Re: population resource imbalances

Stephanie Wilson (swilson@BIGCAT.MISSOURI.EDU)
Thu, 6 Oct 1994 16:39:51 -0500

On Tue, 4 Oct 1994, Read, Dwight ANTHRO wrote:

> Loker seems to accept uncritically the syllogism:
> populations have not grown at their potential rate; there are cultural
> practises such as infanticide, abortion, sexual taboos, dietary restrictions,
> etc. These practises have the effect of reducing number of offspring
> conceive, or surviing. Therefore these are cultural controls of population
> size.
> Implicit is the assumption that "cultures" somehow take a pan-societal view
> and determine that unchecked population growth is harmful and then, in an
> unexplained manner, produce cultural practises to prevent that harm. (Or if
> put into a pseudo-Darwinian framework, those cultures with such cultural
> practieses are selected for and survive while cultures without those
> practises die out).
But this is anti-evolutionary group selection. The population control
mechanisms that have been mentioned are personal decisions that the
individuals in a culture make. In many cases, these decisions are
arrived at because of certain cultural mechanisms. For example, female
fetuses/children in India have been aborted/killed because of the
difficulty of providing dowries, while male children are given extra
food and attention because they will marry, bringing a dowry (and
female labor) into the family. The culture will survive according to
the individual choices of its members (barring natural disasters or

The other idea that was brought up was better resource allocation.
This increases a given areas carrying capacity, but it is a bit of a
misnomer. Technological improvements might be better. Either new
technology enables the people to hunt/gather better or it can provide
new sources of food/clothing/shelter: the beginning of
agriculture/aquaculture/husbandry; weaving of cotton/flax/wool;
making of log houses/adobe/bricks/etc.

The last things Dwight mentioned were improvements in sanitation and
medicine. These are also technological improvements that enable
culture(s) to reproduce at greater rates, although, assuming that the
carrying capacity of the land remains the same, the populations in this
instance may be catching up to Malthusian limit. Unfortunately, most
economists denote the Malthusian limit as a horizontal line. I think
that with technological improvement factored into the equation, the limit
should be somewhat elastic (more of a slant), or in realistic terms, more
of a halting climb. But then again, I am only relying on my basic
undergraduate economics class for information.

Stephanie Wilson