The Archbishop of Canterbury christened Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana on July 5, to the great delight of cheering crowds. Only a few weeks prior, Hillary Clinton had re-launched her presidential campaign amidst similar applause while promising to be the first grandmother to hold the presidential title, which would render another little Charlotte the nation’s First Granddaughter. Someone, it seems, has neglected to tell the Cambridges and the Clintons that there’s no more room in this world for another Charlotte, let alone two.
July 11 marked World Population Day. Welcome to an over-crowded planet, baby Charlottes. It’s an underappreciated holiday, falling between the fiery transatlantic splendor of July 4 and Bastille Day. But it has noble intentions. We all want to end violence against women, to see women take their place on the political stage (just look at your grandmothers).
The Great Overhyped Baby Danger
The United Nations organized the first World Population Day in 1989 in the wake of fears about the burgeoning number of residents on our shared globe. By 1994, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen criticized such projects because “[t]hese catastrophic images have encouraged a tendency to search for emergency solutions which treat the people involved not as reasonable beings, allies facing a common problem, but as impulsive and uncontrolled sources of great social harm in need of strong discipline.” Enter the era of India’s sterilization camps and gender-selective abortions.
Indeed, the preoccupation with world population too often falls prey to the twisted ideology that development economist Lord Peter Bauer caricatured, whereby ““[i]ronically, the birth of a child is registered as a reduction in national income per head, while the birth of a calf shows up as an improvement.” It is a flawed accounting identity that counts the birth of cattle as a boost to gross domestic product and the birth of children as a drain.
Such development experts miss the quintessential nature of the human spark of existence. It may be a Charlotte who cures cancer, and it will not be a calf that negotiates peace in the Middle East. Mere population statistics miss the complexity of the human story, stripping names and reducing histories down into mere numbers.
A More Generous Outlook on Charlottes
As Winston Churchill observed, such “expert knowledge,” however well intentioned, “however indispensable, is no substitute for a generous and comprehending outlook upon the human story with all its sadness and with all its unquenchable hope.” We may be born to trouble as the sparks fly upward on this busy sphere, but we are all human, lives full of triumph and tragedy and unquenchable hope. We learn from our mistakes, we aspire to grander heights, and we see hope, not deadweight, in a new generation.
And we have great hope for you, Charlottes. This world is bustling, but make your mark. Show us that World Population Day need not be about limiting, but about empowering. It’s about recognizing individuals and the amazing potential they embody. Let us empower other little girls to change this world, rather than letting another new life grow up in this developing world believing that she contributed only one more mouth to feed instead of one more unique mind and heart created to solve problems that only she could.
This World Population Day, rather than seeking panicked solutions that undercut the dignity of us all, we embrace you as partners in this human story, innovating to overcome adversity and basking in our triumphs together. Welcome, Charlottes, each and every one of you. This July, we celebrate you.