Thank Deng Xiaoping for Little Girls

The tyrannical roots of China's international adoption program

In June 2004 at a hotel in Changsha, a caretaker from the Hengshan County Children’s Welfare Institute handed my wife and me a 17-month-old girl the orphanage had named She Mei Chun. We stayed in China for another week or so after that, filling out forms, going to appointments, and getting to know our new daughter. In case of trouble while we traipsed around Changsha and Guangzhou, we had a note in Chinese, supplied by the U.S. adoption agency that had brought us and 18 other couples to China, informing suspicious bystanders that we were adopting Mei, not kidnapping her. It wasn’t necessary. China sends thousands of baby girls abroad every year, and people in the places we visited were accustomed to seeing Americans and other foreigners walking around with children to whom they clearly are not biologically related.

Which is not to say that we and our fellow travelers attracted no attention. Wherever we went—on the street, at the department store, in souvenir shops and restaurants—people would gather around, oohing and ahing, poking and patting, and yanking down the girls’ sleeves and pant legs. (It seems to be conventional wisdom in China that a baby cannot be covered up too much, even during a sweltering summer.) I could not understand what these bystanders were saying, but the gist of it was clear: What adorable little girls!

This reaction surprised me, and not just because stran­gers in China are, by American standards, overly familiar with other people’s children. The reason we had come to China, I had assumed, was that these girls were not wanted there. The combination of a traditional preference for boys with the Chinese government’s limits on family size had led to the widespread abandonment of baby girls, and the fact that the government had resorted to shipping many of them overseas suggested that homes could not be found for them in their native country. Judging from the continued export of girls, they were not nearly as popular in China as they were in other countries, where parents were eager to pay substantial sums of money and go through an arduous bureaucratic process for the privilege of raising them. The bystanders’ delighted reaction to Mei and the other girls from her orphanage seemed to contradict this assumption.

As I gradually realized, the truth about Chinese adoption is more complicated than the conventional story about Westerners who magnanimously take in China’s unwanted girls. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say these girls are “unwanted” only because the Chinese government has made them so. Although the government’s oppressive, family-destroying policies have had the incidental benefit of bringing joy to the lives of adoptive parents in the U.S. and elsewhere, it will be a great victory for liberty when such heartwarming stories stop appearing on newsstands and bookshelves. These adoptions would not be occurring if the Chinese government did not try to dictate the most basic and intimate of life’s decisions.

Finding the Foundlings
In 2006 about 6,500 Chinese girls were adopted by Americans. Roughly the same number were adopted by people in other Western countries, including Canada, Spain, Germany, France, and the U.K. But these 13,000 girls were just a fraction of China’s abandoned children, the vast majority of whom are female. The Chinese government has estimated there are 160,000 orphans in China at any given time; in her 2000 adoption memoir The Lost Daughters of China, California journalist Karin Evans notes that human rights activists say the number of orphans “is undoubtedly far higher—perhaps ten times the official count, or more.” Between a government that is not known for its openness and outside observers who are forced to guesstimate (and who may have their own reasons for exaggerating), the relevant figures are maddeningly hard to pin down.

In her 2004 book Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son, Kay Ann Johnson, a professor of Asian studies and politics at Hampshire College, reports that conditions in Chinese orphanages have improved since the early 1990s, when the mortality rate at an institution she studied in Hubei province approached 50 percent. The “model” orphanages from which Westerners adopt children presumably are better staffed and equipped than the orphanages that house children deemed unadoptable. Even among the institutions specializing in overseas adoptions, some seem better than others. On our trip, about half of the girls came from the Hunan orphanage where Mei was raised, and almost all of the rest came from an orphanage in Guangdong province. The girls from Hunan were noticeably healthier than the girls from Guangdong, many of whom seemed to have respiratory infections.

The Hunan orphanage encouraged visits, and my wife, Michele, went there along with several other parents. She found it to be clean though spartan, and better staffed than she had imagined, with two caretakers per room, each of which contained eight single-occupancy cribs. More important, the caretakers, who cried upon relinquishing their charges at the hotel in Changsha, clearly were very attached to the girls, and vice versa. (Further testimony to the strength of this relationship: Mei, who evidently did not understand the note that said we were not kidnapping her, screamed for hours before I was able to distract her with toys, and she refused to let Michele hold her until after we returned to the U.S.) The Guangdong orphanage, by contrast, did not allow visits, which probably is not a good sign.

In any case, the orphanages Westerners know about are a fraction of the total, and many abandoned girls do not end up in orphanages. Even by the Chinese government’s account, something like a dozen orphaned or abandoned girls are left behind for each one adopted internationally. What happens to them?

Contrary to the impression that abandoned Chinese girls are unwanted, many of them are adopted domestically. Johnson notes that adoption—of girls as well as boys—is firmly rooted in Chinese tradition. Indeed, historically it was more accepted in China than it was until recently in the U.S. Johnson reports that the Chinese government registered more than 56,000 domestic adoptions in 2000, about 11,000 from state-run orphanages, the rest “foundlings adopted [directly] from society.” She believes informal adoptions dwarf the official numbers, perhaps totaling half a million or more each year in the late 1980s, when registered adoptions ranged between 10,000 and 15,000 annually.

