28 Sep Economist Makes Great Case for End of China’s One-Child Policy
UFI Set to Work for Families as U.S. Congress Goes Liberal
September 25, 2007
For years, United Families International has reported to you on the harsh one-child policy responsible for an obscene number of abortions in China. Nicholas Eberstadt, an expert on Asia and the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, took the bold step earlier this month by addressing China’s policy at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, China. He said China ‘s coercive abortion program has been a “disastrous mistake” and the nation’s future rests on abandoning the policy.
Specifically, Eberstadt said: “China’s very future hinges on this policy–although not in the way the official formulation suggests. It is hardly an exaggeration to suggest that the program may threaten China’s growth and stability–possibly even China’s very culture. If the Chinese government could make a single decision today to enhance the nation’s long-term outlook and position, it would be to recognize that coercive population control has been a tragic and historic mistake — and it would abandon it, immediately and without reservation.”
China’s fertility rate was five births per women prior to the start of the one-child policy in 1979. The United Nations Population Division estimates that China’s fertility level is now 1.7 births per woman, 20 percent less than the level necessary for long-term population replacement (2.1). In some of the larger cities, the birth rate is actually less than 1.0.
China’s government considers this policy a success story. However, Eberstadt said the policy “comes with immense inadvertent costs and unintended consequences, for China’s new birth patterns directly undermine the country’s future development potential.” The loss in human potential is incalculable , he said. For the people not interested in having large families, this policy is not an issue. For others, the policy is not serving human desires because it undermines the desired fertility rate.
After nearly two decades of the one-child policy, China’s working age population is approaching a peak that will be followed by a severe decline after 2030. The dwindling work force, Eberstadt, says, presages a radical change in the nation’s growth environment from the past 25 years. The younger working age group will decline in size, deflating the nation’s dynamics. The 65-plus age group will expand from 100 million to 235 million or more. The nation is fairly youthful today, but will gray in decades to come.
Coping with Future Demographic Realities
Eberstadt raised legitimate questions about how the elderly in China will cope with future demographic realities. The family presently serves as a de facto national pension system, but “that social safety net is now unraveling rapidly,” Eberstadt said. “Until very recently, thanks to relatively large Chinese families, almost every Chinese woman had given birth to at least one son–and according to the Confucian tradition, it was sons upon whom older parents would rely for their first line of support. Things will be very different in the immediate future. Just two decades from now, thanks to the ‘success’ of the One-Child Policy, roughly a third of China’s women entering their sixties will have no living son.”
A “4-2-1 family” — composed of four grandparents, two children and one grandchild – will become the norm. These children will have few, if any, siblings, aunts, uncles or cousins. This forecast portends poorly for personal and business transactions that are largely demarcated by family ties.
Another disturbing trend resulting from the coercive abortion policy is the gender imbalance in China. Today, there are 123 boys for every 100 girls – far off the world norms. Eberstadt asks, “How will China cope with the sudden and very rapid emergence of tens of millions of essentially unmarriageable young men?”
The Best Solution
Eberstadt argues that elimination of the one-child policy would not be accompanied by the attendant problems that population control advocates forecast.
“A scrapping of the restrictive birth control policy would surely ease China’s incipient aging crisis, its looming family structure problems, and its worrisome gender imbalances, but it would be most unlikely to bring us back to pre-industrial norms of fertility,” Eberstadt said. “In the final analysis, the wealth of nations in the modern world is not to be found in mines, or forests, or deposits of natural resources. The true wealth of modern countries resides in their people — in human resources. And human beings are rational, calculating actors who seek to improve their own circumstances — not heedless beasts that procreate without thought of the future.”
I agree with Eberstadt that China’s people are not a curse, but a blessing. Trusting China’s people with their own preferences with respect to family size may assist China in overcoming a host of social problems. The end of China’s one-child policy would go a long way toward a declaration that family is the fundamental unit of the Asian nation’s society.