CLAREMONT, Calif.—Management guru Peter Drucker is just the latest example of a growing group of allies in the Catholic Church's battle against depopulation programs — secular businessmen.

Drucker and others have started to speak out on what they are calling an unprecedented threat to the economies of developed and underdeveloped nations alike: a vanishing working class.

In a healthy society, economists say, the number of working citizens (“contributors” to the economy, ages 20-60) will far exceed the number children and the elderly. If their numbers dwindle, the cost of health care and education skyrocket. Government feels the strain of more requests for services and a smaller tax base to foot the bill. In developed countries, growth stagnates. In under-developed countries, growth is impossible.

How serious is the depopulation problem? According to U.N. estimates, between 1950 and 1995 the average number of children per woman worldwide fell from 5 to just over 3. In developing countries, the average number fell from 6.1 to 3.5.

Worldwide, more than 50 countries have birthrates below the replacement level.

Antonio Fazio, the governor of the Bank of Italy, drew sharp attention to the problem in a speech he delivered Aug. 1 at a European convention on immigration. Fazio said the only way to guarantee economic and social development was to reverse depopulation trends in Europe.

“In the coming decades,” Fazio said, “Italy and many other European countries will have to cope with major problems caused by the aging [and] decline of the population, and the need to handle [the] flow of immigrants that, in accordance with economic law, will be intense.”

Drucker said U.S. business leaders need to catch up with the concerns Fazio and others have shown.

“[It's] only in this country [that] nobody pays attention,” Drucker said in a statement to the Register. “In Japan and continental Europe there is growing outcry and alarm.”

Drucker, a professor of social science at Claremont Graduate School and the author of more than 30 books, brought his population message via satellite to 6,000 Europeans in November and was scheduled to speak to an audience of 5,000 Japanese businessmen in mid-December.

Though thinkers like Drucker are sounding the alarm, the consequences of depopulation have yet to sink in with America's wealthiest businessmen, said former Rockefeller Institute researcher Nicholas Eberstadt. For now, he said, they worry about overpopulation, not underpopulation.

In an article he wrote for the November-December 1998 issue of the journal Philanthropia, Eberstadt cited the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ted Turner's United Nations Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and billionaire investor Warren Buffett as major donors to population control programs abroad.

The Catholic Church has long criticized the techniques such programs use: contraception, abortion and sterilization.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II warned, “Today an important part of policies which favor life is the issue of population growth. Certainly public authorities have a responsibility to ‘intervene to orient the demography of the population.’ But such interventions must always take into account and respect the primary and inalienable responsibility of married couples and families, and cannot employ methods which fail to respect the person and fundamental human rights, beginning with the right to life of every innocent human being. It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, let alone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization and abortion in order to regulate births” (No. 91).

Drucker attributed the “overpopulation scare” to “propaganda” which he called “very powerful.”

Jim Sedlak, a spokesman for the American Life League, agreed. He said that, to convince American businessmen that there is an over-population problem, activists “take these folks on a tour of a very poor area and show them malnourished kids. They tell them that the first thing that has to be done is to reduce the number of children.”

He said that depopulation looks like a “viable solution” to businessmen who haven't looked carefully at birthrate numbers, and added that accurate numbers showing the depopulation problem “have only been available for a few years.”

The United Nations Foundation, established by Ted Turner to distribute his $1 billion contribution, says on its Web site that “stabilizing global population growth …. likely is the single most significant contribution we can make to the 21st century — in terms of global peace, prosperity, justice and environmental protection.”

David Harwood, a spokesman at the foundation, told the Register that he'd rather not discuss the question of whether population is a problem. “We haven't gotten into that kind of debate,” he said.

Drucker has. In his latest book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, he wrote that the single most important factor for the future economy is “the collapsing birthrate in the developed world.”

Roots of the ‘Crisis’

Eberstadt explained why he thinks businessmen have focused on the wrong problem. Prior to the 1950s, he said, few people in America actively crusaded against population growth. The widespread application of medical advances after World War II resulted in a plummeting death rate, however, and activists soon confronted phil-anthropists with what they were calling “the world population crisis.”

By 1952, Eberstadt noted, the Ford Foundation gave a $60,000 grant to the Population Reference Bureau.

In the 1950s and 1960s, he added, many believed population growth posed a serious threat to economic development. But the tide of research began to turn in the 1970s.

A particularly devastating blow to population fears came in 1986, Eberstadt said, when the National Academy of Sciences published a report on population.

Referring to Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), the English economist who speculated that population would outgrow resources, that report indicated that population change was “decidedly less important to development prospects than Malthusian thinkers had long been arguing — and that such things as ‘the quality of markets’ and ‘the nature of government policies’ were decidedly more important than Malthusians [had] presumed.”

Eberstadt identified several issues that should concern leaders and businessmen — the flood of humanitarian refugees, high immigration levels, below-replacement fertility levels in more than half the world's populace, and “a looming bride shortage” in East Asia.

Said Eberstadt, “to all of these [concerns], the population movement, and the American foundations that have supported it, seem to remain strangely indifferent. Although token grants to investigate such problems can doubtless be identified, the overwhelming thrust of their agenda still conforms with the original, tarnished [anti-population] project.”