Reflections on a recent article of Bjorn Lomborg

by Fr. Massimo Lapponi

This article is the continuation of three previous articles:
https://massimolapponi.wordpress.com/theology-enters-into-dialogue-with-economics/
https://massimolapponi.wordpress.com/against-the-modern-or-beyond-the-modern/
https://massimolapponi.wordpress.com/saint-benendict-and-the-purification-of-economy/

this is the link of Bjorn Lomborg’s article:
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/family-planning-universal-access-benefits-by-bjorn-lomborg-2019-10?mc_cid=e939c26ad2&mc_eid=da49bfc3f6

Reading this article one is led to ask: what are we losing ignoring the non-material elements of development?

Now let us examine the text.

«Currently, hundreds of millions of women are unable to choose the number, timing, and spacing of their children – sometimes with fatal consequences, because unwanted pregnancies can claim the lives of young mothers and infants».

The possibility of parents to choose the number timing and spacing of their children is part of human freedom and spiritual dignity. Man is not forced to a behavior by natural determinism. His freedom depends on his will directed by his intelligence. The first role of his over-organic faculties – which are not limited to intelligence, especially not mere scientific intelligence, but include also will and feeling – is to conveniently direct human actions. It means that to entrust the result of human actions to a mere mechanical device entails a decadence towards mere determinism and mortification of human freedom. So the premise of the paper does not imply – as the author would suggest – the consequence that, in order to arrive at a convenient regulation of births, we must have recourse to contraception.

«because universal access to contraception boosts growth, there are powerful economic arguments for making it a high priority».

The premise is not sufficiently proved and the concept of “growth” is not conveniently explained

«In developing countries, 214 million women of reproductive age who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method. Nearly one-quarter of women in Africa, and one in ten in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, have an unmet need for family planning».

“Who want to avoid pregnancy” may have different meanings. It may mean the timing of births in a family, but it may mean also the desire of young people to have sexual pleasure outside marriage without consequences. The first aim can be reached not only through “modern contraceptive methods”, but also – and better as regards physical and moral health – through natural and moral “methods” that imply a responsible use of human higher faculties – a positive fact that the author simply ignores. On the contrary, the irresponsible sexual desires of youth find in “modern contraceptive methods” their most suitable means. So the diffusion of contraceptives has also the result to contribute more than any other cause to the moral corruption of youth. The author does not give any attention to this aspect of the question and to its economic consequences.

«the Trump administration’s policy may fail to achieve its intended goal: according to a Stanford University study, a similar US law under then-President George W. Bush resulted in more abortions because it cut funding to NGOs that provide contraceptives».

Of course the first result of suspending funding of abortion is to directly fight the promotion of abortion. The indirect result stressed by the author widely depends on the moral corrupted climate of our youth, which contraception strongly fosters. Moreover, widespread contraceptive means are in fact disguised forms of abortion. But the author is often very inaccurate in his concepts. Moreover, what he often observes about the indirect results of our choices, which are contrary to what we wanted to obtain, can often be used against his own arguments.

«Closely spaced and ill-timed pregnancies and births contribute to high infant mortality rates».

This fact – which should be described with greater accuracy – does not simply recommend the “modern contraceptive methods”. The author is over confident in his very simplistic view of life.

«evidence suggests that women who have more than four children face an increased mortality risk».

Another very inaccurate statement.

«Kohler and Behrman estimate that achieving universal access to contraception would result each year in 640,000 fewer newborn deaths, 150,000 fewer maternal deaths, and 600,000 fewer children losing their mothers».
«Quantifying these health benefits in economic terms, Kohler and Behrman find that every dollar spent on improving access to contraception generates $40 worth of good to society».

The author’s favorite argument about the indirect results of our choices that go contrary to our intentions, can be used in this case. Why the author does not consider the damage of physical and psychical health in women caused by artificial contraceptives? Why does he narrow the possibility of birth-timing only to “modern contraceptive methods”, as if human responsibility and natural methods did not exist? Why he does not consider the moral corruption of young people fostered by the spread of contraceptive methods and the mortal consequences of self-indulgence fostered by materialist determinism – see: https://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/data/causes-death-adolescents/en/? Why he does not consider the decay of marriage itself and its economic consequences caused by the sexual disorders fostered by contraceptives?

«poor countries with greater access to contraception also stand to benefit from a “demographic dividend” – specifically, the accelerated economic growth that can result from an increase in the ratio of working-age people to dependents».
«In least-developed countries, more than 40% of the population typically is under the age of 15, and depends on working-age adults for financial support».

As always the author follows his simplistic view of life. The numbers about the different parts of population do not show the reality of society, not even of its economic situation. Men are not numbers and the sound climate of families is as important for their welfare as the wages of working-age adults. Domestic order and sound education of children has no relevance in economics? And the 40% of the population under the age of 15, if soundly brought up, will not become a reliable population of working-age adults? Of course it will not, if not soundly brought up!

«when women can choose when and how often to become pregnant, they are more likely to have fewer children, and are better able to achieve their desired family size».

According to the author this obvious premise means only that we must foster contraceptives. Is it really good logic?

«When birth rates fall, the number of dependents shrink relative to the working-age population. With fewer people to support and, eventually, more working-age people, a country has a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth».

