ECONOMICS AND POPULATION RELATIONSHIPS

 

In this International Workshop on Communications Aspects of Family Planning Programs, an economist without any claim to knowledge of medicine, public health, biology, or mass communication, runs the risk of exhibiting a good deal of nonsense and irrelevance. However, the title: Economics and Population Relationships, chosen for me for this talk, looks innocent enough for me to chance it.

 

TO PLAN OR NOT TO PLAN: NON-POLICY

In considering communications aspects of family planning, the presumption, may I take it, is that family planning is a good and worthy objective? I have no doubt that everybody gathered here today believes in family planning. But do governments believe in it? More specifically, does the government of Thailand believe in it sufficiently to make it a national policy? In this exciting period before the general election in Thailand, an event which has not taken place for over ten years, has any political party that considered family planning important enough to make it part of the electioneering platform? I am afraid the answer to these questions is still “no”.

The facts are that in this country, family planning services as allowed by cabinet resolutions are still subject to inflexible conditions, restrictive rules and regulations. Doctors, nurses, and social workers contravene these conditions and regulations at their own peril. Of course, we here of isolated cases of success in pilot projects or in some metropolitan or provincial health clinics; but efficient organization on a national basis for family planning is still impossible in the Kingdom. Underground tactics must be used by doctors and social workers, enthusiastic and courageous enough. If underground and clandestine tactics are used for this service, I cannot help asking whether communication aspects discussed at this workshop are not perforce subject to similar conditions and restrictions.

 

FROM HAND TO MOUTH: PRESS THE ELECTION CANDIDATES

On the basis of recent performance, we Thai people are among the champion breeders of the world. It is true that for each mouth, god creates a pair of hands. But the capacity of pairs of hands is always limited, particularly in the poorer nations, whereas requirements of the mouth are unlimited in quantity and variety. The mouth will not be satisfied merely with adequate food, it also demands better food, clothing, schools, not to mention good games, cinemas, drinks, fun, refrigerators, and motorcars. As more mouths and hands are created, fertile arable land can be increased only marginally. In a dynamic fast growing society, the proportion of people with avid mouths but with unproductive hands also keeps growing. If we consider, in a nation, people age 16 to 59 as producers and those of all ages as consumers*, the ratio of producers to consumers in Thailand twenty years ago was about 55%; ten years ago it was about 50%; today about 48%. At the present rate of growth, it will be 40% before long. Surely economic and social welfare of people of this country call for a national family planning policy and its earnest implementation.

At this stage, my first recommendation is for us to try to communicate to the masses, politicians and government, the need for national family planning policy. The best way perhaps would be for each of us to ask each candidate in the general election where he stands on the issue of family planning and to vote only for those who are sympathetic to our great cause.

 

ECONOMICS: INPUT, METHOD AND OUTPUT

Assuming that one day in the near future, next year if you like, family planning is adopted as a national policy, what can economics contribute to communication aspects of this policy?

A central economic principle goes something like this: efficient input and method will produce best output. I believe this principle can be applied to the communication problem.

In the case of family planning, the input is really a delicate matter. In order to control births, I understand that recent research has produced a number of good things, including pill loops and other devices. I am also told that each kind of device or pill must be applied with care, to suit each subject treated. I do not need to remind the audience that only a few mishaps in this matter will undermine confidence so much that much good work may fail because of them. About fertility promotion, I read that some kinds of pills can yield excessive results, with quintuplets oe sextuplets born instead of the one wanted. I also read of a recent speech  European doctor by an eminent saying that most couples who think they are infertile need not take any pills, all they need is to change their sexual position. If what I read or am told is true, it means that we must do more research and exercise more wisdom in our research and experiments, instead of allowing ourselves to be carried away by the thrill of new chemicals or other supposed scientific “discoveries”.

The effective method of communications in family planning is as important as the subject is delicate. To reach the masses, perhaps some mass media are inevitable. A good talk and discreet demonstration on the television, a simple, easy-to-understand article in a popular newspaper or journal would be valuable. On the whole, I must confess to personal distrust of mass media. Government slogans on TV or radio tend to appear to sceptical citizens, enlightened and illiterate alike, as the opposite of truth. Newspapers reporters and editors normally have a penchant towards sensational headlines and articles. Perhaps I may learn from eminent speakers in this workshop like Messrs. Wallace, Tyagi, Karlin, Lufti, and Wilder, Foote, etc. that what I have said so far is all mistake.

In my lay opinion, mass communication on family planning in this country is not difficult. Most Thai women and men are already open-minded audiences. We also have a good old-fashioned bamboo radio system, whereby good and bad tidings go from mouth to mouth, covering great distance in no time. The problem is to see that our tidings do not become distorted. Our Buddhist monks, I think, are invaluable allies. Nothing prevents them from advising a woman to keep the size of her family commensurate with her worldly means and spiritual happiness. I also think that social workers, for example in mother and child health clinics and hospitals, are cautious and patient enough to act as good mass communication conduits, if the government encourages them to do so.

Because I do not know what else to say, it remains for me to offer you all my best wishes for your good work.

 

Address to the International Workshop on Communications,

Aspects of Family Planning Programmes. 6 December 1968.