A couple of weeks ago when I visited Washington, DC, I came across an article by John Feehery in The Hill that used â€œPascalâ€™s Wagerâ€ in proving his point on the virtues of supporting environmental policy reforms to combat the global warming phenomenon. I think the very same line of thought can apply to the highly debated Reproductive Health (RH) or Responsible Parenthood (RP) Bill in the Philippines. The idea is that even if we grant the arguments of the anti-RH/anti-RP folks that population increase is not the cause of the problems plaguing the countryâ€™s citizenry especially itâ€™s poor, but then again the Philippines is the only country many of its poor can live in. Can we really afford to ignore the relationship of poverty incidence with increasing population?
For those folks who are not familiar with â€œPascalâ€™s Wagerâ€, according to Wikipedia it is an argument in apologetic philosophy which was devised by Blaise Pascal. It suggests that there’s more to be gained from wagering on the existence of God than from not believing in the existence of God, and that a rational person should live as though God exists, even though the truth of the matter cannot actually be known. In essence, if one were to put a bet on whether God exists or not, if the person wagers on the side that God does not exist and turns out to be wrong, he loses more as he will end up suffering eternal damnation. If the person wagers on the side that God exists and turns out to be wrong, then thereâ€™s nothing gained nor lost when it comes to the idea of eternal punishment for the idea ceases to exist with the non-existence of God. I do not wish to dwell on the arguments for or against the existence of God but I would like to discuss the principle of the Wager on the virtues of the RH/RP Bill.
In an article describing a 2009 study by the Asian Development Bank, it was stressed that even with a 0.47 percent poverty reduction rate between the periods 1990 and 2005, this reduction rate was slower than in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, and Vietnam. According to Wikipedia, this dismal poverty reduction rate shows that the incidence of poverty has remained significantly high as compared to other countries. The study, as stated in the article, also shows that among the countries looked at, only in the Philippines did the overall number of poor people increased during that period. More to the point, less than one fifth of households with four members or less are poor and this percentage doubles to more than forty percent with six or more members in the family household. As the ADB indicated:
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â€œFamily size is (also) positively correlated with poverty incidence and vulnerability.â€
Now I do realize that population growth alone cannot explain poverty nor can it be the only culprit to the societal problems plaguing the country. There certainly are factors such as bad governance, corruption, wealth and income inequality and weak economic growth. But there have been numerous studies that show how population growth may lead to or even aggravate the problem of poverty. Some of the studies are as follows:
In a RAND publication entitled: â€œThe Demographic Dividend: A New Perspective on the Economic Consequences of Population Changeâ€, it states that as the number of people gets bigger, per capita production increases provided that the labor market can absorb the large number of workers. (My comment: Thereâ€™s the rub. The current labor market in the Philippines cannot absorb the large number of workers. Sure the country can make policy changes such as Charter Change especially focused on allowing foreign ownership of businesses to spur foreign investment and the business climate. However, this could mean that the local businessmen would be at a disadvantage over their foreign counterparts. Some even say that this would violate Philippine sovereignty and self-determination. So the challenge seems to lie on how we can have our cake and eat it too.)
A book by Alhburg et al. entitled: â€œThe Impact of Population Growth on Well-being in Developing Countriesâ€ concludes that:
“â€¦slowing population growth from high current levels, especially in poor agrarian societies facing pressure on land and resources, is advantageous to economic development, health, food availability, housing, poverty, the environment, and possibly education. It also concludes that while other economic and social policies may affect one or a few of these components of well-being more directly, few, if any, are likely to have the breadth of impact of family planning programmes.”
Emmanuel de Dios et al., in a book entitled: â€œPoverty, Growth and the Fiscal Crisisâ€ argued that:
â€œHigh population growth has direct effects on poor families. Where unemployment is high, a larger population aggravates poverty simply because income per person becomes lower as population expands. This has more severe effects on the poor since their families are also larger. This implies that the share of incomes received by poor families is even more thinly distributed among them.â€
Eastwood and Lipton from a publication at the Journal of Development Studies entitled: â€œImpact of Changes in Human Fertility on Povertyâ€ has shown that cross-national regressions indicate that higher fertility increases poverty both by retarding economic growth and by skewing distribution against the poor.
Now I am sure there are a number of ways an anti-RH/anti-RP person can shoot holes in the arguments and facts presented in the studies and articles mentioned. Correlating population increase with poverty incidence may be nothing more than a case of statistical sophistry. However, while the number of unemployed and underemployed continues to be high (and increasing), while the overall number of poor people continue to increase, while the available resources and opportunities in the country continue to decline and tip the scale of the law of supply and demand towards a decreased consumer purchasing power, I do not think we can afford to ignore the evidence that poorly managed population growth is having an impact on the lives of millions of Filipino people, especially the poor.
[Photo courtesy Christian Post.]
The RH/RP Bill isn’t about abortion nor is it even about implementing a policy on how many children people shall have. It is about choices on family planning. People with financial means would always have the benefit of having the choice of and access to contraceptives if they do not wish to have children. People who are poor tend not to have the same benefit as it becomes a matter of affordability for them. From how I understand the intent of the RH/RP Bill is, the aim is to help provide this benefit for the poor. Given the current state of the Philippines when it comes to poverty, supporting the RH/RP Bill seems to be the safer bet at this time. There seems to be a more immediate risk in being an overpopulation atheist than to be the opposite.
Calling a spade, a spade…