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China Relaxation of One-Child Policy


txlaw
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It seems to me that the premise of the one-child policy is this idea that people are a drag on per-capita wealth because wealth is a static pie. Under capitalism, we see people as creators of value. I guess that's why they're commies.

 

Why do you think that's their premise?

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It seems to me that the premise of the one-child policy is this idea that people are a drag on per-capita wealth because wealth is a static pie. Under capitalism, we see people as creators of value. I guess that's why they're commies.

 

I think there's a lot more to it than that.

The Chinese birth-rate intentionally dropped towards the end of Mao's life as a result of government incentives.

 

For many years the Middle Kingdom had been exporting as much farm produce as possible in exchange for military and industrial technology/equipment so they could catch up with the developed world.

My guess is that when you have between 200 to 400 million extra people on your hands and they're all starving then the chances of getting overthrown increase dramatically.

By my reckoning, that is one reason why the 1-child policy was perhaps favored by the party leadership.

 

Another, more general reason, was likely that China already had a massive population anyway and anyone could see it was only going to multiply and therefore the amount of food and natural resources (water, etc) that would be needed to sustain a nation of that size was going to be really extraordinary.

As a result, from a pragmatic perspective it arguably made a lot of sense to limit growth until enough supply was able to be produced at which point you could always remove the policy (as they're doing now) and return to a more laissez-faire approach.

 

The thing to keep in mind is that this is not the same as having millions and millions of European immigrants pile into a large, practically uninhabited continent teeming with bison and all sorts of natural bounty.

When you have that type of situation on your hands then you're more likely to want to encourage population growth so that your culture can become socially and geographically dominant.

 

The differences between China and the US are pretty big and long-standing regarding population growth/control when you take the big picture into account.

Seems to me both of them simply followed their national interests.

Nothing new there (in terms of realpolitik), I don't think.

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It seems to me that the premise of the one-child policy is this idea that people are a drag on per-capita wealth because wealth is a static pie. Under capitalism, we see people as creators of value. I guess that's why they're commies.

 

Why do you think that's their premise?

 

I dunno, it seems the most obvious explanation to not want more people on the earth. Now look at ajc's post which is dripping with the premise [emphasis mine]:

 

Edit: Clarifying at JBird's suggestion, I think this is their premise because all communist ideologies view wealth as a quantity to be distributed. As such, a greater population means less distribution per person. Therefore the logical answer would be to limit the population.

 

I think there's a lot more to it than that.

The Chinese birth-rate intentionally dropped towards the end of Mao's life as a result of government incentives.

 

For many years the Middle Kingdom had been exporting as much farm produce as possible in exchange for military and industrial technology/equipment so they could catch up with the developed world.

My guess is that when you have between 200 to 400 million extra people on your hands and they're all starving then the chances of getting overthrown increase dramatically.

By my reckoning, that is one reason why the 1-child policy was perhaps favored by the party leadership.

 

Another, more general reason, was likely that China already had a massive population anyway and anyone could see it was only going to multiply and therefore the amount of food and natural resources (water, etc) that would be needed to sustain a nation of that size was going to be really extraordinary.

As a result, from a pragmatic perspective it arguably made a lot of sense to limit growth until enough supply was able to be produced at which point you could always remove the policy (as they're doing now) and return to a more laissez-faire approach.

 

The thing to keep in mind is that this is not the same as having millions and millions of European immigrants pile into a large, practically uninhabited continent teeming with bison and all sorts of natural bounty.

When you have that type of situation on your hands then you're more likely to want to encourage population growth so that your culture can become socially and geographically dominant.

 

The differences between China and the US are pretty big and long-standing regarding population growth/control when you take the big picture into account.

Seems to me both of them simply followed their national interests.

Nothing new there (in terms of realpolitik), I don't think.

 

It's a misunderstanding of where wealth comes from. Material values are produced. The pie is not a static quantity of resources.

 

Edit: Clarifying example- North America has a lot of oil. This is a finite resource that we have but it was not a resource to the Native Americans that inhabited the land before us. It was a sticky useless goo that actually made certain pieces of land uninhabitable. It was only after man applied his mind to nature that the goo became a value or a resource. And that fallacy of finite food supplies has been exploded so many times it's silly. And that Ehrlich guy still gets credit from environmentalists for that crappy book lol. Anyways, the US grew its GDP at an absurd rate in the 19th century while simultaneously welcoming millions of immigrants. If you think the US is just some resource laden land where all you had to do was pull an apple off a tree to feed your family I'm afraid you're mistaken! Read about any of the early colonies. I'm sure you could come up with some rare exceptions (like the random apple tree) but resources are only resources once man creates them. Capitalism is the system that frees man's ability to do the creating. Exercising your mind and acting on your conclusions is impossible under coercive government systems.

 

Edit 2: To keep on with the oil example. How long have we been told about peak oil? Why haven't we hit peak oil? Because we continue to find ways to rearrange nature and create value. ie. fracking. And then critics say, well you can't keep counting on technological improvements! But again, they're not understanding where values come from.

