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A vast majority of modern states don't have a explicit constitutional clause on population control either (that I am aware of). It seems fair to surmise that it is the consensus of the majority of governments that letting their populations grow without control is a good idea.

Question: What would be some of the key considerations/challenges in outlining a constitutional policy on population control?

I am asking this question in the context of emerging problems such as climate change, automation and now the pandemic as these factors have (and will continue to) put immense stress on available resources.

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    This is still quite broad, even after the edit. Which country did you have in mind here? Asking how any/all countries could do this would likely be closed.
    – Machavity
    Sep 7 at 12:53
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    I can't clarify what I want to ask any further.
    – Syed
    Sep 7 at 13:03

10 Answers 10

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A vast majority of modern states don't have a explicit constitutional clause on population control either (that I am aware of). It seems fair to surmise that it is the consensus of the majority of governments that letting their populations grow without control is a good idea.

This chain of reasoning is profoundly flawed. There are all manner of things that are not the subject of explicit constitutional clauses that the people enacting them think are good ideas.

For example, few constitutions explicitly prohibit murder, but that doesn't mean that the adopters of constitutions think that murder is a good idea.

A constitution is a document that provides a process for enacting other needful laws. It assumes that the people who make policy using them have been wisely chosen (because they designed a good process) and will make laws that are good. It isn't meant to be an eternal and unchangeable set of laws on all topics.

It really doesn't matter if you think population control is a good idea, or a bad idea. There is no obvious reason why it has anything to do with the process of making laws.

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    This is the best answer in the stack, and I came here to make it myself. Constitutions are not where you make policy, they're where you describe how you make policy. Sep 8 at 13:29
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    @Syed, "a baby is welcomed by the community" is the answer to your question. The constitution is an expression of the community's values, so they will not use it to prohibit something they welcome.
    – The Photon
    Sep 8 at 16:27
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    @TCooper Nothing is ever absolute in politics or policy, but in this case it's a matter of what "constitution" means, and what a document that does that thing must mean. You're right that there are some policy matters enshrined in the U.S. Constitution (and other constitutions), but these are far and away the exceptions, not the rule. Can you drive a screw with a claw hammer? Sure, if you're insistent on doing so it is definitely possible - but we don't ask "Why don't people drive more screws with hammers?" Constitutions, as tools, are far less common than hammers, but the same principle holds Sep 8 at 16:46
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    This is a solid if narrow answer to the question as OP phrased it, though it seems that there is a gap between what the OP technically asked and what the OP actually wanted to know.
    – MJ713
    Sep 8 at 19:53
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    @Syed Sounds like you’re trying to make a statement and not ask a question Sep 9 at 4:30
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I guess one significant reason is that it is not deemed necessary. Two important statistics in population growth are

  • Total fertility rate, roughly the number of children a woman is expected to have if she was to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates (ASFRs) through her lifetime and did not die before the end of her reproductive life.
  • Net reproduction rate R0, roughly the number of daughters a woman is expected to have if she was to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates (ASFRs) and mortality rates.

An R0 of exactly 1 means that the population will neither grow nor shrink. For the TFR, that same number is not exactly 2 because a) sexes are not distributed exactly 50:50, and b) some girls die before reaching childbearing age. For modern civilization with adequate healthcare and low child mortality, the number is believed to be around 2.1. (Just as an example: in the UK, it is 2.075, whereas in developing nations, it can be as high as 3.3.)

Because of these uncertainties, R0 is the more reliable indicator, but the UN stopped reporting it.

Note: An R0 < 1 does not necessarily mean that population will shrink immediately in the short term, for example if at the same time the life expectancy increases. However, in the long term, R0 < 1 means that the population will shrink, unless it is replenished from the outside, through immigration.

It turns out that many so-called "Western" nations are actually below those numbers. In other words, their population is already shrinking without the need for any laws or constitutional amendments.

For example, the average TFR for the EU-27 was 1.55 in 2018, the highest was France with 1.88. While TFR has been slowly rising over the last few years, we are still a very long way from even population stability, let alone population growth. US was 1.64 in 2020, Canada 1.46. South Korea is only 0.64, Japan 1.34, China 1.30. The entirety of East Asia is below 2, with North Korea the highest at 1.95 (but with higher child mortality rates compared to e.g. the EU). TFR for India is dropping rapidly from 3.2 in 2000 to 2.3 in 2016, 2.2 in 2018, and estimated 2.1 in 2019. Russia is at 1.5.

