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Nobody should have kids, India has too many people, they don’t have food to eat’: Philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who was in a relationship with Amartya Sen, goes on a bizarre rant

During the discussion, Martha Nussbaum argued that considering the population in the world "no one should be having any children". She added that it is crucial to limit the human population to protect wildlife.

On 18th May (local time), philosopher and professor Martha Nussbaum called for “limiting human population” and claimed that India has “too many people”. She made the remarks during a podcast hosted by Samuel Kimbriel and Shadi Hamid where they discussed animal rights and population control. The conversation centred around Nussbaum’s latest book titled “Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility”.

In the podcast, the trio delved into diverse issues of justice for animals, human responsibility and population control. While there are better ways to discuss population control without affecting a country’s ability to replace the population, Nussbaum chose a harsher language and asserted that there are too many people in India. She also looked unaware of the progress made by India in recent years, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over, in terms of social justice, healthcare and more.

Discussion on India

During the discussion, Martha Nussbaum argued that considering the population in the world “no one should be having any children”. She added that it is crucial to limit the human population to protect wildlife. She suggested that higher birth rates in developing countries like India have exacerbated effects on the environment and resulted in resource-related challenges. When Shadi Hamid pointed out that India’s population has recently fallen below the replacement rate for the first time raising concerns over the sustainability of such a demographic shift, she claimed that India is facing widespread famine due to overpopulation and poor economic policies. She claimed that reducing the number of people would lead to a “more balanced and sustainable living standard”.

During the podcast, Nussbaum argued that limiting the human population is crucial for protecting wild animals, suggesting that high birth rates in developing countries like India exacerbate environmental and resource-related challenges. Her views were met with scepticism by the hosts as well.

The “White Mentality” of Population Control

During the discussion, Nussbaum said, “We can protect wild animals most by limiting human population quite frankly.” When Hamid asked what she meant, Martha Nussbaum asserted that wildlife habitats are being gobbled up by human construction and human families. She gave the example of Africa and asserted that due to poverty, Africans think having more children is better which is making them compete with the habitat of elephants.

Hamid countered her with some facts about the fertility crisis. He pointed out that in countries like India, populations won’t be able to sustain themselves as the fertility rate has gone below the replacement rate for the first time in history. 

Nussbaum did not agree and said India has 1.6 billion people, a number according to her, was “too many”. She claimed that people in India do not have enough to eat and there is “widespread famine in lots of parts of India. And the reason is too many people but partly bad economic policies. So you know we should diminish the number of people for sure. And then we might get to a point as I think most countries in Europe have done where the birth rate is commensurate with a decent living standard. But we’re not there and certainly not in India.”

Hamid argued that a low replacement rate would mean more old people in the coming future. There would be fewer young people to put enough money back into the system. It will impact the economic growth and social security. Countering him, Martha Nussbaum claimed “You don’t know much about India. They don’t have social security. They don’t have healthcare.” She also claimed that the life expectancy in India is very low because of air pollution and other human-created factors.

The notion of limiting population growth in countries like India often stems from the paternalistic perspective, reminiscent of colonial attitudes that undermine the sovereignty and agency of these nations. The “white mentality” of looking at Asian countries as if they are beneath the people living in the western hemisphere often disregards the unique cultural, social and economic contexts of countries like India.

India has the right to chart its developmental paths. There is no denying the fact that there is a need for population control but that does not give the right to people like Nussbaum to make arguments that are outdated and based on old data.

The economic impact of low Population Replacement Rate

A declining population replacement rate has its challenges for the economy. As the number of young people entering the workforce decreases, the country faces a shrinking labour pool, reduced customer demand and increased pressure on social support systems. In the case of India, it could lead to an imbalance where the working-age population cannot sufficiently support the elderly, potentially straining resources and public services.

There are well-established examples across the world that have faced similar challenges. For example, Japan and Italy have experienced similar demographic shifts, resulting in economic stagnation and a heavy burden on social security systems. Unrealistic and unsustainable ideas posed by philosophers like Martha Nussbaum would result in similar risks for India if demographic trends are not carefully managed.

Notably, according to the Reserve Bank of India, the country needs a young, dynamic workforce that can help sustain its economic growth and innovation in technology and services. A declining population could hinder these prospects, impacting industries reliant on a robust labour force. A country needs a young, dynamic workforce to sustain its economic growth and innovations in technology and services. A declining population could hinder these prospects, impacting industries reliant on a robust labour force.

Western advocates for population reduction

Notably, Nussbaum is not the only one who has suggested controlling the population with drastic measures. Billionaire Bill Gates also weighs in on the issue. He has emphasised the importance of reducing birth rates to alleviate poverty and enhance global health outcomes. His advocacy for family planning and women’s education aims to empower individuals and communities to make informed choices about reproduction.

In 2010, he discussed how improved healthcare and family planning can reduce birth rates and promote economic development. However, such views are received with varied arguments. While some support the focus on sustainable development, others criticise it as an overreach into personal and cultural domains. Infact, his NGO Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation has heavily invested in population control.

Progress in India under PM Modi

The comments made by Martha Nussbaum about India clearly show that she lacks knowledge about India, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over in 2014. Arguments such as lack of social security, low life expectancy and lack of healthcare show how little she has studied about India in recent times.

For example, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), also known as Ayushman Bharat, aims to provide health insurance coverage to over 100 million families. It has increased access of marginalised families to better health care. Furthermore, low-cost high-quality medicines through government-run medicine shops have also helped in reducing out-of-pocket expenditures.

There are several schemes introduced by PM Modi that have improved social security in the country. For example, the National Pension System (NPS) has been bolstered to provide more comprehensive retirement benefits to citizens. Additionally, schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-Dhan (PM-SYM) offer pension plans for unorganized sector workers, ensuring financial security for a broader section of the population.

Speaking about life expectancy, according to the World Bank, life expectancy in India has increased from 68.5 years in 2015 to 70.8 years in 2021. I came slightly down in later years but that can be attributed to Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath. The overall improvement can be attributed to better healthcare infrastructure, increased access to medical services, and government initiatives aimed at reducing infant and maternal mortality rates.

Under PM Modi’s leadership, India has witnessed significant economic growth and the young workforce is adding a lot to it. The introduction of Mudra loans, GST and initiatives like Make in India and Digital India have spurred innovation and investment. Start-up India initiatives have generated countless jobs every year and the majority of start-ups are the brainchild of the young workforce of the country.

When we discuss population growth and controlling population, it is essential to understand the cultural, social and economic impact of the suggestions made before making them public. A well-read person like Nussbaum should have restrained herself from making such comments without studying the recent developments in India.

Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen

For those who are unaware, Martha Nussbaum has worked extensively with economist and philosopher Amartya Sen. She was also romantically involved with him in the 1980s. Nussbaum also authored a book titled “The Clash Within: Religion, Violence, and India’s Future” that extensively talked about “anti-Muslim” events in India. She also blamed BJP government in Gujarat under then-CM Narendra Modi for Gujarat 2002 riots.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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