Contemporary Issue or Case in International Affairs

Overpopulation and Instability: Drawing Connections and Conclusions

The link between overpopulation and political and governmental instability can be proven though multiple case studies. For the past half century, many political scientists have drawn a connection between a nation's ability to control the size of their population and the resources it needs in order to survive. Through an exploration of the causes of political instability, it is possible to clarify this link, and to show that in order for a nation to remain stable and successful politically and otherwise, it needs to be able to control its population growth. There are quite a few areas in the world right now that are primed for political crisis, given the fact that overpopulation crises and resource struggles will likely emerge in the near future. Many political scientists disagree that population has anything to do with political or even regional stability, but it is quite easy to prove otherwise. Certainly there are some examples where instability has created fertile grounds for overpopulation, but these examples are often cherry-picked to help support a one-sided argument.

The notion that all countries around the world function outside of the issue of resource depletion relative to overpopulation is false. There are strong connections between a country's available resources, its position in the world political spectrum, the power that the country has to influence other countries in the region, and that country's population control efforts. The implications for out of control population growth, or lack of growth are quite dire, as evidenced by the out of control populations of Somalia in contrast to the limited population growth of many European nations. The viewpoint that many political scientists and economists take relative to a positive correlation between overpopulation and political instability makes sense in many ways. Since this correlation can been seen, it is imperative that population control take place in order to limit the possibility of widespread resource depletion and related conflict.


The Chinese model of population control goes back many decades. The government realized that the country's population was beginning to spiral out of control and it created many incentives for parents to have only one child. As the Chinese economy grew and began to become modernized around the 1950's and 1960's, the issue of overpopulation was brought to the foreground as the nation strained to develop technologically (Zhao, 1986, pp. 20). A country cannot effectively modernize itself when its workforce is made up of unskilled laborers and farmers. If this population segment of China were allowed to grow unchecked, there could have perhaps even been a political coup brought on by the dwindling economic resources of the nation, eventually created by out of control population growth. The Communists in China smartly realized that population control was necessary to both modernize the country as well as keep themselves in power. The scenario in China was very similar to that of Europe's only one hundred years prior.

As Western European nations were beginning to modernize economically and politically in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was an internal push for skilled labor (Zhao, 1986, pp. 24). That is to say that more and more people who were once producing agricultural and sustenance goods were going to school to learn a skill or trade. This forced more rural households to engage in nonagricultural activities and helped to create more complex forms of economic and industrial organization, paving the way for better political relations with neighboring countries as well as increased importation of goods and ideas. Once economic modernization took place, political modernization followed. A democratic political model was adopted in these nations and the concern for overpopulation began to be dealt with in a more direct fashion. Parents no longer needed a small army of children to help meet labor demands on the farm or at home. The French were so adept at stressing the importance of population control in relation to depletion of critical resources that the French population as a whole is aging, and has had a negative growth rate for some time now (Zhao, 1986, pp. 29). This slowing of population growth rate is a pattern in many democracies around the world, as the inverse is true of many undeveloped, turmoil stricken nations around the globe.

The connection between overpopulation and political instability is no clearer than in nations such as Somalia and other sub-Saharan African nations. Their unemployment and crime rates are sky high (Osborne, 2002, pp. 3) and the power vacuums that are created by the political and economic infighting are outwardly apparent. These countries have no official population control programs or framework, and the countries are unable to modernize both politically and economically due to the fact that they have not been able to develop as rapidly or successfully as other nations. Certainly outside factors have come into play for many of these countries, but the idea that Somalia, a failed state, and a country with extremely limited resources, has not been adversely affected by the lack of population planning and control is absolutely absurd.

Nearly 500,000 people face starvation on a daily basis in Somalia, a country with very few professionals and a very underdeveloped economy (Osborne, 2002, pp. 16). The country has been plagued by almost constant civil war and political disputes over the past few decades, much of which is caused by a booming population and lack of resources leading to internal strife and struggle. If the country were allowed to develop economically and politically, it may be able to compensate for its lack of raw materials and goods by offering skilled labor and technologies to other more developed economies (Osborne, 2002, pp. 18). India has been slowly modernizing its economy in the midst of one of the largest per country population in the world. It has used its labor resources as a springboard for economic growth and diversification, and serves as a model for countries like Somalia, where population growth is out of control, but a largely untapped labor pool exists. Overpopulation has also put Somalia in harms way politically, and until this problem can be addressed, the country will continue to be a failed state in desperate need of outside aid and resources.

The volatility of places like Somalia reflects this dire need for outside aid and foreign resources. Failed states are breeding grounds for terrorist forces and other negative political and economic influences. The fact that Somalia is in such a state of despair not only adversely affects the Somali people directly, but also every other nation outside of its borders. Somali pirates hijack ships out of economic desperation, affecting the worldwide flow of goods and resources between developed nations. This is but one example for the need to develop countries like Somalia, and come up with solutions to its unemployment and social disrepair through modernized economic development and population control. Overpopulation is both a product and cause of political, economic, and educational stability. There are no perfect examples, but the facts and logic used to justify this idea are quite convincing. Every industrialized nation in the world has a stake in making sure that regional and state instability is minimized for security and humanitarian reasons.

Position 1 Analysis: Viewpoint #1: Overpopulation and Instability are Directly Linked

The countries that are the least politically stable are those with the highest population growth rates. A direct correlation can be made between political instability and unchecked population growth, like the example of Somalia that was previously used. In Mancur's 1963 article entitled, "Rapid Growth as a Destabilizing Force," the argument about population growth and overpopulation as a cause of political destabilization is reinforced. He argues that the means of political destabilization that occurred in countries such as Burma and Vietnam was through overpopulation and lack of complex government control. The populations of these nations were allowed to grow unchecked, and in an era when centralized government was having a hard time keeping up with the large number of dissenting voices coming from the unskilled laborers, political instability resulted (Olson Jr., 1963, pp. 536). The political elite in these countries had turned the economic engine against the masses in an effort to control the economy and human capital. But the human capital, in the form of unskilled and agricultural laborers was growing at a rate that outstripped the elite's ability to contain it. Eventually, the working masses grew in number to the point where a coup or revolution could be carried out in favor of the laborers. This occurred in Vietnam in the 1960's and 1970's and before that in Burma with the rise of the worker's rights movement and the communist movements that took hold there during that time.

While the link between political instability and population growth cannot always be directly proven through case study, it is very hard to show the contrary, at least statistically. In "A Sensitivity Analysis of Cross-Country Growth Regression" (Levin, and Renelt, 1992), the authors show that there are statistical links between theā€¦