Debate 1: Is Overpopulation, or Poverty, the Main Problem?

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Debate 1: Is Overpopulation, or Poverty, the Main Problem?


Worldwide, human population has surpassed seven billion people. Current projections are that it may reach more than 10 billion people by 2050 before finally leveling off. Many people believe that rapid population growth is the main reason for many problems we are facing such as crowding, hunger, poverty, conflicts, environmental degradation and so on. Others think population growth itself is not a main problem. Instead, unequal distribution of resources contributes to overpopulation as well as many other problems. There are also people who do not think there is a problem with the population. This debate will familiarize you with the major arguments concerning population growth, its causes and consequences and policy implications. You are expected to gain a good understanding of the three major demographic perspectives defining current debates on population: the Malthusian/neo-Malthusian, the Marxist/neo-Marxist perspective, and the Cornucopian.

The Debate:

You will debate three related questions in front of a panel composed of the United States Congressman and demographers: 1) Is overpopulation, or poverty, the main problem? 2) Is aggressive population control needed? 3) Should the U.S. encourage and be actively involved in foreign aid? Read the textbooks and supplementary readings, and conduct additional research for the specific role you choose. You will be assigned to one of three groups, each with a given position on this issue: the Malthusian/neo-Malthusian, the cornucopian, and the Marxist/neo-Marxist view. At the beginning of the debate, each group will meet briefly to prepare an opening statement for the group. The opening statement describes what the group perceives to be the nature of the problem, and what they propose as proper policy measures regarding population control and foreign aid.

The structure of the debate:

Group discussion: 10 Minutes

Group opening statements: 2 Minutes for each group

Individual statement/Rebuttals/Debate: 60 Minutes (20 minutes for each group)

Conclusion: 4 Minutes
The Groups/Roles:

Malthusians/Neo-Malthusians: This group argues that overpopulation is a serious problem, active measures should be taken to control population growth, and that foreign aid should be abandoned.
Marxists/Neo-Marxists: This group argues that population growth as such is not as serious an issue as the mal-distribution of resources. Population control is unnecessary. Instead, wealthy countries should reduce their consumption and resources should be distributed more equitably. Foreign aid is one way to redistribute recourses, and the U.S. should actively promote foreign aid.
Cornucopians: This group argues that neither overpopulation nor poverty is the concern, as technological advancement will help us to feed the growing population. Population growth can be good for the economy as well as the environment because of new talents and new technologies it brings with. There is no need to control population growth.
You choose one role in one of these groups. You are expected to write a 2-3 page position paper (typed, double space) that is due at the end of the debate.
Position Paper:

You write the position paper from the perspective of the role you choose, using the first person. You need to make your positions on the debated issue clear by answering the debated questions. Then you go on to explain your positions. In addition to defending your position, you can also challenge or criticize your opponent’s position. While you do not have to coordinate with your team members on the writing of your position paper, your position should generally be consistent with the position of the camp your team chose for the debate. You should research the agency you represent, or publications/speeches by the person to form your arguments. You are encouraged to use factual information to support your arguments.


If you are the head panelist you will be expected to provide an introduction to the debate, run the debate and keep time. All panelists should turn in at least five thought provoking questions related to the debate and your answers to the questions. You may ask some or all questions during the debate.


You will be graded on your ability to make well reasoned, well researched arguments which fit into the themes of the course. Arguments that are only emotional in nature and not backed up with factual information will receive low grades. You are also expected to turn in your position paper. (You won’t get credit if you turn in the paper but do not attend the debate.)


Before coming to class, make sure you make a sign for yourself so that it is clear to everyone what your role is in the debate. Before you talk for the first time, introduce yourself.

Debate Role Sign-up Sheet
You can find most of these roles in the textbook and readings. You should situate each of these roles in the three demographic perspectives we discussed.
Malthusians/ Neo-Malthusians:

Thomas Malthus

Paul Ehrlich (author of The Population Bomb)

Garret Hardin

President of the Sierra Club

Director of the Family Planning Program in China

Director of United Nations Fund for Population Activity

Former Republican Presidential Candidate/ CNBC host Patrick Buchanan

Marxists/ Neo-Marxists:

United Nation Research Institute for Social Development

Karl Marx

Barry Commoner

Farmer from India

Refugee from Africa

Fidel Castro (Former President of Cuba)

Young Afghani mother

American volunteer pediatrician for “Doctors without Borders” working in El Salvador

College Activist

Professor David Harvey (Johns Hopkins University)

UN food aid worker in Afghanistan

Subsistence farmer in Sudan (a war-torn African country)

Julian Simon (author of The Resourceful Earth)

President of World Bank

President of IMF (International Monetary Fund)

UN World Food Program Director

Genetic crop engineer for Monsanto

U.S. wheat farmer

Southern Baptist anti-abortion activist

Wealthy Indian farmer
The Panelists:

Congressman 1/Head panelist

Democratic Congressman

Republican congressman

Independent Congressman


Population Geographer

Environmental Studies student

Immigration expert

*If you are a panelist, you have the option to join one of the three camps.

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