the problem, he simply implies that it doesn't help. Which is true. His "back of the envelope" calculations say (heck, common sense will) that if we were able to keep our population down we wouldn't be needing this much rice. Hence the title of his article. Demand is something we need to keep in check, too.

The best way to think about population is in the micro level. A couple with two kids can survive on much less than a family of six or eight. This means less pressure for the parents to earn more or more rewards if they do. In other words, the janitor isn't poor because he has six kids; he is poor because he earns minimum wage. His six kids prevent him from rising from his poverty because their demand always exceeds his supply.

Of course economists from the UA&P will argue, as Romero does, that a large population can drive growth as in the case of China. But that just begs the question: why isn't it happening to us right now?

Our hypothetical janitor may potentially have six college graduates to help him in his old age but that's only if he manages to get them in school in the first place; something nigh impossible with less than 10K a month. The Philippines' large population can drive growth but only if we are able to prepare them properly. Something we find hard to do because our population is large.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kasi naman, isipin na kaagad... kung di kayang bumuhay ng anim, wag gumawa ng anim.

Baka ang problem ay kakulangang ng tv... walang ibang past time eh. Hehe! kidding =)

Francis Ocoma said...

You bring up a very important point: extreme population growth is an economically unpleasant symptom of something else, some other "root". Surely it would be a nice thing to solve the problem of demand, separate from the problem of supply. But assuming that we don't rely on extreme solutions like Malthusian genocide, mass sterilization, or government-enforced family planning, the problem of demand will remain unsolved for quite some time, so maybe we should focus more on other more pressing problems. We can't just uselessly argue about the theoretical disadvantages of a theoretical population growth because, looky looky, it ain't so theoretical any more.

The government has to deal with the millions of Filipinos who are already alive and who are already poor. It should of course educate them into forming their own well-reasoned decisions regarding their own families (the way we "enlightened" people were taught in Economics and Biology classes), but the time for fussing about population growth is past. Now is the time to actually work with the big population. (You could say that now is the time to face the effects of our ancestors' blockheaded decision to create too many of us, hehe.)

The question that should matter now is this: What do we do with the poor large families of today? Do we help them survive, give the children proper education so that they may grow and have normal lives with their own (hopefully smaller) families? Or do we discriminate them and blame them for our poor economy, filling the children with guilt that their parents ever conceived them, and pressuring them into not reproducing so as to mitigate their parents' "crime"?

I suggest we don't treat the poor like that. After all, they outnumber us by such a large margin. :P

Francis Ocoma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Francis Ocoma said...

I deleted my second comment. I'm really sorry if you've read it, already. I was merely trying to point out that talking of the missed opportunities of "sustaining with vigor" the 60's FP policy is a bit futile now that the 60's unborn are now almost 50 and with children of their own. It would simply give them the message that they shouldn't have been born, which, to say the least, isn't very polite.

Romero's article in the whole didn't really seem like a strawman attack to me, other than perhaps the title (because, as you pointed out, Pernia never said it was the "root"). Romero's second paragraph showed what exactly he was attacking:

"Alarm bells are ringing all over regarding the so-called population explosion, which has become the whipping boy of our economic woes."

We really can't deny that this is exactly what Pernia's article was trying to bring about: to sound alarm bells. Romero then attempted to clarify some issues concerning population explosion. His item 7, which was directed at Pernia's main point, seems pretty weak, but it certainly can't be said to be a straw man argument.

Still, I should not have posted that offensive comment, and I apologize.

missingpoints said...

It's ok, man. I didn't find it offensive.

Anyway, there's no use crying over spilled milk but to keep on spilling the milk is stupid. We do have a large population which makes it a bit more difficult for us and we need to do something about it.

Population isn't the whipping boy of our economic woes, it's just the easiest one to solve because it requires only common sense and access to contraception. Of course the "common sense" part will take a little more work, it's one thing to have the ability to have fewer kids, quite another to want it. A lot of people still have that "more kids = better" mindset despite evidence to the contrary.

Re: #7. It's weak because it just says that a large population isn't necessarily bad. But that doesn't mean it's automatically good. It probably takes more work to maximize a large population than to simply manage demand.

missingpoints said...

Francis: "The question that should matter now is this: What do we do with the poor large families of today? Do we help them survive, give the children proper education so that they may grow and have normal lives with their own (hopefully smaller) families? Or do we discriminate them and blame them for our poor economy, filling the children with guilt that their parents ever conceived them, and pressuring them into not reproducing so as to mitigate their parents' "crime"?"

We don't discriminate at all. It's not an either/or thing. We're trying to do something about the "spilled milk" while making sure we don't spill any more in the future.

Francis Ocoma said...

"We don't discriminate at all. It's not an either/or thing. We're trying to do something about the "spilled milk" while making sure we don't spill any more in the future."

Then we agree! :D I don't think Romero was even advocating "spilling more milk" in his article (see points 1, 2, and 4). From what I've read, his point seems to be that the large population is now upon us and we might as well utilize it for good, which is definitely possible.

I suppose my main beef with Pernia's article is that he doesn't get to the root of the problem because of his fixation on the population symptom. Corruption, greed, perversity, apathy, the tendency to fuck something when bored... all of these stem from immaturity and ignorance. The solution, of course, is Education. The thing is, education is way more than Economics and Biology, and if the children of today miss out on other things like Ethics, History, and Logic, well, we just might have a generation full of intelligent, rich, corrupt, greedy, perverted and apathetic people who are also childless. Well, that might be a good thing.

missingpoints said...

But that's the biggest problem, how do you educate a constantly increasing number of people? When I was working in DepEd I asked the guys from planning why we can't build enough schoolrooms. They said it's because the demand is constantly rising.

Looking at it from a micro level, the janitor with six kids can only afford the most basic education whilst one with only two can probably save up for a better college at least.

milkman said...

hey francis! got milk?

Jose Jean Paolo said...

Having a large population in and by itself isn't all that bad... for me, its more an issue of about productivity (or more to the point, the lack of it).

I admit I haven't done my research on this but on the issue of supply and demand, I think the problem wouldn't be such a problem, if only we spread/proportion our resources in a more effective manner. Basically, I think we are too centralized in the metropolis. The country ain't that small, it just seems that way since everyone seems to want to crowd in the same place.
We have to admit in today's rat race we are not ready to compete on a technological level but on an agricultural level we can run with the best of 'em if we just focus on what we have working for us.

I agree that education is key, but when Francis spoke of higher education it sounded to much like a "ten year plan". Me, I would be content with a short term goal of getting a man(every man) to fish, to toil the land ect ect.

... I realize I left a lot of holes in my discourse but I am currently out of time to continue (I'll get back to this when I can)

Anonymous said...

Can't we just feed the homeless to the hungry? To hell with "immorality", let's doh it!

missingpoints said...

Soylent Green is people!

Anonymous said...

Woo! Soylent Green! Haha!