I was struck by the career ambitions of Valeria Panayotova ’06CC, ’09SIPA in your summer cover story “Pomp and Reduced Circumstances.” With an undergrad econ and history degree and a couple of years at SIPA, she wanted to be a “consultant, someone who advised multinational firms on international strategy.”
I, too, have a SIPA degree, as well as 30-some years in international business. I don’t think I’d presume to tell any true multinational what its international strategy should be. It’s likely to know far more about its own overseas business than I ever could.
Apparently the self-esteem movement has migrated to Eastern Europe.
Allen Byrum ’72SIPA
Do your students a favor and help them get over their entitlement mentality.
Says Valeria Panayotova: “Given the quality of the education Columbia students receive and the hard work that we all devote to both studying and searching for jobs, I wish that my classmates and I had more job opportunities so we could have more of a choice.” That doesn’t mean “we all deserve” more job opportunities and more choice.
It’s not all about you, folks. Lots of less educated people work hard and are just as deserving. What you’re experiencing is reality intruding upon your self-congratulatory Columbia world; might even be healthful in the long run.
Len Diamond ’54BUS
Seal Beach, CA
Talking About Overpopulation
The title of David J. Craig’s article “Can We Talk About Overpopulation?” (Summer 2009) gets to the heart of a serious problem: the scarcity of discussion on this topic for the past 20 years. That’s because our market economy has overtaken much of the world, and we believe the world needs more people to buy more stuff, lest the economy collapse.
I am not aware that my perspective has been discussed elsewhere, but it would be satisfying to know if others have come to the same belief. Can we begin to discuss this thesis to test its validity?
Our avoidance of the overpopulation issue needs to stop!
’60SW Albany, CA
I was very interested in your article on overpopulation. The points were all valid but none more so than the graph that showed a growing global population. The UN projection of 9 billion people by 2050 is indeed a cause for alarm.
Jeffrey Allan Berkin ’84LS
What I found most curious about the article on overpopulation is that it doesn’t even consider overpopulation in the West, particularly in the U.S. and Europe. The U.S., which has crossed the 300 million barrier, is now the third most populous country on the planet, after China and India.
France, where I live, now has more than 60 million inhabitants, and the government is still paying couples to have babies. While I begin to feel claustrophobic in the heavily populated areas of France, I am appalled by the masses of humanity I encounter during my visits to the U.S.
Indeed, the population problem is a problem — everywhere.
That said, keep Columbia coming! Wonderful magazine.
Stanley Radhuber ’57GSAS
Here we go again. Jeffrey Sachs’s position on massive overpopulation is no different from that of the doomsdayers of the 1960s and 1970s. Then we were told by the Paul Ehrlichs and Garrett Hardins that the world would run out of food within a decade, that we would be living on top of each other, that China and India could not survive, and that humankind was headed for extinction. Yet today massive starvation scarcely exists outside those regions encountering civil wars and gross social injustice. The problems associated with population growth are due mainly to the inequities of income distribution and political greed and malfeasance, rather than to too many people. (Isn’t it ironic that India in 2009 is among the foremost world leaders in economic development?)
Yet nothing stops the population-control pundits of the Worldwatch Institute, the United Nations Population Fund, Planned Parenthood International, and dozens of similar agencies that perpetually cry wolf as they attempt to protect their own professional and institutional interests. We are better served by Joel Cohen’s and Matthew Connelly’s analyses than by Sachs’s position.
James M. O’Kane ’64SW
O’Kane is professor emeritus of sociology at Drew University.
Joel E. Cohen says he does not know what the word overpopulation means and that he would never use it. However, he wrote in 1996 that if the total fertility rate were 2.17 children, just one-tenth of a child larger than replacement level, population would rise from 5.3 billion in 1990 to 20.8 billion in 2150 and keep growing. According to the UN, the best estimate of the total fertility rate is now about 2.55 children, far in excess of the replacement level of 2.06. Since no one can accurately predict when, if ever, the total fertility rate will decline to replacement level, and since the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the world population will reach 9.539 billion in 2050, and still grow in excess of one-half of 1 percent per year, I know what overpopulation means. I know that the Earth will never support a population of 20.8 billion for any length of time and that humanity will be destroyed.