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Edit: Clarifying example- North America has a lot of oil. This is a finite resource that we have but it was not a resource to the Native Americans that inhabited the land before us. It was a sticky useless goo that actually made certain pieces of land uninhabitable. It was only after man applied his mind to nature that the goo became a value or a resource. And that fallacy of finite food supplies has been exploded so many times it's silly. And that Ehrlich guy still gets credit from environmentalists for that crappy book lol. Anyways, the US grew its GDP at an absurd rate in the 19th century while simultaneously welcoming millions of immigrants. If you think the US is just some resource laden land where all you had to do was pull an apple off a tree to feed your family I'm afraid you're mistaken! Read about any of the early colonies. I'm sure you could come up with some rare exceptions (like the random apple tree) but resources are only resources once man creates them. Capitalism is the system that frees man's ability to do the creating. Exercising your mind and acting on your conclusions is impossible under coercive government systems.

 

Edit 2: To keep on with the oil example. How long have we been told about peak oil? Why haven't we hit peak oil? Because we continue to find ways to rearrange nature and create value. ie. fracking. And then critics say, well you can't keep counting on technological improvements! But again, they're not understanding where values come from.

 

Do you believe that given the right technology, the food supply is not finite? And do you believe that given the right drilling technology, the world's oil supply is not finite?

 

Peak oil is the idea that the rate of oil production will one day reach a maximum. This a logical conclusion that stems from two premises a) that the world's oil supply is not infinite and b) that we're consuming oil faster than Nature can create it.

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Do you believe that given the right technology, the food supply is not finite? And do you believe that given the right drilling technology, the world's oil supply is not finite?

 

Peak oil is the idea that the rate of oil production will one day reach a maximum. This a logical conclusion that stems from two premises a) that the world's oil supply is not infinite and b) that we're consuming oil faster than Nature can create it.

 

Hmmm, I don't think I'm being very clear trying to explain this. I've thought about it a lot so let me try to answer your questions and explain. There's a finite amount of oil on earth- I don't think anyone can debate that! Earth itself is finite. I'm sure you could do the math and say well, after X billion people there will be nowhere left to stand. I mean, now we're entering the realm of absurdity but it is definitely true because the earth is finite. I'm not saying that one day far in the future all of the oil will have been burnt. That's not to say we won't figure out a way to reclaim material back out of the atmosphere- who knows this is all science fiction and conjecture.

 

What I'm saying is observe what's going on and draw an induction. In the days of the cavemen they probably worried that one day we'll run out of trees for fire wood. Eventually man figured out how to extract energy from coal. And then people get worried- we're going to run out of coal one day and it's going to be a disaster! Man discovers oil. Okay, that's just for now. One day we're going to run out of oil! Man improves exploration and extraction techniques and it turns out we have way more oil than anyone thought 30-40 years ago. Okay that works now but one day we're going to run out of all fossil fuels! Man creates nuclear power. Oh alright that should last some time but one day we're going to run out of Uranium and THEN WHAT?? I really don't know. I don't have an answer (if I did I'd be rich rich rich). Practical solar seems possible. But what happens when we run out of silicon!! Do you see where I'm going with this? There's a philosophic principle here which is: Nature is finite but man's capacity to rearrange it for his benefit is infinite. And that idea ties in with the idea that wealth is created BY man. This second idea you can draw from your own experiences.

 

Those two ideas allow you to see that the famines under Mao and other 'population problems' are not a result of excess population but rather systems of government that do not allow the populations to be free to create wealth. In ajc's post he talks about controlling the population until supply catches up with demand. Where does he/she think supply comes from? It comes from the population.

 

Anyways, I hope that clarified things. Probably not but I gave it my best shot lol.

 

Edit: Woops, sorry I missed your question on food. It's really the same as energy though. How many hundreds of years have economists been predicting peak food. You've got the Ehrlichs in the 70s saying, well there is only X amount of arable land so if the population keeps growing at Y % a year then everyones going to starve by 1990!! Instead it's 2013 an everyone is fat haha. That should at least be an indication that there is something very wrong with the way the Ehrlichs are thinking about the world. And I don't think it's right to conclude therefore that population and technology are in some kind of race and if population wins then we're doomed. Technology is a product of population and our completely ridiculous growth in human wealth since the age of enlightenment (you've seen the hockey stick chart?) is proof that our ability to create wealth FAR outstrips any population growth we experience. Again, this is because wealth is created by the population (assuming it's free).

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In 1950, the population in China was somewhere between 400MM - 500MM.  By 1979, it was a billion, and one child policy needed to be instituted.  (The growth rate was about 2x that experienced in the US post war baby boom, which was unprecedented up till then).  The population didn't naturally more than double during that twenty odd years.  Starting in the 1950's, Mao encouraged families to have as many children as possible, partly to replenish the soldiers lost in the Korean War.  Mothers who gave birth to more than 10 children are given the title of “glorious mother”. Most Chinese who are in their 60's and 70's have, by today's standard, extremely large number of siblings.  The baby boom in post war China was given an extra policy steroid.  The policy, of course, needed to be turned 180 degree by the time of Mao's death.

