The following important article was first published by Steve Weissman in the May 1970 issue of Ramparts magazine. The article is reproduced in full below:
Paul Ehrlich is a nice man. He doesn’t hate blacks, advocate genocide or defend the empire. He simply believes that the world has too many people and he’s ready at the drop of a diaper pin to say so. He’s written his message in The Population Bomb, lectured it in universities and churches, and twice used America’s own form of birth control, the late-night Johnny Carson Show, to regale bleary-eyed moms and dads with tales of a standing-room-only world, a time of famines, plague and pestilence.
Together with Berkeley’s Kingsley Davis and Santa Barbara’s Garrett Hardin, Ehrlich represents a newly-popular school of academics out to make overpopulation the central menace of our age. Except for a still hesitant Pope, their crusade seems sure of success. Everyone from Arthur Godfrey to beat poet Gary Snyder to the leaders of China’s 700,000,000 (whom the populationists alternately ignore and disparage) now agrees that population growth is a problem and that something must be done. The question is what? Or, more precisely, who will do what … and to whom?
Kingsley Davis, who finds voluntary family planning hopelessly futile, suggests that government postpone the age of marriage. Garrett Hardin in the April 22 Teach-In’s Environmental Handbook urges mutual coercion mutually agreed upon. Paul Ehrlich wants to eliminate tax exemptions for more than two children, forgetting that the power to tax is the power to destroy. Voluntary family planning is out and population control in, leaving those less kindly disposed to the government to see the gaunt spectre of genocide. Long before even the least of the predicted ecological catastrophes comes to pass, such fears might well turn race on race, young on old, rich on poor.
Ehrlich, recognizing this danger, aims his appeal for smaller families less toward the poor and black than toward the white middle-class American family, which consumes more resources, occupies more space, and creates more waste than any ten of its economic inferiors. But his appeal, while barely denting the great waste-production economy, will only create the self-righteousness to impose America’s middle-class will on the world.
We “are going to have to adopt some very tough foreign policy positions,” Ehrlich explains, and limiting our own families will let us do that “from a psychologically strong position … We must use our political power to push other countries into programs which combine agricultural development and population control.” Exactly what kind of power, or whether we would use it globally, or simply in countries which food shipments and “green revolutions” might save from starvation, is unclear. But he hints at a time when we might put temporary sterilants in food and water, while some of his more adventurous colleagues, no doubt impressed by pinpoint bombing in Southeast Asia, would spray whole populations from the air. If we’re so willing to napalm peasants to protect them from Communists, we could quite easily use a little sterilant spray to protect them from themselves.
We really needn’t speculate, however, Uses of the new over-population scare are quite out of the hands of either nice academics or average anti-Communist Americans. The same elites and institutions which made America the world’s policemen have long been eager to serve as the world’s prophylactic and agricultural provisioner, and they are damned grateful to the academics for creating a new humanitarian justification for the age-old game of empire. The academics shouldn’t really get the credit though. The heavies had it all planned out back in the ’50s, while young Dr. Ehrlich was still studying water snakes in the western end of Lake Erie.
THE ROCKEFELLER FAMILY PLAN
In June 1952, John D. Rockefeller III, father of four, eldest grandson of Standard Oil and chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation, hosted a highly select conference on population in Colonial Williamsburg. To this showpiece of historical conservation, restored by the Rockefellers to its pre-Revolutionary beauty, came some 30 of the nation’s most eminent conservationists, public health experts, Planned Parenthood leaders, agriculturalists, demographers and social scientists. After two and a half days of intensive discussion, they agreed to form a new group which could act as “a coordinating and catalytic agent in the broad field of population.” The following fall, John D. publicly christened The Population Council and announced that he himself would serve as its first president. With this act of baptism, the population bomb became a Rockefeller baby.
In the decades previous, birth control had been largely small potatoes. The Rockefeller Foundation, together with the Milbank Memorial Fund, had, in 1936, provided John D.’s alma mater, Princeton, with an Office of Population Research. Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas pioneered programs for the (sometimes voluntary) sterilization of the poor. Planned Parenthood, a direct descendant of Margaret Sanger‘s American Birth Control League, struggled to provide America’s poor with free counsel and contraceptives. Guy Irving Burch‘s Population Reference Bureau, long the leading educator on population dynamics, was little more than a one-man show, as was the Hugh Moore Fund, set up in 1944 by the founder and board chairman of Dixie Cup “to call to the attention of the American Public the dangers inherent in the population explosion.”