These informally adopted children, overwhelmingly girls, never make it to orphanages and are instead raised by kindly strangers or by friends, neighbors, acquaintances, or relatives of their parents without the government’s blessing. Because such adoptions are not officially recognized, the children are not eligible for a hukou, the residence permit that allows access to school and other benefits. In addition to the hardships associated with lack of a hukou and the expense of raising another child, couples who adopt informally risk penalties for skirting limits on family size. But they take the girls in anyway.

‘Daughters Are Also Descendants’
Surprisingly, until 1999 Chinese couples who wanted to adopt faced the same family size restrictions as couples who wanted to reproduce. Those restrictions, known loosely as the “one-child” policy, were first imposed in 1979 by Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and are still in force. Deng was convinced that curbing population growth was a precondition for prosperity, although demographers generally find that the relationship runs in the opposite direction, with people choosing to have fewer children as they become more affluent.

From the beginning, there were exceptions to the one-child rule. For example, members of 55 officially recognized non–Han Chinese minorities, who together represent about 8 percent of the population, have always been allowed two children per family. The limits tend to be tighter in cities than in rural areas, where some 75 percent of the population lives. Beginning in the mid-1980s, most provinces adopted a “one-son/two-child” policy, which allows a couple whose first child is a daughter to try again for a son. In addition to the variation in official rules, there is wide variation in enforcement, both over time and from one locale to another. In some places and times, Johnson reports, unauthorized pregnancies prompt crushing fines, mandatory sterilization, and forced late-term abortions. In others, local officials may look the other way or back down in response to the pleading of parents or the anger of their neighbors.

This sort of give and take was apparent in May, when a population control crackdown in the Guangxi autonomous region provoked rioting in which “as many as 3,000 people stormed government offices, overturned vehicles, burned documents, and confronted officials,” according to a New York Times report. Residents were angry about fines and compulsory abortions aimed at enforcing family size limits that evidently had been ignored for years. A local official, even while blaming the unrest on “backward ideas about birth control and the rule of law,” conceded that “it’s also possible that problems exist in the government’s birth control work.” Another local official told Reuters the government’s response to over-quota pregnancies and births, which included destroying the homes of parents who failed to pay heavy fines within three days, “got out of hand”; he promised “the methods will be adjusted.”

You might assume, as I did, that the government would waive family size limits for couples volunteering to raise children who would otherwise become (or remain) wards of the state. But officials worried that making adoption easier would indirectly encourage more births by allowing parents who had hit the legal limit on children to give a girl up (or pretend to do so) and try again for a boy. So until China’s adoption law was changed in 1999, adoptive parents had to be over 35 and childless (except for parents willing to adopt disabled children). Even now, adoptive parents have to be over 30, and couples who already have children can adopt only from orphanages, where just a small minority of the country’s foundlings end up. In the U.S., by contrast, there are no uniform restrictions on parents’ ages or the number of children they may adopt. The rules vary from state to state and depend on whether the adoption is carried out privately or through a state-run foster care system.

Given the barriers to adoption in China, its frequency, once informal adoptions are taken into account, is impressive evidence that, far from being unwanted in the country of their birth, China’s daughters are highly valued. It’s true that China’s strong patriarchal traditions, according to which sons carry on the family line while daughters become members of other families when they marry, mean parents are anxious to have at least one boy. Especially in rural areas, parents value a boy’s superior strength and expect sons, more so than daughters, to support them in their old age. These longstanding attitudes explain why boys are rarely abandoned in China and rarely end up in orphanages. But the surveys Johnson and her colleagues have conducted in rural China indicate that parents already believe girls are nice too, as the government’s heavy-handed propaganda aims to convince them. (Johnson’s book includes a photograph of a building bearing the slogan, “Daughters Are Also Descendants.”) The idea that a complete family requires at least one boy and one girl is quite common, Johnson says, and many rural parents perceive daughters as more caring and attentive than sons.

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  • ||

    I personally know two couples who have adopted girls from China. Also, there is occasional Reasonoid Rogier Van Bakel who has adopted from there as well. I also notice, while walking about here in Northern Virginia, that there are many older white couples with children that are clearly Asian.
    This is clearly quite the thing. Of course, it is noticeable in a way that other adoptions may not be. I've known a similar number of people who have adopted from Russia, but one is less likely to notice that the children are clearly not directly related to them.

    For myself, one daughter will be enough for me and she is obviously my daughter. Still, I can say with certainty that I would have loved a Chinese girl just as much if I had adopted one.

  • ||

    If I realized that article was in the print issue I'd have waited to read the hard copy. It was too lengthy for on-line perusal in my opinion. If I might summarize: The Chinese government are all dicks and in more ways than you first thought.

  • ||

    Bless you and your wife for your good deed, Jacob.

  • Episiarch||

    China's loss, our gain.

  • Paul||

    China has recently tightened the requirements for adoption. My neighbors adopted a baby girl from China, and according to them, with the new restrictions, they would no longer have been able to adopt had they waited another year or so.

    I'm not sure exactly why China is tightening restrictions, but my personal opinion is that it's an early indication that their one-child policy will eventually end.

