China’s One-Child Policy Pivot: Has It Come Too Late?
In 1980, China formally introduced its one-child policy, which limited couples to only one child. This was not a mere policy suggestion. It was rigorously enforced with forced abortions, forced sterilisations, tax surcharges for ‘extra’ children, and other extreme and inhumane measures.
China’s cultural preference creates ‘extra’ men
Prior to the one-child policy, a couple that had a girl would keep trying until they had a boy. After the one-child policy, couples routinely killed newborn girls often by drowning them in a bucket of water kept by the delivery bed. Later, if they had a boy, they would let the boy live as the ‘one’ child.
The result of that horror is an estimated 30 million ‘extra’ men today compared to the normal approximate 50/50 distribution of boys and girls. The extra men cannot find wives. These single men tend to be the least educated and least talented because those with education and talent tend to be the most attractive to women, who have their pick of available men. This male skew has created potential social instability inside China apart from other stress factors in Chinese society such as income inequality and a high cost of living.
Declining workforce will see wages climb
As this article describes, the male/female skew is not the only unintended consequence of this misguided policy. China now has an insufficient number of younger people coming into the workforce to replace the rapidly aging adult workforce. Without much overstatement, China is facing a world where an increasingly large part of the population will be in their 80s and 90s, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s syndrome, and dementia (all of which are presently incurable and highly correlated with longevity), while the declining prime-age workforce will have to devote more resources to elder care. This leaves fewer resources for more productive types of work, such as construction and manufacturing.
The result of that will be higher wages as Chinese companies compete for fewer and fewer available workers. Those higher wages will in turn act like an inflation pump to send higher prices around the world. This is the exact opposite of China’s role in the past 30 years, which was to act like a deflation pump to the world because of its ample workers and low manufacturing wages.
Even a five-child policy wouldn’t matter
China is trying to reverse its error by moving to a ‘three-child policy’ just announced. But it’s too late. The Chinese people have adapted to the one-child world and have turned their backs on large families. China could announce a four- or five-child policy and it wouldn’t matter. Chinese families today (many composed of only children born in the 1980s and 1990s) simply don’t want large families. Get ready for a less productive and more inflationary world, all because of China’s misguided and inhumane effort to control normal population growth.
A great humourist deals with one of our most serious challenges
Millions know Mark Steyn as one of our sharpest social and political analysts. He has his own website and media channels and is seen frequently on television programs such as Tucker Carlson Tonight, with an audience of seven million viewers. Steyn has original and incisive views on important topics, but he manages to offer these views with a large dose of wry humour. Sometimes it’s satiric, sometimes more sardonic, but always funny.
That said, Steyn is an astute analyst, and in this column he points to one of the most serious issues facing the world today, while at the same time pointing out the total incompetence of The New York Times.
More elderly, fewer workers; birth rates can’t keep up
Demographics is one science where predicting future impacts is relatively straightforward because we already know based on current populations what those populations will be in 10, 20, or even 30 years’ time. All the 20-year-olds in the world alive today were born 20 years ago, and they’ll all be 40 years old in 20 years (but for predictable attrition based on accidents, wars, and disease). What we know now is that populations are aging rapidly, working age populations are shrinking, and birth rates are not even close to making up the difference for future populations. This means more elderly, more diseases associated with ageing, and fewer prime-age workers to provide needed care for the aged, and to pursue more productive labour.
Steyn also makes the point that this phenomenon is not limited to China, but is true of Western Europe, Japan, Russia, the US, Canada, and almost the entire developed world. Steyn takes aim at The New York Times by pointing out that he said all these things about demographic trends 15 years ago! Steyn said them in 2006 in a best-selling book he wrote that year.
The New York Times got around to saying almost exactly the same thing (which Steyn illustrates with side-by-side quotations) just over a week ago. As I described, long-term demographic forecasting is relatively easy. But waiting 15 years to pick up on one of the most important economic trends of the 21st century is just incompetent. Steyn got this critical story right and he had it early. And he managed to do it with a smile on his face.
All the best,
Strategist, The Daily Reckoning Australia
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