Genes and Public Policy
In a recent number of the Eugenics Review, many pedigrees were given of families, members of which generation after generation fill the workhouse, the infirmary and the prison. The women are prolific, and return to the maternity wards again and again. Their children grow up, if they grow up at all, with hereditary defects which cause the evil to spread in ever-widening circles at an ever-growing rate. Here is one part of the problem of destitution the cause of which is known with certainty, the cure for which is clear. It needs but the courage to assume the permanent cure and control of these defective members of the community for one generation to prevent all the misery and degradation in themselves which follows their so- called liberty, and to cut off for ever the evil strains of blood which uncontrolled they will disseminate through the nation. The expense would be saved in a very few years in the lessened cost of poor- law and police, while, infinitely more important, the contamination with which they threaten the race would be prevented. The problem of destitution is complex; but there is one section of it which can be, and ought to be, solved once for all.
Verbatim from "Heredity and Destitution" by W. C. D. Wertham, in The Eugenics Review, July 1911.
The idea that people should be selectively bred to improve the gene pool found favour during the 1920s and 30s among legislators and the medical community who used the "evidence" to justify withholding economic assistance from the poor and compulsory sterilization to minimize the breeding among disadvantaged classes.
In May of 1932, Dr. C. O. McCormick delivered an address on the topic of charity and genetic selection before the Indiana State Medical Association. McCormick s speech, called "Fewer and Better Babies," was reprinted in the October 1932 issue of the Birth Control Review. Following are exerpts from his presentation:
"From all beginnings of human progress, people and nations start with a primitive setting and develop in accordance with environmental and hereditary forces with survival of only the fittest, the weak and defective being either permitted or forced to perish... Thus history has recorded it until the advent of sociology and charity of modern civilization which have since interfered with nature s plan by nurturing the weak and defective to maturity and procreation of their kind. Upon such a system the weaker sooner or later compete with the stronger and a point may be reached where progress upward not only ceases, but retrogression is inaugurated. Feeble-mindedness, degeneracy, criminality and diseases become so thoroughly intermingled and affect so large a part of the constituents of a nation that the nation itself may degenerate and finally crumble. By conforming to natural laws and planning selective breeding, there should be no reason why a nation could not live forever and improve its racial strains.
"Under the present scheme the citizens of the upper strata of society are not only sharing equally their earnings for the rearing and education of their own offspring with that of those of the lower strata, but in order to be able to do so are to a definite degree forced to limit their own number of children.... These [upper income] families are limiting themselves to an average of 2.1 living children, slightly more than one-half required for racial increase. At the same time there is no check being placed upon the number procreated by the inferiors, and it is seriously true that our growing population is being increasingly maintained by the moron group. This is most obviously contrary to permanent and staple progress, and every sensible and public-spirited person must admit that propagation of the unfit should somehow be checked...
"We of the [medical] profession with our improving skill, assisted by increasing state and private charity, are more and more enabling the weaklings to survive and propagate their kind, and therefore are prominently instrumental in the production of a weaker race. Certainly not a credible or patriotic achievement... The great philosopher was correct in his assertion that, A nation which fosters and cares for its good-for-nothings will sooner or later find itself a good-for-nothing nation. If we are to fulfill our obligation to society, we will first of all establish the doctrine that social betterment must work hand in hand with race betterment...
"It is most obvious that eugenic sterilization lends itself as a strong preventive agent, and that it applies to public health the same as does vaccination for typhoid or smallpox. Guarded by efficient laws it is a wise and efficient method to protect society from degeneration, and to insure progressive racial evolution."
In 1920, the Macmillan Company of New York published what was to become a widely used textbook on the social aspects of genetics. It was called Applied Eugenics, and its authors were Paul Popenoe, editor of the Journal of Heredity in Washington, D.C., and Roswell Hill Johnson, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. The writers concluded without ambivalence that "the Negro race in Africa has never, by its own inheritance, risen much above barbarism," and that the black race, in America as in Africa, "is in the large eugenically inferior to the white."
In a chapter of the book called "Increase of the Birth-Rate of the Superior," the writers declared that every woman belonging to a superior racial or genetic group (also excluding most immigrants) should bear more than three children on the grounds that, "unless every married woman brings three children to maturity, the race will not even hold its own in numbers." At the same time, they argued, births should be restricted among others. "It is at once evident that a decline, rather than an increase, in the birth-rate of some sections of the population, is wanted."
With the end of World War II and revelations of atrocities committed by the Nazis in the name of "race purity," theories about racial pollution were replaced by arguments more acceptable to the contemporary world. But the goal remained the unchanged.
In September of 1964, the journal Eugenics Quarterly published a study on "White and Nonwhite Fertility" which concluded that the higher fertility of black women could be reduced by "social and cultural integration" with whites, and that, "as racial integration continues, the difference between the white and nonwhite levels of fertility will disappear." The interest of the researchers was obviously not civil rights, but rather an understanding of factors that might undermine the higher fertility of minorities with its implications for increasing their representation in society. The journal carefully avoided making direct reference to the superiority or inferiority of any racial group.