  • ||

    At 50 years old, I became a father for the first time last April when my wife and I adopted a 15-month-old girl from Guangxi province. Jacob, I can't find a single thing in your story that I disagree with. Our girl, likely a non-Han minority, probably has a sister, was made available to us because of a "disability" (a birthmark!), and spent the first few days with us in gut-wrenching mourning for the life she was leaving behind. Watching her stand in her crib in the hotel in Nanning and cry "Ai Ai Ai" (the word for "auntie" and what their orphanage caretakers are called) were possibly the most difficult hours of my life. And then there were the "grandma" police . . .

    It is indeed difficult to contemplate all those thousands, maybe millions, of "unofficial" girls who have no hope for a decent job or education - and now, it is even harder for them to be adopted. However, there is a strong spirit among the Chinese that we witnessed when we were there. Maybe it won't happen in my lifetime, but if anyone can find their way out of this mess, maybe it's the oldest civilization on the planet.

    I am thrilled, pleased, and fulfilled beyond words to have this beautiful, happy, healthy Chinese daughter. But I do hope, for all the right reasons, it becomes very rare. Thanks for your great article.

  • denis bider||

    I'm sorry, but I'll have to disagree with the former humanitarianist comments. I strongly defend your right to adopt any child you want to, but I'm not being evil, nor ill-intentioned, when I say this: while your adoption of a Chinese daughter is cute and innocuous, to the extent that your reasons for doing so are macroscopic and geopolitical rather than personal, it is also naive.

    Unlike your personal decision though, the rest of your arguments - those about how the Chinese shouldn't be trying to limit the growth of their population - are neither cute, nor innocuous, but merely naive. There is a strong argument to be made in favor of restraining the growth of the world's population. If the population is too large to be sustained, or may become so in the future, then reproduction control is the _least_ invasive of possible measures. The next more effective measure is much more invasive and is called 'massive death'.

    It is a fundamental physical truth that a population can multiply exponentially, but the volume of space available to us, even if we expand at the speed of light, can grow at most at powers of 3. That is even if we invent interstellar travel.

    Given these fundamental limitations, there is no way that we can responsibly make unchecked reproduction a basic human right. Let alone in a world that's already crowded as is.

    Your own actions are in conflict with your assertion that reproduction is a basic human right. You yourselves have shown restraint in not reproducing but instead going off to China and adopting a child that already exists. If reproduction is a basic human right, why did _you_ not reproduce and bring into this world another child of your own? (Apologies if due to fertility issues.)

  • Episiarch||

    It is a fundamental physical truth that a population can multiply exponentially, but the volume of space available to us, even if we expand at the speed of light, can grow at most at powers of 3. That is even if we invent interstellar travel.

    Really? Links and equations plz.

    Given these fundamental limitations, there is no way that we can responsibly make unchecked reproduction a basic human right. Let alone in a world that's already crowded as is.

    Really? It's that crowded already? Ever been to Idaho?

    Who makes the decisions regarding "unchecked reproduction"? You?

    Sorry to break it to you, asshole, but unchecked reproduction is a basic human right. Nobody needs to "make" it so. So all you can do is try to stop it. Which would require you to use force, just like the Chinese government.

    Are you prepared to do that?

  • Christ on a Cracker||

    I spent a couple of weeks in Shanghai last summer. The Chinese policy is that you will get an additional 15RMB (about US $2) per year for one child if you fill out the paperwork. My friend said it wasn't worth the paperwork.

    However, if you have a second child, you are fined two years salary. He pointed out the government is more than willing to help with the paperwork in that case.

    Probably most surprising is that my friend, a Chinese-educated engineer, thought this was a good idea. I pointed out all societies, nearly without exception, have fewer childern when the society moved from an agrarian- to industrial-based economy, as China is doing now. Let things happen, and people will take care of their own. This was news to him.

    I do not see the Chinese government losing control anytime soon.

    CoC

  • Paul||

    There is a strong argument to be made in favor of restraining the growth of the world's population.

    So much for "keep your laws off my body". Let me guess, these sentiments you express don't extend to the abortion debate within our own borders?

    Denis, a little less myopia, please. One of the byproducts of a properous culture is a drop in birthrates, not an increase.

    This notion of each person born into the world being a drag on an economy, as opposed to a potential bonus is outdated thinking. Yes, the economic policies of a nation can make it a drag (see: communism), but if individuals are free to reach their potential, those persons add to the world's bounty.

  • Christ on a Cracker||

    I think some people here don't trust people to do what is in their best interest, either.

  • ||

    Really? It's that crowded already? Ever been to Idaho?

    Sssh! Stop bringing it up; there are already too many Californians and Easterners moving there.

  • dmoynihan||

    We're going through the process right now, after the rules came into being. It's a little different; my wife is from Shanghai, we have family and a residence there, and I've learned a bit of Mandarin, but the new rules are definitely making it harder for a lot of people (as often as not because the agencies in the U.S. don't always know which bit of new paperwork is needed...)

    Fascinating story, Mr. Sullum.

  • ||

    Watching her stand in her crib in the hotel in Nanning and cry "Ai Ai Ai"

    Sheesh. That would tear my heart out and yet that is exactly what a child that had been taken care of by someone would do. It's a good sign.

