Bernardo M. Villegas
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Celebrating Youth in the Philippines (Part 3)

          True, an increasing population makes it more difficult to eradicate mass poverty. The Philippines still has the highest poverty incidence of close to 20 percent in the whole of East Asia.    The answer, however, is not to prevent births but to implement positive measures of transforming the humans being born into hands that can work and minds that can think and most of all into hearts that can unselfishly serve others.  Those positive measures have been identified by our leaders and are already being implemented to one degree or another.  We just have to persevere in carrying them out.  Among them is  focusing much more on rural and agricultural development.  The vast majority of the poor are in the rural areas which need more farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities and many other resources that can help the millions of farmers, especially rice, corn and coconut farmers, improve their incomes.  We should give as much financial and technical assistance possible to the millions of micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMSEs) that constitute 99 percent of business outfits.  We should invest more of the government budget in public education and public health.  To obtain the necessary funds for these pro-poor expenditures, we should increase the taxes on the wealthy  and on non-essential consumption (such as the so-called “sin  products” like liquor and cigarettes) so that the corresponding revenues can be used especially for Social Amelioration Programs for the poorest of the poor who do not benefit from free market forces. Those below the poverty line are too undernourished, too uneducated, and too unskilled to be able to participate actively in the market, whether on the demand or supply side.  We should encourage both the private sector and the State to invest, with the help of foreign capital from abroad, in labor-intensive industries and services.  These are time-tested solutions all over the world to reducing mass poverty. especially proved successful in the last twenty years in China that was able to reduce its poverty incidence to zero in just one generation. Another country we can emulate in this respect is Vietnam that just surpassed us in income per capita last year.  But more importantly, Vietnam has reduced its poverty incidence to close to zero by implementing the policies and programs enumerated above.

         All these and other measures are in keeping with what we call sustainable development which requires that we seek solutions to the problems of today without prejudicing the welfare of future generations.  As some countries around us have realized, population control was counterproductive.  Birth control might have partially contributed to solving the poverty problem when it was  implemented by countries like Singapore, Thailand and China in the past.  But limiting birth in the past clearly prejudiced seriously the welfare of the generations that came after.  Thus, population control is incompatible with sustainable development.  Let us cite an analogous case.  Suppose that our compassion for the millions of landless farmers would lead us to allow them to freely engage in slush-and-burn farming.  They may attain incomes above the poverty line today.  Their destroying our forests today, however, would seriously harm the welfare of future generations that will surely suffer from untold natural calamities because of the denuded forests that would be the result of their so-called “kaingin” methods of farming.    As Tyler Cowen wrote for Bloomberg (March 30, 2021), “what the world needs are more humans.”  He spells out very clearly the lessons we can learn from the depopulating countries of today, whether they are in Europe or in Asia: “There is some evidence that shrinking populations are bad for the global economy.  To me, however, the greater tragedy would be a failure to take full advantage of the planet’s capacity to sustain human life.  No kind of family policy should be mandatory.  But there should be policies that make larger families a more appealing option, both economically and otherwise.”

         These pro-active policies that make larger families more appealing are especially necessary if we take into account that there are some environmental factors that are causing a falling birth rate.  As Jeremy Grantham wrote in the article already cited above, “Our actual capacity to have children is in steep decline, as evidenced by a shocking 50 percent decline in sperm count since 1970 and equally rapid increase in age-adjusted miscarriage rate.  The most likely cause of this is endocrine disruption, which is the hijacking of the body’s hormonal system by environmental toxicants.  Infertility is beginning to rise rapidly and, combined with the increasing age at which women in developed countries are having children, is leading to greater difficulty conceiving…As we did with leaded petrol and lead paint, we are poisoning ourselves and our environment.  We have to stop now to protect both our health and our economic wellbeing.  We are in a global baby bust of unprecedented proportions.  It is far from over and its implications are gravely underestimated.”  We should do everything possible to counteract these environmental factors with social and economic policies that favor larger families.

   We should take full advantage of the provisions in the Philippine Constitution of 1987 on protecting the unborn baby from the moment of conception; on the family as the ultimate foundation of society; and on the inviolability of the marriage institution.  Taking these provisions seriously will ensure that we do not suffer the same fate as many developed countries which today are suffering from a shrinking population and rapidly ageing population.  Social policies that are anti-life (such as abortion and contraception) or anti-family (such as live-in arrangements, same sex unions, and divorce on demand) clearly are not favorable to large families. If we avoid like the plague legislating  these practices which attack the very stability of the family—which is the ultimate foundation of society—it would be  easier for us in the future, as we reach First World status, to still maintain fertility rates above 2.1 births per woman.

        I have sadly observed at close range how Spain is now suffering from one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe for having embraced anti-life and anti-family social policies.  I always advise the centennials and millennials I am mentoring to make sure that when they get married, they will target (God permitting) to have at least three children.  I jokingly tell them that it is the patriotic thing to do. I don’t think this is an unreasonable average family size to have for a society that can attain at least an upper-middle income status ($10,000 per capita income or more) in the next generation or so. There is still ample time for us to avoid the baby bust that inevitably leads to  demographic suicide.  For comments, my email address is