Once the Rockefellers joined the family, however, family planning became a very different kind of business. The Ford Foundation, Carnegie, the Commonwealth and Community Funds, the Molt Trust and the Mellons joined with John D., his mother, his sister (wife of banker Jean Mauze), his brother and their financial adviser, AEC chairman Lewis Strauss, in pumping fresh blood and money into the Population Council, some of which even trickled over into the Reference Bureau and Planned Parenthood. Wealthy Englishmen and Swedes and their third world associates joined with the Americans in making Planned Parenthood international. The World Bank, headed by Chase National Bank vice president and future Population Council director Eugene Black, put its money behind Princeton’s pioneer study on population and economic growth in India. Where birth controllers once went begging, now guest lists at Planned Parenthood banquets and signatures on ubiquitous New York Times ads read like a cross between the Social Register and Standard and Poor’s Directory of Corporation Executives.
This sudden interest of the world’s rich in the world’s poor, whatever the humanitarian impulse, made good dollars and cents. World War II had exhausted the older colonial empires, and everywhere the cry of nationalism sounded: from Communists in China and Southeast Asia, from neutralists in Indonesia and India, from independence movements in Africa and from use of their own oil and iron ore and, most menacing, the right to protect themselves against integration in an international marketplace which systematically favored the already-industrialized.
But the doughty old buzzards of empire were determined to save the species. They would pay deference to the new feelings by encouraging a bit of light industry here, and perhaps even a steel mill there. To give the underdeveloped areas what Nelson Rockefeller termed “a community of interest with us,” and to extend control, they would give public loans and foreign aid for roads, dams and schools. Their foundations and universities would train a new class of native managers who, freed from outmoded ideologies, would clearly see that there was more than enough for both rich and poor.
But there wasn’t enough, especially not when the post-war export of death-control technology created so many more of the poor. The poor nations rarely came close to providing even the limited economic security which, as in Europe of the Industrial Revolution, would encourage people to give up the traditional peasant security of a large family and permit the population curve to level off. In fact, for much of the population, the newly-expanded money economy actually increased insecurity. Faced with this distortion between fertility and development, developed country elites could see no natural way of stopping population growth. All they could see was people, people, people, each one threatening the hard-won stability which guaranteed access to the world’s ores and oil, each one an additional competitor for the use of limited resources.
More people, moreover, meant younger people, gunpowder for more than a mere population explosion. “The restlessness produced in a rapidly growing population is magnified by the preponderance of youth,” reported the Rockefeller Fund’s overpowering Prospect for America. “In a completely youthful population, impatience to realize rising expectations is likely to be pronounced. Extreme nationalism has often been the result.”
It was to meet these perils of population that the Rockefellers and their kindred joined the family planning movement in such force. But until they had completed a much more thoroughgoing prophylaxis of the new nationalisms, and had worked out an accommodation with Catholic opposition, they were much too sophisticated to preach birth control straight out. That would have sounded far too reminiscent of the older colonialisms and, indirectly, too much like a condemnation of the new pattern of “development.”
Consequently, until the spurt of technical assistance in the ’60s, the Population Council preached and, within the ideological confines of development thinking, practiced “the scientific study of population problems.” They provided fellowships to Americans and, as part of the broader building of native elites, to deserving foreign students. This, they hoped, would build up a cadre of “local personnel,” well-studied in population problems, “trained in objective scientific methods and able to interpret the results to their own people.” The Council also undertook population studies in the colonies, funded both demographic and medical studies at U.S. universities, worked with international agencies, and maintained its own biomedical lab at Rockefeller Institute. The foundations supplemented this approach, directly funding roughly a dozen major university think-tanks devoted to population studies. These grants no more bought scholars and scholarship than native elites. It was more efficient to rent them. Like Defense Department dollars or direct corporation gifts, the smart population money posed the right (as opposed to the left) questions, paid off for right answers, and provided parameters for scholars interested in “realistic” policy alternatives.