  • denis bider||

    Paul: "One of the byproducts of a properous culture is a drop in birthrates, not an increase."

    You first need to get to the prosperous part. We are already way beyond that. Most of the 6 billion population on this planet can _never_ be prosperous, not on the levels the western civilization is experiencing.


    denis: "It is a fundamental physical truth that a population can multiply exponentially, but the volume of space available to us, even if we expand at the speed of light, can grow at most at powers of 3. That is even if we invent interstellar travel."

    Episiarch: "Really? Links and equations plz."

    Huh...?

    You need links and equations to explain this?

    Okay:

    pop(t) = pop0 * (1 + x)^t

    vol(r) = Pi * r^3 / 4

    r(t) = r0 + c * t


    Paul: "Yes, the economic policies of a nation can make it a drag (see: communism), but if individuals are free to reach their potential, those persons add to the world's bounty."

    I agree, but up to a point. Up to a limit, more people means more potential for creativity. Beyond that limit, more people means giving up resources. Eventually, this can be to the point where we don't have an obesity problem any more and our ancestral calorie-seeking behaviors kick in.

    There are only so many fish in the sea we can fish. We've already eaten all the lobster. Our fish stocks will soon be following down the precipice.

    Really, we don't need more people.


    I do agree that China's ways of exercising their policies are fascist. If I ran their country, I'd propose a cap-and-trade system instead.

  • Episiarch||

    You need links and equations to explain this?

    What I want are population totals, equations showing current population growth expectations (including the fact that popultion growth is currently slowing), land usage statistics for the people currently on the planet, and projections of usable land in the future.

    Any asshole can say "if we continue to grow our population exponentially we will run out of room", but that's just a ploy.

    If I ran their country, I'd propose a cap-and-trade system instead.

    And if people violated your caps, what would you do?

  • ||

    I hereby nominate denis bider to be the first to volunteer for Carousel.

    We adopted two infant Hispanic boys about five years ago. They both now speak English with a deep East Texas twang. Really fucks with the rednecks when they hear my little brown kids tawk jes layek theyum.

  • ||

    Most of the 6 billion population on this planet can _never_ be prosperous, not on the levels the western civilization is experiencing.

    That's a debateable proposition, but setting that aside, experience in Africa, South America and Iran (of all places) demonstrates that the prosperity-induced decline in birth rates kicks in well short of American-levels of wealth.

  • Paul||

    Most of the 6 billion population on this planet can _never_ be prosperous, not on the levels the western civilization is experiencing.

    And this is because... why? Why can't the rest of civilization attain prosperity?

    You seem to be afflicted with static thinking. Wasn't there a thread on this topic recently?

    Two hundred and fifty years ago, the people of this nation were living in squalor, scratching out a living in a set of colonies settled under very questionable circumstances. We're now the technological wonder of the world.

    Is it perhaps you don't want them to be prosperous? That again, you believe that each mouth fed is a drag on the economy, therefore we got ours, but the rest of the world must remain "indigenous" and "culturally untouched"? Is it perhaps because you've come to regard the concept of "sustainability" with a religious like reverance, without discussing what sustainability really means?

    agree, but up to a point. Up to a limit, more people means more potential for creativity. Beyond that limit, more people means giving up resources.

    What resources? Wood and timber? Steel and coal? Oil and gas? Biodiesel? Ethanol? Solar? Wind? Nuclear fusible material? Geothermal? You are aware that this issue has been hammered before, publicly? I seem to remember a Sierra Club guffaw where they implicitly suggested that the entire world's population could live in Texas?

    What utterly fascinates me is that no matter how many times someone predicts the "end of resources", it always somehow gets pushed out another 100, 200, 500 years. It's inconceivable that new technology, growing systems, and food resources-- renewable ones-- might come into the fore.

    And while you wring your hands over population explosion, your bell-bottoms and earth-tones seem alarmingly out of date. Many governments are already wringing their hands over population decline.

  • ||

    Is it perhaps you don't want them to be prosperous?

    Tweet, ten yards, gratuitious personal attack.

    That's a slimy cheap shot when used to shut down criticism of the Iraq War, and it's a slimy cheap shot in this context, too.

  • Russ 2000||

    Really, we don't need more people.

    Well then by all means do the noblest thing - off yourself. For the greater good.

  • Paul||

    Tweet, ten yards, gratuitious personal attack.

    Bad call, ump. You'll be sitting out the next game after we review the tape:

    I didn't mean it as a cheap personal attack at all. I meant it from this angle:

    People who believe that more people=unsustainability will fight prosperity in other countries often from the perspective that they can't or won't handle their own prosperity. I remember a Sierra Club editorial years ago that suggested that indigenous people should stay indigenous, and then went into apopleptic fits, imagining what horrors would occur if the tribes got *gasp* firearms!

    I did some google searching and I couldn't find the link, so, sorry on that.

    I'm not suggesting denis is a racist (which is what you seemed to infer... I guess), I'm just suggesting that he may believe that prosperity is a net negative and therefore should not be spread around the world.

