One of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century will be the growth of the population. Whether man’s response to that challenge will be a cause for pride or for despair in the year 2000 will depend very much on what we do today. If we now begin our work in an appropriate manner, and if we continue to devote a considerable amount of attention and energy to this problem, then mankind will be able to surmount this challenge as it has surmounted so many during the long march of civilization.
Richard Nixon, July 18, 1969
President Nixon’s words in 1969 served as a precursor to his formation of a commission to study America’s “population problem,” a group tasked with the goal of achieving “population stabilization” by the dawn of the 21st Century.
The lust for social control by the power elite knows no bounds, and the desire to control the nation’s population by government policies and mandates ranks among the most alarming such examples in the last century.
As reported by the New York Times in March of 1970, “President Nixon signed a bill today creating a commission to evaluate national population growth, which he described as ‘explosive in every way as we head into the last third of this century.’”
To chair the new commission, called The Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, Nixon appointed John D. Rockefeller III, a man of whom Nixon said: “Perhaps no person in the world has been more closely or longer identified with this problem.”
Rockefeller’s appointment was particularly disturbing. At the time of his appointment, Rockefeller was serving not only as chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation, but also chaired an organization he founded called the Population Council.
Rockefeller’s Links to Eugenicists
The Population Council was incorporated in 1952 with the stated mission “to stimulate, encourage, promote, conduct and support significant activities in the broad field of population.”
Much of the Council’s funding came from personal contributions of Rockefeller himself, as well as from outside sources including the Ford Foundation.
Despite the vague and relatively non-threatening mission statement, the makeup of the Council’s leadership was thick with leaders of the eugenics movement still influential at the time.
Following Rockefeller as president of the Council in 1957 was Frederic Osborn, a founding member of the American Eugenics Society. One of the Council’s original trustees, who also followed Osborn as president, was Frank W. Notestein, another notable member of the Eugenics Society.
Bernard Barelson served as the Council’s fourth president in 1968, and a year later he published an article suggesting that if voluntary fertility control methods were not successful, the government should evaluate the option of placing a “fertility control agent” in the water supplies of urban neighborhoods.
Also included in the Council’s original board of trustees was Thomas Parran, Jr., who had formerly served as the U.S. Surgeon General and had reportedly approved of the U.S. government’s syphilis experiments in Guatemala that exposed more than 1,300 Guatemalans to the disease. The Guatemala experiments are thought by many to have served as the “intellectual inspiration” for the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
Indeed, the Rockefeller family by that time had a proven track record of supporting disgraceful eugenics programs. According to author Edwin Black, the Rockefeller Foundation had been instrumental in funding “the German eugenics program and even funded the program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.”
That a person with such a sinister past and colleagues could be appointed to such a lofty position with the potential to influence “population control” policies for a nation of hundreds of millions of people should sound alarm bells among even the most strident government apologists.
The Population Problem
Critical to the context within which Nixon created the commission to address the problems of population growth is how widely popular population alarmism was at that time. Indeed, 1970 was the year of the first Earth Day, and arguably the biggest threat to the planet’s health discussed at that first gathering was the threat of the growing human population.
Leading the charge was Paul Ehlrich, who claimed “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” in the April 1970 issue of Mademoiselle. “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
Ehrlich also warned “that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the ‘Great Die-Off.’”
Echoing these alarmist themes, Rockefeller wrote in the committee’s final report: “after two years of concentrated effort, we have concluded that no substantial benefits would result from continued growth of the nation’s population. The ‘population problem’ is long run and requires long-run responses. It is not a simple problem.”
No strand of American society was immune from the ‘population problem,’ according to Rockefeller and the commission’s report.
“There is scarcely a facet of American life that is not involved with the rise and fall of our birth and death rates: the economy, environment, education, health, family life and sexual practices, urban and rural life, governmental effectiveness and political freedoms, religious norms, and secular life styles,” the report declared. “At some point in the future, the finite earth will not satisfactorily accommodate more human beings—nor will the United States,” the commission warned.
The country’s population count, along with how the people were distributed among urban and rural areas, created a problem so dire that a powerful federal commission “should concern ourselves with improving the quality of life for all Americans rather than merely adding more Americans.”
The wise overlords had determined that significant federal policies were needed to stem the tide of population growth in order to better the citizens’ quality of life. “It’s for their own good” has historically been a justification the power elite used to convince themselves of the righteousness of often evil applications of government force.
Overriding Personal Family Preferences
“Reducing national population growth is a long-term process, the benefits of which will be experienced over many years,” according to the report.
Towards that end “Our immediate goal is to modernize demographic behavior in this country: to encourage the American people to make population choices, both in the individual family and society at large, on the basis of greater rationality rather than tradition or custom, ignorance or chance,” the report stated.
In an eerie reduction of human reproduction to data sets entered into a spreadsheet, the commission went to far as to crunch the numbers to create specific population growth figures to accomplish their stated goals.
“If families average three children, we can expect to find about 46 percent more young people of elementary and secondary school age (5 to 17 years), and 36 percent more persons of college age (18 to 21 years) in the year 2000, than would be the case if families average only two children. Thus, a difference of only one child per family will have important consequences for the magnitude of the load on our educational system.”