Jason G. Brent ’57BUS, ’60 LAW
Las Vegas, Nevada
“Can We Talk About Overpopulation?” is loaded with false assumptions about poor people around the world. Among the most ridiculous is that reducing poor populations will reduce global warming.
As reported by CNN, “the average American’s annual carbon footprint — 20.4 tons — is around 2000 times that of someone living in the African nation of Chad. Overall, the United Nations estimates that the carbon footprint of the world’s 1 billion poorest people (those living on less than $1 a day) represents just 3 percent of the global total.” Even the most brutal of eugenics programs applied to the poor would do almost nothing to halt global warming.
The cynical idea that population control can be sold to the public by exploiting public concerns about global warming is appalling. And resurrecting population control, which oh so conveniently is to be applied to the poor but not the rich, is no solution at all.
Here’s an immodest proposal: How about a carbon tax high enough to actually reduce the wealth of the globe’s top 7 percent? Perhaps it could be shifted to the world’s 3 billion people who live in extreme poverty, allowing for the development of the conditions that naturally reduce birthrates.
I hope that Columbia University, in the quest for solutions to climate change, is looking for better solutions than population control.
B. Jess Clarke
’78CC Oakland, CA
Clarke is the editor of Race, Poverty & the Environment.
The article on overpopulation was well researched and informative. One can be concerned about population and also be a champion of women’s access to reproductive health services. I think that is what Jeffrey Sachs is saying. I see no conflict. There are between 75 and 80 million more people in the world every year, with well over 90 percent of the growth occurring in the poorest countries. There also is an enormous unmet demand for family planning in the world today. The 40 million abortions that take place every year, half of which are illegal and unsafe, offer proof that trained health workers and family planning resources are in short supply. I believe that the underlying reason for this is gender inequality.
According to the latest State of World Population report by the UN Population Fund, Africa has a population of 987 million, likely to rise to 1.997 billion by 2050, with a total fertility rate of 4.6 children per woman. Africans, the planet, and peace will suffer. Women in Africa have low status, and their education, health, and human rights are low priorities. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals give a good framework for radical change. They state that an unmet need for family planning will undermine the achievement of several other goals. (See un.org/millenniumgoals/.)
Columbia University, particularly its Mailman School of Public Health and its Averting Maternal Death and Disability program (AMDD) under the direction of Lynn Freedman, who is quoted in the article, are leaders in the global fight for women’s health.
Roberts is cofounder of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund.
The population growth debate has done a great disservice to the residents of less developed countries because of its focus on aggregate macrostatistics, particularly per capita GDP and its requisite underlying arrogant and paternalistic assumption that families in developing areas can’t and don’t make rational family-planning decisions. The gold standard for assessing the impact of population growth should be at the microlevel of the individuals involved. At the macrolevel, it may appear that people have become poorer if only per capita economic statistics are considered. When viewed from a microlevel, and because of the mechanism of shared family resources, this is by no means the case.
Frequently, the marginal cost of an additional child over time is less than the marginal income generated by the child, since certain costs such as housing, transportation, and fuel do not rise proportionally with family size. Thus in a family with more members, per capita income may be declining, but family income will rise and families will garner an income surplus that can be available for increased consumption, or can be invested in assets that will increase the future productivity of the family (and the country as a whole). Under this scenario, all members of the family are better off, and assuming analogous behavior by all families, so is the entire population within the country.
Essentially, everyone enjoys a higher standard of living through the mechanism of shared family resources, even though per capita GDP has decreased. To assume otherwise requires a belief that the poor have somehow been endowed with inferior rational faculties. Quite to the contrary, real life near the edge of survival demands and results in more precise decision making than that required under more affluent conditions.
Dan Thomas (parent ’06CC)
David J. Craig responds:
While it is true that GDP is not a perfect measure of living standards, there is wide agreement among economists today that high fertility rates in developing countries are, on average, related inversely to family income levels as well as to children’s access to education and modern health care.
The article on overpopulation erroneously claims that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) helped China launch its population policy. On the contrary, China conceived, started, and manages its policy. UNFPA has long argued against the one-child policy as conflicting with the right of free choice in the matter of family size.
