China's Relaxation Of Its One-Child Policy Is A Bright Spot From 2013

Posted: Jan 6 2014, 9:36pm CST | by , in News

China's Relaxation Of Its One-Child Policy Is A Bright Spot From 2013
Photo Credit: Forbes

By Scott Beaulier

As the year came to an end, there were plenty of things from 2013 to look back on and be pessimistic about. Edward Snowden’s revelations about the scale and scope of NSA spying, for example, were reason enough to be worried about our country’s future. Besides Snowden’s bombshell, civilian deaths thanks to drone strikes by the U.S., an ongoing civil war in Syria and schizophrenic U.S. foreign policy reactions to the conflict, and a new pope with strong, flawed views about capitalism were also reasons to be gloomy about our future on the global stage. And, then there are the North Korean prison camps, which some believe are on a scale of severity not seen since Nazi atrocities. Amid all of the bad news, there were plenty of stories of heroism, innovation, and policy change for the better. Inspiring acts of kindness like the ones highlighted in  this listoccurred in America and around the world throughout 2013.  Major medical advances in cancer treatment, for example, are leading to remissions for small groups of people who, until now, wouldn’t have stood much of a chance; such breakthroughs in medicine are reason to be hopeful. And, in the policy world, even polarized places like Washington, DC took a break long enough to hammer out a budget deal that  does little to address our nation’s spending problems but at least reduces uncertainty about shutdowns and gridlock for the next couple of years. While there are many great candidates like the stories mentioned above, the story I was most excited about in 2013 was  a policy change that happened late in the year in China. Since 1979, China has had a one-child policy. But, that came to an end on Saturday when their system relaxed some of the rules on reproduction. As long as one partner in a couple is an only child, a family can now have a second child. And, in rural villages, families who have a daughter first will be granted the right to have a second child as well. While these changes aren’t nearly enough, they are a big step in the right direction in that they get the government out of one of the most important and fundamentally private decisions people will make in their lives. Since the one-child policy was implemented in 1979, it is believed that somewhere around 400 million children were not born as a result. The loss of these children is devastating for the Chinese families prohibited by government from living freely; it’s awful for China’s national economy in terms of economic growth; and it’s a tragedy felt all over the world. It’s a loss for us all because, contrary to the opinion of many environmentalists and fear-mongers worried about a coming “population bomb,” more people are a better thing for the world. To hold back population is to hold back progress, and that’s what China has done to itself and the rest of us through its one-child policy. The changes to their one-child policy that came on Saturday night is an acknowledgement of sorts that their policy was a bad idea, and it is also a response to warped demographic patterns that include a high ratio of elderly people relative to youth and a high ratio of males to females (thanks to the millions of abortions and infanticides that come with parents only getting one child). We can only hope that reformers quickly realize the benefits of more liberal reproduction policies and further relax Mao’s ridiculous 1979 policies. Or, if we really want to get optimistic to start 2014, we can hope Chinese officials pick up a copy of one of the best and most important books in economics,  The Ultimate Resource by Julian Simon. Simon is the ultimate optimist and one of the most important economists to have ever lived. In  The Ultimate Resource, he makes the terribly important point that human creativity is the ultimate resource. And, in a world with more people, there’s more opportunity for ingenuity, innovation, and big world-changing ideas. When I was in 5th grade, for example, I remember learning that most natural resources would be exhausted by 2000 and for sure by 2020. I was also told the air in America would be so bad that everyone would be wearing gas masks and acid rain would erode all major building. In fact, all of the natural resources available when I was a kid are still here, and many like natural gas are more abundant than ever. The air has improved in part thanks to regulation but in big part thanks to innovations and technologies that save firms money by producing more efficiently (and with less pollutants). All of this unforeseen progress is thanks almost to human ingenuity and people–all of whom were lucky enough to be born–discovering new ways of doing things. Commodity markets for staples like corn and wheat serve as another example. My childhood television viewing was filled with commercials of starving children who could, “for just a few dollars per day,” be saved. While starvation and extreme poverty remains a serious issue, the world as a whole has been growing steadily in population. Despite predictions by some that we’ll run out of food and oil and shelter,  the average person is living better today than he or she could have lived at any other point in human history. That’s one of the greatest and most under-appreciated secrets of modern life, and it’s Simon who calls on us to recognize the role of humanity–the holder of the ultimate resource (i.e., our minds and imaginations)–in the process. The ultimate resource is the human mind, and any policies that stand in the way of more human minds come front and center for me as policies most in need of change. Thus, the fact Chinese reformers are doing a little more (but still not as much as they should be!) to just get out of the way and let more human minds exist is the big story for me of 2013, and, if you trust Julian Simon and basic economic thinking, it’s one of the big good news stories for you too! Scott Beaulier is Chair of the Economics and Finance Division and Director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University. Email Scott at  sbeaulier@troy.eduFollow the Johnson Center on Facebook and Twitter (@Johnson_Center)

Source: Forbes

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