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Not too late for zero [population growth]: Reply to Angela Shanahan's "Demographic reality..."


Photo from National Marriage Coalition
Angela Shanahan - The Growth Lobby's last resort. If you thought that the growth lobby had retired this weapon, you probably have underestimated how much Kelvin Thomson has them in a panic.
If you want to email letters to The Australian, the address is: letters[AT]theaustralian.com.au

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Dicing with statistics

Angela Shanahan, in "Demographic reality tells us it's never too late to populate", the Australian, 9 January, 2010, p.7, continues a late career in writing about population numbers from the point of view of a person for whom economic growth ideology is central and who seems to have no idea at all about ecology as well as an attitude of what she doesn't know doesn't matter.

Right away she shoots herself in the foot by saying we Australians aren't replacing ourselves, when we are. She also quotes the 2.1 replacement rate fallacy as the Rule. Relying on such [erroneous] statistics, she goes on to accuse a straw-man Malthusian of seeing humans only as statistics.[1]

"The anti-populationists' ideological armour of righteous environmentalism leaves them blind to the fact that we need a sustainable rate of growth because without at least stasis in natural increase, we will have an unnaturally ageing population, like Japan's. Without a natural increase of at least 2.1 children per woman -- ours is only 1.9 -- we cannot achieve the age balance that will give us enough children to fuel the future economy and care for the aged. If we can't get sustainable natural growth, we must have immigration." (Shanahan)

Unwilling to engage with Kelvin Thomson's actual arguments, presumably because she has no answer for them, she stigmatises his policies and those who support his policies by attacking him for wanting to restrict the Family Tax Benefit, but even there she wisely doesn't quote him fully. What he actually said was:

"A renewed focus on educating, skilling and training young Australians at Universities, TAFEs and apprenticeships would receive a funding boost with money obtained from abolishing the baby bonus and limiting family payments for third and subsequent children to those already receiving them." Thomson.

She also fails to take into consideration looming fuel and vital resource scarcities. Either she is actually unaware of these scarcities or she does not want to ruin a remunerative propaganda piece with facts. Why does a major newspaper lend authority to people who simply ignore basic realities?

Don't get me started!

And, this stuff about maintaining the current population size or increasing it ignores the anomaly of post war populations, instead attempting to normalise it. It isn't 'normal'. Our 20th and 21st century populations are unnaturally big, reflecting sudden access to cheap and abundant fossil fuels. Why should we keep up such unnaturally large societies when their fossil fuel basis is not going to keep up?

Singapore and Hong Kong

Illustration from France2 news, 9 September 2009. The report showed people in Hong Kong living in cages, several to a room, and paying USD$120 weekly in rent.

"Finally, we might ask ourselves what happens if the anti-natalists take over. Would it affect family life? The brutal answer is yes. Look what has happened in Singapore, which went from being a poor and overcrowded island-state to a rich, not at all crowded place in a generation. It did it with ruthless anti-natalist policies that penalised people after they had two children. Now Singapore has trouble getting people to marry and have children, and the government has reversed its policy." (Shanahan)

If Ms Shanahan's passingly odd reference to Singapore is meant as an argument that urban overcrowding is okay it is questionable. There is only one native animal left in Singapore - assuming it is still there, and that is a small mudskipper. Everything else has been subsumed to humans and their infrastructure. Every day a large population of immigrants comes in to work. Manufacturing and transport are bedeviled by the logistics of high rise; it takes forever to move things down from the factory floor, through the streets and to ports and airports. The people of Singapore are in fear of their government, which owns all the housing and much of the employment. It is probably no longer possible to live independently in Singapore because it is completely urbanised and managed. Singaporeans are keen migrants to Australia because they like our [threatened] space and freedom. People are complaining like mad about overpopulation there. I notice she didn't mention Hong Kong - another ex-British colony, about which I wrote in connection with another big population advocate, Bernard Salt. Like Singapore, like India, like many ex-British Pacific Islands, including Australia, the political system fosters overpopulation against the wills of the residents.

China

Shanahan also writes:

"China, with its disastrous one-child policy and an ageing and gender-unbalanced population as a result, might have to do the same because trying to regulate human beings as you regulate animals on a farm is wrong and eventually pointless."

I love this one. It's so bare-faced. The pronatalists always pretend that China's female infanticide is caused by the one-child policy, but they never include India in their propaganda. India, which has a laissez-faire policy, also practises female infanticide and abortion. Both societies have had a long-time preference for male children because of inheritance laws which mean that to keep land in the family, you need male heirs. I don't know if this is the case in all Chinese and Indian regions, but the lesser value attributed to the lives of women and girls goes back a long way in China and India, which have entirely different family planning policies.

