272. Memorandum From Robert Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson 1

While you’re thinking about foreign aid, here’s a fascinating statistic. A recent study claims that if economic resources in many LDC’s were devoted to retarding population growth rather than accelerating production growth, these resources could be 100 times more effective in raising output per capita! In many of these countries, spending only about one percent of their present overall development outlays on reducing births could be as effective in raising per capita output as the other 99%.

The above figures are just one good economist’s.2 However, even if they’re off somewhat, there’s no doubt of the rapidly declining cost of population control because of new devices. This could have immense significance for areas where we are investing massive amounts of development capital—all of Latin America, India, Pakistan, Turkey (to take just our biggest clients). The process of getting these countries to the stage of self-sustaining growth, and thus reducing the longer term foreign aid burden on us—could be greatly foreshortened.

I’m not propagandizing for a big US push on the still sensitive issue of birth control. Things are already moving in this field at a pretty good pace. But the relevance of figures like the above to the achievement of our foreign aid goals is so striking that you may want to consider ways and means of gradually using our foreign aid more as an incentive to major efforts in this field by the less developed countries themselves. You might want to include this subject in your aid talks with Bill Gaud.

Would you like to hear more about this?

R.W. Komer 3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Robert W. Komer Files, Population Control 1965–March 1966. Secret. Copies were sent to McGeorge Bundy, Bill Moyers, and Douglass Cater. An attached covering memorandum reads: “Mac—Here’s a little flank attack that I think might just penetrate LBJ’s defenses. It’s a hard dollar and cents argument for taking a more serious view of birth control in the LDCs. Any harm in just trying this out on LBJ? It might score, and he did tell Gaud he wanted to talk aid this week. The study mentioned is a paper by Steve Enke, a RAND economist. Didn’t want to overload LBJ but you ought to read it.”
  2. Komer sent the studies to which he is referring to Bill Moyers the next day. They include two papers by RAND economist Stephen Enke, “Economic Programs to Prevent Births” and “Lower Birth Rates—Some Economic Aspects,” as well as summaries of recent polls concerning birth control. (Memorandum from Komer to Moyers, April 28; ibid.)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.