Why Melinda Gates Is Wrong About Contraception

As it turns out, “one of the greatest anti-poverty innovations” is conception, not contraception.

Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates (photo: Source: Chatham House, London, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

 Melinda Gates recently lamented the Catholic Church prohibition of contraception, commenting that contraception is “one of the greatest anti-poverty innovations the world has ever known.”  In doing so, Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates—the multibillionaire developer of the famous “Windows” operating system—has coincidentally produced a new version of the Broken Window Fallacy.

In 1850, French economist Frederic Bastiat posed the question as to whether breaking windows was good for an economy.  In his scenario, a child intentionally breaks the window of a shopkeeper, which makes the shopkeeper angry.  The onlookers, however, try to comfort the shopkeeper by explaining that the child had performed a great service in his vandalism.  Why?  Because the window repairman would need to be hired, thus producing business for him and stimulating the economy.  Bastiat explains that it is an economic fallacy to claim that breaking windows is “good.”  His observation is simple: destruction is not good for an economy; production is good for an economy.

More specifically, creativity is good for an economy, and there is nothing more economically productive than the creativity of man.  It is widely held in the field of economics that there are four factors of production: land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurial talent.  But it is also observable that only those parts involving man are truly economically productive.  Without man, raw materials are just that: raw.  It is the God-given creative talent in man working with the material creation of God that produces finished products and drives economies. 

Melinda Gates does not seem to understand that fact.  Pope Saint John Paul II, however, did understand, writing in Centisimus Annus: “Indeed, besides the earth, man's principal resource is man himself.”

It is a consequentialist, utilitarian, and inhumane viewpoint that reduces man to a mere economic factor rather than recognizing each person as a being of infinite worth in the eyes of his loving Creator, but it is an additional fallacy to conclude that man—that an increase in the number of men and women—is an obstacle to economic growth.  In fact, the reverse is true, as George Gilder, author of Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How it is Revolutionizing our World illustrates, writing:

The central scandal of traditional economics has long been its inability to explain the scale of per capita economic growth over the last several centuries. It is no small thing. The sevenfold rise in world population since 1800 should have attenuated growth per capita. Yet the conventional gauges of per capita income soared some seventeen-fold, meaning a 119-fold absolute increase in output in 212 years. And this is only the beginning of the story.

Basically, Gilder is saying that contrary to the expectation of many “experts”, history shows that population and economies can and do grow together, even dramatically so.

Melinda Gates’ fallacy—let’s call it “Broken Windows 2.0”—that population growth stifle economies, is verifiably false.  To cling to that fallacy is to reject the twenty-one decades of historical data that Gilder references.  The inconvenient truth for population-control advocates is that the amount of wealth in the world and the amount of people in the world is breathtakingly correlative.  Following his very nature, man is creative.

As it turns out, it is not contraception that has proven to be “one of the greatest anti-poverty innovations”—it is conception that has alleviated poverty. But more than simply alleviating poverty, men’s and women’s genius, creativity, and invention has increased the standard of living in almost all the regions of the earth.  It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention.”  This is true, but there is a prior truth: motherhood is the mother of invention.  While it is true that some totalitarian governments have made it almost impossible to increase the standard of living in various countries, there is no doubt that the operating system of free market economies has been population growth.  As Pope Saint John Paul II and the facts illustrate, the lifeblood of economic betterment is life itself.