As for regulating animals on a farm: that is exactly what Angela Shanahan is advocating: manipulative policies rewarding high reproduction and taxing low reproduction.

"The farmer always wants more animals on the farm than the animals would like," to paraphrase Alfred Sauvy, the French wartime pronatalist economist.

I don't want Australia to be an intensive farm for humans.

Fingerpointing

It looks to me as if the editors of The Australian or someone, at any rate, know how to wind Angela up by telling her that people who want small populations make fun of people like her with large families. The reason I think that is that she mentions being accused of having 'litters' rather than families and goes on from there to decide, with little or no evidence, that Sustainable Population Australian (SPA) supporters and political supporters of Kelvin Thomson's population reform program must dislike children, see people as mere statistics, and, furthermore, have a liking for birds which she just cannot understand.

Well, I am sorry for Angela if people have made fun of her fecundity. She might consider though that rude and nasty people will make fun of anything that is unusual in a person. They made fun of Quasimodo's hump and they made fun of Pauline Hanson's accent. Galileo was persecuted for his beliefs, as was Descartes when he was in Holland, and Virgilis, the Bishop of Saltsberg was condemned to be burned for believing that the antipodes existed. If Angela has a genuine talent for children, then I have nothing against her expressing it. Most people don't want or expect to have many children in a society like ours where compulsory education raises the cost of children, and child labour is prohibited, so we are unlikely to be over-run by large families. Remove laws against child labour, stop compulsory education, pay bonuses for the third and subsequent children and the large family will soon be the norm.

It is indeed a bad move for anyone wanting a small population to point their finger at specific immigrants or at large families, because those people then might rightly take it personally. That is a way to make enemies and who needs enemies? It is reasonable though for people to state how they feel about their society and whether they wish to underwrite with their taxes or emotionally and politically encourage increasing demands on water, fuel, housing and democracy. Just as it is reasonable for Ms Shanahan to express her views, but she really should stop the rude finger-pointing and name-calling of people who do not share her perspective.

Family allowances

It should also be mentioned that most research into family allowance policies shows that when there are more than three children in a family, there is a downwards trend in multiple aspects of child and family well-being and the ability of parents to participate in the workforce and consumer society - statistically speaking, of course. This is a reason that it is quite rare for industrialised 'modern' societies to have government incentives for large families. The exception is in extreme pronatalist societies, such as Romania under President Nicolae Ceaucescu, or Hitler's third Reich or the Petain government in Vichy France. These last two wanted more children to fuel armed conflict and they would award prizes to mothers of very large families. Pronatalism in France (where leaders feared Germany's high birth-rate and related ability to supply soldiers) from the 19th century on was so pronounced that people were jailed for distributing contraceptive literature and women declared the "La Grève des ventres" - "Wombs on strike" because they refused to provide children for cannon-fodder.[2]

Priorities

Ms Shanahan also mixes up priorities by putting what she thinks women want (more children) ahead of social and environmental factors that make it safer to have small families. She vaguely refers to surveys that show women want more children, but doesn't examine the quality of those surveys nor who is running them. She suggests that people are not having many children because they lack encouragement, but then she says that the rise in the ex-nuptial birthrate is genuine cause for alarm, a comment which is discouraging for those mothers.

So, does she feel about ex-nuptial children the way she feels about birds? Is she defending marriage and large families rather than children and mothers? She seems to talk about ex-nuptial births as if they were 'an amorphous mass of humanity without form or character, sex or religion, colour or dress, size or age', rather than children who might well grow up like Hans Christian Anderson (whose grandmother was thrown in jail twice for ex-nuptial reproduction) or the poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, or actress Sarah Bernhardt, or Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio, or composer Aleksandr Borodin, or Pope Clement VII, who was Spiritual head of the Catholic Church, or the artist, Leonardo da Vinci, or Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon's wife ("not tonight, Josephine"), or Frederick Douglass, who was a slavery abolitionist, or the younger Alexandre Dumas, who was a novelist and playwright, or the scholar and author, Desiderius Erasmus, or Alexander Hamilton, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, or Marilyn Monroe, or playwrite, August Strindberg, or ... a lot of us, almost.

