The Two-Child Policy

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July 24 2009 10:17 AM

The Two-Child Policy

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William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Remember that Chinese policy of restricting most couples to one child ? Apparently, the bean counters in Shanghai (actually, they're human-being counters) have changed their minds. According to Reuters :

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Shanghai is urging eligible couples to have two children as worries about the looming liability of an aging population outweighs concerns about over-stretched resources, a city official said on Friday. The policy marks the first time in decades Chinese officials have actively encouraged procreation. ... More children would help relieve the heavy pressure from aging people, said Zhang Meixin, a spokesman for the Shanghai Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission ...

The U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies warned in April that by 2050 China ... will have just 1.6 working-age adults to support every person aged 60 and above, compared with 7.7 in 1975. ... China's underfunded state pension system and shrinking family size has removed a traditional layer of support for elders, leaving society ill-prepared to cope with an aging population.

You don't say.

This is the main problem with central family planning (if you don't count the tyranny ). Centralized systems are more farsighted but less sensitive and adaptive than decentralized systems. Look at abortion rates in nontotalitarian countries: They go up or down in conjunction with economic indicators . Each woman decides how big a family she can afford and whether now is a good time to have a baby. Sure, there are outliers and mistakes. But overall, the crowd of procreators acts prudently. And when circumstances change, family size adjusts accordingly.

Centralized systems interfere with this natural dynamic. They make it harder to change course. And they never seem to learn that the problem is centralization itself.

So good luck, Shanghai being counters. May your generational ledgers even out, despite you.

 

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