Study, of course, was an apprenticeship for action. By 1957, an “Ad Hoc Committee” of population strategists from the Council the Rockefeller Fund, Laurance Rockefeller‘s Conservation Foundation and Planned Parenthood mapped out a full population control program. Published by Population Council President Frederick Osborn as Population: An International Dilemma, the committee’s report insisted that population growth, in the rich nations as well as the poor, would become a decisive threat to political stability. To preempt such instability, the population planners planned first to win over the educated classes, many of whom themselves felt the threat of population. But, wary of widespread personal sensitivities and nationalist sentiments, they would never push birth control as an end in itself. Instead they would have it grow out of the logical needs of family planning, and leave the task of gaining public acceptance to the native elite, many of whom they had trained.
An even more important antidote to nationalist reaction was the population planners’ admission that population was also a problem here in the U.S. “Excessive fertility by families with meager resources must be recognized as one of the potent forces in the perpetuation of slums, ill-health, inadequate education, and even delinquency,” the Ad Hoc Committee noted. They were satisfied, however, with the overall “balance of population and resources” in this country and sought only to use tax, welfare and education policy “to equalize births between people at different socio-economic levels” and to “discourage births among the socially handicapped.”
GETTING THE GOVERNMENT IN
For all their domestic concern, however, population planners were primarily absorbed in “the international dilemma” and the problems of “economic development.” Like Walt Rostow, Max Millikan and the authors of the Rockefellers’ Prospect for America, they emphasized top-down national planning, Western-influenced elites, foreign aid penetration, and the use of economic growth, rather than distribution and welfare, to measure development. As a result, their plan for population bore a scary resemblance to the first Vietnamization which was then recasting the educational system, banking and currency, public works, agriculture, the police, and welfare programs of Vietnam into an American mold.
The population planners’ counter to insurgency then entered “official” development thinking in 1959, in the Report of President Eisenhower’s Committee to Study the Military Assistance Program. Headed by General William H. Draper II (perhaps best remembered as the American government official who most helped Nazi and Zaibatsu industrialists re-concentrate their power after World War II), the committee urged that development aid be extended to local maternal and child welfare programs, to the formulation of national population plans, and to additional research on population control.
Ike, a bit old-fashioned about such intimate intervention, flatly refused. He just could not “imagine anything more emphatically a subject that is not a proper political or government activity or function or responsibility … This government … will not … as long as I am here, have a positive policy doctrine in its program that has to do with this problem of birth control. That’s not our business.”
Business disagreed, the Draper Report became the rallying cry of big business’ population movement, and General Draper, an investment banker by trade, headed up both Planned Parenthood’s million dollar-a-year World Population Emergency Campaign and even bigger Victor Fund Drive.
The foundations also expanded their own programs. But the Rockefellers, Fords, Draper, and others seemingly born into the population movement hadn’t gotten rich by picking up such large tabs; not if they could help it. Despite Ike’s sense of propriety, they had continued to press for government sponsorship of birth control – and not without piecemeal gains, even in the Eisenhower government.
When Kennedy became President he agreed to a government role in research, promising to pass requests for birth control information and technical assistance to the foundations, and permitting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Richard Gardner to make an offer of U.S. family planning aid to the UN.
But none of this satisfied the population people, who, beginning in 1963, made a big public push for major government programs in both domestic and overseas agencies. In May of that year, the blue-ribbon American Assembly, with the help of the Population Council, brought “The Population Dilemma” to a convocation of leaders from all walks of American life. The National Academy of Sciences, assisted professionally and financially by the Council, issued a scary report on The Growth of World Population. Draper, Moore, and Harper & Row’s Cass Canfield then set up the Population Crisis Committee, “the political action arm of the population control movement,” to publish ads, lobby government officials and promote public support for government aid to family planning.
Sometimes the population people defended their proposals on humanitarian grounds; at other times they were more candid: “If the World Bank expects to get its loans repaid by India,” explained Draper, “if the U.S., much of whose aid is in the form of loans, expects to have them repaid … the population problem … must be solved.” Bolstered by Fulbright, Gruening and other long-term congressional advocates of “economic development,” and by a public reversal of position by former President Eisenhower, the campaign pushed the Kennedy, then the Johnson government closer to open birth control programs.
