A response to this article about overpopulation. Here follow some comments.

1. The author is racist, white separatist, ultra-anti-immigration, and heavily involved with the extreme right.

I do not use these terms lightly.

She is tied to the far-right and white-supremacist “Council of Conservative Citizens”. It’s a hate group, which has promulgated ideas of racial superiority, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and so on. In 1998 there was a big scandal that a lot of Republican party politicians in the southern US had close ties to the group. They are denounced by the mainstream right wing in the US, which in my view is extremist and radically regressive enough.

Substantial ties remain to Republican politicians. There is a good summary by the Southern Poverty Law Center here. See also here.

She is also tied to “The Occidental Quarterly”, which describes itself as “devoted to the ethnic, racial, and cultural heritage that forms the foundation of Western Civilization”. The journal is anti-immigration — except from Western nations! — and isolationist. It’s also anti-Semitic: the “Anti-Defamation League”, a Jewish organisation, has an article about it at
http://www.adl.org/main_Extremism/Occidental_Observer.htm . The Anti-Defamation League itself is often quite despicable — they denounce and make life hell not only for anti-Semites, which is fine by me, but also people who criticises policies of the state of Israel, thereby protecting policies of brutal occupation and repression in occupied Palestine. But their evidence regarding this publication seems clear.

Well, a single person is not a far-right hate group or an anti-Semitic journal. But she is on the editorial advisory board of the “Citizens Informer”, their quarterly newspaper. And she is also on the editorial advisory board of “The Occidental Quarterly”. She’s on the national advisory board of the anti-immigrant group “Protect Arizona Now”. So she is hardly on the margins of these groups or an unwitting participant. She’s a willing and knowing part of all this. In fact within the anti-immigration movement she is seen as “the grand dame”.

In her own words: “I owe it to my own and others’ grandchildren to work to maintain the environmental, cultural, and social integrity of the United States, and to hold the federal government accountable for their constitutionally-mandated duty to protect this nation from invasion.” Immigration apparently endangers the nation and threatens its cultural integrity. And she denies being a white supremacist but freely describes herself as “white separatist”. See here.

So, she holds despicable views. Of course, being personally despicable and holding extreme racist and proto-fascist opinions does not disqualify you from talking about anything. She does have a PhD apparently. But this may well be relevant in evaluating what she has to say.

2. The immigration and aid stuff seems to come out of nowhere.

But it is now clear, knowing her background.

Sure, “foreign aid” and “immigration” are in the title, and the purpose of the article seems to be suggesting some government policies. But the immediate motivation for the article seems very different, at least the way it’s written: overpopulation. It’s perfectly legitimate to have a concern with overpopulation, although the author’s motivations may well be a particularly racist form of overpopulation. With this concern, we then try to understand what makes fertility rates vary, which is also perfectly legitimate. We argue that it isn’t so much prosperity/education/health/etc, again perfectly legitimately. We argue that sharp economic changes may make a difference, still legitimate. I will get to this fairly reasonable stuff in a minute.

But then we turn to aid and immigration, and the standard drops
through the floor.

The argument seems to be that foreign aid increases fertility, because it provides a sense of economic opportunity that encourages more child-bearing. That is a hypothesis, and an extremely surprising one: one hardly expects people in the poorest nations to base their family planning decisions, if they are decisions at all, on the existence or levels of foreign grants or loans. Nor would one think that the existence of emigration would affect family planning decisions, although maybe it is marginally more plausible. Either way, one would think there are many more immediate concerns. They are strange directions to take after what looks like a legitimate analysis of fertility rates. Given the author’s racist views, perhaps they are more explicable. But, nonetheless, these are hypotheses. They require some evidence to support them. So let’s consider the evidence given in turn.

(a) The argument regarding foreign aid.

How do we begin this argument? With a religious statement: “giving is a tenet of [US] foreign policy”, the secular US religion that the US is the greatest, most glorious, most generous nation in the world. I’m sure this would come as a surprise to the victims of bombing, repression, terrorism, and murderous governments supported by the US. Moreover as regards foreign aid per capita, US spending is very low among developed nations.

After religion, we turn to ideology and unsupported supposition on behalf of the developing world: luckily most aid is now in the form of loans, so that the developing world does not think we are for fools, devious, or infinitely rich. The use of aid to support murderous regimes, for geopolitical machinations, to entrap poor nations in debt obligations, to support repressive militaries and paramilitaries, and to create demand for domestic constituencies, of course go unsaid. The only point is the religion, and the ideology — we are too good for ourselves; but we shouldn’t give to them, lucky we lend.

