Thursday, October 29, 2015

China Ends the One Child Policy

China's "one child" policy never applied to half the country, and even in the cities it has been springing leaks in every direction for twenty years. Now it is officially ended, and all urban couples are allowed two children. The policy was successful in reducing China's birth rate, which fell faster than in other rapidly developing Asian countries; if China's rate had tracked economic development like Korea's did, there would be tens of millions more Chinese people. On the other hand, it was a repressive measure that blighted many lives.

But now, of course, birth rates are plummeting in all developed countries, and China is more likely to face a shortage of working-age people than a surplus. Demographers have probably been telling the government to repeal the law for at least a decade. And now they have.

Something like this makes one wonder about how much government matters. Since 1945 people in Japan, Korea, and China have all gone through similar rapid transitions from high birth rate rural societies to low birth rate urban ones; Europe and North America experienced the same "demographic transition" over a longer time frame. Government policy has influenced these changes at the margins, but on the whole they have happened everywhere regardless of what the government did. Some of the facts of modern life -- urbanization, bureaucracy, struggles over pollution, changes in transportation and mobility, etc. -- have been pretty much worldwide. In the face of such enormous forces, how much do our votes matter?

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