First published in Alert Scotland, July 1994
by Jorge Aliaga Cacho
In order to establish the causes of poverty it is important to analyse the ideology which is embodied in theories and has influenced our ideas on levels of material development. According to Malthus (1766-1834) the human race tends to produce in geometrical progression while food supplies can only grow arithmetically. As the population grows there would be a fall in the average output of food per head causing misery whcih will be 'resolved' by famine or war.
Contemporary thinking on population presents us with a 'New Malthusian' version which shares Malthus's original view that population growth is the major factor in causing poverty, but which differs from Malthus in the belief that human intervention can put a check on population growth through birth control. The New Malthusian view sees it as imperative that people, especially the poor, should be persuaded or forced to have fewer children. They see the tendency to population growth as a constant factor in human history which needs no explanation in itself. However, they do not explain the reasons for population growth.
The Malthusian view is inappropriate to establish the causes of poverty because it ignores the roles of technology, trade and population mobility. However, it remains true that population growth requires increased food production. Malnutrition and undernourishment is due to the failure to increase investment in agricultural producction and also because the inability of many poorer countries to organise and pay for food imports. There are however encouraging examples such as the case of India which show that countries with rapidly expanding populations can make remarkable advances in increasing their agricultural production. Contrary to Malthusian claims, india has managed to increase food grain output at approximately the same rate as population over the past thirty-five years.
Anne Findlay and Allan Findlay in their book "Population and Development in the Third World" propose that: 'a more satisfactory solution in the short term is the movement of food resources into areas which are food deficient and in the long term the exchange and trading of equipment, ideas and technology to permit the increased agricultural potential of these regions'. In their opinion drought may be unavoidable but famine is totally avoidable.