On the other hand, an article by Dr. T. C. Reed of the Dight Institute for Human Genetics at the University of Minnesota appearing a few months later in The Eugenics Review ("Toward A New Eugenics: The Importance of Differential Reproduction") focused on the issues of inferiority and superiority, while avoiding explicit mention of race. Reed also substituted Malthusian ideas about population, the then-popular "IQ" myth, and the obsolescence of manual labor to call for precisely the same goal that had previously been recommended on ethnic grounds.
"The need for eugenic concern is greater today than ever before because of the population explosion, and the automation explosion, " announced Reed. "It is not realistic to encourage the more intelligent to increase their birth rate greatly because of the menace of overpopulation. It is imperative that the less intelligent be discouraged from reproducing as much as at present because machines are rapidly taking over the jobs previously held by the least able of our fellow men." In fact, wrote Reed, "the less intelligent will have to be discouraged from almost any reproduction because of the serious consequences of ... the two ex- plosions. "
The themes have evolved over the years, but "over- population" has remained the scapegoat that allows wealthy individuals and nations to explain poverty and unemployment in ways that pose no threat to privilege. Witness this contemporary explanation for lack of schooling in poor countries: "One hundred million children of primary school age in developing nations are not enrolled in schools; they represent the potential adult illiteracy of the twenty-first century,.. With few exceptions, the inability to read and write directly parallels poverty and rapid population growth." So says a 1990 newsletter from the Population Institute in Washington.
Today, the differences between average fertility in developed and developing regions of the world are vastly greater than such inter-racial differences ever were within the United States itself. Birthrates are, overall, below two children per family in the industrialized world, which is populated mainly by persons of European ancestry. In much of the southern hemisphere, particularly Africa, the Middle East, and some Latin American nations, birthrates may be as much as four times higher. So the effort to prevent a swelling of the earth s black and brown populations is taking on new urgency.
A December 1992 newsletter of the Carrying Capacity Network asks, "with population growing by 95 million every year, is there time to wait until people voluntarily choose to limit family size?" The same publication argues for a system of rewards and punishments to literally compel people in the south to stop having children -- granting housing subsidies and even cash payments to people who efficiently use birth control, while withholding the same benefits from those who don t. "An incentive and disincentive program may persuade couples to make decisions they would not otherwise make," advises the newsletter, which concedes that the idea is a form of coercion. But it asks, "what are the alternatives?" We may, it says, provide family planning on a voluntary basis, after which we could "passively watch while the many cultures and countries in the world continue to unsustainably grow," or we might launch a "desperate, last-ditch use of coercive mandatory sterilization or other such programs."
Was population control a motive for the February 25 massacre of at least 50 Palestinian Muslims near Jerusalem? According to a story published in the New York Times the day after the incident, the killer, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, was known to be an anti-Arab fanatic who openly worried that high Palestinian birthrates would compromise the Jewish identity of Israel.
In a letter to editor which was published by the Times on June 30, 1981, two years before Goldstein migrated to Israel, the doctor demanded that Jewish leaders "act decisively to remove the Arab minority" from the occupied territories. "According to statistics published by the Israeli Government in 1980," Goldstein wrote, "the Arabs of Israel have an average of eight children per household, as compared with an average of 2.9 children per Jewish home in Israel." Referring to a demographic situation in which the Palestinian population appears to be replacing itself at a rate two-and-a-half times higher than the Jewish population, Goldstein added, "Before instinctively defending democracy as inviolate, Israelis should consider whether the prospect of an Arab majority electing 61 Arab Knesset members is acceptable to them."
The Times reprinted the letter on February 26, as part of its coverage of the slaughter that took place the previous day when Goldstein opened fire on hundreds of worshipers at the mosque near Jerusalem. The gunman was reportedly killed in the melee that followed.
The new president of the Philippines, Fidel Ramos, is eager to embrace it. And U.S. Agency for International Development officials have been anxious to make up for time lost under Corazon Aquino's leadership. Nonetheless, a massive birth control campaign in the Philippines has stalled.
According to a report in Popline, a publication of the Washington-based Population Institute, USAID Mission Director Thomas W. Stukel has not signed the papers necessary for launching the program, despite a Congressional increase in funding for population activities and assurances from the White House that population issues remain a high priority.
USAID officials in Washington had named the new Philippine population project "A Formula for Success."
Population control suffered an important setback in the Philippines after dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in 1986. Among the Filipino population, only about one in four married women of reproductive age has ever used an artificial family planning method, which is about half the rate for Asia generally.
Ramos, however, has indicated a willingness to accept population aid from the west. In a speech delivered at the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil, Ramos called for "an earnest family planning program that will provide our people room for choice in planning their families."