 

China was the most populous country by the 1500's, partly as a reflection of the development of its social economic sophistication relative the the rest of the world by that time.  The policy induced demographic change post 1949 is another piece of social engineering that the central planners will never acknowledge as a silly mistake.

 

The Malthusian line of argument, while may have validity in short run, is a bad argument in the long run.  I would never bet against the human race in the truly long run.  Whenever I see relics of past civilization, I simply can't help but marvel at the ingenuity that they embed.  How do you bet against the limit of a humanity that built the pyramid without 20th century machinery, travelled to the moon, figured out how to communicate thousands of miles without even using a wire and converted atoms into energy!   

 

 

 

 

 

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It's a misunderstanding of where wealth comes from. Material values are produced. The pie is not a static quantity of resources.

 

That requires personnel, expertise and time.

 

In post-revolutionary China, all of those were in short supply given that the elites had either fled, been killed or moved to labor camps.

As a result, it's likely that with a growing population, economic demand starts to drastically outstrip supply and your government loses control plus your civilization-changing revolution ends.

Not much of a winning policy.

 

Mao brought in some Soviet scientists, engineers, etc at the time in order to train the new generation of young communists but that's not an overnight process when you're starting almost from scratch in a relatively balkanized country where you're trying to create a completely different economic, social and political order.

 

Anyway, towards the end of his rule official government pressure on birth rates started being exerted and a few years after his death the 1-child policy got introduced but I don't think the delivery of enough added value was possible in China at the time given the human expertise constraints they were up against.

That'd be my best guesstimate on this argument anyway.

 

As far as the US not having much natural bounty goes, I'd be glad to hear of any colony that had a better ratio of bounty to population than the North American continent.

As far as I'm aware, there isn't one.

That's not to say of course, that ingenuity and innovation didn't have a huge part to play but when you're dealing with bison, fish, gold, etc all in massive quantities then that provides many of the building blocks for a civilization to do all its value-creating on top of.

 

Further, when you have such relatively excellent conditions and abundance and a ruling government that's an ocean away you are able to foster a far more unique and independent culture and approach to life.

So to extrapolate from the few early settlers who arrived on a crappy part of the mainland and didn't have numbers or knowledge is not exactly persuasive because clearly you're going to be defensive in that situation.

When you've got 20 or 30 million roaming the land though, then that's a different ball-game because then the population and power dynamics are all in your favor.

So the rugged individual narrative definitely has merit to it, but I wouldn't believe all of what you've read about it in the history books.

American settlers got dealt a great natural hand, of that there's very little doubt.

 

Anyway, none of that really has much to do with China excepting that in a land as big, well-laden and empty of humans as the North American continent it was far easier to have the individual ethic develop since as long as you had a gun and a horse you could live and chances are no-one would be able to really impose much control over you because you'd just get up and move somewhere else that had everything you needed.

Did an innate individualism play a major role in that regardless?

I'd say yes, those settlers were adventurous people otherwise they wouldn't have been there but I think you'd be making a mistake if you didn't give any consideration to how a big, open and well-stocked land might impact personal, economic and political behavior and how it evolved.

That's my (short) really basic view on the development and history of the current US socio-political and economic structure anyway.

 

Of course, China with its feudal system and millions of poor peasants is another issue entirely.

A bit like France before its revolution, if I was going to make a quick comparison though the majority were probably even more worse off.

 

The Chinese however have done pretty well for themselves for anyone whose been paying attention, and really I'm not sure others could've done any better in their unique situation.

Say what you want about socialism and state capitalism, but it's worked wonderfully for them and perhaps it's even the greatest stunt that's ever been pulled off in global history up until now.

Either way, it's up there in terms of modernization and lifting people out of poverty so my 2 cents on this is that the 1-child issue has probably always been overblown inasmuch as it was run as a news story that pitted West against East

 

Time will tell, I suppose, what it means for them but my own view is that on balance it was probably necessary at the time and turned out to be a success overall.

Who knows, maybe it even prevented a massive armed conflict or two.

Sometimes these thing are so easy to pre-judge and jump to conclusions over, to my thinking.

I think a more open-minded and prudent perspective are always going to be better when it comes to understanding such issues over the long-term...

 

*Getting off my soapbox now*

 

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It's absolutely true that North America is resource rich.  The discovery of America and its integration into the world economy on European terms is certainly one of the most important factors in explaining the ascent of the western economies.  Precisely for that reason that humanity has been migrating from Eurasia to the Americas for the past 500 years, and will probably continue to do so for the next 500.

 

But I don't buy the argument that somehow socially engineered demography was necessary, or even desired in China for it to have developed over the past 30 years.  The baby boom in the US did end by the 70's.  The population of Japan and Germany are in decline, all without the dictate of a governmental policy.  Even with the one child policy, the truth is the Chinese government could never really control what went on in rural China anyway.  And today, even without the government's dictate, the traditional preference of boys over girls is gradually given way for most families, even in the rural areas, because finding a wife is getting to be ridiculously expensive for families with boys.  The one child policy has as much to do with China's economic success in the past 30 years as the previous "glorious mother" policy has to do with the economic failures during the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward.  They are "lazy solutions" by the central planners with unintended consequences for generations to come.

 

 

 

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