China

China's Baby Shortage

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The Chinese government is signaling that it may loosen its draconian restrictions on family size because people are not having enough babies:

China's fertility rate is now extremely low, and the population is rapidly aging, especially in urban areas. Experts have warned that China is steadily moving toward a demographic crisis with too many old people in need of expensive services and too few young workers paying taxes to meet those bills. China is often regarded as having a limitless pool of young, cheap labor, but the country's biggest manufacturing centers are already facing labor shortages.

This is not the only problem created by the Chinese government's regulation of reproduction. Limits on family size lead to the wholesale abandonment of baby girls by rural parents keen to have at least one son. They also encourage sex-selective abortions, which contribute to China's worrisome gender imbalance. The on-again, off-again enforcement of China's population policies, which has featured onerous fines, mandatory sterilization, forced late-term abortions, and literal home wrecking (by local officials wielding iron bars), has caused bursts of popular unrest. Presumably these side effects are also on the minds of Chinese officials who say they're considering a change:

Zhao Baige, vice minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, told reporters at a news conference that government officials recognize that China must alter its current population-control policies.

"We want incrementally to have this change," Ms. Zhao said, according to Reuters. "I cannot answer at what time or how, but this has become a big issue among decision makers."…

Ms. Zhao said surveys indicated that a large majority of younger Chinese would like two children. But she warned that current plans call only for studying potential changes and that any adjustments must not lead to a rapid jump in the birthrate.

It's not clear what sort of tinkering Chinese officials have in mind. Parents in rural areas, where a large majority of the population lives, are already subject to a "one-son/two-child" rule, which allows them to try again for a boy if the first child is a girl. The government could extend that rule to urban families, or it could further raise the limits outside cities, which would reduce the incentives driving the abortion of female fetuses and the abandonment of female babies.

In the December issue of reason I considered the costs (and benefits) of China's "one child" policy.

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  1. Dammit James Joyce, you’ve gone too far!

  2. Look up the role of Kissinger and George Bush in China’s one child policy. Nothing like seeing the neo-cons warking together to formulate policy with hard core communist.

  3. According to my friend in Beijing, the “one boy/two children” policy isn’t universal in urban China. He and his wife have a boy and she is pregnant with their second child.

    He claims he can have an exemption for the second child if he is willing to pay alot of money to the Chinese government. Fortunate for him, he is quite wealthy.

  4. He claims he can have an exemption for the second child if he is willing to pay alot of money to the Chinese government.

    Wasn’t that in a Larry Niven story?

  5. Nice to see China having more respect for women – as long as they’re broodmares for the state.

  6. I’ll admit i’m not used to the way commies think, but couldn’t they keep the child policy in place to control population and then just kill the senior citizens that are putting a drain on services? It’s not like they are productive anyway if they are putting that much strain on social services. Not that i’m giving them ideas but it seems easier to kill old people than trying to enforce baby making regulations.

  7. Killing old people en masse would provoke an uprising. Enough people’s grandmas being shot at the same time is not something that even totalitarians can do.

    No, they kill people quietly by taking them away in the dead of night one by one.

  8. As a South Florida resident, I am all in favor of a mass execution of old people.

  9. but the country’s biggest manufacturing centers are already facing labor shortages.

    Lifting the child cap would of course be good, but let’s not forget the other thing exacerbating demographic problems and labor shortages in China: Tough rules on migration from the country to the city.

  10. I keep forgetting that the chinese actually care about their elderly, while we dispise them for the leacherous bastards they are.

  11. I’m refering to the elderly as leacherous bastards, not the chinese, i like chinese people. well, not the old ones, but the rest i do. 🙂

  12. I’ll admit i’m not used to the way commies think, but couldn’t they keep the child policy in place to control population and then just kill the senior citizens that are putting a drain on services? It’s not like they are productive anyway if they are putting that much strain on social services. Not that i’m giving them ideas but it seems easier to kill old people than trying to enforce baby making regulations.

    Dammit Shane! That was the essence of my one foray into long-form creative writing years ago. In my dystopia, I had the U.S. Police forcibly enter homes to chain old folks to their beds and then torched the houses to end the drain on social security and reduce housing supply.

  13. There are going to be a lot more gay Chinese men in about 5 to 10 years.

  14. not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  15. Warren, I think it’s mentioned in Niven’s Ringworld, you get an allocation of one child and you can buy permits others. Or you can get permits through the breeding lottery, which ultimately has the spoiler effect of breeding luck …

  16. China facing population shortage, huh. Couldn’t have seen that coming after decades of obtrusive demographic meddling.

  17. Russ 2000 wrote, “In my dystopia, I had the U.S. Police forcibly enter homes to chain old folks to their beds and then torched the houses to end the drain on social security and reduce housing supply.”

    Why not just use the media to encourage smoking and drinking?

  18. Charles wrote, “China facing population shortage, huh. Couldn’t have seen that coming after decades of obtrusive demographic meddling.”

    Just think of the people whose lives the government ruined (or PREVENTED) during the “no kids” phase. The calls to procreate now must be galling or worse to such people. I hope it inspires a rebellion.

  19. I think the thing about elderly people is that 1. everyone who doesn’t suffer an untimely death will be old some day, while everyone who counts has already been born, so the one-child policy does not affect their future existence.
    2. There just seems to be something wrong with killing your own parents after they spent sixteen damn years feeding, clothing, and sheltering you.
    3. It will convince parents to kill their own children, before their kids kill them. See #2.

  20. Does the world have too few humans? It certainly seems the other was around to me with more than 6 billion people on the planet.

    The human load on the planet is taking its toll: peak oil, peak food, etc. If humans do cause global warming, do we really need more of them?

    If China has a population problem it is better described as demographic than underpopulation. Their problem is that the ratio of old to young is tilted toward the old. That problem will solve itself as the old die off. Encouraging a baby-boom in a country with a population greater than one billion people seems absurd to me. You hear the same arguments here in the US.

    Will an increased population improve our lives? I don’t think so.

  21. “Charles wrote, “China facing population shortage, huh. Couldn’t have seen that coming after decades of obtrusive demographic meddling.”

    Just think of the people whose lives the government ruined (or PREVENTED) during the “no kids” phase. The calls to procreate now must be galling or worse to such people. I hope it inspires a rebellion.”

    It’s funny you should mention that, because what most people don’t know is how things in China got to be so bad that the government thought that a one-child policy would be a good idea. You see, right after Mao and his henchmen took over, they thought that it’d be a good idea if people started making babies en masse, in order to have workers for factories and farms, and in order to replace people who died in WWII and the Chinese Civil War. Well, wouldn’t you know it, after artificially increasing the birthrate, and screwing up the economy’s ability to even support the population that already existed, suddenly famines started wiping out millions and millions of people. So then it was realized that the original “breed-like-jackrabbits” strategy of achieving Communist utopia didn’t work, so then the idea was that the opposite, that they needed to “start reducing the human population to a… more manageable size”. Hence, the one-child policy. Perhaps population control is to be cyclical in Communist China?

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