Blame the Babies

Do babies cause poverty? You'd certainly think so, listening to the delegates at the United Nations' conference on population in Cairo these past several days. Vice-President Al Gore expressed the blame-the-babies philosophy just before the conference began. "Population growth often contributes to . . . poverty and economic disparity," Gore declared. The vice-president even blamed "population pressures" for the tragedy in Rwanda. But ironically, Rwanda proves exactly the opposite of what Gore is saying. It's true that Rwanda was the most densely populated country in Africa before the current civil war erupted. But according to U.S. News and World Report, Rwanda was just "about to reap a copious harvest" when the killing started. The war drove the farmers off the land, and the crops were left to wither in the fields. So the news photos we see of sick and starving refugees are not the outcome of overpopulation; they're the result of bitter tribal hatred between the Hutu and the Tutsi peoples, erupting in a battle for political power. In fact, the top causes of poverty worldwide have more to do with politics than with sheer numbers of people. Newsweek magazine recently quoted Robert Cassan, an Oxford economist, saying that war and wrong-headed government policies far outweigh population as causes of poverty. And if bad government policy can create poverty, then good government policy ought to be able to help create wealth and raise the standard of living. The Bible teaches that a good government exercises two primary functions: It restrains evil and it is a "minister for good." How do these two functions apply in the economic sphere? Restraining evil includes such things as enforcing property rights, clamping down on corruption, and enforcing laws on contracts. No one can carry on business transactions in a society where people cannot trust one another—where graft and corruption are the rule, where contracts are made only to be broken. In short, government's role in restraining evil is to enforce the law—to hold people accountable to their obligations. The government acts as a referee, making sure there's a level playing field and that people follow the rules. Government's role in ministering for good means contributing to the general economic welfare, such as keeping taxes low and maintaining a sound currency. For example, if you're a Third World craftsman who makes blankets to sell, but the government takes half your profit in taxes, it doesn't make sense to weave very many blankets. Government can help the economy thrive by keeping its own house in order and practicing fiscal responsibility. The U.N. conference in Cairo has sparked deep concern among Christians for its blame-the-baby syndrome and its calls for abortion and government population control. But we need to go beyond criticizing the wrong answers: We also need to educate ourselves and our neighbors on the right way for governments to alleviate poverty. The best way wealthy nations like America can assist developing nations is by encouraging sound ideas for creating wealth. Ideas that destroy poverty, not babies.


Chuck Colson


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