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The Wisdom of the One-Child Policy

I don't know that I have ever heard a more reprehensible set of opening paragraphs.

By finally backing away from its one-child policy, China would seem to be opening the gates again to demographic expansion. But it may prove an opening that few Chinese embrace, for a host of reasons.

Initially, the one-child policy made great sense. The expansion of China’s power under Mao Zedong was predicated in part on an ever-growing population. Between 1950 and 1990, the country’s Maoist era, the population, roughly doubled to 1.2 billion, according to U.N. figures. Deng Xiaoping’s move to limit population growth turned out to be a wise policy, at least initially, allowing China to focus more on industrialization and less on feeding an ever-growing number of mouths.

Hmmm... Yeah. Can you imagine someone writing like this, instead?

Initially, the native-relocation policy made great sense. The expansion of US power during the post-colonial period was predicated in part on an ever-growing agricultural and industrial base. Between 1783 and 1830, the states' population had grown rapidly, and the acculturation of Native Americans was slow. The Indian Removal Act was wise legislation, allowing the US to focus on the development of agriculture and industrialization without clashing with natives or having difficulty allocating land among US citizens.

No mention of the Trail of Tears, forcibly removing people from their homes, 10-40% death rates on the road?

And in the article about China, no mention of the terror: the forced abortion, infanticide, compulsory sterilization, jailing and beatings of those who tried to hide their relatives' pregnancies, jailing of activists, or soaring suicide rates. No mention of the fact that the two-child policy still has the full force of the same government behind it on the same issue.

No, instead, we get, "this policy clearly has outlived its usefulness" and a bit of demographic calculus.

It will be said that Mr. Kotkin focuses on demographic trends. This is like saying that people who focus on medicine should focus on the wisdom of using various torture methods, without any reference to the fact that it's, you know, torture.

If you want to get a solid look at "technocracy", this is your chance.

Comments (2)

Kotkin clearly prides himself on taking an "objective" view--which means, morally bankrupt and purely utilitarian. Of course, the value judgements are like a bump in the carpet. We have just moved to asking ourselves why we should give a tinker's damn about the "usefulness" of the one-child policy (or the two-child policy) if we didn't care about its moral evil in the first place. Why again do we care about aging populations, male-female imbalance, and an unsustainable economy? Something to do with human flourishing or social stability? Why do we care about those, again? Why, indeed, care about anything if we don't care about right and wrong in the first place?

To all of this, Kotkin has no answer. His prose is a perfect attempted application of what relativist Richard Rorty meant when he said that truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with. (That is not an endorsement of Rorty's view, lest there be any ambiguity!) Kotkin writes for his social science peers, and his carefully affectless paragraphs about a heinous policy, plus the evidence of what he chooses to assume that his readers care about, tell us a lot about that peer group.


This reminds me of the liberals who fawn over China's authoritarianism because it is easier to force people to do something about climate change when you don't have to deal with democracy:

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power.

That's a Tom Friedman classic back from 2009. Of course, it turns out that authoritarian rulers are also really good at lying through their teeth:


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