OTOH, if you look at the countries that are on the top of the list, then you have the entirety of Africa (with Niger on top with an average 6.8 children per woman), Yemen, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, etc.

[Source for all TFR numbers: either the Wikipedia article on TFR or this list on Wikipedia]

But TFR is not everything: for example, Mongolia has a TFR of almost 2.9, but does that mean that they are an important driver of population growth? Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world with only 2 people (3.3 million total, slightly more than Chicago, slightly less than LA, less than half of New York City) per square kilometer (1.5 million). They could literally increase their population by a factor of 10 and would still be one third less densely populated than the US.

So, for lots of countries, especially the developed nations and so-called "Western civilization", it is simply irrelevant because a) it doesn't impact them (they tend to live in the fertile regions with lots of water, and worst case they can just buy their food from overseas or research themselves out of the problem with e.g. GMOs, synthetic food, hydroponics, vertical farming, etc.) and b) they can't really do much about it anyway, because their populations are already shrinking, so there is nothing to reduce.

OTOH, many of the countries with the highest birth rates are developing nations with barely functioning governments, very low education, and widespread poverty where families need to have many children because a) many of them die and b) they need their workforce to support them when the parents and grandparents become too frail to work.

If we want to look at it from a very simplistic, grossly exaggerated view, we could say that the countries with a functioning constitution don't have growing populations and the countries with growing population don't have a functioning constitution.

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  • Re the last paragraph, are you arguing that the US doesn't have a functioning Constitution? Or Canada, Switzerland, or many other countries? You also left out a major driver of population growth in the more prosperous countries: immigration.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 7 at 22:44
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    "Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world with only 2 people (...long parenthetical...)" - maybe move that parenthetical so it doesn't seem like the end of the sentence.
    – user253751
    Sep 8 at 8:46
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    This answer does not address the question at all, and it seems to assume that a constitution would be the proper place to address policy. Which it isn't. Sep 8 at 17:27
  • I feel the answer would be better if you also discussed the relative accessibility of birth control and family planning methods in different countries. Even poor families in poor countries will have smaller families if they are encouraged to do so and provided with the necessary materials, and the effect is significant. A recent study: washington.edu/news/2020/09/08/…. Of course, a weak or unstable government might not be in a position to encourage family planning, even if they wanted to do so.
    – MJ713
    Sep 8 at 19:31
  • You can't just neglect immigration when you're talking about whether a population will grow or shrink. In 2016, for example, there were about 3.9 million live births in the US, while about 1.2 million people immigrated legally. In other words, immigration accounted for about 25% of the new population in that year. Sep 9 at 2:15
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Reproductive rights are considered basic human rights and trying to restrict them violates those rights. When China adopted the one child policy some considered it a human rights violation as it put reproductive rights decisions in the hands of the government.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-child_policy

The one-child policy has been challenged for violating a human right to determine the size of one's own proper family. According to a 1968 proclamation of the International Conference on Human Rights, "Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children."[172][17

https://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/nhrihandbook.pdf

Protect and promote reproductive rights without any discrimination, recognizing reproductive rights include the right to the highest attainable standard of sexual and reproductive health, the right of all to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children, and on matters related to their sexuality, and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, violence or coercion, as laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.

https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/women/wrgs/pages/healthrights.aspx

forced sterilization, forced virginity examinations, and forced abortion, without women’s prior consent

It can also be said that putting in limits could cause massive problems for the future.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/02/china-population-control-two-child-policy

Faced with a population that is shrinking and ageing, Chinese policymakers are attempting to engineer a baby boom after more than three decades of a Malthusian family planning regime better-known as the one-child policy. Central policy planners have loosened restrictions on family sizes, and now all married couples can have two children. There is talk of the limits being dropped altogether, and amid aggressive propaganda drives, local officials are experimenting with subsidies and incentives for parents.

