Road to decline: China’s one-child mandate

Paul Liben Contributor
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Despite all the talk of China’s inevitable ascendancy, the seeds are being sown for its potential decline.

This was underscored by a recent AP story that its government will not discontinue its 30-year policy of limiting families to just one child.

The rationale for the policy was plain enough: Governing the world’s most populous country, China’s leaders were convinced that China’s problem was too many people.  Clearly, they were Malthusians.  They believed that while food production and other resources increased arithmetically, population was rising exponentially.

Given this calculus, they concluded that compulsory limits on population were imperative.

From a human rights standpoint, this long-time mandate was disturbing.  One can believe that overpopulation is a problem without embracing such solutions.  One can encourage birth control without compelling everyone to practice it.

But is the premise behind the policy correct?  Must population growth outstrip resource growth, including food production?

The answer is no.  Thanks to the modern technology and genetics revolutions, the 20th century’s record increases in world population have been exceeded by record rises in resource and food production.  Today, the world is eminently capable of producing more than enough food each year to feed every person on the planet.

Why, then, does starvation persist in parts of the world?  The answer can be summed up in two words — bad government.

Government is the culprit when its leaders plunge nations into ruinous wars with each other, destroying farms and other productive capacity.  It’s at fault when it collectivizes agriculture, as China had done under Mao.

Most of all, it’s to blame when it sees people as liabilities instead of assets, mouths to feed rather than hands to feed them, drains on resources instead of the greatest of resources.

In other words, because bad governments have little respect for human dignity and worth, they have little understanding of human power and potential.  Put another way, political tyrannies can create economic basket cases.

China is hardly a basket case economically.  Its economy has been growing faster than ever. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty.

Its success, though, has nothing to do with its population programs.  It has everything to do with the antithesis of tyranny, with its leaders wisely deciding to make its economy more free, unleashing its people to produce and innovate more.

On the contrary, China’s one-child mandate is the very thing that can derail its economic progress.  By reducing the supply of future producers and innovators, it limits its ability to sustain its current growth. One child per family means eventual population decline, and population decline signals an end to economic expansion.

But that’s not all.  China’s one-child policy may eventually lead to a pension crisis, with not enough younger workers to support elderly retirees.  And unlike the United States and Europe, China has no history of throwing open its doors to large-scale immigration or guest workers who might fill the gap created by the birth dearth.

Make no mistake: China’s future is imperiled by its one-child-only policies.  It needs to rid itself of this mandate, and other relics from the past, including the Malthusian bias that is behind such measures.

Paul Liben has worked in New York City and Washington, DC as a speechwriter for the past 15 years. He served as a speechwriter for New York Governor George Pataki and then as director of speechwriting for U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.  A published writer, he has written op-eds for more than 100 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer and Houston Chronicle.