Well, this material is ridiculous but content-free. We then adduce material that worldwide foreign aid runs to the billions, even to the level where it is $20 per capita in Africa. (I’m not sure about what the timeframe is and can’t find her source.) How does this aid affect fertility? Which countries receive more foreign aid, which less, and how do their fertility rates correlate? No evidence is given, whatsoever.

The only argument given is that “Such transfers of wealth cannot but perpetuate trust in one-world rhetoric–a belief that the community of nations can be relied upon to help, just like family. A sense of security grows… Efforts to plan for one’s own future do not thrive in this climate”. That the world consists of one planet is clearly a horrid communist plot, and obviously, feeling good about their place in a humane world free of borders, inequality and material scarcity, people in the developing world, where those properties of the world are most obvious, multiply like rabbits.

That this is seriously considered an argument — and the only argument — for the proposition that foreign aid increases fertility, speaks for itself. It beggars belief.

But it gets better. We have an argument for the converse — that the absence of foreign aid decreases fertility. Two examples are cited: Mao’s China and the Burmese junta. Clearly paradigm control cases. There could not be any other factors present, clearly; no, any difference must be attributed to the absence of foreign aid, which is clearly the defining characteristic of China and Myanmar.

As for China, somehow the absence of foreign aid as a causative factor dwarfs government repression and mandatory regulation o
f childbirth; or perhaps the absence of foreign aid was what caused the one child policy? The author’s precise reasoning is unclear, but no matter. As for Myanmar, despite the lack of information and uncertainty among professional demographers, the author claims simply to understand everything: “But it is not unclear”. Even if she is right that the cause was “lack of resources” (which seems to be her previous argument), it is not at all clear what effect foreign aid had on those resources.

So, this is astonishingly bad, and the evidence for this hypothesis is basically zero. Given the lack of evidence, one wonders why the author even wrote it. But her racist political views make it clear. One should also take note that the are also perfectly consistent with believing that the recipients of aid, usually not white, are lesser human beings; this is her view in any case.

(b) The argument regarding immigration

Thankfully, regarding immigration the author is more honest: she admits there is no evidence for the proposition. Studies are needed! She has a hypothesis, and is speculating. However, lack of an argument will not stop her arguing that to stop people multiplying we must both impoverish them and shut the door on migration.

By her own argument, fertility is caused by improving economic condition; yet, at least the sort of migration she is thinking of, economic migration from Latin America to the US, one would think, is caused by bad or deteriorating economic conditions. It is a contradiction; perhaps she can twist her way out of it somehow, but she makes no attempt and appears not to realise it.

She has some tables, apparently, of immigration and fertility rate data, but I can’t see them. Apparently in “high-immigration countries” the fertility rates are declining, although she says they are “slow to decline”. I don’t know if such a correlation exists between immigration and fertility from what she says, but even if such a correlation appears, there is no reason to believe it to be causative.

One can imagine that a cause of grinding poverty could lead to both child-bearing (to bring in income for the family, contra her hypothesis) and economic migration (to escape grinding poverty). There are a lot of figures about the scale of undocumented migration to the US. This has almost no bearing on fertility. Perhaps the only, again unsubstantiated, statements are that: overpopulation is a “push factor” for migration; and communities in Latin America dependent on remittances may rationally calculate they should have more children to risk death and deportation crossing the Arizona desert. But again, despite sounding incredible, no evidence is given, and other factors like poverty and unemployment go unmentioned, which are the obvious ones.

Again, it is worth pointing out that, however flimsy the argument, this provides an excuse for racist anti-immigration policies: policies the author supports, on explicitly racist grounds.

3. Some of it is reasonable, and surprising

Before she gets to the anti-aid and anti-immigration business, she seems to cite facts and evidence that do appear surprising, about the “demographic transition”. The essay is therefore an interesting example of how racist ideology can distort an otherwise seemingly intelligent mind.

The examples of East Africa, Egypt, Sudan, Brazil, Ireland, India, France, and others, are interesting. Surely “mainstream” demographers have considered them as well. These do seem to be counterexamples to the proposition, perhaps a mainstream one — I’m not an expert in the field — that rising wealth leads to lower fertility. Of course they do not contradict that wealthy nations today have low fertility rates, but they have important implications.

On the other hand, again these are only correlations. I am not an expert on these examples. I’m not sure how they fit into the global context.  I would want to see other work and explanations, by other studies. She does mention education, health, contraception, but does not consider other potential factors: women’s rights, role in the workplace, etc.

This stuff is interesting. The racism aside, this gives nuance to the picture of how people have babies. Humans are complicated. They make decisions for all sorts of reasons.

But this article is disappointing because it following all this it becomes so atrociously bad, and probably motivated at least partly by the author’s racism.

Overpopulation controversies
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