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    To add to your introductory statement, the European Convention on Human Rights, Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and other agreements set out a Right to Family Life which is generally considered to include the right to have a family including children.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 7 at 15:34
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    Also, I seem to recall that China's one-child policy exacerbated their TFR and NPR, because the populace was (thought to be) favoring males as their 'one-child'.
    – CGCampbell
    Sep 8 at 15:03
  • China never made population control part of any 'constitution'. They can, and have, changed that rule as the wind blows.
    – ouflak
    Sep 9 at 15:27
  • @StuartF that doesn't include an unlimited number of children
    – user253751
    Sep 10 at 9:48
  • @user253751 What is unlimited children even supposed to mean? The point is that it doesn't restrict the number of children you can have.
    – Joe W
    Sep 10 at 12:42
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Because such provisions would be widely unpopular. Most people seem to believe that it is their natural right to reproduce without limit, at least as long is it's "them" doing it. That is, they might support restrictions on disfavored ethnic or economic groups (the specifics of course varying according to the speaker's opinions), but not on themselves.

Even as repressive a government as mainland China's had significant problems implementing its one child per family policy. Now loosened to three, according to news reports.

Furthermore, most politicians tend to take an extremely short-sighted view of the world. In democratic countries, it's proverbially not past the next election; in more authoritarian countries, probably surviving the next politburo meeting or coup attempt. So they tend to think of increased population as a short-term boost to the economy, and so to their popularity. Thus even if they understand the dangers of unlimited population growth (or global warming &c), they figure the problems will only show up after they're gone.

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  • China never made population control part of any 'constitution'. They can, and have, changed that rule as the wind blows.
    – ouflak
    Sep 9 at 15:28
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    @ouflak: Yes. DId I claim otherwise?
    – jamesqf
    Sep 9 at 16:34
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I think the key consideration is that constitutions are, by their very nature, not easy to change. The US Constitution, for example, requires 2/3 of each House of Congress, and 3/4 of the individual states, to consent to it, and this is why it has only been amended 15 times in the past 200 years.

If, for whatever reason, such a policy needs to change, it is much easier to do so using standard legislation than it would be to amend a constitution.

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    This can also be a feature. Many US states have balanced budget requirements in their constitutions precisely so that the legislatures can't simply pass a law to get around it.
    – Barmar
    Sep 7 at 15:50
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It's seen as being against the economic interests of the country.

Simply put, population growth leads to economic growth, because more people means more businesses getting started, more employees being paid, and more money being spent. Since the economic paradigm of modern nations is based on continuous economic growth, that means that continuous population growth is desirable; this is one of the reasons why, in many countries with below-replacement birth rates, the political and business elite continue to push for immigration despite growing anti-immigration nationalist sentiments.

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When would constitution writers add in a clause to this effect? Was population control an issue at the time of initial construction?

As @JoeC's answer indicated, constitutions are typically difficult to change, so the most likely situation where the constitution would have such a clause would be at the founding of the country, when they're initially writing up the original, finalized, final v1.0 constitution, without amendments.

The newest country in the world as of September 8, 2021, according to World Population Review, is South Sudan, splitting from Sudan on July 9, 2011.

Okay then, that means we can look up the reported population at the time: 11,417,778 today (Or to keep with units later, 11.4 Million. But we can backtrack to 2011, with 9.8 Million at confederation.

That means roughly a 30% increase from confederation, that's certainly a lot, but it's over a decade, so there's a lot of time since then for population to increase.

There's some additional context on that page that's worth noting, however, about South Sudan's Population Growth:

As the distribution of wealth between Sudan and South Sudan at the point of independence was determined in part by their relative populations, the government in Khartoum had an incentive to manipulate the figures. Additional criticisms of the 2008 Sudan population census were that it excluded the South Sudanese diaspora, that poor weather and communication conditions had prevented some people from being surveyed, and that the Sudanese Government had refused to share the raw population data from the census with the Government of South Sudan.

Accurate South Sudan population statistics are difficult to obtain, a fact which is probably not surprising when you consider that it only gained independence from Sudan on the 9th of July 2011, and is one of the world’s newest countries.

A 2008 census showed that the population of South Sudan was 8,260,490. However, this figure is hotly disputed because the census was conducted by the Sudanese Government of the time and is believed by many to have been manipulated for political reasons.

Which indicates an important point for the political capability of a country upon independence - the wealth and suitability of a country to continue from then on is partially based on relative populations - the more people you have relative to the country you're seceding from, the better off your country will be.

As a result, founding members of a nation are very unlikely to be adding a clause about population control, especially if they were trying to encourage people to have family in the years before independence was secured.

