One mouth, two hands and the population
It was Reverend Pastor turned Economist Malthus that ignited the explosive that brought about the endless discussion on population. Viewing the geometric progression in population increase vis-à-vis the disproportionate increase in food production to meet the adequate need of the population, Malthus foresaw a precarious situation coming if nothing concrete is done to avert it. Nonetheless, his postulation did not actually go well with other economists who merely saw Malthus as a prophet of doom. Others even ascribed his opinion as a culmination of ignorance of the emerging technological development that dealt a blow to the problem of shortage. Besides, there was the argument that for every mouth that has two hands, feeding is and should not be a problem for him.
The adequacy of food production based on the notion of one mouth and two hands will be looked into with emphasis on the Nigerian situation. To do this effectively, certain underlying assumptions inherent in the notion shall be examined.
It is assumed that every person born into the world needs food as his basic requirement. As a matter of fact, he has to produce, even if at least to keep only himself physically for existence. Therefore, there must be food for every individual born into the world. Aside from this, it is also assumed that everybody that comes into the world has his two hands given to him on the platter of gold. He does not have to negotiate for it. It is an inalienable right from the divine creator. It is also assumed that these two divine-given hands are naturally productive and meet the individual’s production requirements. Thus, if every two productive hands must cater for only one mouth, there should not arise any situation or food shortages.
Another basis for the notion is that all able two hands are willing to produce for the needing mouth. If all hands produced for the mouth, it is believed that no mouth will be left unfed or inadequately catered for.
In the ideal situation, all the assumptions might look tenable on its surface. However, many more things come into play in the actual situation that obviously negates whatever might be reasonably attainable in the assumptions, even from its broad perspective.
The assumption fails to address the issue that while it could be true that every mouth requires food for guaranteed immunity from hunger, it is not suggestive that every supportive two hands can adequately meet up such food requirements. It fails to appreciate the age distribution. The children, the aged all, might possess the two hands, but the hands might be as good as not having them. For the kids, two hands cannot contribute anything to the stomach’s filling up through the mouth that rely on the availability of the food so produced. It is also common knowledge that many mouths abound within the population that supposedly lacked two hands. So many handicaps are seen within the population, yet they all have to eat. Unless it is otherwise stated that the notion is meant to marginalize this category of people, the notion itself is nothing short of the figment of wild imagination if two hands-men produced for themselves, who then produced for the handless.
Given that all two hands are productive, does it appeal to reason that all will be willing to embark on productive activities to enhance the feeding of the population? It belies the notion that some unwilling “two hands” exist in the population if it so happens. Suppose the notion holds, and it is believed as such that there can never be a case of overpopulation. How then can it be reconciled with the present situation in Nigeria, which is but an infinitesimal part of the world population that the postulate is meant for, where hunger seems to be increasingly pervading the entire spectrum of the society.
For some time now, two hands have got to cater for nothing less than five to six unproductive mouths. With these appalling circumstances eroding our daily life, is it anything reasonable to still hold to the notion that could be regarded as ill-conceived?
The rate at which unemployment is going in Nigeria that rendered too many willing two hands incapable of production only kindle our effort at debunking the notion in its entirety. Not to talk of the low technological production based in the country, nor the actual fact that it is not all the two hands that will engage in pure food production. Others will have to delve into the area, which may not necessarily bring forth some form of “physical” garri or yam.
The effects of the social system that encourages someone to over acquire what is needed at the expense of someone else having nothing to contend with is also an inherent negation.
Today, Nigeria cannot adequately feed itself, which is a consequence of overpopulation as lubricated by many other intriguing factors. We have many two hands proportionate to many “one mouth,” yet the population suffers from inadequate food consumption.
For the reason of food inadequacy in Nigeria today, it could be assumed that we are overpopulated. Moreso if the notion is regarded as an emanation of the communalism era that is based on wild assumptions and narrow perspectives. Hence two hands and one mouth is not a sufficient or strong argument capable of knocking out overpopulation argument as Nigeria, nay be the world at large, is today saddled with unparallel food shortage.
Oluwadele, Ph.D, is a chartered accountant, author, and public policy scholar based in Canada.
NB: The article was initially written in 1989.