The Bogus “Demographic Transition” Theory

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 22 October 2015
Church and State

(Credit: Tim Abbott / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Excerpt from Chapter 16 of our Chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s book, The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (1996). The book is available at Kindle here and to read for free here.

Perhaps the single most important myth used by the Vatican to undermine concern about world population growth has been the demographic transition theory. The Vatican has promoted this myth through numerous institutions and individuals for decades. By 1975 it had largely fallen into disfavor because it was rather obvious that it was not working. However, it continues to be promoted, mostly by politicians, journalists, and foundation and population organization staffers, many of whom are Catholic. The theory is simple: the increase in well-being derived from economic development leads to a decrease in fertility.

In her book, Population Politics: The Choices That Shape Our Future, Virginia D. Abernethy systematically destroys the credibility of this theory. When researchers closely examined the basis for this theory in the early 1970s, they discovered that the early proponents had made assumptions about the industrialized countries that were historically dead wrong. Actually, the fertility transition to small families had occurred in the midst of desperate poverty and very high infant mortality in Europe. In a Wall Street Journal article, “Experience Teaches Population Control Can Precede Development, and Spur It,” published just before the Cairo Population Conference in September 1994, Tim Carrington cites compelling evidence that this theory is bogus. He writes that the view “Development is the best contraceptive” was widely held 20 years earlier. However, much has changed: “…there is broad agreement that the old maxim can be fully retired. Its weakness lies in the implicit suggestion that efforts to reduce fertility work only after a nation has lifted itself out of poverty. Reality suggests otherwise.”

Discovery that this theory was not valid has not diminished the use of it to support the Vatican position on population growth control.

The Vatican has also promoted the illusion that U.S. foreign aid is good. For the Vatican, U.S. foreign aid is good. It puts tens of millions of dollars into Vatican coffers through grants to the various Catholic relief organizations. But more important, this redistribution of wealth is good for the Vatican because it discourages developing countries from facing up to their overpopulation problems and gives them a false sense of security. Abernethy makes a compelling case that in the intermediate and long run, our foreign aid is certain to result in catastrophic consequences.

Abernethy reports, “The scale of the global effort to help the third world (and the deception it fosters) can hardly be overstated. Harper’s Index (March, 1989) reports that forty countries rely on foreign aid for at least a quarter of their national budgets…. [when all aid is considered, of which AID money is just a small part] the United States dispersed $92 billion to developing countries in 1988 (Harper’s Index, December 1989)…Experts think that, by the year 2000, 64 out of 117 third-world countries will have become dependent on donated food, and the majority of these 64 countries will be unable to support as many as half of their projected numbers.”

Egypt, for example, will be dependent on imports for 80 percent of its food in the year 2000. What will become of it? Where will the food imports come from when the greenhouse effect begins to take its toll on U.S. food production in a couple of decades as currently projected? The United States provides the bulk of the world’s food exports.

Food is not the only problem. Abernethy summarizes, “Three billion people will lack adequate fuel wood or other energy sources. Water demand, spurred by population growth, will exceed rainfall in most of Africa, the Middle East, North Asia, and parts of Mexico, Chile, and Argentina. And, warns environmentalist Cynthia Green, ‘The growing volume of untreated human wastes and toxic substances could render as much as one-fourth of the world’s water supply unsafe for human consumption.’”

U.S. foreign aid has made it possible for the Vatican to postpone its extinction by delaying serious population growth control efforts. But, what have been the costs to the developing countries? Developing countries have been given the implicit message that they cannot help themselves, eroding self-confidence. Says Abernethy, “Dependence on others is not a happy adult condition: Failure can be blamed on someone else; energy that could go into work or planning is dissipated in resentment when things go wrong, or in resentment simply at being dependent. Poor countries that count on foreign aid risk losing their resolve to become self-reliant. When dependence undermines self-confidence and stymies both foresight and planning, how can the future get better?”

China, on the other hand, kept a firm grip on reality. It adopted self-reliance as a core tenet of national policy. In China, the one-child family is now widely, if not universally, accepted as a patriotic duty. Americans have long understood the importance of self-reliance. How much did the Vatican influence the decision-making of our law-makers in the formulation and implementation of our foreign aid policy?

Another myth promoted by the Vatican is that poverty is a distribution problem. It claims that rich countries will always have enough to share if they choose to. It adamantly rejects the idea that there is a problem of absolutely limited resources. Many developing countries buy this myth. Abernethy notes the danger of accepting it, “The results are sadly counterproductive: Poor countries are encouraged to live beyond their means in the belief that they will be bailed out, and third-world couples go on thinking that large families are affordable.” The results obviously meet the pope’s needs.