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  • Most constitutions have a process of amendment, and even if not, people can always throw out their constitution and declare they are now following a slightly different one. So the argument that they don't have this clause because back in the day when the country was first founded it wasn't needed, doesn't really follow - even for those countries whose constitution is actually old.
    – Rayce1950
    Sep 9 at 10:13
  • My point is more that they wouldn't see a need to do it at the initial steps - and that as mentioned in the other answer, a constitutional amendment is significantly more difficult to get passed more generally compared to the initial founding document. Why amendments are hard is another question, but it has led to delays in stuff like the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. and adjustments to the Canadian constitution to update wording on the naming of Indigenous groups to the land, for some immediate examples. Sep 9 at 18:10
  • @AlexanderThe1st But looking at the 18th Amendment in the US, maybe amendments aren't hard enough to pass.
    – Ryan_L
    Sep 9 at 18:35
  • @Ryan_L: The enforcement of amendments aren't always the marker of whether an amendment is easy to pass - that particular amendment had bipartisan support in the house and the senate, yet still took two years to complete ratification. Sep 9 at 19:08
  • In comparison, regular laws on the books are much, much easier to pass - once you get bipartisan support in the house and the senate, as long as the President doesn't veto it, it's law. Then you go get lunch, relatively speaking. Sep 9 at 19:09
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India took some measures in the 1970s when the population issue was at the forefront. For example the parliament seat allocation was frozen as per 1971 census so that states would not have an incentive to let their populations grow without restraint. Since then the population has more than doubled but the economy has grown at a faster pace. So the answer could be that it is hard to make such policies work and they might not matter in the end anyway.

https://www.newslaundry.com/2017/06/14/what-explains-the-obsession-with-the-1971-census

The 42nd amendment to the Constitution, more popularly known as the ‘Mini-Constitution’ made widespread changes to the constitution during emergency days in 1976. ‘Population control and family planning’ was included in the concurrent list with this amendment. The government of the day was keen on promoting family planning and to control population growth.

Hence provisions were included in articles 55, 82, 170 and 330 of the Constitution not to make any changes to the number of Lok Sabha seats, Assembly seats etc. until the figures from the first Census after the year 2000 have been published. This was done as a measure to boost family planning norms. In other words, any readjustment to the total number of seats had to take place only after the year 2000 when the 2001 Census figures would be published.

The NDA government extended this to 2026

The NDA government in the year 2001 felt the need to amend the provisions included through the 42nd amendment since the 2001 Census figures were about to be published. The statement of objects to the 84th amendment to the constitution in 2001 mentions that there have been consistent demands, both for and against undertaking the exercise of readjustment. It further says that considering the progress of family planning programs in different parts of the country, and as per the National Population Policy strategy, it was decided to extend the freeze on readjustment up to the year 2026. The government saw it as a motivational measure to encourage State Governments to pursue the agenda for population stabilization. Thus the embargo on any readjustment to the total number of seats was extended to 2026, meaning that any such readjustment can only be done after the 2031 Census.

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First of all, the question only makes sense if you ask about clauses of direct population control because just about every country has plenty of laws about indirect population control:

  • Laws on immigration (new people come in = pop++)
  • Laws on emigration (people leave = pop--)
  • Special laws for parents and married couples (=potential parents) like different tax rates, social services, etc.
  • Controlling healthcare, crime and safety so that fewer people die
  • Various initiatives about encouraging cities to grow
  • Supporting infrastructure and construction projects that create more housing and encourage (or discourage) population growth, anything from flat out building cities from scratch on taxpayer's dime (see China) to providing low interest mortgages and loans to real estate developers (see US). There are also schools of thought that claim wars are in large part a population control act.

These are usually not in the constitution, but regular laws. However the constitution generally has human rights, rights of children, rights of people to form families... Things that are obviously related to population growth.

There have been quite a few examples in history where governments explicitly took population control measures, such as literally capping how many children people can have, or setting targets like "we must have x million babies this year!". These include Singapore, China, Germany in WW2, USSR/Russia, India and many others.

However, it is indeed uncommon for constitutions to have an article like:

7.b.IV. Maximum population is 100 million people.

First of all it would be silly because as technology advances, territory is gained or lost, and many other factors come into play, the "ideal" population level would change a lot. Usually, the point of constitutions is to lay down some clear guidelines on how the country should be run, and make it so that these guidelines are unlikely to change.

The other issue is enforcement. If the population one day goes to 101 million, what are you planning to do? Kill the extra 1 million? Ground everyone from having babies until it goes down? Realistically, there's not much you can do, because all the obvious things are at odds with other constitutional principles like rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Which is probably why many countries choose indirect measures rather than direct.

