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July 18, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Gates Foundation pledges $1B to provide contraception around the world

Fixing overpopulation does not fix everything

Amid all the cheering about Bill and Melinda Gates’ efforts to reduce population in poor countries [“Breaking down barriers to birth control,” page one, July 12], I can’t help but wonder if anyone involved has stopped to at least consider the possibility of unexpected consequences. The unquestioned assumption seems to be that some countries are held back by overpopulation and will improve their lot if they have fewer people. I wonder if that is true.

We know that as a country becomes more prosperous and developed, its birthrate tends to drop precipitously on its own, without foundations coming in to push it down. And there is pretty good evidence to suggest that countries become prosperous in the first place not due to declining population but from other factors, especially the extent to which they develop a consistent and fair rule of law and respect for individual rights to economic liberty and possession of property.

What happens if the populations targeted by this birth-control push retain the characteristics that are keeping them poor, but simply have far fewer children? Who will take care of the aged in that case? Perhaps it’s worth thinking about before leaping into the project.

— Jeff Evans, Kirkland


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