But fear of domestic controversy, especially in the Catholic community, and a lack of positive foreign response held the movement in check until the White House Conference on International Cooperation, keynoted by John D. Rockefeller III, in November 1965. The Conference Committee on Population – chaired by Gardner and including Black, Canfield, Draper and John D. – then urged that the government greatly expand its birth control assistance to foreign countries. Conference committees on Food and Agriculture and Technical Cooperation and Investment concurred, urging a multilateral approach.
Much impressed by this show of “public support,” the very next session of Congress passed Johnson’s “New Look” in foreign policy, which made birth control part of foreign assistance and permitted the President to judge a nation’s “self-help” in population planning as a criterion for giving Food for Freedom aid. (Separate legislation gave the Department of Health, Education and Welfare a birth control program for domestic consumption.) The “New Look,” which combined population control with agricultural development, international education, encouragement of private overseas investment, and multilateral institution-building, was, of course, the response of the mid-’50’s to nationalism. It was also a foretaste of what Paul Ehrlich’s “tough foreign policy positions” would easily become.
THE GREEN REVOLUTION
The new look in intervention got a good test in the Indian famine of ’65 and ’66 – until Biafra the best-advertised famine in recent times, and a major boost for the population control campaign. Ever since the victory of the Chinese Revolution, India has been a bastion of the “free [enterprise] world.” But Western businessmen long fretted over her “neutralism” and “socialism” and her restrictions on foreign participation in key areas of the economy.
In 1958, India faced a devastating foreign exchange crisis. In response, the World Bank and the “Aid India Club” promised one billion dollars a year in aid, and international investors found themselves with golden opportunities. The Ford Foundation quickly stepped in with a “food crisis” team of experts, which pushed India’s planners into increased agricultural spending, ultimately at the expense of planned investments in housing and other social services. Several rounds of business conferences on India together with official and semi-official visits followed until, in 1964, Undersecretary of Commerce Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. led a top-flight delegation of American business executives to New Delhi with the explicit objective of “persuading the government to adopt policies more attractive to potential investors.”
Hunger warriors from agribusiness were particularly hot for expansion. Poor harvest in prior years had driven food prices up, and with them, the demand for fertilizer and pesticides. Consequently, the Rockefeller’s Jersey Standard wanted price and distribution restrictions lifted on their Bombay fertilizer plant. A Bank of America syndicate, together with India’s Birla group, needed government support for what would become “the largest urea and compound fertilizer plant in this part of the world.” Petroleum producers, foreseeing an otherwise useless excess of naphtha, wanted permission to set up fertilizer plants which could utilize the petroleum by-product. The Ford and Rockefeller foundations wanted to expand use of their new high yield seeds deliberately bred for large fertilizer and pesticide inputs, and get on with the commercialization of agriculture.
But Western pressure was of little avail until the failure of the summer monsoons in 1965. Then, in the words of the World Bank’s Pearson Report, “Instead of signing annual or multi-year [food] sales agreements, as with other countries and with India itself, in earlier years, the United States doled out food aid a few months at a time as policy conditions were agreed upon.”
India, faced with a short leash on food supplies, acceded to the foreign pressures. She pared down government control, liberalized her import restriction and devalued the rupee. Her government gave the chemical and oil men permission to build new fertilizer plants, to fix their own prices, to handle their own distribution outside the normal channels of the rural cooperatives, and to maintain a greater share of management control than permitted under Indian law. Most important, officials agreed to give greater emphasis to agriculture and to maintain high food prices as an incentive to growers. “Call them ‘strings’, call them `conditions,’ or whatever one likes,” boasted the New York Times, “India has little choice now but to agree to many of the terms that the United States, through the World Bank, is putting on its aid. For India simply has nowhere else to turn.”
With the ground so carefully prepared, the miracle seeds grew beautifully. Once-barren land flowered. Indian farmers harvested 95 million tons of grain in 1967-68, bettering the best of previous yields by five per cent. The following year they did almost as well, and growers laid plans for 100 million metric tons in 1969-70. Ecstatic Indian government officials announced that India would be self-sufficient in food production by 1971. “The Green Revolution,” exclaimed David Rockefeller to the International Industrial Conference, “may ultimately have a cumulative effect in Asia, Africa, and Latin America such as the introduction of the steam engine had in the industrial revolution.”
