Saturday, September 3, 2011

One Family, One Child

Vice President Biden was recently in China making pals with his Chinese counterpart, watching some basketball, and doing what he does best-yacking. During one of his windy exhortations, he made a comment about China's one child policy. I don't remember what exactly he said, and don't feel like looking it up, but it brought much hand wringing, hollering, clarifying, and general hoopla regarding the fact that he did not condemn, in no uncertain terms, this policy.
Upon arriving in China, the foreigner has many thoughts. I am not a mind reader, but I can be absolutely certain that the first thought that comes into their head, upon arriving, is not, "Say, this place could use some more people!" China has over 1.3 billion people. That is one billion more people than the United States. It has also experienced famine and poverty on a massive scale. I have heard accounts of cannibalism and babies abandoned in the forests because there was no food.
The population of the world is growing dramatically, and resources are becoming scarce. There is, and there will be famine, wars, and pandemics as a result of this. China's leaders recognized that their country was not capable of supporting the kind of population growth that Chinese culture is capable of producing, and enacted laws to control the birth rate.
Most Chinese couples are allowed to have only one child. There are exceptions. Farming families can have more than one child. Twins are OK. If your child dies, you can have another. If a couple are both single children, they can have two kids.
If you have a second child, and work for the government, or a government connected business you will lose your job. Other businesses might well fire you too. If you are self employed, as many people are, you can just pay the fine for another kid. At present, it's 30,000 RMB, too much for most people, but not for upper middle class folks. There are countless ways for people to cheat the system, and it happens fairly often, but the overall result is that the birth rate has slowed, and is no longer out of control.
There are many downsides to this program. There are forced abortions, forced birth control, and child abductions. There is a gender disparity in that there are more male kids than female. This is due to the illegal practice of gender selective abortions. There is also a concern among Westerners that there will be a great burden on the younger generation because they will have to support more elderly people. I think this is a bit overblown, since Chinese are generally very frugal and have a lot of money saved. They can save even more for retirement, since they are raising fewer children.
If China's population had continued to grow at the rate it was going, there would be more poverty, more pollution, and a lot less prosperity to go around. You would not see the same successes that you have today.
It's easy for Americans, with their wide open spaces, clean air, and cushy lifestyles to criticize the one child policy. But the future of the planet will be greatly impacted by the out of control population growth that is happening in the Third World. It cannot be sustained. The measures that China has taken will seem very humane compared to the alternatives.

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