Is Overpopulation the Cause of Hunger and Starvation?

A Letter from Kirby suggesting this,
and a Response from Scott

[In Nov. 2008 I forwarded a CNN news report, “As children starve, world struggles for solution”, along with a few introductory comments noting that while children are starving, the U.S. capitalist government is handing out billions to the big banks! (Posted at: ) My friend Kirby sent me a letter commenting on that article, and I in turn responded to his comments. Both items are below. —Scott H.]

Kirby’s Letter


Scott....this is both tragic and quite immoral. That being said, I am also including a link:

No where in this story does it ever mention the out of control birth rates in almost all the countries (or all?) where children are starving at a high rate. Haiti ranks 37th highest in the world (of the 220 listed here) with almost 36 births per thousand. This is about 5 times the birthrate of Hong Kong, # 220 on the list.

While I agree that we can feed all the people of the world, and that it is the moral thing to do, I do not believe we should do this without a tandem program to educate the population about, and provide the means for birth control. And of course, in many countries, the religious establishments — as well as local traditions and culture — will fight against any and all means of birth control.

What’s the solution? I don’t know. But I’m not sure I can abide unbridled population growth just because we have the means, for now, to feed them.

I fault this article for never once mentioning the cause of the starvation....out of control birth rates.

Scott’s Response

(11/21/08) [Slightly edited]

Hi Kirby,

It is true that the birth rate is an important and relevant issue, but:

1. You are very wrong to say that “out of control birth rates” are “the cause of the starvation”. I’ll try to more fully demonstrate this point as I proceed. But the first important thing to recognize is that the world produces more than enough food for everybody to have a good and nutritious diet. So already it should be obvious that the basic reason people (including so many children) are starving to death is not because there are too many people and too little food. The basic reason is just that those with so much food are simply unwilling to share it with those who don’t have enough. I.e., present-day bourgeois society is simply fucking immoral down to its very core. And this makes most of the people living in the rich countries immoral to one degree or another (if only because so many of them “do not wish to know” what the system they support does to other people).

2. A second important thing to recognize is that the rich countries, and especially the U.S., do things which actually make the situation worse in the poorest countries, i.e. which actually leads to much more starvation there.
      a. One example is the form of food consumption in the U.S. and rich countries that depends so much on meat, which—together with the world capitalist market (globalization)—leads to the transformation of agricultural land in Central and South America (and other parts of the world), which would otherwise be devoted (in part at least) to local food production, into beef production for export to the U.S. and other rich countries.
      b. And it is not just meat. All sorts of other agricultural products are produced for rich countries rather than using the land for local food production. Thus Brazil is currently switching over much agricultural land to the production of ethanol from sugarcane for both local automotive consumption and for export. This is yet another way in which globalization helps the rich countries at the expense of the poor people of the world.
      c. Another important example comes from the huge subsidies that the U.S. and all other rich countries provide to their own farmers which allow them to undercut the local producers of food in the rest of the world. For a letter from a correspondent of mine in Canada (with a couple links to news articles) about this, see

3. You say that the birth rates are “out of control” in the countries where starvation occurs. This fails to understand that:
      a. There are today a number of countries in Africa where the population is actually falling (mostly because of HIV/AIDS) but where many people are also starving to death.
      b. The reasons for the jump in birth rates in poor countries in the 20th century were primarily better health conditions, without accompanying economic opportunities.
      c. The fact that birth rates are now rapidly falling almost everywhere, including in most third world countries, while starvation is nevertheless increasing.

4. A few months ago I gave you a copy of some demographic research I did a year and a half ago. According to the UN, the total fertility rate (TFR) for the world as a whole was 4.49 in 1970-75, but fell to 2.65 in 2000-2005. The median projection for 2045-50 was 2.05, which is less than replacement levels. And, as my study indicated, the much more plausible rate for the 2045-50 period was the “low” UN projection for a world TFR of only 1.56. Already many countries, even in the third world, have TFRs near or below 2.1 (the replacement level). In 2006 the TFR in Brazil was only 1.91, for example. Despite that, there are still many starving people in Brazil. Mainland China had a TFR of only 1.73 in 2006, and of course there are also still starving people there, and there will be more and more of them as people are now rapidly losing their jobs in export industries because of the rapidly developing world economic crisis. It is true that the populations in Brazil, China, and much of the world are still growing despite the low (and falling) TFRs. This is because of the still abnormally large number of women of child-bearing age because of the population explosion of the 20th century.

5. In short, the correction to the population explosion is already in place, though it will still take 2 or 3 more decades to fully come into effect in some parts of the world. From about 2035-40 on, the world will be losing population. Many advanced countries (especially in Europe and Japan) are already losing population every year, and many of them are trying (quite unsuccessfully) to reverse this. The reason is that capitalist economics—even before the coming depression—together with the rampant individualism make having children very costly to people. In the third world the rapid urbanization which has been going on for decades already is leading to this very same situation.

6. Thus even focusing on “overpopulation” as such a major problem (let alone the key problem to address here) is so anachronistic these days! Yes, the 20th century population explosion did lead to many problems. But processes in place (urbanization, capitalist economics which make families expensive to have, and the rapidly intensifying world economic crisis) are all bringing this population explosion situation under control very quickly. That is no longer the basic problem, if it ever was.

7. The real central problem when it comes to hunger and starvation in the world is the system which determines the way that wealth is so unequally distributed to people. I.e., capitalism (or, looking at it on a world scale, capitalist-imperialism). It is the capitalist system that is responsible for these deaths of starving children, not the population levels. And to focus on anything other than that is in effect to give excuses for the mass murder that capitalist-imperialism is actually responsible for.


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