Doug Saunders on China’s “one child” policy

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Over at the Globe and Mail, Doug Stanhope has an excellent, and sane, piece on China’s one child policy. The possibility of changing the policy is now being openly debated in Beijing. But as Stanhope rightly points out, the policy achieved next to nothing, but it did cause greater human suffering.

Here is a key section:

China should rightfully celebrate the stabilization of its population – but it should regard the one-child policy as an embarrassing legacy of the Cultural Revolution era, one that contributed nothing significant to the population decline and, in fact, did a lot of damage to China’s economy, its gender equality, its human rights and its psychological well-being.

Recent research has shown that the one-child policy has hurt rates of entrepreneurship; that the competitive pressures it has induced have reduced the marriage rate; that the “little emperor” phenomenon it has created has caused a sharp rise in childhood obesity rates, which has led to other health problems such as diabetes.

Worse, it means that China has as many as 40 million “missing” women – that is, female Chinese who would exist if equal numbers of boys and girls were being born. While this discrepancy – which implies that sex-selective abortion or infanticide are being practiced – is not as severe as in, for example, northern India, it still suggests that the one-child policy is creating forms of sex discrimination that were not previously part of Chinese society. (There were, by the most recent estimates, 4.4 extra boys for every 100 girls in the 1980s, and 7 extra in the 1990s and 2000s). Furthermore, it means that those girls who are born to two-child families suffer educational discrimination compared to children from one-child families, receiving on average almost a year less education than their brothers.

The one-child policy has also created a widespread of unfairness and corruption, because it is not evenly applied. In much of China, you rarely see families with fewer than two children; the fines for having a second child are, for many families, negligible, or simply ignored. But among families whose employment is close to the state, or those in some poor rural districts which still have rigid administrations, it can be expensive, restrictive and oppressive.

The lesson Beijing should have learned is that none of this was necessary: Family sizes would have dropped, and population would have stabilized, anyway. It was the economic and social-development policies that were a triumph; the family planning was an unnecessary sideshow.

The basic fact that development is the way to reduce population growth has yet to be accepted by many in the endless debate over population growth. But the facts remain.

Read the rest of Saunders’ piece here.