More on Fingerpointing

As I have said in "Fingerpointing" (above) I think that Ms Shanahan in her article stigmatises people for their political beliefs, such as people who support Kelvin Thomson and his 14 point population reform plan or people who are members of SPA by attributing nasty characteristics to them.

She unfairly ignores the fact that Thomson is trying to make it easier to have traditional housing blocks and peaceful lives for families. She fails to engage with his well thought-out policies and by failing to engage with them she leaves herself open to an accusation of her arguments being at least partly motivated by a personal vested interest in keeping family support payments going, rather than for the benefit of the greater society.

"Thomson might be interested to know that the City Futures Research Centre at the University of NSW has proved that the most economical and least polluting household is a family living on a traditional block and family home. As I wrote last year, if the tendency for smaller households continues, particularly single-person dwellings, then combined emissions from each of the separate households would actually make the situation worse even if the population were to decline. So it is actually in the interest of the environment to maintain the traditional large family household." (Shanahan) [Editor's emphasis.]

(Of course that is if the large family stays on that block forever, grows its own food, and never goes out the gate and none of them grow up and drive cars or move into new houses or purchase imported food or ... You see what I mean, I hope.)

And Angela Shanahan shows callousness towards the plight of birds in our increasingly hostile industrialised environment. She talks about birds as if they were 'an amorphous mass of feathers without form or character, sex or song, colour or plumage, size or age'.

Twice she dismisses concerns about birds and implicitly the wider fauna of our natural environment.

"But the anti-natalists don't care about the causes and social consequences of children born out of wedlock; they are more worried about the bird life." (Shanahan)

If I did not know better I would think that she was deaf, blind and heartless and had never been outside an institution.

She is insensitive to the needs of people who love birds. She seems only to see other people as economic factors and ciphers, without human needs for rich natural environments. She does not see the other creatures at all, and never mentions trees, forests or the earth. Through the ages people have loved to have birds around; the human race evolved with birds alongside. Now, because of her ideology of more and more people, must the human race divorce itself from its long association with birds and (by implication all other non-human animals) go on in an impoverished environment? This may sound like a joke, but the question is a serious one. Let us not downgrade the birds to ciphers too by noting their contribution to balancing insect populations, but consider for a moment the danger to a child of growing up in an environment where abundant pesticides had replaced all the birds. Not such a great idea after all, Ms Shanahan?

It is all very well Angela having the freedom to express her point of view and have a large family, but if we have to do without birds and allow them to go extinct so that she [and others like her] can have her way, then I say she must be stopped, not from expressing herself, but from ever getting her way with the world.

I am sure that Saint Francis of Assisi would agree.

Ms Shanahan fails to see that the far greater threat to her kind of family and political views is the mass immigration lobbied for by property developers and their friends in government. Like a high birth-rate, high immigration rates, by increasing population growth and size, raise the cost of living per capita and put the price of the traditional house so far out of reach that the choice becomes, not 'how many children' but, should you save up for a house or have a child. You can have a house without a child, but a child without a house is a hard call. The 4Corners film, "The Last Chance motel" demonstrates the brutal reality of homelessness for children. How is having more people going to improve this untenable situation?

She says that

"Those who think of policy in terms of for mass population may disguise their anti-person crusade but they have no interest in the broader welfare of society."

But it is precisely because of the deterioration in the broader welfare of society that people have become concerned about population growth. They are concerned because they are asking those very questions that Angela asks herself:
"What state is family life in, since the health of the family is a reliable indicator of the moral, social, cultural and economic life of the nation? How are children being educated and protected? What about the medical system? Who is to look after the aged?"

"It is absolutely central to the core obligation of stewardship that we have as human beings to pass on to our children, and to our grandchildren, a world, and an Australian way of life, in as good a condition as the one our parents and grandparents gave to us." (Kelvin Thomson.)

The one thing that would solve all those problems would be to dramatically decrease the cost of land. Then the cost of manufacturing and all other activities in this country would decrease. So would the cost of schooling, of hospitals, of protection and of housing and caring for the aged.

Don't forget that the reason we are told that we all have to put up with the highest housing costs in the world, environmental deterioration, inhuman-scale projects for expensive toll-ways, rising water and food costs, and the selling off of public assets, is because we have to pay for a growing population. See "Why Queenslanders must demand new state elections."

And yet, if we stopped growing our population, the only people who would lose anything are those who make a lot of money out of predating on the rest of us - and we aren't talking about warm and friendly human values there. If the draconian Australian population policies of forced growth ceased, the ordinary person would then easily be able to afford a home and no-one would have to work nearly as hard as they do now. As Clive Hamilton says in Growth Fetish, we could spend so much more time playing with children and participating in our society.