No explanation has been given for USAID's change of heart on the population aid package for the Philippines. However, last summer a Philippine senator attacked the planned campaign, particularly a major component which consists of an extensive "information, education and communication" effort. He called the scheme anti-Philippine propaganda, and charged that it set up a slush fund to "bribe" journalists and other influential people.
The population plan again came under fire about a month later after the contents of a secret National Security Council study about the population program were published in newspapers during the month of August. That study, written after the 1974 world population conference in Bucharest and not declassified until 16 years later, is considered the primary theoretical document on U.S. demographic intervention overseas. It advised that population control is in the political and economic interests of the United States because large populations in developing countries could jeopardize American foreign investments, provoke rebellions, and threaten access to important raw minerals and other resources. It recommended that several strategically- important countries, including the Philippines, be targeted for massive efforts to reduce birthrates.
According to a report about the incident in the Washington Post, the controversy about the secret memorandum was provoked by a working paper published and circulated by a U.S.-based organization that opposes foreign birth control "aid."
Egyptian rebels have stepped up their campaign to overthrow the pro-western regime of Hosni Mubarak. In late February, a group of militants shot at a train near the tourist center of Luxor, injuring four persons, including two foreign tourists. Since the attacks on tourists began in March of 1992, about 300 people have been killed and another 600 have been injured. Western embassies in Cairo have advised visitors to "keep a low profile," in the words of a recent Reuters wire service report.
But the International Conference on Population and Development, scheduled to take place in Cairo from September 5-13 of this year, is still on schedule. UN officials have promised to have extra security measures in place for the meeting.
Anti-Mubarak forces hope to establish a new government in Egypt based on Islamic law. They oppose western intervention generally, and population control in particular.
Tired of seeing its name in reports about detested structural adjustment schemes, the so-called "third world debt crisis," and other bad news, the World Bank has hired the New York public relations firm of Herb Schmertz and company to clean up its image. The Bank has come under increasing fire from non-governmental organizations and wants a "new look" for its 50-year anniversary celebration this year.
The Schmertz contract is worth $2 million says a report in BankCheck, a quarterly newsletter that tracks World Bank activities. It adds that Schmertz is known as an aggressive promoter who once advised, "if you engage in confrontation when the situation calls for it you'll not only feel better, but you'll also be more effective in your job."
BankCheck also reports that, in what may have been a less-rehearsed move to boost the institution's image, Bank security staff trashed a whole shipment of BankCheck newsletters which were on hand for the annual meeting in September. Conference guards had deemed it "an unofficial and unacceptable publication," says a recent issue of the newsletter. But the publications were later retrieved and distributed, after all, and Erik Friis, Assistant Secretary for Conferences, ended up writing a letter of apology to BankCheck.
In the future "we shall ensure that our publications and security staff are more thoroughly briefed," the Friis letter said. "BankCheck thinks this sounds like a good idea," the publication responded, "and offers to help brief any member of the Publications and Security Staff with a free subscription."
Speaking of the World Bank...
Bank officials and other dignitaries were shocked to get a dose of their own medicine last spring when Thailand's legendary birth control promoter Mechai Viravaidya barged into a World Bank international financial conference in Bangkok and tossed fistfulls of condoms in front of government officials and bankers attending the meeting. Viravaidya is well-known for the bizarre tactics he has employed to promote condom use in Thailand. He is the founder of a Bangkok restaurant called "Cabbages and Condoms."
The Clinton administration has proposed an increase in direct subsidies for population programs for fiscal year 1995 which is 14 percent higher than under the current budget, and advocates of food and nutrition programs are protesting.
The population program will receive $585 million under the new international affairs budget, while funding for refugee assistance and food aid will decline from previous levels. The international banking establishment will also gain. A total of slighly over $2 billion will be allocated to multilateral development banks such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and for "debt reduction" under the FY 1995 plan -- an increase of about 30 percent over the old budget. Another $252 million of the foreign activities budget will be placed in the category of "narcotics, terrorism and crime prevention," which constitutes an increase of nearly 50 percent. And "information and exchange" activities, including propaganda and the promotion of American culture around the world, will be raised slightly from $1.35 billion in FY 1994 to $1.43 billion under the Clinton proposal.
This extravagance comes largely at the expense of humanitarian assistance efforts, say critics, including the Maryland-based Alliance for Child Survival.
Refugee programs will receive $37 million less in FY 1995 than under the current budget. Disaster assistance will remain approximately the same at $170 million. And food aid will decline by six percent. Among the projects which may be cut to make way for more birth control are a community health program in El Salvador which has been credited with raising child immunization rates from 25 percent of the population to 98 percent and virtually ending deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea. Also jeopardized under the proposal are a village-based school project in Bangladesh which provides basic education to rural children at an annual cost of $20 per child -- ironically about the same amount of money as is required to pay the clinical costs of one female sterilization in a developing country.
Copyright 1994 U.S.A. / I.P.F.A.