  • ||

    Tom: I saw a really good comic on Comedy Central recently - he's Hispanic (Mexican, I think), married to a Southerner - he calls his kids his little Hickspanics. And there's another comic I've seen who is Anglo-Asian - his mom is Vietnamese - and his Texas twang is too think to cut with a knife. And for some reason I like that. You're right - it screws with the rednecks something bad. I have a good friend who's native Vietnamese - she got here when she was about 6 and she speaks with a standard (not too twangy) Texas accent. When she visits her husband's people in Longview, elderly ladies are always asking her where she's "from." And she always smiles and says "Houston!"

    My daughter only recently realized that you don't have to go to other countries to adopt a baby. She has friends adopted from China and Guatemala, but she was amazed when I told her one of her uncles was adopted right here in Texas.

  • ||

    Wow, Jacob.

    Thanks. Great article. To write about something you are so personally involved with and, at the same time, to remain objective about it takes some rare grace and grit.

  • Rhywun||

    Concern about exacerbating China's gender imbalance and embarrassment about seeking foreign parents to raise Chinese girls are more plausible explanations for the government's decision to restrict overseas adoptions.

    I have a feeling the Party doesn't give a shit about the gender imbalance, but cares very much about saving face.

  • ||

    Didn't this used to happen with many Korean children in the early 80s? One of my best friends is a Korean adopted by an American family, and I've known at least a half dozen others.

  • Rhywun||

    there is no way that we can responsibly make unchecked reproduction a basic human right

    Regardless of whatever resource limitations may or may not present themselves in the future, it is the height of fascist arrogance to tell a couple they may not have a child. Shame on you.

  • denis bider||

    Paul: you make good points. I'm not worried that the human population cannot sustain itself at the current level, or even with many more people. What I am worried about is that doing so will require an utter transformation of this planet to a form devoted exclusively to sustaining humans; there will not be a place for any species less well organized than us.

    I am quite confident that the human population can grow to enormous numbers and yet survive. I have no doubt that, when faced with either death or technological progress, that progress will prevail.

    What I very much doubt is that anything of value, other than humans, will survive in the process. Monkeys can't vote. Tigers can't vote. Whales can't vote. Lobster can't vote. Dolphins can't vote. Cod can't vote. The grasses can't vote, and the forrests can't vote either.

    All of these entities have no say in our expansion process, and they are going to be trampled.

    Earth as it is right now is luxurious. We've trampled lots of it already, but luxurious it still is. The world of 9 billion people either cannot be prosperous in the sense that you or I are prosperous today, or it won't be very luxurious.

    Now, if anyone wants to live in a completely artificial world, I have no problem with anyone going off into space and forming off-world colonies and multiplying as much as they want up there. But for the world down here, I really see no need why we _need_ to create _yet_ more human beings that will convert this planet into an ever more artificial concoction, as if there aren't already enough of us as it is.

    There is no harm done in restraining our reproduction. Creatures who aren't conceived do not suffer for it. With a global cap and trade system, anyone could have as many children as they want, as long as they pay the market price for the privilege. I don't see how you could reasonably argue with that.

    Like I said, if you want unchecked population growth for yourself, go launch a colony in space. Find a technological way to do that. There's nothing to trample on there. There's nothing valuable that you'll be irreversibly destroying there.


    "I'm just suggesting that he may believe that prosperity is a net negative and therefore should not be spread around the world."

    Limited prosperity for the currently existing population, yes. But 6 billion people carting around in their private jets? No.

    Again, I have no problem with technological solutions that would lead to the creation of amazingly populated and rich artificial worlds in space. There's few things I'd love to see more than that.

    But it will be tragic if the Earth would first need to be trampled in the process.

    There's a reason why some sensitive tourist sites restrict the number of tourists despite the light impact of each individual tourist. A few billion people coming through and just looking, not touching anything - even if they're just breathing, that has an effect.

    The Earth is one such sensitive tourist site.


    Rhywun: "Regardless of whatever resource limitations may or may not present themselves in the future, it is the height of fascist arrogance to tell a couple they may not have a child. Shame on you."

    Cap and trade, man. Cap and trade.

  • denis bider||

    Rhywun: "I have a feeling the Party doesn't give a shit about the gender imbalance, but cares very much about saving face."

    Of course. But not only that, the gender imbalance in favor of boys will make it that much easier to attain population goals in the next generation. Men do not have wombs.

    Of course that sucks for the men who aren't going to be able to find partners, but perhaps innovative partnership forms will evolve as a result. I don't see a big problem in two men sharing one wife, as long as they all agree on that.

    The communists are right of course when they say that the gender imbalance is the fault of people having bias. It may have been true that it was better to have sons in the past, but the gender imbalance puts an incredible premium on daughters. It's stupid not to take advantage of the two-child/one-son policy and aim for not one, but two daughters.

  • denis bider||

    jkii: "Thanks. Great article. To write about something you are so personally involved with and, at the same time, to remain objective about it takes some rare grace and grit."

    It's a decent article, and I appreciate Jacob having written it, but the lack of objectivity shines through like a Batman sign in Gotham. Jacob's biases are very apparent. That's why I wrote my reply.

