Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Catholic Church will lose the RH battle, but it will do it and the secularists good


At the rate things are going, Noynoy Aquino cannot afford the accelerating downward trend in his approval ratings so he cannot afford to lose his liberal constituency. Except for the most doctrinaire everyone from the Catholics to the non-believers agree that we need to manage our population. The question is what method to use? The Philippines is probably between the late stages 2 and the very early of 3 of the demographic transition but it appears that this transition is rather slow. The country is not closed to the outside world and exchange of ideas and commodities, so the question is why this is slow?

The Roman Catholic Church opposes the use of artificial methods of fertility regulation on moral grounds. The idea of natural law is central to Catholic theological understanding. I will not dwell on this issue but it is testament to the  consistency of Catholic doctrine that this position has remained unchanged although other aspects of Church life have radically changed. Changes in the Church will make it almost likely that the RH bill will be passed. The Church will lose since a majority of its members support the RH bill's passage.

However, some countries notably in ASEAN, Thailand, have progressed quite rapidly in its transition. This is attributed to fast social and economic change. The democratization of access to economic gain, opportunities and education has provided the basis for this fast transition. At the start of stage 2, the Philippines and Thailand were at almost at the same situation. But why did Thailand move ahead and the Philippines became a laggard?

There are several hypothesised factors that speed up the demographic transition. But one that has the strongest empirical support is accessibility to education especially for females and the length of time they are in school.  Education remains as the best contraceptive (by reducing the length of a woman's fertility years since the longer a girl is in school, the less likely she will start a family at a young ange) and the Catholic Church does not oppose this at all.

The other strong correlative factor is the available access to contraceptives and proper knowledge on how to use them.

Fertility rates in the Philippines have fallen from 5 in the 1960s to just 3.19 in 2010. However the differential between births and deaths or the rate of natural increase has declined very slowly from 3 in 1970 to 1.9 in 2010.  One factor is that the rate of natural increase remains higher than in other ASEAN countries. While falling fertility rates will continue and the median age of the population will be older, the number of reproductive females and males will be higher. This will contribute to an expected slower demographic transition.

While contraceptives have been available in the Philippines and are not banned, economic and income factors have limited their access and use is clearly demarcated between class, residency (e.g. urban vs. rural) education and income lines.  However the stronger determinant for a desired and expected fertility is still the length of time a woman has spent in school. Contraceptive access remains a significant factor but not as strongly evident as school retention rates at least in the Philippines situation.

The predictions of Malthusian theory hold more strongly in pre-industrial societies and early stage 2 in demographic transition stages. In the other stages, it is more likely that a more Marxian approach to the theory of population and development may be more powerful in explaining trends and eventual goals. If this holds, then Marx is right, there is no population theory that can hold true for all stages of human society's development. Marx's "theory of reserve army of labour" is his critique of 19th century political economy. Surplus workers (who are ALWAYS UNDERPAID) are needed in assuring capital accumulation! If capital is being lost, then the workers will have to be laid off.

Thus Marxian approaches go counter against Malthusian approaches. Marxian approaches are predicated on redistribution. Since a major determinant of fertility in this country is access to education and school retention rates, then redistribution is a priority in the education sector. It will then follow that fertility rates will result in a further decline. Then the country will go into an economic "Goldilocks period" wherein fertility rates will be at near replacement rates where a skilled and educated population will eventually power economic growth.

However structural inequities in Philippine society cannot be simply be undone by prioritizing education alone. There are other factors to consider. While UP School of Economics Professor Arsenio Balisacan suggests that government must intervene in making sure more women participate in labour and business, invest in maternal health and education, falling fertility rates alone and increasing GDP does not automatically translate into development. A demographic and economic structural analysis of the 2011 Arab Spring would suggest that at least in Egypt something else caused the political explosion. Everything that Balisacan would want to happen to the Philippines (pop. growth rate <1.7, low unemployment in general) happened or is happening in Egypt and this economy is not as bad as it could be.

But what caused the political explosion? A moderate corruption index and a newly created "bulge" of relatively well educated young people (resulting from a delayed but inevitable demographic transition) but unemployed entering the workforce were likely factors say two Russian economists.  Even if the Mubarak regime (which had enough resources) was able to subsidize food and transport prices, it failed to arrest discontent.   These young people were internet savvy and thus had the means for rapid self-organisation. And let me emphasize that Egypt's corruption index is just moderate. The only consolation is that Egypt did not fall into the demographic trap. However predictions that the Philippines is falling into this trap is becoming more likely. The country has always been subject to natural hazards but the costs of these hazards are becoming greater and the government has little resources to mitigate the effects. The costs of human migration is known and the OFW phenomenon is likely delaying the inevitable trap according to a renowned biogeographer I have spoken to and in communication with. The danger of the demographic trap is that Philippine society will slip into stage 1 in a stressed out global environment.

The Neoliberal bent of the Noynoy administration still is focused on generating employment through increased resource extraction. See what is happening in Palawan. In the same town that resource extraction is assumed to generate employment, we have cholera, which is typical of a society in a stage 1 of transition.

The environmental and demographic writing is on the wall. I will leave it to the readers to conclude which is the better option for the inevitable redistribution.

And yet we talk of excommunications and Padre Damasos! This shows how intellectually abyssimal is the discourse on the RH Bill between its supporters and detractors.

(One of thing that will be a cause of schadenfreude  is to see Carlos Celdran and Oscar Cruz in the same jail cell when the Revolution is triumphant! LOL!)

I do not agree with the purely Malthusian approach of the RH bill but I will concede that it's passage will knock the senses of all of us!

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