Overpopulation and Instability Drawing Connections essay

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In a study of 50 failed states and political structures, the authors found that in nearly every case (47 of the 50) there was a direct link between out of control population growth and the depletion of specific resources that allow both the country's government and economy the means to create a stable society (Levin, and Renelt, 1992, pp. 954). Overpopulation was but one of a set of variables that often lead to political instability.

Countries like India had to evolve economically in order to survive politically. If the population of India were to grow without sufficient educational and political structure to help guide the development of a more complex economy, the masses of unskilled workers and unemployed people would overrun the nation's political system in an effort to secure the vast amounts of capital and resources necessary to sustain the overpopulated state (Shrivastave, 1992, pp. 2035). Without a doubt, the depletion of resources through overpopulation coupled with a lack of economic complexity and robustness play a large role in the instability of a nation or region.

For those political scientists and scholars that ascribe to this viewpoint, the future is quite bleak if the industrialized nations as a whole do not successfully combat overpopulation. The logical implication of widespread overpopulation and thusly political and economic instability is that the world will have a hard time adjusting to more and more growth. Surely there will be a larger resource pool relative to human capital, but the resources required to sustain such a population will likely not be sufficient. The argument that technological advancements will help to save the world from resource struggles and wars only goes so far. Certainly there is a critical mass or tipping point where the world population would exceed the raw resources required to sustain it (Schwartzman, 2008, pp. 157). At this point, according to scholars who share the viewpoint that overpopulation and political instability are directly related, the planet would likely fall into an economic depression, and the largest humanitarian and social crisis that has ever been witnessed will occur. This will likely lead to the deaths and mistreatment of billions of people worldwide, as oppressive governments and factions would swoop in to assume power in the resulting vacuum.

Position 2 Analysis: Viewpoint #2: Overpopulation Does Not Directly Create Instability

According to researcher and economist Robert J. Barro, there exists an indirect positive link between positive population growth and political stability. He argues that the countries with the highest growth rates in GDP have historically been those with the largest population growth and therefore largest pools of human labor capital (Barro, 1991, pp. 120). He also argues that countries with high birth rates also tend to have higher rates of infant mortality and lower fertility rates (Barro, 1991, pp. 119). When these arguments are combined they paint a very different picture of the relationship between political stability and population growth. The indirect occurrence of GDP growth through population growth is a key argument against providing foreign aid and direction to countries with high population growth rates like Somalia or even India. In India's case, the growth rate has largely gone unchecked for decades yet the country's GDP growth has been steadily outpacing the industrialized western nations for the same amount of time. The connection between political instability and population growth is non-existent according to Barro, and can be attributed to other factors such as the country's existing political environment or perhaps even colonial pressures that once existed inside their borders (Barro, 1991, pp. 120). A person arguing in favor of the viewpoint that overpopulation is not a cause of political instability would likely use India's recent economic success as proof that a huge population is not necessarily indicative of political or economic strife.

In examining countries like Argentina and Japan, the authors of the 1996 article entitled, "Political Instability and Economic Growth" (Alesina; Ozler; Roubini; and Swagel, 1996, pp. 191.) make the connection between economic growth rates and political stability. Since it is nearly impossible to have high economic growth rates without first having political stability, from which population growth is strictly dealt with, the connection between these seemingly unrelated factors is clearly drawn. Argentina, which once had one of the highest per-capita income rates in the world, fell into one political struggle after another, and has since fallen far from the top of list of highest per-capita and highest GDP producers in the world. Conversely, Japan, which was one of the poorest nations in 1960, has enjoyed more political stability than Argentina, and has since experienced one of the fastest growth rates of any notion on the planet (Alesina; Ozler; Roubini; and Swagel, 1996, pp. 194). A connection in population growth can be made as well in these two cases.

Argentina's population growth has run out of control since the 1960's, in the midst of multiple coups and government overthrows. Japan's population has stabilized and the country has recently experienced negative population growth rates (Alesina; Ozler; Roubini; and Swagel, 1996, pp. 199). Here too is evidence that population growth is related to political instability, and not the other way around. Poor economic growth is also often caused by political instability, but potential economic growth is highest in countries with large populations that can be put to work producing goods and services that are the engines of economic and GDP growth. The picture being painted is a catch-22. Countries need relatively large population growth and political stability to become economically successful, but countries that already suffer from lack of political instability seemingly all have unchecked population growth in the first place, suggesting no direct link between population growth and political instability. Instead, there likely is a link between economic growth and stability and political stability.

To further prove the point that the link between overpopulation and political instability is a myth, it is quite useful to examine evidence from Jim Peron's studies in overpopulation and failed states. Peron's book, Exploding Population Myths (2006) argues that overpopulation is not the problem that leads to a failed state or to political instability. He feels that the state itself leads to the overpopulation problem, by means of corrupt or imperfect practices (Peron, 2006). Mr. Peron is certainly arguing from the side of limited government, but the idea that the overpopulation comes from a failed state is argued as false in his book. This argument posits that the institution itself is failing the population, and not the other way around. Depending on which country is used to lend credence to this theory, there are numerous reasons why the failed state comes before overpopulation. Mr. Peron uses China as an example, showing that overpopulation does not necessarily lead to a failed state. The Chinese have successfully learned to deal with over population through the use of a forceful government and methods of limiting parents to one child. The argument that famine is a product of overpopulation is overturned by Peron's book (2006) as well, as he argues that as populations increase, technology advances more rapidly, and the populations are able to cope with less space to grow their food stuffs. It is through the development of technology that famine via overpopulation, as it is traditionally defined, can be overcome. Certainly there are famines going on currently, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, but the world's ability to produce food and energy resources is being boosted by technological advances.

According to those who side with this viewpoint, the future is not as bleak as some scholars and political scientists would want people to believe. The pace of technological development would keep up with rising demand for resources and the world would begin to understand that political instability is not a product of overpopulation, instead being caused by big, worldwide government intervention, like the UN efforts to provide resources and aid to needy nations and regions. These people want to believe that there is a concerted effort by mainstream scholars and media to blow the overpopulation problem out of proportion. The future, according to these people, is much rosier and hopeful than previously thought, relative to overpopulation and political instability in particular regions.

Synthesis and Implications

The argument that political instability comes directly from overpopulation is not completely accurate. Certainly the least industrialized countries have the least complex economies and are therefore more prone to political instability via a lack of complex representative government. But the direct connection between these two factors remains to be seen. In the case of Somalia, a nation that has been a dysfunctional failed state for decades, the unchecked population growth is certainly impeding economic and political development and is a product of a decentralized political and educational structure, but the political strife the country has experienced has not been directly linked to issues with overpopulation. The overpopulation is a symptom of other failed political and educational organs, and not the root cause of the instability…[continue]

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