739. Harrod to Joan Robinson , 18 January 1938 [a]

[Replies to 738 , answered by 740 ]

Christ Church, Oxford #

18 January 1938

My dear Joan

I am not sure what is the point about which you think that your philosophy of life may differ from mine.

Where do you differ in this series?

1. If the size of the family here does not change, we shall soon be losing 1/4 of the population per generation.

2. There is every sign that without counter-measures, the size will continue to shrink, so that the decline will be considerably more rapid.

3. (a) I have a sense of duty to posterity. The prospect of thousands (millions?) of years of human survival in conditions better than any known before gives point to present endeavour and sacrifice.

(b) There are our ancestors [b] . They have gone through far worse things than we are called upon to in order to leave us the legacy we have.

4. I have some (not excessive) British patriotism which makes me unwilling to leave it to other races to do the surviving. Yet unless we reverse the present trend very quickly here, we are handing the <ball> to other races!

5. If we do not take rational measures now to encourage population, later when the menace of extinction is manifest to all, much more violent and unpleasant courses will be adopted, based on strong passions and involving an outcrop of superstition, persecution etc. I dont think Nature will give up the game. Natural Selection will select for survival those races which are capable of establishing a state of mind more favorable to reproduction. And I shudder to think what that state of mind will be. I want to act now in order to avoid far worse things later. It is not lack of regard for unfortunate mothers now, but a sense of proportion between their claims and the claims of the future, I suggest, which actuates me.

The only case for abortion seems to me to be [c] when health is gravely endangered. I dont think abortion should be allowed to suit economic or social convenience. The remedy there is for state nurseries etc. to take over the responsibility for unwanted children. You may say that that is not very nice for those children. It isnt. But, again, I say, have a sense of proportion. Even the most coddled children often have a hellish time for psychological reasons. And it is wonderful what the child can go through and yet develope into a happy & worth-while person. Look at our ancestors again.

The French reproductive rate [1] has for a long time been higher than ours. The decline there will not be so rapid.



  1. 1. Reference is to the "net reproduction rate", a measure of population trend devised by Robert Kuczynski: see note 7 to press item 12 .
    1. a. ALS, four pages on two leaves, in JVR vii/191/20-23.

      b. Ms: «ancesters».

      c. Ms: «to me to when».

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