Again we should trust only to numbers! We have on one side wages and on the other side consumers. It is an old fashioned calculation that should be abandoned by a modern analyst as the author is. What “to support” means? Only to give food? What “economic growth” means? To have more opportunity for what? Also to consume one’s youth with drugs is a new opportunity, and widely followed! Has the moral climate of the family nothing to do with a really sound “economic” growth? Has the joy of a numerous and morally sound family no “economic” value? Are not children growing in a happily sound family the best premise for reliable future working-age adults?

«Furthermore, having smaller families allows parents to invest more in each child».

Another inaccurate and gratuitous statement. Is the author speaking only of financial availability? Is money the main or the only means to invest in children? So the affection climate of the family has no role in the eyes of an economist? The wealth of a numerous brotherhood of course cannot be measured with mathematic calculations, but it does not mean that it is nothing, even from the economic point of view!

«Children with fewer siblings tend to stay in school longer, for example».

“For example” – of course the rest should be obvious! But is it? And the author forgets – or perhaps does not know – that Saint Benedict fled from school, for the same reason for which 1500 years later Friedrich Wilhelm Förster denounced our so precious schools as the greatest centers of sexual corruption of our youth – and the spreading of contraceptives fostered by the author will surely not contribute to cure this scourge. And perhaps the author ignores that a modern genial sociologist like Ivan Illich proposed the deschooling of modern society on account of the many defects of school education. So the author’s simplistic trust in schooling is not at all to take for granted. And is not a sound family education at least as important for children’s up-bringing as a sound schooling? And what is a sound schooling? The authors does not even pose the problem. In spite of Saint Benedict, Förster, Illich, he has no doubt: the modern school is the best way to bring up the future working-age adults and the welfare of society! Family education has no role in it!

«with fewer children in each age cohort, each child also will be able to use more of society’s capital, making them more productive».

Again numbers! And the author speaks of “society’s capital” without explaining to us what it is. Probably in his eyes “society’s capital” is the sum of parents’ wages and school lessons. We could suggest that these are not the only means to make our children “more productive”, even of money.

«When we add this demographic dividend to the health benefits, every dollar spent on improving access to family planning achieves $120 worth of social good».

One could ask the author if he is so certain that “modern contraceptive methods” and the corruption of our youth fostered by them are really so healthy. A recent article observes that «concern about heath risks and side effects of contraceptives are often the dominant reason for non-use» – see: https://c-fam.org/friday_fax/large-population-of-scientists-thinks-there-are-too-many-of-the-rest-of-us/. And how mathematical sounds his “demographic dividend”! Unfortunately mathematics and human life are very different things!

«an expert panel of economists assembled by the Copenhagen Consensus Center, including two Nobel laureates, concluded that universal access to family planning – along with freer trade, better nutrition, immunization, and investment in preschool education – is one of the most powerful development goals that the world could pursue».

“Family planning, free trade, better nutrition, immunization, preschool education”: here is the new magic formula of world development. Contraception methods demoralize grown-ups and young people, damage the health of women, spoil the moral climate of families and society. A mere technical school education does nothing to give a strong moral character to our children and exposes them to the worst dangers of human fragility – and these dangers are multiplied, not reduced, by “economic growth”. The result, in spite of a better material welfare, will be the danger to use the new opportunities not for the development, but for the decay of the world.

«Achieving universal access to contraception would save and improve millions of lives, and put societies on a faster track to shared prosperity».

But the already quoted article states that «lack of access accounts for a negligible percentage of current non-use», being the «concern about heath risks and side effects» the first cause, and that «the question of whether additional funding for non-coercive family planning access would, as argued, increase its uptake in a significant way, has largely been ignored. Experts have argued that more funding will not increase use, and say that the market already saturated».

This new current of economic thought once was opposed to old Malthusianism, to which it objected that man is not only a consumer but, on the contrary, is the true fount of any wealth. But the restricted view of human being into mere materialistic limits has drawn it to a new more cunning but not more intelligent Malthusianism. The exclusive fatalistic restriction to contraceptive methods to regulate human fertility has caused an utter demoralization of men and women, grown-ups and young people. Their analysis, apparently scientific, has the effect to convince the reader that man is under a material deterministic law and that he can reach whatever result only through material engineering. No human freedom from nature-mechanisms, no human spiritual self-determination in considered possible, or even mentioned. Before this demoralizing scenario men and women, young and old, feel themselves forced to give in to nature and propaganda conditionings and have the great temptation to react to such a deep humiliation through the illusory satisfactions of alcohol, drugs and unregulated sex – the latter made easier by contraceptive methods.

But their reasoning is contradictory, because, while it enforces a material determinism, in the same time it makes an immense intellectual effort to overcome the limits of nature and to organize innumerable activities aimed to change any aspect of natural, cultural and economic world, and human being itself. It means that man has in fact in himself the source of free action. But this free action cannot be limited to abstract engineering: through it man has also the power to dominate himself and to give to his life a convenient organization without having recourse to methods that have such a demoralizing effect on his life. Real development, even economic, cannot ignore this spiritual dimension of man, if it does not want to obtain the opposite of what it was looking for.