A common refrain heard in the economic debate is that economic growth and poverty are associated with each other. The argument goes something like this: When there is economic growth, there is poverty. And when there is poverty, there is economic growth.
Neo-Marxism is an ideology that pervade much of academia, but it also has been advocated by many prominent economists, including those who work at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Federal Reserve. According to this line of thought, economic growth and poverty are caused by differences in consumption behavior between classes, regions, and families within a country. For example, in poor countries, people have high fertility rates, so they will tend to overuse fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, which lead to rising energy and commodity prices. As a result, people in poor countries face high inflation, causing real goods and services to be very expensive, while those in richer regions tend to save more and spend money on their homes, cars, vacations, etc., so they become poorer and experience lower inflation.
This line of thinking has its roots in the work of the Chicago School of Economics, headed by one of the most famous economists of all time, Milton Friedman. His research on free-market capitalism and economic freedom made him one of the most influential economists of all time. But his most famous piece of work remains controversial, “The Role of Money,” which he wrote in the book form of a series of essays. In this essay, he explained that free-market capitalism is beneficial to a country's total economic system, because it creates a “healthy demand for goods and services, and a willingness to buy those goods and services.” It also creates an environment that ensures that a higher percentage of the population is capable of affording those goods and services, and as a result, poverty is prevented.
But this same basic argument has been challenged by a number of prominent economists, including Robert Kaplan, Charles Kindleberger, Jeffrey Kleber, and James Wallach. These economists argue that the benefits from economic growth and poverty reduction are offset by the costs in terms of increased inequality and lower investment returns. To this day, there has never been a serious attempt made by mainstream economists to address these criticisms, instead relying on arguments that fall short of addressing them. Only late scholars such as Angus Deaton have looked into the failures of economic growth and poverty reduction in the developing world. These scholars argue that deaton's model, which models the rapid population growth as a positive thing, does not account for the reality of developing nations.
One of the strongest pieces of evidence that these arguments fail to take into account is the extremely high level of development in the developing world, especially in places like China and India. China alone accounts for one-fifth of the world's total economic output, while India accounts for nearly a tenth of the output. So, it is not unreasonable to assume that a high level of income and living standards can be obtained relatively quickly in these areas. Further, the history of the World Bank and the development projects it has conducted supports the view that rapid population expansion is an important factor in the success or failure of the projects it initiates.
A related argument that some mainstream . . . . . . economists have advanced is that poverty rates tend to be higher in the east as compared to the west. This is because the west has been implementing more open immigration policies, whereas in the east Asia region, ethnic tensions, inflexible gender roles, and limited job opportunities have all prevented the development of robust economic policies. In fact, even the Latin America countries, which are often touted as being the richest in the world, have experienced a high level of economic growth in the last twenty years.
The other major argument advanced against the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is that they do not focus enough on family planning. The argument is that family planning is necessary for national economic development and that family planning programs should be promoted even in the developing world. However, there is no direct correlation between family planning and poverty rates. Family planning programs are also widely successful in reducing teen pregnancy and providing educational opportunities to girls.
Finally, some argue that family planning should be considered as a form of social engineering or intervention rather than a means of reducing poverty. For example, some argue that poverty could be reduced by promoting better education, housing development, financial inclusion, and access to reproductive health services. However, such interventions have been tried and tested in the third world, and are not known to be successful in reducing poverty. Although family planning may not reduce poverty, it can improve the overall health and living standards of the population and improve their quality of life.