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Make babies

Tennyson Joseph

Make babies

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On observing the response to the call from Minister of Education Ronald Jones for Barbadians to multiply on the grounds that a larger population would ensure a critical mass conducive to a more sustainable economic take-off, one is struck by the manner in which our public thinking on this issue has remained stuck in narrow economic terms over the years.
Followers of Barbadian events will no doubt recall an earlier debate between two University of the West Indies economists, Clyde Mascoll and Professor Michael Howard, when Mascoll had made a similar assertion. In that debate, Professor Howard, forever the unidimensional economist, opposed Mascoll on typical economistic population-resource distribution concerns.
There is far more at stake.
One of the earliest interventions by an economist on the issue of population control came from Thomas Malthus who, in 1798, argued that since human populations were outstripping natural resources, then famines and natural diseases were welcome safeguards against resource exhaustion.
Malthusian economics has influenced the eugenics movement, central to which are Darwinian notions of superior genetic groups surviving at the expense of inferior ones. Out of Malthus have come “innocent” organisations like family planning, to racist practices like forced sterilisation of inner city black women, the incarceration of young black males, and the provision of fertility treatment to privileged groups (the octomom phenomena).
Our economists must train themselves to think beyond narrow economism. A deeper look would help to put Minister Jones’ call in proper philosophical perspective. It would help to understand why the Old Testament call to the Jews to be fruitful and multiply came in a context of Jewish fears of extinction, surrounded, as they were, by non-Jewish groups, and why “Onanism”, the spilling of the male seed on the ground, was also denounced. 
This is also why Frances Cress-welsing calls on African families to produce three offspring since to produce two simply means that the parents have replaced themselves. This is why some countries, like Australia, offer tax breaks to families which produce a third child. Surely, like the Jews of old, the Australians in the land of the Aborigines, have seen the necessity of multiplying as the first instinct of survival.
The lesson in all of this? First, Mr Jones should be congratulated for his bravery in making his call in the context where narrow economistic world views have been dominating our public discourse. Secondly, our economists might have heard this call from this pulpit before, but there is an urgent need for them to widen their perspectives beyond narrow economistic considerations, and to dig into the philosophical roots of their taken-for-granted assumptions. 
This is particularly important in a context of economic crisis and the supremacy of neo-liberal ideological assumptions when economic considerations have assumed taken-for-granted legitimacy and have shown intolerance to any other perspective. In such a context, the possibility of error is always alive.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]