UNFPA supports projects and dialogue in China as part of an internationally mandated long-term effort to demonstrate the advantages of, and promote, the voluntary approach to family planning.
Safiye Çagar ’78GSAS
New York, NY
Çagar is the director of the Information and External Relations Division of the UNFPA.
It is disturbing that Columbia dedicates so much ink to an offensive view of the significant challenge that women around the world face.
David J. Craig examines the competing approaches among global family-planning advocates — human rights vs. population stabilization — without ever acknowledging that, at heart, the discussion is about real women. Our goal should be to promote women’s health, their ability to participate in society, and the ability of families to lift themselves out of poverty. Other than a passing reference to people making decisions to limit their family size when they were educated rather than bribed, Craig seems to fall into old habits of assuming that family planning programs happen to women. Moreover, both Craig and one of his sources, Columbia historian Matthew Connelly, accept the claims of the American social conservatives, whose goals are to hamper all efforts by individuals to plan their families.
While Connelly decries the political ideology that led to the defunding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the stagnation of family planning programs, he fans the flames by claiming that UNFPA and the International Planned Parenthood Federation helped design China’s repressive birth-limitation policy. (IPPF is a separate legal entity from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, although Craig’s article does not make that distinction.) Such charges ignore facts and perpetuate myths that continue to hamper the efforts of UNFPA and IPPF to implement voluntary family-planning programs in China and encourage the Chinese government to abandon coercion, which we all agree is a violation of human rights.
To set the record straight, UNFPA began work in China in 1980, after the Chinese government had developed its population policy at the highest levels. UNFPA advised against the birth limitation policy and strongly condemned the first reports of massive coercion in China’s population program in 1983.
The International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994 specifically condemned coercion and advocated a needs-based, human rights–based approach to all population, family planning, and reproductive health programming. This reinforced the international standards that UNFPA used when mandating this approach.
Likewise, for the past 28 years IPPF has worked consistently through its national affiliate to promote a human rights approach to family planning and sexual and reproductive health programs.
Both UNFPA and IPPF have been in constant dialogue with the Chinese government to encourage the adoption of noncoercive policies based on individual rights, believing it is more effective to foster change from within.
Women want to control their lives and improve their communities. One of the key means to achieving this goal is to ensure that women have access to family planning. There is much we can do in the West to be part of the solution, but only if our assistance is provided with the understanding that the beneficiaries know better than we do what those solutions are.
New York, NY
Siddharth is the vice president of the International Division, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Columbia historian Matthew Connelly, author of Fatal Misconception, the article’s source of information about UNFPA’s support for China’s one-child policy, responds:
UNFPA and IPPF have long denied helping China implement the one-child policy, but these denials are no longer credible. Archival research reveals that Planned Parenthood Federation of America itself sent a delegation to China in 1977 and reported that the government was already using “draconian measures,” such as pressuring women to undergo abortions and denying their children education and food rations. In 1979, a UNFPA official confirmed that decisions about who could become pregnant in China were made collectively. The UNFPA nevertheless invited China to develop a joint family-planning project that same year.
The one-child policy was announced in September 1980, the same month UNFPA awarded China a grant of $50 million. The grant was used to train 70,000 government staff, according to an investigation by the U.S. Agency for International Development. IPPF, for its part, helped current and former government officials to create the Chinese Family Planning Association in 1981 and stepped up support in 1983. That year, government staff and 10 million “volunteers” used bribes, fines, and outright compulsion to sterilize some 20 million people. The UNFPA not only failed to condemn the one-child policy, the organization honored its leader, Xinzhong Qian, with its Population Award in 1984.
When the IPPF and UNFPA acknowledge that their early support for the one-child policy was a tragic mistake, they can finally put to rest the unfair accusation that they still support coercive population control.
In David J. Craig’s generally accurate and informative article there is a sidebar on the controversial question of how much family planning programs have contributed to fertility decline in developing countries. His point of departure is Columbia history professor Matthew Connelly’s assertion, in his book Fatal Misconception, that they have contributed very little. I am then quoted as saying that such programs are responsible for “about 50 percent” of the decline. The magazine then contacted Professor T. Paul Schultz at Yale to ask his opinion, and the answer was about 20 percent.
