(OPE-L) Rising organic composition of capital and population tendencies

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sun Jun 01 2003 - 09:43:02 EDT

Re Paul C's post dated Friday, May 30:

1. Demographic transition or conversion is a well attested empirical 
     phenomenon.  What contrary instances can you come up with. 

The issue isn't whether there are observed empirical trends, but rather
how we interpret those trends and whether we can expect those trends
to be continued into the future and generalized from an essentially
European experience to the rest of the world.

There are a number of problems with demographic transition 
theory,  first advanced by Frank Notestein in 1945:

a) It is Eurocentric to the extent that it postulates that population 
trends in the future in the rest of the world will parallel those that 
occurred in the 19th Century in Europe.

b) unless we comprehend the reasons for prior demographic 
trends we can not legitimately make any inferences about whether
those trends will continue into the future.  Your postulate about 
what can be expected to happen re population in the next 50 
years seems particularly problematic, imo, given the long time 
horizon and the amount of uncertainties associated with population 

c) Contrary to Notestein's theory, there isn't clear-cut cross-cultural 
evidence that rising income levels directly cause demographic 
decline. Indeed,  the spread of medical knowledge and treatment 
for the working classes  --  which contributes to declining mortality rates, 
and is a contrary tendency that can be expected to _increase_ population 
--  _is_  associated with rising income levels.  It should also be noted,
in the advanced capitalist nations, that while there has been a long-
term decrease in children/family, life expectancy has increased 
significantly which again exerts a counter pressure towards population 

d) Notestein's presumption that economic rationality will increasingly
determine family behavior anticipates in some ways 'human capital'
theory a la Gary Becker and can be subjected to the same type of
criticism, e.g. that it is crudely deterministic.

2. My explanation of it is certainly not complete, but all of the features 
    that I mention are common place attributes of capitalist development. 
    What does it mean to say that they are not *necessary* consequences, 
    other than that we have not yet come up with an understanding of 
    the causal process generating them. This reflects our ignorance 
    more than anything else. 

Without an understanding of the causal processes, though, we can not
come to the conclusion that you have made about what is likely to occur
with population over the next 50 years.  Until that is comprehended any
supposition of the future relation between projected demographic change 
and the organic composition of capital becomes highly problematic and

In solidarity, Jerry

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