Moreover, population control is a bit of a self-defeating thing. Although there are always classes of intellectuals who fancy themselves virtuous for not having children, the fact is that countries overwhelmingly benefit from population growth: The demographic pyramid remains well formed, the workforce stays large and healthy, more people demand more goods which is good for businesses and grows the economy, more people spending money is good for GDP and tax income, larger pool of recruits improves military capacity. When there's a lot of people in a country a lot of them immigrate abroad, and that diaspora can provide excellent geopolitical leverage. In extreme cases, a very fertile nation will flood a very infertile one to the point of total demographic replacement, and assimilate it back into the original one.

In democratic countries, voters love population growth as well. No matter how much people love to complain about too many people coming in and ruining their neighborhood or whatnot, the fact remains that more people means more demand for housing, means housing prices go up, means that the one financial asset 90% of people go all in on starts appreciating wildly. At the end of the day, everybody loves money, and everyone is happy when their house doubles in value over five years.

Lastly, of course it is the law of nature that the fittest (note that fitness is defined in terms of offspring produced, not size of muscles or sprint time) survive. Billions of years of evolution has molded us into perfect biological machines that produce as many babies as possible in as many situations as possible. It is a bit counterintuitive to expect the products of such a selective process to exhibit the very antithesis of the behavior they've been selected for.

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    The "voters love housing prices go up" fact is certainly not universal. Not everywhere most people buy houses to live in (and even if I do, there is no point in selling after its value goes up when I would have to buy an equally more expensive replacement house). E.g. in Berlin (Germany) we currently have a housing shortage resulting in increased rent, and voters are not happy about it. Sep 9 at 21:53
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There seems to a lot of good (and/or flawed) feedback here, so I won't address them all directly. Your question might be better addressed by asking what is the purpose of government and constitutions.

In the western world this just isn't the government's job. We value freedom or really at its core, the idea the independent thought and action is more important than top down control. Yes, this makes setting goals harder, but history has taught us that this is better than the alternative. When you break down things like democracy, representative government, even laws, language, etc, it boils down to the wisdom that it is better than the alternative.

The alternative is that the more control you give to any one person, one government, or one document then that makes it a target for things like assassinations, takeovers, wars, coups, manipulation, propaganda, etc. as a way to have a person or small group try to bend the will of the masses to their way of thinking (through force).

In the context of your question, this means that in order to achieve your goal (or whoever's goal) of population control for, in your words, things like a pandemic, climate change, and automation, then the way to go about it is to convince such an overwhelming majority of people that your ideas are valid that they will make the individual choices necessary to achieve your goal.

I've been around long enough, and have read things from people that have been around and/or live even longer, to know that none of this is really "new". There will always be things that repeat themselves, become new emergencies, and will be used by people with agendas to try to control or take away individual thoughts/ideas/actions because they think they know better. It doesn't lead anywhere good and generally makes a lot of people very unhappy (or dead).

Some of the things you have mentioned are of concern. Even those, like me, that doubt they are as critical as people make them out to be, acknowledge that. Take for instance, climate change (or it's earlier cousin, pollution). Lots of people in, say, the US, now regularly do things of their own free will to stem pollution on their own. They can afford to be clean and try not to make their own living environment dirty. Is it perfect? no, but that's a very small example that we could spend days on. Other things will work themselves out on their own, like the usage of fossil fuels. There's only so much, it's harder and more expensive to get, and slowly people will switch to electric as technology makes it more viable (and not just a different way of consuming fossil fuels). Most early adopters don't even know where their electricity comes from and may do more harm than good. However, technology is moving at an incredible rate. I will not be surprised that if in my lifetime it just makes sense from a raw dollar standpoint.

However, when it comes to things like Climate change, the VAST majority are not only not convinced, it just isn't a serious concern to them because their part of the world is dealing with much more pressing concerns. Like how to get clean water, to feel safe at night, or, heck, not get killed because they are "different".

Sorry for being so long-winded, but that's my 2-cents. Take it or leave it.

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    Please provide additional details in your answer. As it's currently written, it's hard to understand your solution.
    – Community Bot
    Sep 8 at 20:15
  • Re There's only so much: There is plenty of coal (known reserves), enough for several hundred years. There is also plenty of oil (but not cheap oil). Sep 10 at 12:10

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