I was going to write today about how population is very important when it comes to measuring success in the Olympics. It should not be a straight “who has the most gold medals?” analysis.  Instead, we can only meaningfully measure success by weighting the medal tally of each country by the population of each country. After all, larger countries have a larger pool of potentially good runners, shooters, throwers, cyclists, swimmers etc and this should be taken into account.  However, after Jamaica’s success at the blue riband sprinting events this morning, I’ve suddenly decided that this isn’t so important… Oh well, at least New Zealand is still beating our traditional sporting rivals – Slovenia and Hungary…

So instead I’ve decided to look at an issue that we’ve covered before on this blog: China. Particularly, China’s human-rights abusive One Child Policy. With more women coming forward with their stories of forced abortions – in this terrible story the child was less than a month away from the delivery date – surely it is time that the Chinese government changed its policy? Well, it probably won’t merely because I (or anyone else from outside of the country) say so.

(As an aside, it is interesting thinking about the treatment of forced abortions in the West in the media. We allow abortions in restricted circumstances – although quite frankly the law is ignored in NZ so that we have abortion on demand – so we can’t attack the Chinese government for forced abortions on the grounds of killing a child and remain consistent. So, presumably, all we can get shocked about is the “forced” part. That is, the woman did not choose to have an abortion.  Viewing a forced abortion in this sense only, what difference is there between forced abortions and common assault? Not to belittle assault, but it is practised very frequently by governments all around the world including China. So why does one case of assault make the international headlines? What makes forced abortions different? Is it because we recognise that something else is at play here? Deep down do we realise that a child (a member of the most innocent class in society) has been killed? Even if we do not want to acknowledge the implications of such a realisation?  Aside ended.)

Instead, the Chinese government will have to decide that the benefits of the policy no longer justify its imposition. But as Yanzhong Huang argues in the Atlantic, despite coherent arguments against the policy on the grounds of China’s national interest, it won’t be changing anytime soon. First, there are enormous economic and social costs that result from the policy:

“…the policy is undermining China’s international competitiveness. According to a leading demographer on China, by 2013, with the growth rate of net consumers exceeding the growth rate of net producers, China’s demographic dividend growth rate will turn negative. A rapidly aging population (thirteen percent of the population is over 60, the retirement age for men in China) makes elderly care a major concern in a country where the social security system is still underdeveloped…In addition, the persistent male preference under the one child policy has led to infanticide, selective abortion, and female abandonment, which result in an extremely high sex ratio at birth (SRB). The current ratio in China is about 120, or 120 boys to 100 girls. Eight years from now, there may be 40 million more men of marriageable age than there are women in China. Already, the large number of young migrant male workers has contributed to a booming commercial sex industry in China.”

We’ve blogged about both of those issues before. (In fact my first post here at Mercatornet was about the instability a surplus of unmarried males poses to China!)  The trouble is that even if these costs are acknowledged, there are other factors keeping the policy in place:

“The policy has created vested interests resistant to any significant change. Its largest beneficiary is the family planning bureaucracy, represented by the National Population and Family Planning Commission and its local branches. There is also the problem of institutional “stickiness”: the policy has become law and, as a “fundamental state policy,” enshrined in the Constitution.

But the largest hurdle is the mentality. Thanks to the three decades of persuasion and propaganda, many Chinese have come to accept, internalize, and reproduce the hegemonic view of the state about the necessity of sustaining one-child policy. Talk with ten people in China, at least six may tell you how population control is important for China’s development and how a shift to a laissez-faire approach will be disastrous for the country.”

If this is correct, then it seems to be much easier to impose a law of social engineering than it is to remove it. Perhaps other countries might want to keep that in mind…Finally, even if the policy is reversed, Huang does not see that it will make much difference to China’s low birthrate:

“…abandoning the population policy is unlikely to lead to a population surge that the Chinese leaders have long feared. The high living expenses will dampen the incentives for couples to have more kids. Ask any young couple in a major Chinese city whether they would like to have a second child if they are allowed to do so, you will get almost the same answer: No.”

So removing the policy will be good in that human rights abuses will no longer occur under it, but whether it will help with China’s dearth of girls or future workers is another matter. At least with a declining birthrate, China can look forward to dominating the population weighted Olympic medal tally, as well as the traditional one.  

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...