SECTION FOUR: ISSUES OF POPULATION AND POVERTY
One: Population Explosion
On October 31, 2011, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) identified a baby born in Kaliningrad as the seven billionth member of the world. This came only twelve years after the “six billion population day” in 1999. It took only twelve years for the world’s population to increase one billion, making the annual population increase close to one hundred million. This growth rate is known as population “explosion.” It not only makes the world uneasy, but also highlights the grimness of the situation.
According to historians and archaeologists, human population in the Paleolithic era was only 120,000 to 150,000; in the agricultural period, the world’s population was about five to ten million. This growth process took two million years. After entering the Industrial Age in the middle of the eighteenth century, the world’s population was close to eight hundred million. It took ten thousand years to progress from the agricultural period to the industrial age. Today the world’s population is more than seven billion, and it has only been two hundred years since the Industrial Age. This growth trend informs us that technological revolution is the root of population explosion. Logical inference would assume that the wealth brought on by techno- logical revolution would facilitate more food and better conditions for raising children; therefore, wealthier people would have more children, and higher- income countries would experience faster population growth. The truth is just the opposite.
The emergence of antibiotics and chemical drugs as well as the overall improvement of health care greatly reduced infant and child mortality rates. Average life expectancy increased generally as well. However, beliefs in reproduction and contraception did not update accordingly.
The development of agricultural technology has further secured food production; this coupled with the development of world charity has greatly reduced large-scale famines. And with more than seven billion people as the population base, even millions of hunger-related deaths could not balance the annual population growth. As a result, the population is growing faster and faster, enough to be called a population explosion.
Studies of world population growth trends reveal two obvious pat- terns—namely, the poorer the country, the higher the population growth rate; and the less educated the women, the more children they give birth to. This is because the concept of birth control was not accepted by the poorer countries and individuals when the Industrial Revolution spread the fruits of medical technology developments to the rest of the world.
As long as advanced medical technology was adopted by a society, it would produce appropriate treatments for disease, reduce death, and prolong life expectancy. Contraception was a personal matter. Individuals had to accept this value and believe in it to produce the corresponding effect.
Throughout human existence, people have faced threats from the plague, disease, hunger, and war. Families had to reproduce in large numbers to ensure the survival of the bloodline. This idea became deeply rooted in the minds of people and even became a strong component of some national and cultural identities. Once people were better educated, they developed a better understanding of medical technology and their own role in contraception. For poorer, less educated people, such ideas were much harder to comprehend.
In addition, the poorer a person is, the less life security they will have. Poorer countries often have inadequate social security systems. When a person produces children in these circumstances, they will often take into account old age and loss of the ability to work. If the society cannot guarantee their basic life needs, they would need to rely on children for support. This is a driving force for having more children. In wealthier countries where social security systems are sound, and among wealthier people who feel secure in their future, this is not a concern.
Together, the many troubles that arise in poorer countries are the third important factor that lead to higher reproduction rates. In cases of turmoil, war, and political instability, the government has no time to educate the public and propagate contraception. Some of the poorer inhabitants cannot even afford food, let alone contraceptives.
The population problem attracted the attention of the international community early on. As the world’s resources are limited, population growth has the potential to overwhelm Earth in a serious way. The United Nations has held a number of meetings concerning population growth, and some countries have adopted measures to control population growth and received some results. But the world’s population is still growing at a rapid pace. In 2002, the United Nations published the “Global Population Profile: 2002,” predicting that by 2050, the world’s population would reach a maximum of 9.3 billion. However, this number is on the rise. In June 2017, the United Nations Economic and Social Council issued a forecast stating that by 2050, the world’s population would reach 9.8 billion and continue to grow to reach 11.2 billion by 2100.
Two: Poverty and Wealth Inequality
Population explosion and poverty are two issues that are related yet independent of each other. According to a report by the Boston Consulting Group, 45 percent of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1 percent of the global population. This ratio has been rising continuously. The report further predicted that by 2021, the proportion would reach 51 percent, meaning that 1 percent of the world’s people would possess more than half of the world’s wealth.
According to the Global Wealth Report 2016, issued by the Credit Suisse Research Institute in November 2016, the majority of the population— which accounts for 73 percent of the total population—has only 2.4 percent of the world’s wealth, while the rich—who account for 10 percent of world’s population—possess 86 percent of the world’s wealth.
The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer. At the same time, the income gap is widening both within and between countries. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the ratio of the real per capita income of the rich compared to the poor in the world was 3:1. By the beginning of the twentieth century, this ratio had been extended to 10:1, and by the beginning of this century, the ratio had exceeded 60:1.
According to a statistics report by the International Monetary Fund, the richest country in 2016—Luxembourg—had a per capita GDP of 10,399 US dollars, while the country that ranked 191st —South Sudan—only had a per capita GDP of 233 US dollars. While the richest people in the world are rolling in money, annual global death caused by hunger and malnutrition has reached five million.
Why did the Industrial Revolution and technological progress fail to bring wealth to the majority and bring poverty and disappointment instead? There are numerous reasons, but only two main direct causes: first, there exists an inequality in world trade. The main export products of poorer countries are primarily basic products derived from agricultural goods and non-renewable resources, as well as labor-intensive manufactured goods. These products have very low added value to begin with, and the rules of world trade are in the hands of developed countries. Trade barriers and high tariffs make it increasingly difficult for these countries to export, allocating them lower and lower shares in the international market.
The second cause lies in the lack of scientific and technological creativity. This is far more crucial than the former. Since the Industrial Revolution, today’s poorer countries have lagged behind due to colonialism, war, civil strife, and a variety of other reasons. In the face of the ongoing third Industrial Revolution, these countries simply cannot compete with developed countries in terms of material, human, financial, and other resources. The gap in scientific and technological creativity is particularly huge. This inevitably leads to a further distance between poorer countries and developed countries.
Wealth inequality (or the wealth gap) is not only reflected between countries but is also displayed prominently within countries. On the one hand, this is due to the rapid development of science and the adoption of information technology. Production has become more dependent on mechanical equipment and scientific instruments rather than direct human labor. That is why developed countries have consistently high unemployment rates even as their economic development skyrockets. On the other hand, the rapid development of science and technology will inevitably allow the shareholders and senior managers who have emerged victorious among competitors to gain more wealth, while the majority of people get poorer in comparison. The unemployed people in countries with good social security systems can rely on social relief to maintain survival, but in countries with less adequate social security, the unemployed will descend into extreme poverty.
The UN has been committed to the eradication of poverty in the world, and poverty has been cited as the first of the three main themes of social development identified by the United Nations. The UN has also devoted itself to the Millennium Development Goal for poverty eradication. In September 2000, the United Nations Millennium Summit set “reduction of half the world’s extreme poverty and hunger by 2015” as one of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG). According to the United Nations MDG Report 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015, basically achieving the goal of halving the world’s extreme poverty.
Before the 2015 MDG expired, the UN Development Summit held in September passed a new series of goals for 2015–2030. The new agenda includes seventeen sustainable development goals and 169 specific development goals. The first of the sustainable development goals is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” The eradication of extreme poverty in all the world’s population by 2030 is the first component of that goal.