Last week the Chinese Communist Party issued a statement indicating that couples would now be able to have two children, signalling the end of the infamous one child policy. Whilst this is still an almost unimaginable transgression on the freedom of the Chinese people, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction.
China’s one child policy was introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 and is thought to have prevented some 400 million births. The government incorrectly believed that a growing population, at the time approaching one billion, would have a negative impact on China’s economic ambitions.
Those who complied with the policy were sometimes encouraged with employment and financial incentives, while those who did not were fined. At times, forced abortions and mass sterilisation measures were also practiced. Traditional Chinese cultural preference for male children meant that a large number of female babies were abandoned or placed in orphanages. Notoriously, sex-selective abortions and female infanticide took place.
Unfortunately, the Chinese government has amended its one child policy for practical, rather than philosophical reasons. By 2050, more than a quarter of the population will be over 65. By 2020 China will have 30 million single men who will remain that way for the rest of their life.
Now is an appropriate time to re-state the basic truth that the best form of population control is economic growth. As people become richer, they simply have fewer children. In an excellent piece in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, Dr Patrick Carvalho from the CIS pointed out that China’s spiralling fertility rate over the timespan of the one child policy roughly matches that of other nations who enjoyed similar per capita income growth.
He goes on to say that ‘population bomb’ fears generally are unfounded. Most demographers think the world’s population will stabilise at 10 billion in 2050 as more economic growth takes place. In 1960 a woman had on average 5.02 children. Today, that figure is 2.51.
In other words, population fears are another doomsday scenario that human innovation has averted.