We are born with eyes and ears to enjoy the world around us. If Angela Shanahan wants to have nine children then no-one is going to stop her in Australia, but she should not try to force her lifestyle on other people, and she has no right to tell us to give up loving birds or the trees they need and which we need and Angela also needs, if only she knew it.

Angela Shanahan

Apart from the more specialised Financial Review, The Australian (which also appears as the Weekend Australian) is the only wide circulation national newspaper in Australia [26]. In 1999 Angela Shanahan first appeared as an occasional feature writer in a column called Focus. Shanahan seems to have been selected by the Australian as a pronatalist writer. Her major qualification for this post, apart from her reasonable ability to write, is her claim to be the mother of nine children. Since mothers of nine are a distinct minority and therefore could not represent a large and influential market for the Australian, one assumes that the newspaper is towing a pronatalist line.

“Procreative minority” was the title of her piece in the Weekend Australian on 20-21/5/2000 [27]. In it she describes a “kind of pursed-lipped, neo-Darwinian attitude of “the poor breed like rabbits”” She pushes the line that Australia has a “shrinking and aging population”, concluding therefore that “opposition to income support for big families is puzzling.” She attributes this to “extreme environmentalism or an ideological antipathy to the nuclear, patriarchal family which, in feminist newspeak, is always oppressive.” She promotes the idea of greater financial support for big families because they produce the “taxpayers of the future.” Disparagingly, she describes single people as “lonely old singles who never did manage to confront their fading youth”, and she complains that her children will have to support these singles as well as herself and their father.

Essentially she is suggesting that government should pay a wage to women who produce children and that this should be scaled to the number of children and that the tax system should be reformed to tax families rather than individuals. She does not go into detail but refers to the policies of the National Civic Council linked Australian Family Association. [3]

Angela Shanahan is married to The Australian’s political editor Dennis Shanahan, who is also a big fan of big populations, as are most Murdoch journalists.

NOTES

[1] Here is an extract on The Replacement Rate fallacy in In Barry Maley's world humans breed then die like fruitflies: Mark O'Connor & The Replacement Rate Fallacy.

Can you spot the elementary error?

In fact to keep stable and just replace itself, a relatively young population like Australia’s would currently need something even lower than Western Europe’s rate of around 1.3 children per completed family. More like 0.93. And that’s without immigration!

(Barry Maley also writes: "One of the symptoms of this problem recently confronted Greg Combet, Minister for Defence Personnel and Science, when he drew attention to the demographic problem of a shrinking pool of young men available for recruitment to the defence forces." O'Connor puts this one in its place here but elsewhere as well.)

Misunderstandings like Pell’s often come from those who a decade earlier might have tried to argue that we need more people for defence, or for “respect” in the world. As those older props are discredited, more weight has fallen on the Replacement Rate Fallacy. Underlying all this is a natural bias of human beings towards pro-natalism.

The replacement rate was a useful, if theoretical, concept back when couples everywhere were having 4 and 5 children as a matter of course. Since couples often justified this by saying that the world must be populated, demographers would point out that all a couple need do to replace itself, was to have 2 children. More exactly, about 2.05 children, to allow for the odd child that dies before reaching reproductive age, and for the slight excess of male births. But basically, if women in their reproductive years average two surviving children, or one surviving daughter, a generation will simply replace itself, won’t it?

[2] Francis Ronsin, La Grève des Ventres, Seuil, Paris, 1998.

[3]The above profile comes from Sheila Newman, “Pronatalist Policy in Australia from 1945 to the turn of the century,” (2000)

Comments

"The population controllers all have one thing in common: They are mean and misanthropic", according to Angela Shanahan's article.
Surely protecting ourselves from over consumption and becoming an over-abundant species is not "mean", but the contrary. If we keep up our rate of human exponential expansion, then future generations will suffer from lack of materials, land and natural resources. To deprive non-human native wildlife from habitat and destroy natural vegetation is totally anthropocentric, greedy and completely selfish. Without functioning and healthy ecological systems our planet would become moribund and sterile. We can't have our wide spaces concreted and paved with roads, infrastructure and housing and expect a "business as usual" approach and just ignore crucial environmental issues.
Blind adherence to the economic and democratic demands of limitless growth is dangerous. Animals can become "feral" and a "plague" but humans can't?
"The Australian" is a right-wing, conservative and pro-growth "news"paper with obvious bias and a lack of balance and credibility.

