10 JUNE 1943, Page 13


A World Problem

The Political Economy of Population. By Radhakamal Mukerjee. (Longdans. 78. 6d.) A BOOK of first rate interest, this. The reader should not be deterred by lengthy preliminary skirmishings with methodological polysyllables. In works of " sociology " these are only too often an academic facade screening an empty mind. Mr. Mukerjee has a very active mind, nourished by wide reading and sage enough to select out of a wide field what are the key problems of the future. He is indeed too lavish in repetition, and although he has learning, scientific instinct and a keen sense of relevance, he has counter- balancing failings. He lacks systematising power ; he passes too easily from one interesting point to another ; he presents a feast of stimulating ideas, but is not patient or self-critical enough to weld them into anything like a permanent contribution to his subject. And he is a little slipshod. For instance, one does not expect to read in a treatise on population that " the age composition of the population will then be definitely unfavourable to the net repro- duction rate," since the net reproduction rate is an index of fertility► unaffected by age composition. Or again he says dogmatically " natural parental feelings have markedly decayed." This may be good enough for dinner-table conversation, but is not worthy of a treatise. The fall of births is not evidence, since it may be due to the great changes in the environment (including the advent of modem contraceptives). On biological grounds one must deem such a " decay " most unlikely, since the " natural feeling " is a hereditary quality, and it would take more than a few decades for it to be weakened by a selective process. Or again, in the economic field, there are passages which suggest that Mr. Mukerjee supposes un- employment to be normally associated with a high population.

The first-half of the book is devoted to what may be called a scientific background. There is a large section on migration in pre- historic times. Then comes a passage on ecology and the regional balance and interdependence of the various forms of organic life. This is connected with an account of the disturbances due to-short- sighted methods of cultivation. Mr. Mukerjee presents a horrifying picture of widespread deforestation, desiccation, erosion, lowering of the water-table and the growth of desert. One would like a quantitative estimate of the proportionate importance of all this in relation to world resources as a whole. But, in any case, our post-war planners should take note. The biggest single world economic problem confronting them is the apparent lack of vent for savings on the modem scale. Rehabilitation of these lands should take big money and thus correct the world deficiency of purchasing power. And—despite the doleful attitude of the agricul- tural restrictionists—there are plenty of hungry mouths to consume the resulting increase of produce. Finally, there is a section on the delicate methods by which population in the animal world is adjusted to the environment. There is not here a constant pressure on the means of subsistence, but a tendency to an optimum density. Mr. Mukerjee is inclined to give man a bad mark compared with other animals as regards his tendency to adjustment. He says more than once that man is over-sexed, but this merely illustrates his tendency to lapse from scientific caution. One would expect man, who is characterised by his general powers of adaptation, to be slower to react in population matters to changes in the environment than animals with their specialised instincts. This gives ground for hope. Surveying the matter in the broadest way, one might be inclined to think it probable on balance that the human species will shortly die out. But there are slow-working favourable factors. For instance, the decline of infant mortality should give a new selective advantage to more fertile stocks. This does not let our own legislators off from taking immediate measures. The slow-working factors may well be too slow to save the United Kingdom branch of the species. Whether we survive will probably be determined by our own conscious reactions to the situation in the next twenty years.

In considering human population Mr. Mukerjee has to include in his review the teeming fertility of the Ganges valley and the sinister trends in the Anglo-Saxon world. While condemning the simul- taneous outcry for more births and more lebensraum, he appreciates the need for encouraging family life in the low birth-rate countries. He favours a more equal social system. But he does not sufficiently distinguish between the effects of a class system and those of mobility between classes. And in consequence he does not reach the point that, if we want to encourage the latter and cannot expect, whatever we want, completely to eliminate the former, graduated family allowances are necessary. The crux of the book is the plea that room must be found for the surplus populations of India, China and Japan in the relatively empty tropical and sub-tropical regions. Not only does he wish more intensive emigration to such areas as Burma, Malaya, Siam, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines, but he casts covetous eyes upon tracts of America, Africa and Australia. Apart from political questions, the objection to this solution is that so long as population is pressing upon the means of subsistence in the highly populated districts, emigration is no remedy, the void being immediately filled by still more people. The whole world might be overrun without any relief to the congested areas. It is fair to say that Mr. Mukerjee fully and explicitly recognises this point. " Birth restriction," he writes, " and not emigration, should be regarded as the major cure of over-population." That is well said. But, we must ask, how are the religious and social obstacles to birth control in those countries to be overcome? This js a great problem, out of which no way has yet been found and no way is suggested by Mr. Mukerjee. Then are we not bound in the meantime to restrict migration from

them until this internal problem is solved? R. F. HARROD.