None of us can foresee the future, yet we have to try to forecast if we need to take action now in order to ward off possible dangers. One issue here is demographics, and luckily the future here can give us a clearer view. For instance in the 1950s it was possible to forecast changes in the Japanese population which would eventually do great damage. And so it happened.
Today there is much concern about the rate of growth in Africa. Fertility rates are dropping globally but remain high in Africa. The world population is expected to grow from around 7.5 billion today to around 10 billion by 2050, and half that growth is likely to occur in Africa.
Of course we can respond to that threat by pointing out that there is plenty of physical room in the world and that our capacity for increasing resources has always flouted the doom mongers of the past. Malthus may have been right in his mathematics but always turned out to be wrong in practice.
However there is another factor. Following World War II, Japan was strongly under the influence of the US. And one important change came about: the spread of contraception to control population growth. It worked very well. But the inevitable problem was that it ensured an imbalance between the proportion of the existing population and the proportion of the younger population. The result was the costs, not only in money, of a huge elderly population which had to be met by a much smaller working population. Much of Japan’s economic problems in recent years have been brought about through this.
The current response to African growth is to provide better family planning. And indeed this summer Priti Patel, the U.K. secretary of state for international development, has undertaken to increase spending on overseas family planning services to a total of $1 billion in the next five years.
I am not concerned here with the morality of family planning, while noting that natural family planning is likely to be a very small part of this. But, if it works, our experience leads us to foresee considerable economic problems, as it did for Japan – and, perhaps at a less critical level, for other countries – including our own. (And, even as I write, I see that it is proposed to raise the age of retirement in the UK. The reason given is the increase in longevity: the real reason is to reduce the bill for the State pension.) I note, with distress, that this programme, to which we are all contributing, includes “safe abortions”. But nowadays all sorts of people of respectable goodwill regard abortion as no more than a health issue — in this case an acceptable method of controlling population. And apparently most of us are happy about this: the proportion of Catholics who agree that abortion should be allowed if a woman does not want the child has increased from 33% in 1985 to 61% in 2016 (National Statistics).
If you want to study the population situation in Africa in more detail, http://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/25/africa/africa-population-growth-un/index.html is a useful site.