Sen and Institutional Control

I appreciated the dichotomy that Sen established between the “override” or “coercive” and the “collaborative” approach to institutional population control. I felt that the two perspectives or methodologies should be examined as extreme opposites on a spectrum and that actual plans or legislative efforts by governing bodies should be evaluated for where they lay in respect to the two. Either extreme is flawed, and neither is so definitively effective as to universally accept it, which Sen does acknowledge, all the while heavily advocating efforts that tend towards the “collaborative” end.

Population control is a great issue with which to examine the power of institutional control and intervention. Sen articulates the flaws of “coercive” methods as limiting fundamental freedoms and creating social imbalance in respect to sex proportion and infant mortality.  She also questions its effectiveness as cases of its implementation, like in China, have also coincided with “collaborative” approaches. I felt that her argument against “coercive” restrictions was about the consequences of the system not a direct commentary on its effectiveness. The abstract (though certainly valuable) consequences do have limits though. At some point, should the population growth and subsequent negative consequences become so great, the justification for infringing on individual freedom becomes stronger. Questions arise over where to draw the line between protecting quality of life and protecting reproductive freedom.

I also was interested in thinking about the environmental implications of population growth. Institutional control over population, whether “coercive” or “collaborative” happens (or doesn’t) within a country, yet the population of the world on whole affects every citizen of the planet. I could envision a situation where the population of one country grows to a problematic size leading to regional immigration crises and a disproportionate environmental impact, at which point other countries would have valid complaints against the country and may even try and intervene out of self-preservation. The efficacy of one nation’s growth management has global impacts.

At risk of sounding a bit paranoid, an institution is likely aware of the further consequences of improved education and the self-empowerment for women that comes with their ability to fully self-regulate reproduction. The positive benefits for a governing body include less population growth and less poverty. However, with education and knowledge comes the independence and self-worth that leads to revolution and social uprising. In an ideal world where a governing body genuinely had the best interests of its population in mind, a “collaborative” method would bring improvement for a society but I have to question the likelihood of such a system being implemented in countries plagued with governmental corruption.

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2 thoughts on “Sen and Institutional Control

  1. I agree that Sen’s perspective on the two different approaches to population control–coercive and collaborative–is useful in understanding the ways used to deal with the “population problem.” For me, the most interesting part, as you have articulated, was the claim that collaborative approach seems to promote personal freedom and more autonomy over one’s body. But I also wonder if that’s really true. What constitutes real, substantial freedom and how can we achieve it if the various measures taken to “improve” their conditions such as education, health care, etc are specifically aimed at making them come to “decide for themselves” to have less kids.

    I guess it’s a little bit of “what comes first” question. Do they want less kids because they are educated or are they educated to want more kids? How can you determine what comes first? What would real freedom be?

  2. What’s interesting is really whether you’re more concerned with the general well-being of the Earth, or with yourself any your own family and desires. I haven’t yet decided if I’m more interested in everyone being taken care of and a limited population or a world full of people who have all the freedoms that they wish in terms of reproduction. In some ways, I thought that this kind of went against de Beauvoir, because her entire argument is essentially giving women the freedom to do whatever they want. But what if this freedom is hurting other people? I couldn’t really decide. Especially when you consider who the governing body is (mostly men).

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