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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Money for babies

Tennyson Joseph, [email protected]

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Money for babies

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THE DEBATE ON THE NEED to increase the population of Barbados due to the concerns about the under-population of that country has re-opened once again.

On an earlier occasion the debate was first opened by Minister for Education Ronald Jones, who called for the population to “make babies” as a result of his concern about the impact of the low population growth on levels of productivity and development. 

On this occasion, the second round in the debate has been sparked by a Government senator who has called for the provision of cash incentives to women who contribute to population growth by producing babies. 

In a significant philosophical contribution to the debate, Barbadian Roman Catholic priest Father Clement Paul has condemned this purely materialistic and economistic reading of the population challenge and its potential solutions. He argues that “having more babies and using money as an incentive is certainly not the answer . . . . Babies are not commodities to be bought when needed, but the product of an intense expression of love”.

Whilst Father Paul’s criticism is valid, the problem which he is seeking to confront cannot be understood outside a larger criticism of capitalist social relations which move inexorably towards the commodification of everything, and the attachment of a materialist value to areas of human life which ought properly to remain outside material calculation.

In addition, what is significant about the debate is the manner in which it reveals the extent to which our shifting views on procreation, population growth and their relation to economic development are completely dependent upon perspectives from outside. 

Quite sinisterly, our earliest inherited perspectives on population control, institutionalised in the Family Planning Movement, were rooted in some of the most racist traditions such as the eugenics movement, which was motivated by Malthusian notions of suppressing the “undesirable” populations to allow for the flourishing of the privileged groups.

It is no wonder that Father Paul felt compelled to demand an apology from the Barbados Family Planning Association for doing its job too well.

It should not be forgotten however that family planning itself was rationalised on economistic notions of “what a family could afford”, ignoring totally the question of economic mal-distribution inherent in capitalism, and placing the blame on the “culture of poverty” among the underclass, whose sexuality was now to be controlled by petite bourgeois types for their own good.

Now that depressed population levels are being seen as a drag on development, the discussion has now moved to providing incentives for the same mothers who were forced into sterilisation programmes in the earlier period. 

The entire debate is a too sad reminder of the extent to which our views of development are defined too narrowly by short-term economic considerations.

Why can’t we support population growth on the unapologetic grounds of the perpetuation of our species?

•Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: [email protected]