Vice President Joe Biden has a dull but mostly correct op-ed piece in today's New York Times, the main thrust of which is that Americans should not fear China's emergence as a leading economic power. (Ron Bailey made a similar point in his recent essay on "China Derangement Syndrome.") Biden also says he stood up for human rights during his visit to China a couple of weeks ago:
We owe our strength to our political and economic system and to the way we educate our children—not merely to accept established orthodoxy but to challenge and improve it. We not only tolerate but celebrate free expression and vigorous debate. The rule of law protects private property, lends predictability to investments, and ensures accountability for poor and wealthy alike….
America's strengths are, for now, China's weaknesses. In China, I argued that for it to make the transition to an innovation economy, it will have to open its system, not least to human rights. Fundamental rights are universal, and China's people aspire to them. Liberty unlocks a people's full potential, while its absence breeds unrest. Open and free societies are best at promoting long-term growth, stability, prosperity and innovation.
There is much truth to this: Freedom works. But Biden's consequentialist argument reminds me of the way he described China's "one child" policy during a stop at Sichuan University:
Your policy has been one which I fully understand—I'm not second-guessing—of one child per family. The result being that you're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.
After Republicans criticized Biden for seeming to condone China's population controls, which are grossly oppressive in theory and appallingly brutal in practice, his spokeswoman said he had been misunderstood:
The Obama Administration strongly opposes all aspects of China's coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization. The Vice President believes such practices are repugnant….He also pointed out, in China, that the policy is, as a practical matter, unsustainable. He was arguing against the One Child Policy to a Chinese audience.
Yes, but he was arguing against it based on a fiscal argument rather than a moral one, while expressly disavowing "second-guessing," let alone expressions of repugnance. His message: China's rulers had perfectly understandable reasons for adopting this policy, and I'm certainly not going to say they were wrong to do so, but at this point you might want to consider the budgetary implications vis-á-vis retirement benefits. Given the reality of this policy, which intrudes into the most intimate aspects of people's lives through edicts enforced by constant surveillance, crushing fines, home-destroying vandalism, assault, kidnapping, detention, mandatory sterililization, and forcible abortion, the outrage at Biden's stance was fully justified, even if it was also politically convenient. His blithe acceptance of this life-destroying, liberty-obliterating system resembled the attitude of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and other Western apologists for China's birth limits, who say the government had to do something drastic because the country's population growth was "not sustainable." This standard can be used to justify all manner of tyranny.
More on Chinese population control here.