Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

The US Department of State is policing the population policy lockstep

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 09 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:998
  1. Maurice King, honorary research fellow (
  1. University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT
  1. Correspondence to: M King1 bis Rue du Tir, Geneva 1204

    Why do demographers and United Nations agencies avoid dealing with the problems of “demographic entrapment” now that it involves two continents? Initially, I assumed this was reluctance to address the issue of one child families. It now seems that the most important factor is the active interest of the US Department of State in keeping the dialogue closed—the policing of the population policy lockstep. Presumably this is because if the South is to restrict its population growth, the North, especially the United States, should restrict its resource consumption.

    To police the lockstep is to actively hinder the resolution of all the problems in which population plays a major part. This is described as “overpowering evil,” and the individual is largely forgiven, because the evil is mostly in the system. There must now be a UN programme for a one child world, since if any community is to have one child families, all should. This has to be the major theme of the next population conference in 2004. Massive discussion (“benign uproar”) is now needed, accompanied by a progressive change from the “first wisdom” to the “second wisdom.”1

    This paper is a sequel to one in which I had a socratic dialogue on Earth's population with Lady M from Mars.2 There we discussed the hardinian taboo, named after the American ecologist Garett Hardin, who described the taboos which humans use to avoid confronting the need for population control. “Overpowering evil,” which this paper confronts, is best dealt with lightly, since “human kind cannot bear too much reality.”3 Besides, evil is said to be soluble in laughter.4 This paper is further elaborated on the web (

    Summary points

    A tight taboo prevents demographers and United Nations agencies from confronting demographic entrapment

    Defections from this taboo are apt to be …

    View Full Text

    Log in

    Log in through your institution


    * For online subscription