I was trained in the social sciences, and grew up in a progressive milieu. It had been an article of faith with me, and still is for most around me, that run away population growth is at the core of Pakistan’s developmental problems. Today I believe that the so called, ‘population problem’ is probably one of the most reactionary and dangerous formulations in the development lexicon.The original formulation of the population problem, draws its intellectual capital from the thinking of a late 18th century British priest, Thomas Malthus. He postulated that the population grows at a geometric rate (eg, in multiples of 2, ie, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32…) while resources, especially food supply increases at an arithmetic rate (eg, increments of 1, ie, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…). His conclusion was that population was bound to outstrip resources in the long run, and ‘war, vice and misery’ were to follow inevitably. Of course being a conservative Christian Malthus could not countenance birth control. His solution instead, was to exercise moral restraint in order to keep the family sizes small.If the only thing that the poor and the weak have to offer in the contemporary capitalist marketplace is their labour — would it not make sense for them to maximise that asset?Malthusianism is the name given to the ideological position that population growth is the main driver of under-development, and strict population control is the solution. Malthusianism is deemed to be a reactionary idea within progressive development thought. Paradoxically, however, this is where progressive development thought seemingly converges with the right wing thinking in many parts of the world. Any suggestion of birth control, contraception or population control are anathema to the religious right in Pakistan, just as it is in the rest of the world. How is it that progressives in academia, agree with the religious right on the population question?The answer is that they do not. The right wing’s opposition to population control is predicated upon deeply held sexist and almost misogynistic values, whereby women’s place is in the home; birth control is a dangerous step towards women’s liberation from the controls of perpetual pregnancies, and care-giving responsibilities; and that it is proper that more and more faithful be brought into this world, because providing for them is not a human, but a divine promise and a responsibility.The progressive perspective could not be further away from the above. We want to recast the problematic of population growth in terms of global and social justice and the question of women’s control over their bodies and reproductive behaviour. Population growth agenda is one of the more insidious ways of drawing attention away from the criminally irresponsible overconsumption and resource use patters of the West and the affluent Southern elites. It instead seeks to stigmatise the reproductive behaviours and compulsions of the poorest and the weakest of the world. The fact that 17 percent of the world use 80 percent of the world’s resources is irrelevant in the Malthusian view.If the only thing that the poor and the weak have to offer in the contemporary capitalist marketplace is their labour, would it not make sense for them to maximise that asset? Besides in most rural societies children start making a net positive contribution to a house hold’s income stream as early as at the age of 7 or 8 by taking care of animals, performing household chores, and doing light labour. This is unlike rich kids, who can practically remain on their parents’ payroll up to their 20, 30s and at times their entire lives. Secondly, and more importantly, women bear the entire physical strain of child bearing and almost all of the labour of child rearing and nurturing. And the upshot of it is that they often don’t even have a say in issues that most intimately concern their bodies and their labour. To my mind the issue is not whether people are having more or less children. To me the question is whether women are empowered enough to decide whether they want to get pregnant or not, or how many times. Their men or the society has no business forcing them into any reproductive behaviour in the name of religion, piety, honour, family legacy, economic efficiency, or ecological responsibility.If one were to concede the progressive agenda, then birth control becomes a question of providing choices to men and women. Women and men should be educated about birth control choices, and allowed the means to exercise those choices. The focus should be on maternal and child health, instead of coercion for sterilisation through moral or physical pressure.Collectively the focus needs to be on redistributive justice instead of blaming the reproductive behaviour of the poor for poverty, and the victims of capitalism for the environmental destructiveness of capitalism. Is there a population problem in the world? Yes! There are too many rich people consuming too much. The writer is a reader in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. His research includes water resources, hazards and development geography. He also publishes and teaches critical geographies of violence and terror Published in Daily Times, July 13th , 2017.