REVOLUTION OF A DIFFERENT COLOR
The pressure, bantered about everywhere from the Canarsie Shopping News to Business Week, had been anything but subtle. Profits would be high. Yet even liberals like John Kenneth Galbraith and Chester Bowles, both former ambassadors to New Delhi, lavishly praised the whole enterprise. People have to eat.
They have to, but even with paternalistic green revolutions they still don’t always get to. “Modern” agriculture in America and the West, dependent upon high inputs of fertilizer and pesticides, is an ecological disaster. We are only now discovering what DDT and many fertilizers do to our food, water, soil, mother’s milk and farm workers. India’s prospects are even more bleak. Chemically resistant miracle grains will soon produce miracle pests, which could easily wipe out whole areas. Early high yields depended heavily on unusually good weather – which is not dependable, and on irrigation – which is reportedly salting the soil. These problems have led many experts to question how long the revolution will remain green. But most of the experts still come down on the side of more “modern” agriculture, without even exploring possibly safer alternatives like the high-yield, labor-intensive and biologically-integrated “gardening” of the best traditional Asian agriculture.
But the real disaster is more immediate. The same high food prices which gave incentive to growers also put sufficient food out of the reach of those who need it most. Commercial agriculture, by definition, produces for profit, not people. At the same time, the new seeds required irrigation and pesticides, and heavy inputs of fertilizer, the costs of which soared with the removal of government price ceilings. “So far,” reports Clifton Wharton, Jr., writing in Foreign Affairs, “spectacular results have been achieved primarily among the relatively large commercial farmers.” Those who haven’t the capital, or can’t get the credit from village moneylenders or meager government programs, are pushed off their land and into an agricultural proletariat or worse, while the new Kulaks, the peasant capitalists, re-invest their profits in modern labor-saving machinery.
The inevitable result of this trend is class and regional conflict. Wharton reports a clash in the prize Tanjore district of Madras in which 43 persons died in a struggle between landlords and the landless, “who felt they were not receiving their proper share of the increased prosperity brought by the Green Revolution.” Two Swedish journalists, Lasse and Lisa Berg, reporting in Stockholm’s Sondagsbilagan, provide pictures of “excess” Indian peasants burned in kerosene by a landlord. One hates to speculate on how a companion population program would work, but it is all too easy to believe reports from India of forced sterilization.
But there is a positive side. As in the Philippines, where peasants displaced by the commercialization of agriculture are strengthening the Huk resistance, the Green Revolution in India is producing a Red Revolution. For the first time since Independence, militant revolutionary movements have led Indian peasants into rebellions in different parts of the country, and in certain areas, the Bergs report, the poorest people in the countryside are organizing themselves across the boundaries of caste.
THE NEW INTERNATIONALISM
Despite all a Rockefeller might do, the New Look in empire even met obstacles at home. From 1966 on, displeasure with the unwinnable war in Vietnam escalated along with the war-caused inflation, and Congress, though it had authorized the new programs, was increasingly unwilling to fund any new foreign entanglements. In the spring of 1967, for example, Senator Fulbright, impressed with what the White House Conference’s Committee on Population had proposed, asked Congress to support voluntary family planning abroad with an appropriation of $50 million a year for three years. His less liberal colleagues approved $35 million for one year. Congress has treated the domestic birth control issue with the same lack of enthusiasm, despite the growth of third world nationalism within the U.S. Members of Congress are just too provincial to understand the needs of empire.
In an attempt to create a congressional climate more favorable to population control, the empire builders decided to drum up some public pressure for their cause. Consequently, a new avalanche of full-page spreads warned war-weary newspaper readers that “The Population Bomb Threatens the Peace of the World”; that “Hungry Nations Imperil the Peace of the World”; that “Whatever your cause, it’s a lost cause unless we control population.” The ads, sponsored by Hugh Moore‘s Campaign to Check the Population Explosion and signed by the usual crew of population controllers, urged greatly expanded appropriations and a crash program for population stabilization. A new Presidential Committee on Population and Family Planning, headed by HEW Secretary Wilbur Cohen and, of course, John D. III, persuaded Nixon to promise greatly-expanded federal programs and a commission on domestic population problems. The Ford Foundation, initiating its first grants for birth control assistance in the U.S. in 1966, provided a barrage of money and reports. The American Assembly, with the help of the Kellog Foundation and now-Secretary of Agriculture Clifford Hardin, sponsored a national conference on Overcoming World Hunger which, despite its optimism about the green revolution, continued to push for population control. Hugh Moore pushed Ehrlich’s book and his own ads. Draper urged doubling the 1970 AID appropriation for birth control to $100,000 and was warmly applauded by James Riddleberger, his successor as head of the Population Crisis Committee. Environmentalists, along with their enemies, “the industrial polluters,” found the chief cause of every problem from slums to suburbs, pollution to protest, in the world’s expanding numbers.