Welfare programs in the U.S. were and continue to be strongly supported by the Vatican. As is the case of foreign aid, the Church derives billions of dollars in income from domestic welfare programs. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Catholic Charities USA, the nation’s largest private network of local social service organizations, relies heavily on the government for its financial support: “In 1993, the latest year for which figures are available, 65 percent of Catholic Charities’ income was provided by state, local and federal governments.” In its March 14, 1996 issue, The Wanderer, a conservative national Catholic weekly, reports:

The American Church is a principal subcontractor for the government in housing, welfare, child care, health care, and education, and gets billions of dollars for its services, for which it receives very generous administrative overhead fees that keep chanceries running and provide salaries and benefits for thousands of Church bureaucrats. Thus, maintaining the welfare state—under the guise of ‘compassion for the poor’—takes priority over the traditional Catholic social principles espoused by Buchanan.

But, more importantly, these programs have significantly increased fertility, especially among new immigrant arrivals (most of whom are Catholic). However, these programs have had a devastating effect on the American family and social fabric. The predictions of critics of these programs at the time they were made the law of the land are now reality. The Catholic Church has taken credit for the enactment of this legislation for decades.

For years the Vatican has complained that there would be no population problem in Central and South America if the wealthy there simply redistributed their wealth. This cynical act makes the Church look like the good guys to the masses and musters support from the masses for the Church. It allows the masses to blame their problems on the wealthy. It permits the poor to avoid blame for their own conditions which are a result of simply having more children than they can afford. The Vatican wins—the poor lose.

Abernethy makes another important point: “Urging redistribution on policymakers in poor countries is almost certainly inappropriate. Hard thinking and difficult decisions seem in order because, where there is overpopulation, those who are destitute will consume, before they die, the future potential productivity of any part of the environment to which they have access. Witness the Sahel, Ethiopia, the Sudan, Haiti…Nepal, and Bangladesh.”[300] The land will be denuded and the topsoil stripped away.

The Vatican is also responsible for the myth that immigration is a win-win situation when in fact the exact opposite is true. Abernethy summarizes why: “Perceived opportunities to emigrate may be just as corrosive as large-scale aid. Emigration appeals to many of the most energetic people of a society—exactly those people who would be most likely to promote constructive reform at home. One quick way to stop dissent is to expel the troublemaker…. Driving out the tree-shaker does make for soothing politics. At the same time, emigration creates a safety valve for excess population. The understanding that some people will remove themselves lifts the pressure that would otherwise encourage everyone to confront the limited nature of resources…. These aspects of emigration…narrow considerably the options for helping third-world countries to help themselves.” Thus the developing country loses.

The American bishops lead the cry against the national identification card exactly because they know that illegal immigration control will not be possible without it. It is true that this card will infringe upon the privacy rights of citizens. (Those of us who served in the military will find this card nothing new because we were required to carry such a card throughout our service.) However, without limiting immigration through enforcement of our immigration laws, notes Abernethy: “Citizens go on losing jobs, most people’s real income falls, energy security becomes a bitter joke, the environment suffers, the carrying capacity is exceeded, and Americans lose cherished values along with their privacy rights.” America loses.

The Vatican has created the illusion that it is not a major actor in U.S. policy making. Few Americans are aware of the intensive involvement of the Vatican in U.S. immigration policy development, most recently in the 1990 Immigration Reform Act. Abernethy acknowledges that public complacency over the Act can be traced in part to the inaccurate portrayal of future U.S. population by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Bureau’s 1989 projections were criticized almost as soon as they appeared. Demographers Dennis Ahlburg and James Vaupel determined that legal and illegal immigration were being grossly underestimated. However, using more accurate data for legal and illegal immigration, it was later discovered that the projected population for the U.S. in the year 2080 was 300 million off! Had this deliberate miscalculation not occurred at the Census Bureau, there is no way that the 1990 Act which further liberalized immigration law would have passed.

Abernethy does not identify the driving force behind the corruption at the Census Bureau. However, she does identify a driving force for the 1990 Act, The Heritage Foundation “whose champions are,” as she says, “Julian Simon and Ben Wattenberg.” As noted earlier in this chapter, The Heritage Foundation is a creation of the bishops’ Pastoral Plan and is headed by a conservative Catholic, Edwin J. Feulner, Jr.

One of the great successes of the bishops’ disinformation campaign has been the misleading of America in the identification of the forces encouraging an open borders arrangement for the U.S. If you ask individuals on the street who these driving forces are, they might mention a few but they never mention the Vatican. In that the Vatican is surely the most significant force, this is quite an achievement.

Perhaps its greatest success has been creation of the illusion in the U.S. that all is well within the Church, and between the Church and American democracy. This illusion is largely owed to the success that the Church has achieved in suppressing virtually all criticism of the Church in the press. A corps of Catholic organizations is committed to this activity. The pit bulls of this corps are found at the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, as described in the previous chapter.

