Tuesday, November 03, 2015

I'm Like the Non-Radio Version of Delilah

I had a request from Alanna to write about the changes to China's one-child policy. If the request had been accompanied by some sappy dedication letter, I would include it here. But it wasn't. It just said, "Hey, fool, write something someone actually wants to read for a change!" And so here it is.

In economics when we teach about price controls we make a distinction between binding and non-binding price controls. A maximum price of $2 for a barrel of oil would be binding right now, meaning it would actually change the market for oil. A maximum price of, say, $5,000 for a barrel would currently be non-binding.

For most people in urban China, the one-child policy has not been a binding constraint lately. This was shown when the policy was relaxed in various ways over the past few years and the forecasted children weren't created. The majority of middle- and upper-class Chinese don't want two kids.

This shouldn't be surprising when we remember that Japan has demographic problems and no government fertility restrictions in sight. The modern developed world is a less-fertile place. Deal with it.

China isn't dealing with it, and this policy change isn't really a change, at all. After all, the biggest problem with the one-child policy from a liberalism perspective was the control itself. That remains. The Redefales (remember, Red Federales--we're going to make this a thing, people!) will still force you to have an abortion and will still force you to be sterilized. The only difference is when that will happen. This isn't a victory for liberalism.

So the change will be great news for the small set of people who want a second child, but it's not an expansion of freedom in any sense. It won't change the overall demographic problems that China won't address. That would require a removal of any fertility restrictions and hope that the actively-breeding rural poor have enough kids to offset the demographic mischief the Party has done, but that's not desirable because it would undo so much of the economic gains China has worked for. And with the rumors I read about the true current state of the economy (limping along in the top-tier cities and dismal in the hinterlands), the last thing China's potential breeding grounds need is, in the words of Elvis, "another little hungry mouth to feed." Especially if internal migration continues to be as restricted as it currently is.

This makes it sound like I subscribe to the Malthusian views that were the basis of the fertility controls in the first place. I don't. But free breeding in the poor areas won't work well with massive state interventions in investment and internal migration. If, in the future, the two-child policy isn't working (as it won't), and so the government moves to free reproductive rights while continuing to direct state investment into the top-tier areas and continuing to restrict movement to the economically-developed areas, then you will see either real advances in liberalism or brutal repression, and probably both.

In other news, the "life coach" label is now also serving as a "futurist" label. Both of them are my future phoney-baloney careers.

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