  • denis bider||

    Paul (if still reading): I debated the Ehrlich-Simon bet with a friend who knows more about commodities markets. His take was that:

    - this bet was made during a period when commodities prices were especially high due to lack of confidence in the US dollar;

    - people were actually right about resources getting more expensive, just early in their prediction;

    - "Commodity bull markets run in 20 year cycles, and that was the peak of the bull cycle, so we will have to wait a few more years to see if the prices will be higher, but from the looks of thing they will be, and for all the same reasons they thought back then."

  • ||

    I debated the Ehrlich-Simon bet with a friend who knows more about commodities markets.

    Not only is denis bider an intellectual, he has a friend who is one too. And Jacob Sullum is biased about something or other.

  • KB||

    Tonight I appeared before our local city council with my daughter, to speak about adoption and the observence on November 17 of National Adoption Day. I introduced my four year old to the mayor and council, "Born in the Jiangxi Province of China, our daughter ..." I don't think by the time my short 3 minutes was over that there was a dry eye on the dias. Clearly, adoption works for those who have opened their hearts and minds. I can't think of life without our little girl, and we never stop thinking about her parents in China. It's a story we continue to share with her and one that she understand. "You are my mommy and daddy," she says. "You always be, right?"

    We love her and all the children who have come to loving homes through adoption.

  • ||

    Jacob's biases are very apparent.

    denis, on reason.com, is spun in circles by the wrongthink of it all -- that no reading however careful of Jacob's article reveals denis's own brand of antihumanism, nor any sympathy for China's oppressive policy, nor anything like denis's concern for 'population goals'. Jacob calls an evil an evil without adding denis's lusty 'necessary' -- and denis, poked in the eye by this curious bias, is driven to action! To root out the lone heretic! To deliver great moral and intellectual broadsides!

    Alas, denis is a travelling Protestant, trying to get an Italian town to lynch a religious deviant. Yes! denis has uncovered a Catholic!

    And denis, falling over his distress at these biases, fire his broadsides into open ocean -- the libertarian thought-armada being fully out of view, and not even in that direction. So focused on naive reasons, denis can't anticipate any jeering when he laments that we've eaten all the lobster, or imagines a 'point' at which numerical humans cease to provide creativity, or frets and worries at how the temporal knife-edge of Earth's-biosphere-as-denis-knows-it may be further cultivated.

    denis tells us that we've eaten all the lobsters! Go read a book, denis. Rothbard at least can help you anticipate the obvious reply to this complaint.

  • ||

    She Mei Chun? Snake without lips?

    I kid! I kid! It's surely not those characters.

    This lucky fellow also has a adopted Chinese daughter -- with a twin sister, adopted by other parents into the States. They've met. It's sweet.

  • ||

    Limited prosperity for the currently existing population, yes. But 6 billion people carting around in
    their private jets? No.


    Rich people have horses, yae even the middle class can travel by one. But can 300 million each have a horse? No. They can have one or two cars, however.

    Computers are great big things with vaccuum tubes and costly upkeep. The world can stand perhaps as many of five of these -- if we are optimistic. But 300 million people can have a goodly number of microcomputers with transistors among them.

  • R C Dean||

    there is no way that we can responsibly make unchecked reproduction a basic human right

    Does this mindset leave any portion of human existence outside the control of the Total State?

  • R C Dean||

    Oh, and Julian, that would be the most elegant troll-takedown I have ever read. Ever. Do stick around - you will find this a target-rich environment.

  • denis bider||

    jkii: "And Jacob Sullum is biased about something or other."

    Jacob takes it for granted that people should be allowed to have as many children as they want, considers no alternatives and explores no possibilities that the Chinese government's policies, although flawed, may be justified.

    That's not objectivity. That's foregone conclusions.

  • denis bider||

    R C Dean: "Oh, and Julian, that would be the most elegant troll-takedown I have ever read. Ever. Do stick around - you will find this a target-rich environment."

    Julian's ridicule is comedy intended for people whose minds are made up and won't budge. That's not very productive, as its intention is not to stimulate debate, but to enforce groupthink where everyone tries to shame me out of the debate for some supposed intellectual crime I've done, whereas you yourselves - the rest - get to congratulate yourselves on how you agree with each other.

    As a means of examining our views and striving towards truth, such attitudes are pointless and counter-productive.

    Really - if this debate is to be a debate at all, rather than a celebration of how you guys all think alike and are righteous - then it's a debate about the merits of this:

    "Let everyone multiply unchecked, and let every new creature so created have the same rights as all others, and let them also multiply unchecked, and let this process continue indefinitely and stop only when it will stops due to whatever natural causes."

    Versus this:

    "An unchecked population explosion of humans is morally no better than an unchecked population explosion of any other creature, be it fireants or locusts, except that the ecological results of an unchecked population explosion of humans are much worse. Limits on total human reproduction overall do not necessarily need to be imposed in a fascist way, nor do they need to place a hard limit on the potential of individual humans. If a cap-and-trade system makes sense for CO2 emissions, then it should be recognized that creating another human being is more expensive emission-wise than virtually any other economic decision we make. The ability to spread your genes is not free, but imposes a cost on the environment and the quality of life in our old age and in the lives of our children. It is therefore sensible to limit population growth and let people pay for what they consume (how many children they create) using a cap-and-trade system."