How to accomplish this reduction in fertility and thus achieve “population stabilization?” Government propaganda convincing individuals to contort their family size to satisfy the goals of the population alarmists. A key component “depends on the processes of education, research, and national debate to illuminate the existence of any serious population ‘problem’ that transcends individual welfare.”
In other words, your bettors want you to forget about your personal preference for family size and limit your number of children for the “common good.”
The commission, however, recognized that shifting people’s family size preferences would be no easy task. Indeed, they declared in the report: “Consequently, to improve the quality of our existence while slowing growth, will require nothing less than a basic recasting of American values” (emphasis added).
Feminism or Population Control?
What values needed “recasting” in order to stabilize the nation’s population?
“Overt and subtle discrimination against women has meant undue pressure toward childbearing and child-rearing,” according to the report. All you mothers-in-law nagging your son’s wife by asking “when are you going to make me a grandbaby?” need to knock it off, according to the commission.
“Our social institutions, including many of our laws, often exert a pronatalist effect, even if inadvertent,” the report continued. “This includes the images of family life and women’s roles projected in television programs; the child-saves-marriage theme in women’s magazines.”
The report also stressed the importance of creating greater “equality” of access to the labor market for women. Career women are less likely to have large families, the report observed. Was the 1970s feminist movement to get more women in the workforce really a front for the population stabilization movement?
The report also lamented that the ‘population problem’ was “a result of large numbers of people being unable to control an important part of their lives—the number of children they have.”
Government steps to “assure the fullest possible access to methods of controlling reproduction” and “equality of access to the means of fertility control.” Its but a small step to conclude the commission had in mind wider access to abortion and female birth control – subsidized by taxpayer funds if need be, both major priorities in the feminist movement even today. Interestingly, the commission’s report came out less than a year before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court.
While not all inclusive, many of the report’s suggested new “values” seemingly fit neatly within the feminist movement that gained momentum shortly after the report was released. On that score, intentionally or not, the commission’s efforts could be deemed a success.
The 100-plus page report submitted by the commission to then-president Nixon and Congress contained several recommendations. Many of them were vague and relatively innocuous sounding, but all were unified in their expansion of state power and the government’s further exertion of social control.
The list of recommendations included:
* Governments exercise greater control over land-use planning and development. Four primary recommendations were included in this category, including a more proactive use of public (i.e. government) acquisition of land projected to be developed in the future – in order to designate it for public purposes – along with more intrusive zoning to ‘control’ how land is utilized. The report emphasized the need for “cooperation between developers and government to ensure the promotion of public objectives.” Such “cooperation” sounds more like the government barking orders and developers complying if they wanted to be awarded contracts.
* Reduce the dependence of local jurisdictions on locally collected property taxes, to promote a more racially and economically integrated society. The commission insisted that “Formulation of overall policies relating to the distribution of population and economic activity must be carried on at the federal level.” Local controls were to be ceded to more federal controls, centralizing more power over housing development and urban growth policies into the hands of the federal government. The report also called on state governments “to override local ordinances” in order to implement planning “on a broad geographical basis.” Moreover, funding for local jurisdictions should be more federalized, with a tax program that is “progressive in nature” with the “distribution of revenues among jurisdictions according to need.” In the minds of the commission, local governments were not up to the task of accomplishing their goals of “guiding population movement and distribution.” Their language sounded disturbingly like a ruling class treating its citizens as mere pawns on a chess board to be manipulated and moved by the elites.
* More bureaucrats. The commission recommended “organizational changes to improve the federal government’s capacity to develop and implement population-related programs.” Specifically, the report desired more funding and more bureaucrats in the Office of Population Affairs housed in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; along with a “greatly expanded and more focused population research effort,” with an emphasis that “the behavioral research program must be significantly enlarged.”
* Create an Office of Population Growth and Distribution within the Executive Office of the President. Given the fact that the commission was a creation of a presidential executive order, there is little surprise that one of the recommendations is to create an agency granting more power and oversight over the ‘population problem’ in the executive office. Just imagine the response if this office was created and still existed in 2019, giving Donald Trump direct oversight over an office tasked with controlling “population growth and distribution.”
There is no aspect of life that is off limits to those who desire to control the reins of state power. The Commission on Population Growth and the American Future is a prime example. Viewing citizens as little more than pieces on a chess board to be manipulated and positioned according to their preferences, the commission’s recommendations would have vastly expanded state power and grown government bureaucracies, intervening in the most personal of life decisions of millions of Americans.
And what if their recommendations didn’t achieve their stated goals? How far would they have been willing to go? After all, the commission members believed population control was “for our own good,” which historically has been a justification to rationalize horrific and dehumanizing acts carried out by the state.
Fortunately, the commission’s recommendations were not formally implemented, although some were seemingly co-opted by the feminist movement of the 1970s. The formation of the commission, however, serves as a stark reminder of the evils inherent in that institution known as the state.
Bradley Thomas is creator of the website Erasethestate.com, and is a libertarian activist who enjoys researching and writing on the freedom philosophy and Austrian economics.
Follow him on twitter: Bradley Thomas @erasestate