Maybe six years ago, when I further realised that The Australian was a right-wing propaganda medium, I did what most of us should do when we detect illicit bias in any presentation - I ceased to purchase it .. and I also cancelled regular home deliveries of its Hobart cousin, The Mercury. I've not bought either publication since.

Sometimes propaganda is cunningly delivered, not so much by what is said, but what is deliberately omitted. The thoroughly evil motive is to wilfully deceive for illicit purposes.

Evidently to secure more money and the means to infiltrate and deceitfully influence the minds of American voters and hence the course of world events, Mr Murdoch took out American citizenship - however it seems that Mr Murdoch's propagandist attempts to sway election outcomes in the USA has long been detected by many residents there and that they despise, or even loathe and detest him, for it.

This morning, while reading one of Sheila Newman's splendid postings elsewhere in this forum, I found this surprising item: "For years Santamaria had a column in the Australian, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch who is a Catholic convert and was recently made a Knight of the Vatican."

So is seems Mr Murdoch is a man who will change horses in mid race in order to secure for himself a bigger share of the money pot and further extensions of his illicit influence.

I am increasingly of the view that the capitalist press everywhere should be internationally banned. It has become an agent for evil.

I'm also wondering when The Australian will announce that Mr Murdoch is personally trying to sell what's left of his soul to the devil, and will reveal the price being sought.

I feel increasingly sure that the devil himself will decide against that purchase - on the grounds that there's nothing left worth buying.

Thank heavens someone has written something to counter this crap from Angela Shanahan. The Australian has not printed any letters today and it isn't possible to comment on the article on-line.

The Australian is just a propaganda factory. Freedom of the press is all very well, but the Australian is not the press; it is a disinformation mill!

AAG

Back in the 70's I laughed at a London-based Flat-Earth Society, but when I realised it was all for good fun, I laughed with them instead.

However, a loony propagandist like Mrs Angela Shanahan is just plain scary in her blind support for fundamentalist Catholic dogma. Being as reasonable as an automatic answering machine in Rome, I wonder what on earth possessed The Australian management to let this shrill "Voice of Papa" in on their pages.

Her arguments are so false and hysterical she can hardly lend even religious Future Fatalists much succour while awaiting The Rapture. Her thinking just leaves me shivering cold and maybe a little curious if she is like a famous conservative female USA mega-family-politician who also likes to go rifle hunting for bush-meat around her home state.

Editorial comment: I take it, you were referring to Sarah Palin? - JS

RE: Editorial comment:

Yes, Sarah Palin. Seems to me like two soul-mates. I can just imagine Angela Shanahan prowl the ACT bush with a scoped rifle in hand looking for kangaroos so she can feed her large dogs and growing mega-family. You can see it too, yes?

Remember how Angela Shanahan baldly claim large families have less impact on the environment. Well, most children would know that these days you actually don't need to shoot to kill off God's life completely. In her own way Angela Shanahan is a ruthless environmental future killer.

Animal Rights are anathema to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

How come? Well, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches its 'flock':

#2415 “The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.”

and...

#2417 “God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image."

SO CATHOLIC LORE: If God is the centre of someone's universe and that someone knows god enough to be close, everything else like animals must be subordinate in rights.

Pol Pot probably felt the same way.

PS. Religion is a deceptive substitute for morality by someone with ulterior motives.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885
Australia

I was discussing animals with a Catholic friend many years ago. He would have always been kind to animals but he saw animals as clones of one another in a way. He did not use the word clone -- but he meant that they were a job lot whereas to him humans were crafted individually.

Angela Shanahan should just accept that she has had 9 children and that this was not sensible given the fact that we are part of a human plague. Angela's 9 children do not matter all that much however. She does not need to keep trying to justify her excess as though it is a political position and not just a foolish mistake. All need not be lost if her 9 children became advocates for the environment and do not follow her example to produce 81 grandchildren between them.

Angela's runaway fertility in itself is not a total disaster because other women have had far fewer children or none. Had all women in the world acted as Angela did ( she may have got started 30 years ago when there were 4 and a half billion people on Earth and the global fertility rate was about 3.8), ) then the global population might already be at 9 billion!!

She should look around her and see what of Australia's environment can be salvaged from the impact of too many people not living within Australia's environmental means and think about how she can help. I would doubt that any environmental or population conscious group would refuse her genuine participation because of her past environmental recklessness of having 9 children.

Reform is possible.