    Now, I'm open to good arguments such as were those contributed by Paul. But if the rest of you keep trying to shut me up with your silly attempts at shame and ridicule, that merely goes to show how inflexible, intolerant and disinclined to thought you really are.

  • denis bider||

    Julian: "Computers are great big things with vaccuum tubes and costly upkeep. The world can stand perhaps as many of five of these -- if we are optimistic. But 300 million people can have a goodly number of microcomputers with transistors among them."

    This argument has merit.

    I said before that I have no doubts the human race can survive population growth by virtue of technological innovation.

    The problem is that technological innovation tends to come right before the humans would otherwise start to die out, and not right before the cod or the whales would start to die out. You can't really argue that this is not happening - the fish are just about to be overfished to extinction and no one is doing anything about it.

    I don't know about you guys, but as far as I'm concerned, the value of wildlife continuing to exist in my old age and in the age of my children exceeds the value to me of the world's population growing.

    What Julian's argument seems to be saying is that this is not necessarily an either/or choice. The way I understand it, he's saying that we can preserve wildlife and allow the world's population to arbitrarily keep growing.

    Supposedly, if we can have the world's police prevent people from having more children than their cap-and-trade quotas allow, then we can also have the world's police prevent people from trampling where they shouldn't. If we can do so, we can thus protect wildlife, and then we don't need cap-and-trade quotas on human population growth after all.

    I accept that, on this premise, it might be reasonable to go with a policy which expects optimistically that technological advance will be able to feed all of us, while strict safeguard are put in place to protect the rest of the planet from being destroyed in the process.

    However, I still do not accept that unchecked reproduction is an essential human right in all circumstances, any time, any place. While we may choose to go with a policy that does not restrict reproduction on the grounds that it is not yet necessary, there are nevertheless limits on how many people the world can take. If those limits aren't 9 billion, and they aren't 90 billion, and they aren't 900 billion, then perhaps they are 99 trillion. The Earth is finite.

    Arguing that we do not yet have a problem bad enough to call for restraint in reproduction is one thing, but arguing that unchecked reproduction is a human right eternally is just dim.

  • denis bider||

    Again, if you people want to practice your rights to unrestrained production in space, I'm fine with it. But the Earth is finite, and only so many people can occupy it.

  • ||

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleid=DEAF205F-E7F2-99DF-35C3B60FE3CC788B

  • ||

    What Julian's argument seems to be saying is that

    denis, are cows in danger of extinction? How about pigs? Wheat? Carrots? Bees are in trouble, right now: a beekeeper noticed immediately when his bees didn't come back; he investigated his hives and uncovered extraordinarily odd behavior; he and a like-interested folk identified a suspect cause and raised hell about it on TV; he gets calls from downstream business people who need pollination, alarmed about a supply problem. This man makes his livelihood by bees, and other people's livelihood depend on trade with him.

    Ah, but in another world some antihumanist would be screaming about how commercialization of precious wildliving bees needs to end, how honey poachers need stiff penalties, how the government needs to do more for our stinging friends who then may soon be classified as an endangered species -- to scream ultimately about how the terrible humans have extincted another part of our precious untouched nature.

    Speaking of: if a massive fire broke out on my poorly-maintained lawn and burned down half the neighborhood, I think I'd face stiff penalties. If horrible black sludge infiltrated my water park, I think I'd do more than wail and gnash my teeth. If drinking customers sometimes threw beer bottles into the brush of my outdoorsy saloon, I think I'd pick them up.

    then we can also have the world's police prevent people from trampling where
    they shouldn't.


    I think I'd be pretty good about protecting my property from destructive incursions, too. I might buy a security system; I might hire guards; I might keep a dog; I might discover a pattern in the trampling and lie in wait, sails furled, lights out, radar on, sonic gun at the ready: no punk landlubbers are going to boat out and poach on my dodos!

  • ||

    Pfiona,

    Try out American Scientist. They've more serious, more interesting, and more novel articles. They don't have as wide a distribution, but a sizeable bookstore should still be good to start you off.

    Scientific American, for its part, managed to put out a whole article on how like omigosh we can't materially sustain the humans we have and implicitly can't feed them without admitting, even in small letters, that we've seen this before and that the Green Revolution was glorious.

  • denis bider||

    I think I'd be pretty good about protecting my property from destructive incursions, too.

    You imply (without justifying) that all corners of the planet must be owned, and that if any species are to survive, it must be through directly serving humanity - i.e., the owners of the territory they occupy.

    What about when a species needs a vast territory, such as the Atlantic, in which to flourish? We're currently seeing a tragedy of the commons, with fish species being overfished to extinction, that only someone owning the entire ocean could prevent.

    You are making a biblical presumption that humans are morally different from animals and that animals, in so far as they have rights, have such rights only in so far as it serves humans. That's a fairly popular view which I think is fundamentally unjust, except if you admit that you're only recognizing the freedom and ownership rights of other humans for strictly selfish and utilitarian reasons - i.e. because you're not powerful enough to ride roughshod over them; or if you are powerful enough, because you want to benefit from other people's creativity and such is not forthcoming unless the people in question feel they are free. On the other hand you don't have any creativity-based economic results to gain from animals, and as opposed to humans you can ride roughshod over them, so you do, and don't mind that at all.

