Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yuccies in Paradise?

Will China get old before it gets rich?

The harsh logic of China's one-child policy is starting to unravel, and census data to be released on Thursday may well stoke debate whether the aging nation should relax restrictions.

Demographers worry that without change, China will become the first country in the world to age before it gets rich.

Once seen as key to averting a Malthusian disaster of over-population, China's choke on family size to usually one child in cities and two in the countryside now threatens its economic future, many demographers say, with fewer people left to pay and care for an increasingly grey population.

They say maintaining that policy is a mistake with profound implications for the world's second-largest economy.

"China is on a downhill demographic vehicle in terms of low fertility and rapid aging," said Wang Feng, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, who specializes in China's demographics.

"By continuing the one-child policy, the effect is to step on the gas pedal. It's a vehicle that's going downhill and you're making it go faster. That makes no sense."

If you answer yes to the question of whether China will get old before it gets rich, the next question is whether ending or relaxing the strict family limits will have any effect on the problem.

I have my doubts. Getting richer would normally reduce family size, anyway. With China much richer now--although not rich enough to cope with their aging population--would China's young, urban, communist cadres suddenly decide that the glorious goal of getting rich (and enjoying it) should take a back seat to churning out babies (and taking care of them) for the good of the country's demographics? Europeans have trouble bribing their women of child-bearing age to have more babies.

Or would the peasantry be the only large segment of the population to start cranking the babies out?

Heck, maybe the reasonably enlightened rulers in Peking will simply mandate 2.1 children per couple.