China reconsidering one-child policy?
Oh, the perils of social engineering in a world ruled by the Law of Unintended Consequences! American mush-heads like Tom Friedman of the New York Times may openly pine for an American government that could act as swiftly and arbitrarily as China's (to build high speed rail, shiny new airports, all the result of far-sighted leaders providing the people what they need, unencumbered by property or democratic rights), but the folly of such power is demonstrated by the sorry reality facing China as the result of its heavy-handed meddling in human reproduction.
The Wall Street Journal (link may expire) reports on the rising pressures for modification of the one child policy. Lauri Burkett writes from Beijing:
China's top national statistician on Friday called for changing the country's one-child policy because of the nation's shrinking pool of workers, adding to a chorus of opponents who say the policy will have long-lasting effects on the country's economic stability.
The absolute size of the working population, aged 15 to 59, fell by 3.45 million people to 937 million last year, Ma Jiantang, head of China's National Bureau of Statistics, said in a news briefing Friday.
As China's working-age population shrinks, Beijing has been sending mixed signals about its plans for the one-child policy.
"You ask if I am concerned about labor-force decline? Yes, I don't want to deny it," Mr. Ma said, adding that leaders should come up with "a more proper, scientific policy."
Mr. Ma, a senior official himself, couches his argument in terms of wise leaders using "scientific principles," and is unconcerned about the human cost of forced late term abortions or the issue of personal liberty when it comes to the most basic decisions in life. There has also been a blowback:
But on Tuesday the head of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission dismissed speculation that the one-child policy would be scrapped in the near future. Minister Wang Xia said in a commission meeting that maintaining a low birth rate will be a top priority.
The policy has considerable support in some quarters of China's bureaucracy. In a November public letter signed by more than 30 academics criticizing the one-child policy, Peking University professor Liang Jianzhang said one obstacle is that the government would need to find new employers for hundreds of thousands of workers at the family-planning commission. (emphasis added)
Imagine that: the convenience of bureaucrats matters as much or more than the welfare of the people or the consequences for the nation. That is the inevitable outcome of arbitrary power, of course.
Among the other problems mentioned in the WSJ article is the effect on the personalities of all the "princelings" (The Chinese popular expression describing the only children, who tend to be over-indulged). Researchers in Australia recently released a study suggesting the modal personality of the next generation is becoming somewhat problematic. Bloomberg reports:
China's one-child policy has produced adults that tend to have personality traits unsuited for starting businesses or managing companies, according to a study that adds to economic concerns surrounding the rule.
Using surveys of 421 men and women in Beijing and testing their skills in economic games, researchers in Australia found those born after the 1979 policy were more pessimistic, nervous, less conscientious, less competitive and more risk averse. They also found them to be 23 percent less prone to choose an occupation that entails business risk, such as becoming a stockbroker, entrepreneur or private firm manager.
The study, published yesterday in the journal Science, adds a new twist to evidence suggesting that China's policy to limitpopulation growth is harming its economy. Research has already tied the rule to worker shortages. Risk aversion may negatively affect the economy if it leads to fewer people starting businesses in their communities, said study author Lisa Cameron.
Since the overriding goal (after self-preservation) of the Chinese leadership is restoration of China to its former historic status as the richest, most powerful and feared nation in the world, such personality traits may be seen as troubling by the Beijing elites.
As noted by David Paulin, the WSJ makes no mention of the serious implications of sex selection abortions, which are very common in China. Many families prefer a male child to carry on the family name and escape the obligation to provide a dowry. As a result, China now has approximately 40 million more males than females, meaning 40 million horny bachelors, a ready supply of cannon fodder for the military, but also a source of potential unrest. I wrote about this nine years ago in an article titled "Forty Million Frustrated Bachelors"
By the year 2020, there will be thirty to forty million young adult males unable to find women to marry in China.
Anyone who has ever dealt with numbers of horny young adult males understands the gravity of this problem. A permanently frustrated and angry mass of young men is a potential source of revolutionary street mobs, or, alternatively, of testosterone-powered soldiers. China's leadership, ever anxious to cling to power, is all but certain to choose the latter option.
Then there is the personal heartbreak of parents forced to kill their second child in utero. But in China and in many elite circles, such emotional factors among the little people count for very little.
In the blink of an eye, the world has reversed course in terms of its population "crisis." A failure to reproduce is hobbling advanced and advancing nations. Civilization cannot endure if the population falls by 50% each generation, which is the logical outcome of one child per family, not to emntion the popularity of voluntary childlessness for various reasons, not least of which is a focus on self-indulgence.
Hat tip: David Paulin