Monday, May 02, 2011

No Children, No Future

No matter how many times their predictions are proven fruitless those who subscribe to the Malthusian view that the greatest danger to the future of the planet is overpopulation continue to call for people to stop having children and pine for governments to step in solve “the problem.” If only the rest of the world could be more like China and their forward-thinking one-child policy, they lament. Turns out that thirty years after its implementation many in China are having second thoughts about the limiting couples to a single child. A story in Friday’s Wall Street Journal reported that China’s One-Child Plan Faces New Fire (sub req):

According to several people close to the Family Planning Commission, the agency is believed to be considering limited pilot plans to relax the policy. But the informal advocacy group pressing for change say those measures are too little, and too late, to address a demographic crunch that will fundamentally reshape China's economy and society.

They say China's elderly population is expanding rapidly as Mao-era baby boomers retire, putting new burdens on society to cover the cost of their retirement. At the same time, China's labor force is due to start shrinking in 2016, reversing the demographic phenomenon of a widening pool of low-cost labor that powered a manufacturing boom over the past three decades.

The number of workers aged 20-to-24 is already declining due to the lower birth rate two decades ago and a rise in the number of young people seeking higher education. China's traditional preference for boys also means the nation now has about 120 males for every 100 females. By 2020 China could be home to as many as 24 million single young men with little prospect of marrying or having their own children.

The solution, members of the advocacy group argue, is for China to move swiftly to a "two-child" policy, and possibly to offer incentives for couples to have a second child. That, they say, would help China to avoid the fate of Japan and some Western countries that are struggling with an aging population and shrinking work force.

Those who predict that this will be “China’s century” and that the country will soon surpass America as the world’s reigning superpower tend to ignore the demographic time bomb that’s ticking in the Middle Kingdom. China’s one-child policy has no doubt contribute to the country’s emergence as an economic power in the last thirty years. But it’s not a sustainable approach to long term prosperity and power.

UPDATE- Dave e-mails with further thoughts:

You wrote (accurately I think) that China's future is not as rosy as many would assume. With a huge population shift coming, they may well be the cause of their own demise. But I still think they are our top concern in foreign policy because they will for the next few years have a growing population, have billions of dollars in liquidity coming in every week thanks to the US spending addiction, and will soon have millions of young men who will have little or no prospect of finding a woman to marry and start a family with. Throughout history, powerful countries that have serious internal social problems have distracted the populace from their problems by seeking external military conquest.

But whatever road China goes down, one thing is certain; the world will be better off with an America that is strong both economically and militarily. That's what's really at stake in next year's elections.