Had Columbia contacted instead John Bongaarts, distinguished scholar at the Population Council and the acknowledged guru on this particular issue, one would have learned that Bongaarts has published estimates ranging from 40 to 47 percent. Bongaarts’s work was the source of my challenge to Connelly, in which I used the phrase “nearly 50 percent,” an estimate by which I stand and which I think is a good deal closer to the mark than Schultz’s 20 percent, which is also significantly higher than the largely discredited estimate of Lant Pritchett that Connelly uses.
This is not just nitpicking. Whether and how much to invest in family planning programs is an important public policy issue that lies at the heart of the question the article raises about the policy and program implications of renewed concern about high population rates, particularly in Africa. Jeff Sachs has it right.
David J. Craig justly condemns the horror of forced sterilizations. But in the same breath, his sources summarily dismiss programs that paid women to control births, calling them bribes. Positive rewards are used in all areas of life, and are the opposite of punishments. In conjunction with broader services, such as education and health care, rewards to individual women who use birth control tools, such as intrauterine devices or Norplant implants, could still be a very rapid and cost-effective approach to stemming the world’s single most critical problem.
Moshe Ross ’78OT
“We have met the enemy and he is us,” said Pogo four decades ago. The greatest threat is from within, and I wonder what Michael Leiter and the National Counterterrorism Center are doing about it (“The Secret Sharer,” Summer 2009). That threat comes from U.S. personnel behaving in a manner that abuses civil liberties in such an extreme manner that local populations in friendly Western countries are being alienated and terrorism is being encouraged.
I cannot agree with Brigitte Nacos that Michael Leiter “knows the problems . . . knows what has to be done.” The more sophisticated the intelligence-gathering technology, the more easily it is abused.
Gary D. Chance ’69GS, ’73BUS
Alan R. Earls’s “Radio Active” (College Walk, Summer 2009), about Columbia’s barely surviving ham radio station, W2AEE, reminds me of its once-historic role.
In 1957 I was involved, not with the ham station but with WKCR. When Sputnik 1 was launched, we lugged a 30-pound Ampex tape recorder over to W2AEE and recorded Sputnik’s beep. As a result, WKCR became the first radio station in North America to rebroadcast the sound of the Soviet satellite.
The next morning the FBI came and seized the tape.
Thomas Wm. Hamilton
’60CC Staten Island, NY
I see that the amateur radio club is “nearly dormant, with a broken antenna.” I assume the antenna is the one we installed during my tenure as president of the club, in about 1975.
To bolt the antenna in place, I had to hang from the top of the tower with a safety belt. The view was spectacular, so I took a picture and sent it to QST Magazine (official publication of the American Radio Relay League) in March 1976.
At the time we still had a running competition with Harvard. We organized an on-the-air chess match, with numerous boards, the moves being relayed board by board from W2AEE to the Harvard amateur radio station. All the chess players were arrayed up at the top of the engineering building, sitting around the ham station, while members of the club went back and forth collecting and relaying the moves. I sat at the microphone and called the moves back and forth.
We had a “secret weapon.” Our board number 1 had a grandmaster or near–grandmaster-ranked player. We beat Harvard hands down in the competition that day.
I understand President William McGill went on to get his ham license with the assistance of the club.
Unfortunately, convenience has overtaken everything we do in society today, with plug-and-play Internet communications replacing the warm glow and hum of vacuum tubes, the hiss and pop of static, and the faint sounds of Morse code or a single-sideband voice coming over the shortwaves from remote corners of the globe. Isn’t it interesting, and sad, that it also isn’t exciting and amazing anymore?
Alexander Robert Spitzer ’76SEAS
West Bloomfield, MI
Wow! My hero. The very best teacher in my life, C. Wright Mills (“Free Radical,” by David Brown, Reviews Summer 2009). I was an 18-year-old provincial from the Bronx in my junior year, and Mills was the instructor of my contemporary civilization class in 1954, Man in Contemporary Society. What struck me, and has stuck with me, was his casual yet intense countenance and attire. He would slouch in his chair in front of the class, squint, and say such things as, “If you drove every tank, truck, gun, airplane off the end of a long pier, it would be the best disposition of them for society.”