More than ever, the population power structure pushed for a world population policy. From the early ’50s, the population people realized thee sensitivities – religious, ideological, military, political and personal – raised by the offer of birth control assistance, and always advocated international programs. Then, when domestic reaction to intervention in Vietnam soured the overall population control effort, they quickly joined in the generalized elitist move to transfer the entire economic development program to international agencies, where they and their third world friends could directly control the programs without interference from congressional “hicks.”
The UN should take the leadership in responding to world population growth. So urged a special United Nations Association panel headed by John D., financed by Ford, and including Richard Gardner, former World Bank president George Woods, former AID administrator and now Ford Director of International Operations David E. Bell, and AID director John A. Hannah. The committee urged the creation of a UN Commissioner of Population with broad powers to coordinate “radically upgraded” population activities. The Commissioner would work under the United Nations Development Program, whose director, Paul Hoffman, is a former president of the Ford Foundation, administrator of the Marshall Plan, and aide to General Draper in the reconquest of Japan by big business. Under Hoffman’s guidance, the second UN Decade of Development is already preparing to concentrate on agricultural development, education, and population control.
The American population elite is also trying to beef up the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which brings together the old Marshall Plan nations with Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States. Since the mid-’60s, DAC has given greater efforts to coordinating the agricultural and population control aid of the members. James Riddleberger, Draper’s replacement on the Population Crisis Committee, was the first chairman of DAC, while the present chairman, former State Department official Edwin Martin, served as a staff member of the original Draper Committee.
Most important in the new internationalism is the World Bank. Headed by Robert McNamara, veteran of population control efforts in Vietnam, the Bank is now developing the management capacity to become the key institution in administering the empire. “Just as McNamara concentrated on the cataclysmal, the nuclear threat, while at the Department of Defense,” gushed a New York Times feature, “so at the World Bank he has chosen to make the population explosion, another cataclysmal problem, his central, long-range preoccupation. For if populations are allowed to double every 20 years, as they do in low-income countries, it will wipe out the effect of development and lead to chaos.” Aided by former AID administrator William S. Gaud, now executive vice-president of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, and former Alliance for Progress chief Covey T. Oliver, now U.S. delegate to the World Bank, McNamara is currently preparing for the day when the great statesmen meet to discuss the control of population.
With support in the White House and agreement among their friends (the trustworthy American managers in the international agencies), everything seems to favor the new interventionism of the big business internationalists. Everything, that is, except a new-found popular preference for non-intervention, or even isolation. But if overpopulation per se becomes the new scapegoat for the world’s ills, the current hesitations about intervention will fall away. Soon everyone, from the revolting taxpayer who wants to sterilize the Panther-ridden ghettos to the foreign aid addict, will line up behind the World Bank and the UN and join the great international crusade to control the world’s population. Let empire save the earth.
Simply fighting this war on people with a people’s war will not eliminate the need for each nation to determine how best to balance resources and population. But where there is greater economic security, political participation, elimination of gross class division, liberation of women, and respected leadership, humane and successful population programs are at least possible. Without these conditions, genocide is nicely masked by the welfare imperialism of the West. In the hands of the self-seeking, humanitarianism is the most terrifying ism of all.
From the 1970 biographical note: Steve Weissman is a member of the Pacific Studies Center in Palo Alto, California. The Center is a research collective specializing in the social, political and economic dimensions of American capitalism. Projects range from studies and publications on U.S. involvement in the Third World, multinational corporations, labor problems, high finance and environmental destruction, to films on ecology and inflation.