Social unrest & population growth

Posted on | augustus 9, 2011 | No Comments

From the First Industrial Revolution in England to the present, Malthusian (Rev. Thomas Malthus 1766-1834) arguments as a pretext for grossly unequal income distribution, rise in poverty amid economic growth, and to deflect focus from a socially unjust political economy to the issue of there are ‘too many people, too few resources’ in the world.

This is not to say that managing population growth is imprudent, but that the theory is a pretext for a problem that the political economy has caused. Today, the same Malthusian argument is used after UN and many government and non-government organizations are warning that during this century the population will grow disproportionately higher than the available natural resources, and such conditions may result in social unrest.

The projections for the rise in the population from the current 7 billion to 11 billion by the middle of the 21st century, and the limited energy, water, and food resources will be a major source of global sociopolitical instability, especially since the exploitation of natural resources rests primarily in the control of Western multinational corporations. Considering that the US has just under 5% of the world’s population but accounts for 25% of the world’s consumption, or 5% more than China and India combined whose population is more than seven times higher than the US. It is troubling, if not the ultimate social injustice, that 12% of the world’s population in North America and Western Europe currently accounts for 60% of the world’s private consumption spending, while one-tird of the world people living in Asia and sub-Sahara Africa account for just 3.2 percent of the world’s private consumption.

Some are optimistic that urbanization in Asia and Africa will result in higher living standards. While it is true that no rural-based economy has reached high income levels, and that rich countries are urban, it is not true that all urban countries are rich. If that were the case, Latin America with a large concentration of its population in urban areas should have been as developed as US and Canada. In the first decade of the 21st century, the average annual urbanization growth was 2%, while in the Middle East and Africa it was 3%, and in Asia Pacific 2.7%. Concerned about rapid population growth and the lack of resources to meet the rising demand, the UN has warned about a global labor market recession especially in the underdeveloped nations and possible social unrest.

UN figures show that 324 cities with a population of over 750,000 has a rise of 20.0% in the last decade, with Africa, Middle East, Asia Pacific and Latin America as leaders. Currently at one billion people, Africa will see a doubling of its population in the next half century, thus accounting for 20% of the world’s population. Multinational corporations are counting on a continued surplus labor force that will keep consumption expanding horizontally, while keeping wages low.

Western regimes in the service of finance capital are only concerned about social unrest that would jeopardize the integration of the high-population areas of Africa and Asia into the capitalist West or capitalist Chinese economy currently second in the world and destined to become first mat some point in the 21st century. All of this assumes political stability, which is unlikely if the current integration model based on very low consumption and grossly uneven income distribution continues.

The International Labor Office (ILO) released a study in September 2010 indicating that people in 36 of 72 countries had less confidence in their government than they did before the 2008-2011 global recession. This was months before the Islamic uprisings that have many long-term and short-term causes beyond the current global recession. Moreover, the ILO has argued that the labor market recession is also linked to widespread social unrest throughout Europe from Slovenia to Ireland and Portugal. The International Monetary Fund, guardian of finance capital, has also warned that social inequality, jobless economic growth, and global imbalances – geographic income inequality – will mean political instability and perhaps war if such conditions continue.

The solution to preventing social unrest is not merely a jobs-creation economy throughout the world, but an economy that provides good paying jobs and opportunities for upward social mobility and government that abides by social justice and does not violate basic human rights. Are the regimes forced to accept US-style neo-liberal capitalism capable of delivering a socially just society, and are multinational corporations and banks willing to accept lower profits for the sake of social and political stability?

Just as no one believed that social unrest would spread so suddenly and so wide across North Africa and the Middle East, it is inevitable that social unrest will spread to sub-Sahara Africa that has suffered the lowest living standards on the planet from colonization to the present. Western neo-colonialism under the mask of globalization and neo-liberalism will be the cause for future sociopolitical instability in Africa and other parts of the world.

AUTHOR: Jon Kofas
E-MAIL: jonkofas [at]


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