Again, wow! Nobody in my life in any role requiring respect had ever expressed so radical an opinion. Is there a more eloquent way to describe waste, futility, and insanity on the cosmic scale?
Philip Lelle ’56CC
Front Royal, VA
The number of letters you publish that reject political correctness is heartening. Disheartening was the news article in your summer issue celebrating the selection of Kofi Annan as one of three new Global Fellows.
Are we supposed to be seduced by Annan’s designation as a “prominent world leader” with a “significant role” in conflict resolution? Under Annan’s leadership, UN peacekeepers in Africa were found guilty of mass rapes and corruption coupled with little effectiveness in protecting refugees from genocide, ethnic cleansing, dictatorships, or drugged child soldiers. Annan failed to quell the violence in Rwanda and Darfur. His diplomatic initiatives and skills had little to show except for the fact that demands for talks delayed action and provided cover for ongoing violations of human rights.
Then there is the oil-for-food scandal. Saddam Hussein stole tens of billions of dollars through illegal oil sales and kickbacks. UN staffers exhibited global greed while undermining sanctions and sabotaging the very resolutions they passed but never enforced. Perceptions of nepotism and conflict of interest persisted when Annan’s son Kojo promoted a lucrative business career of questionable legality. To this day, Annan’s praise for oil-for-food is posted on the UN Web site (www.un.org/Depts/oip/)!
Columbia used to cultivate scholarship, academic excellence, inquiry, dialogue, and the search for truth that contributed to our civilization and to all mankind. Annan does not represent these ideals.
Dana Willens ’66GSAS
Green Valley, AZ
Lenny B. Good
We enjoyed reading Michael B. Shavelson’s review of Leonard Bernstein, American Original (“He Gets Carried Away,” Summer 2009). Like music lovers everywhere, we were awed by Bernstein’s genius and creativity. Although the Festschrift focuses on his unique contribution to the New York Philharmonic and the Broadway theater, mention is also made (too briefly) of his love for the Israel Philharmonic. Bernstein expressed his devotion to Israel by his tireless efforts to contribute to the enrichment of the new nation’s cultural and aesthetic growth. He visited there frequently, as far back as the War of Independence in 1948, when he conducted the orchestra for the troops. In July 1967, shortly after the victory in the Six Day War, we made a trip to Israel and attended his concert on Mount Scopus to celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem and the liberation of the Temple Mount after 19 years of occupation. It was one of the most memorable days in our lives.
Gloria Donen Sosin ’49GSAS Gene Sosin ’41CC, ’58GSAS
White Plains, NY
I’ve noted an improvement in Columbia magazine in the past few issues.
The article about women in the Army really made an impact on me, and I was glad to see that it provoked a wide range of reactions. I also liked the articles in the summer issue about counterterrorism, job searches, and overpopulation. Big, chunky issues that a Columbia mind can bite into. Good!
The way the news on alumni is handled highlights what we really want to know, which are the big achievements.
I like the changes. Please keep at it.
Christopher Wells ’82CC
São Paulo, Brazil
Accentuating the Negative
Like many Columbia alumni, I have a degree from another university, too, so I read several alumni magazines. What a stark comparison between Columbia’s and, for example, that of a certain Ivy League peer in southern New Jersey.
Columbia’s recent issue has on the cover a new graduate with the title, “Has She Found a Job Yet?” The other school’s cover shows a 71-year-old alum charging around the campus on a scooter, wearing a big smile and a school jacket for the annual class reunion. Columbia has a story on the dangers of overpopulation and the other has one about how Teach For America is changing lives for the better.
Not only does a negative tone permeate almost every issue of Columbia, but your magazine devotes too much attention to denigrating our armed forces. Columbia’s issue is replete with comments on an earlier story about mistreatment of women in the U.S. military. The other school celebrates military personnel with a photo of their recent ROTC grads. In fact, there was a picture in the other magazine of General David Petraeus, their alum, who was invited to speak to the graduating class. When was the last time Columbia treated our military with such respect? Any chance an Eisenhower would be invited to run Morningside Heights today? Would he even be allowed to speak on campus these days? Don’t be silly: my alma mater invited Iran’s Ahmadinejad to speak to the students.