    I would say that this makes you a rather unappealing character, but if you admit to such views and ask me "so what?", I guess I'll have to live with you, since I too can't ride roughshod over you.

    So what say you? Are animals independent creatures whose well-being should be respected as a terminal value of its own, or are animals dependent creatures whose well-being is at best an instrumental value subservient to the happiness of humans?

    If it is a terminal value, which I would subscribe to, then I think we need to consider fair outcomes for animals, too.

    On the other hand, if you're one who sees the welfare of animals as merely instrumental to that of humans, then I guess your logic would be: if enough humans care about animal welfare, they should band together and buy the Atlantic Ocean and enforce cod preservation fish quotas there. But if there are not enough such humans, then they should accept the scarcity of their numbers and just accept the extinction.

    Is that more or less correct?

  • denis bider||

    This is basically similar to the moral dilemma of Europeans coming to another continent and taking the land for themselves after slaughtering everyone there. Don't the indigenous people, although technologically inferior, have the right to that land? Or do they have to move aside willy nilly, simply because they are weaker?

    Substitute indigenous people for other species that we're driving to extinction, and it is the same moral dilemma. In both cases it is a strong group conquering the territory of the weaker group, because it can. But just because the stronger group can, should it?

    I have some respect for the law of the strongest. It is the law of nature. But if all we do is follow the law of the strongest, then what are libertarian principles, such as respect for other people's property, based on? If it's merely on their being human, then (A) you are disadvantaging animals without providing a justification, and (B) you need to explain what happened to indigenous people on all continents.

    If on the other hand our respect for other people's property is based on the practical concept that we can all kill and steal from each other so let's agree not to, then I understand that, and then I can see how it follows that animals and even indigenous people are subservient to us; they are weak, so they are no threat if we plunder and steal from them as much as we want.

    Right? At least that's a consistent view.

  • denis bider||

    (See also Fake Justification. Just because you think your reasons are based on lofty principles, that doesn't mean that they are.)

  • ||

    You imply (without justifying) that all corners of the planet must be owned,

    Duh. This is the Rothbard I recommended you read, since you're so flabbergasted and upset by an obvious objection.

    This is basically similar to the moral dilemma of Europeans coming to another continent and taking the land for themselves after slaughtering everyone there.

    Don't be stupid, denis.

  • ||

    Interesting that the whole tone of these comments has strayed so much to the theoretical. I am actually in Shanghai right now waiting to go back to Changsha for my second daughter. Zhouli is 11, abandoned at age 8. My first daughter is Willow and she is 6. My thoughts swirl around the nagging question of the huge cultural transition my new daughter will experience. I am asking the author if he has any facts on what happnes to the "unadopted daughters" of China. Do they in fact have a chance at life if they stayed here in China? What an amazing journey her life will be, happy or sad who knows.

  • ||

    yesterday, you are accusing chinese consuming too much energy and emitting too much pollution,
    and now it's time for its population policy.

  • ||

    anyone wanna adopt an indian girl? it's a democratic conutry,for god's sak, in aisa and no bith control tyrany, but i bet it has millions of orphans avaliable for the middle class from developed nations.

  • ||

    "I hereby nominate denis bider to be the first to volunteer for Carousel."

    Nah. God's got a sense of humor. Denis would Renew, and we'd be stuck with him for another 21 years!

  • ||

    MB Grey:
    See my post up near the top for more details. I wish you the very best. I've been back with my daughter (only 22 months old now) for seven months. It is an amazing experience. My understanding is that the unadopted daughters have little hope. They are not "official" people and can't get educations or good jobs. Maybe the author can add some insight. However, I'm guessing neither you nor I chose to adopt from China out of some kind of altruisitic "save the girls" motive. That just isn't realistic. Many people ask why didn't you adopt domestically or from so-and-so country. Well, as you know, but maybe others here do not, whatever you may think of China they have a consistent, predictable, mostly above-board adoption system (except for the stupid rubber-stamp "medical" exam prior to departure - what a scam). Regardless, my daughter is the light of my life.

  • Mark Bahner||

    What about when a species needs a vast territory, such as the Atlantic, in which to flourish? We're currently seeing a tragedy of the commons, with fish species being overfished to extinction, that only someone owning the entire ocean could prevent.



    As I've pointed out on Denis Bider's blog, there is no need to own entire oceans in order to keep fish from being fished to extinction. What's needed is private ownership of the *fish*, not the ocean.

    In particular, what would really help would be the technological, legal, and economic methods to create incentives to "plant" fish into the ocean. For example, a single full-grown bluefin tuna is worth approximate $20,000. But if I raise 10,000 blue-fin tuna to fingerling size, and release them into the ocean such that 2,000 of them are later caught for $20,000 apiece, I get zilch out of that $40,000,000.

    These are the sorts of real problems and solutions humanity should be working on, rather than ridiculous, impractical, and unneccessary limits to the number of children couples can have.

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  • قبلة الوداع||

    ThaNk U

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