The Vatican has no use for the civil rights of American patriots—freedom of thought, of expression, of the press. Patriots have a moral responsibility to speak out when their country is threatened. This sort of intimidation over the last hundred years has resulted in a populace woefully ignorant of the threat to American democracy and security posed by the Church. This illusion has made it possible for the Church to go unchallenged.

The Vatican has also created the illusion that it does not involve itself in international organization policy making. Of course this is not so. In a recent interview, Professor Milton P. Siegel detailed how the Vatican seized control of World Health Organization (WHO) population policy making from the very beginning. Siegel was Assistant Director General of WHO for its first 24 years and is considered among the world’s foremost authorities on the development of WHO policy. During the third World Health Assembly (1950), the Vatican threatened to kill WHO and start their own organization if the director general, Dr. Brock Chisholm, did not stand up before the Assembly and specifically state that WHO would not get involved with family planning. He did. WHO did not get involved at all for more than a decade.

Siegel put his finger on the Vatican’s motivation. Without the separation of population dynamics from WHO public health policy, the Vatican subsequently would have found it much more difficult to manipulate governments on family planning and abortion. National leaders would have been able to refer to the international consensus, as demonstrated by WHO policy. WHO, they could have insisted, has determined that family planning and abortion—like clean water, good nutrition, and immunizations—are necessary to protect public health. This was deeply threatening to the Vatican. This astounding example is reported on in greater detail in an article based on this interview found in Appendix 3, on page 559.

In its 45-year history, WHO has had a deplorable record in family planning. Its commitment has been minuscule, and even today, family planning accounts for only a tiny fraction of its budget. The Vatican continues to have considerable influence at WHO. For example, it recently succeeded in having appointed as director of the Human Reproduction Program a professor from a Catholic University in Rome, Dr. Giuseppe Benagiano, the son of Pope Paul VI’s dentist. Benagiano promptly set out to kill any further clinical studies of the most important development in fertility control since the birth control pill was developed in 1960—the quinacrine pellet method of nonsurgical female sterilization. This permanent method has already been used by more than 100,000 women in 15 developing countries. There have been no deaths or life-threatening injuries and it can be delivered in developing countries for under $1 US, in primitive settings by paramedical personnel. Given the current Vatican influence within WHO, it would be much better for humanity if the organization removed itself from fertility control altogether. Its behavior is similar in its relations with all other international organizations that bear on population growth control. The Vatican has succeeded with its illusion.

The Vatican’s disinformation campaign has worked hard to create illusions of abundance and prosperity, that wealth is renewable and that nature is inexhaustible. The right-wing Catholic literature is full of these distortions of reality but the Vatican is also responsible for the appearance of these kinds of messages throughout media. These cornucopian fantasies are nurtured and promoted to protect the Vatican position on population growth control and thus its security-survival. The Vatican has discouraged the concept of national self-reliance, including public debate of this concept, because it recognizes that achievement of such self-reliance would be impossible without population growth control.

At the same time, the Vatican, through its disinformation efforts, has fiercely attacked the concept of carrying capacity, apparently because it makes so much common sense. But this concept immediately implies the requirement of population growth control. It has also created the illusion that Earth has an infinite capacity to absorb ever growing quantities of wastes and pollution. We get mixed signals as a result and none of us is as concerned as we would be if the Vatican were not so successful in implanting disinformation.

The steady stream of “human interest news” regarding new arrivals and regarding the plight of would-be immigrants and refugees is intensely promoted by the bishops to advance the Vatican’s security interests.

The greatest accomplishment of this sophisticated and well-financed disinformation program has been its success in making immigration and population policy almost taboo subjects for public debate. Given the overwhelming importance of these subjects for the security-survival of all Americans, this success is most disheartening. If the Vatican can succeed in this country with these issues in this manner, what else may be in store?

Dr. Stephen Mumford is the founder and President of the North Carolina-based Center for Research on Population and Security. He has his doctorate in Public Health. His principal research interest has been the relationship between world population growth and national and global security. He has been called to provide expert testimony before the U.S. Congress on the implications of world population growth.

Dr. Mumford has decades of international experience in fertility research where he is widely published, and has addressed conferences worldwide on new contraceptive technologies and the stresses to the security of families, societies and nations that are created by continued uncontrolled population growth. Using church policy documents and writings of the Vatican elite, he has introduced research showing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church as the principal power behind efforts to block the availability of contraceptive services worldwide.

In addition to his books on biomedical and social aspects of family planning, as well as scientific articles in more than a score of journals, Dr. Mumford’s major works include American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security (Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1984), The Pope and the New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1986), and The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1996).

The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH
Paperback Publisher: Center for Research on Population and Security (October 1996)
Kindle Publisher: Church and State Press (February 6, 2015)
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During the formative years of the World Health Organization (WHO), broad consensus existed among United Nations member countries that overpopulation is a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future. One of the founding fathers of the WHO, the late Milton P. Siegel, speaks to Dr. Mumford in 1992. He explains how the Vatican successfully stymied the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

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