Whenever I pick up Columbia magazine, I wonder how the writers and editors will cross the line between reasonable skepticism of authority and outright hostility to America. There is a difference between a healthy challenging of our government and reflexive antagonism to our country; between measured admiration for the sacrifice endured by our military and routine disdain for soldiers; between an upbeat view of the world and the negativity of your publication. Too often, Columbia and its magazine are on the sour side of that fine line.
Guess which magazine I prefer to read? Guess whether this will carry over to my response to Columbia’s endless solicitations for donations?
Marshal Greenblatt ’61CC, ’62SEAS
Point of Order
In commenting on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to herself as the first woman to receive tenure at Columbia (in the New York Times Magazine, July 9, 2009). No doubt she meant Columbia Law School, not Columbia University as a whole. Much earlier, the anthropologist Ruth Benedict was tenured in anthropology and Marjorie Hope Nicolson in English. Indeed, Nicolson was chair of the English department in the days of Mark Van Doren and Lionel Trilling, and had less trouble than Trilling in getting tenure.
I trust Justice Ginsburg is more careful with the facts in legal matters.
Wm. Theodore de Bary ’41CC, ’53GSAS, ’94HON
New York, NY
de Bary is the John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University and Provost Emeritus of Columbia University.
Still in the Trenches
I was fascinated by the howls of outrage from (mostly) elderly militarists in response to Helen Benedict’s timely and revealing article on the abuse of female soldiers in Iraq by their male colleagues (“Betrayal in the Field,” Spring 2009). Whether females should be in combat or not is arguable, but since they are in combat, failure to protect them from such abuse is a failure of leadership from the commander in chief down to the lowliest squad leader. A force that tortures, abuses civilians, and endangers its own sisters-in-arms is not an army. It is a rabble.
Charles Alverson ’64JRN
Alverson served with the 11th and 82nd Airborne Divisions of the Army.
I found “Betrayal in the Field” to be incredibly moving and disturbing. Sadly, the letters responding to it were, in many ways, more disturbing. A number of them respond to the abuse so vividly and poignantly described by blaming the victims of these assaults. The women whose experiences were recounted in the article were soldiers who enlisted in the military to serve their country. Yet letters question their suitability for military careers and their naïveté. As with rape victims in civilian life, they are blamed for being in the wrong place and, in a sense, bringing it on themselves. The men who commit these assaults are held somehow blameless — with several of your correspondents asking “what can you expect” of men in the military. Well, to me, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for women soldiers to expect that their male comrades won’t harass or assault them.
Another letter writer suggested that it’s unreasonable to expect soldiers to behave better than fraternity members. From my perspective, that statement is much more antimilitary than publishing an account of the experiences of women soldiers betrayed by the men alongside of whom they face the hell of war. If soldiers are to be held to no more than the same standards as college fraternity brothers, then the military is in deep trouble.
Congratulations on publishing an important article that should serve as a prod to those in the military who are unconcerned that women soldiers have reason to fear their comrades as much as the enemy.
Fred Newdom ’67SW
I was stunned by some of the responses to the article “Betrayal in the Field.” Those who say that women should not be allowed to serve in the military might have said the same thing about blacks in the military in the 1940s. To brush aside the situation and ask the magazine to write about the good things happening in Iraq as a result of our military efforts over there is to evade the issues that have surfaced during this war. Usually the answer lies in the hands of those in charge. If they’ll brook no insults, innuendos, assaults, and lack of respect toward women (or gays) under their command, they’ll get the results we need: better teamwork.
It must begin at the top, with seriousness and not just words, then communicated by word and deed through the chain of command. Anybody who puts his or her life on the line, in the lines or behind them, deserves what we all want: respect.
Duane “Dink” Barnes ’51CC
I found both Helen Benedict’s “Betrayal in the Field” and almost all of the letters responding to it written from a very narrow scope, whether in support of Benedict or arguing the opposite view that women have no business in combat.
The shining exception to this was the long and very well-balanced letter from Stephanie Gutmann ’90JRN, who looked at both sides of the issue and gave some insights that seem to answer many of the issues that both Helen Benedict and her supporters and detractors raised.
Peter P. McCann ’65CC
University Park, FL