China and the Law of Unintended Consequences
China plans to introduce “birth rewards and subsidies to encourage people to have a second child,” Reuters reports. This comes on the heels of Beijing’s decision in 2015 to end the monstrous one-child policy. It seems someone in Beijing’s halls of power has realized that this sort of industrial-scale social engineering has enormous unintended consequences.
As a result of the one-child policy, which Deng Xiaoping (China’s “paramount leader” after Mao’s death) said was necessary to make sure “the fruits of economic growth are not devoured by population growth,” 336 million abortions have been performed, with the scythe decimating China’s female population. The ratio of newborn girls to newborn boys is 100:119. The biological norm is 100:103.
Some of the abortions are involuntary; some of the illegal births lead to involuntary sterilization. Beijing allows families to pay a fine and keep their baby if they exceed their state-mandated allotment of children, but most families cannot pay the fine. In a 2012 case, as the Washington Post details, government officials arrested a woman after she became pregnant with her second child. Seven months into her pregnancy, they demanded $6,000 in fines. “When the family couldn’t get the money together, the officials gave her an injection that killed the baby, whom the mother delivered stillborn while in police custody.” Government officials then forced the woman to wait alongside her baby’s body while paperwork was processed.
Calloused by decades of mass-purges and manmade famines, Beijing is not moved by such stories. What has gotten Beijing’s attention is how the one-child policy has deformed China’s demographics. Thanks to the one-child policy, China’s population is rapidly aging. By 2040, the number of working-age adults in China will shrink by 10 percent—a loss of 90 million workers. The number of senior citizens in China is growing by 3.7 percent annually—a staggering figure, according to demographers.
What does this have to do with U.S. foreign policy and international security?
First, a regime capable of forcing its subjects to have abortions for the good of the state, a regime capable of doing what China did to that young mother, a regime so devoid of conscience, is capable of justifying anything.
Second, although the cause of low birth rates in China and the West is drastically different, China’s demographic crisis is, in many ways, simply a nastier version of what awaits the West.
In 2010, the U.S. birthrate dropped below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman. Birthrates are even lower in Europe. As birthrates decline—whether due to Malthusian government diktats, abortion-as-birth-control, or people simply choosing to forgo parenthood—countries get older fast. RAND reports that 30 percent of Europe’s population will be older than 65 by 2050—double what it was in 2000. In the United States, there were once 16 workers to support every Social Security pensioner. Today, there are about three.
This, too, is impacting foreign policy and international security. Aging populations create ever-greater demands on entitlement programs, which consume resources needed for national defense. European governments faced this reality a generation ago, and most of them chose to stop investing in defense. The bipartisan gamble known as sequestration, which guillotined America’s military even as new entitlement programs were created, is a manifestation of these demographic pressures.
Third, such an imbalance between males and females portends grave societal problems for China and perhaps serious security challenges for the rest of the world. A society without female influence is the stuff of nightmares.
As Rob Brooks, who researches the evolution of sexual behavior, observes, young men without prospects for a mate tend to “discount their futures…They also become more violent.” He points out that every one-percent increase in the male-to-female ratio “results in a six-percent increase in the rates of violent and property crime.” Indeed, “parts of China with the most male-biased sex ratios” are experiencing more crime and other social ills, with “gambling, alcohol and drug abuse, kidnapping, and trafficking of women…rising steeply in China.”
Brooks also notes that historians connect disruptive and often-violent eras such as the Crusades, colonial expansion, and even America’s Wild West to “a surplus of ambitious and aggressive young men with otherwise poor reproductive prospects.” It’s not unthinkable that Beijing, in a bid to distract a restive populace from the unintended consequences of the one-child policy, might use its reservoir of young males to launch overseas adventures that upset the liberal international order.
It was Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge who wished some people were dead in order “to decrease the surplus population.” China, in a sense, followed Scrooge’s population-control plan, and the world will reap the whirlwind.
There’s no way to quantify what the one-child policy has cost humanity or what abortion’s many victims—in China and the West—might have discovered, invented, built or solved. But Psalm 139 suggests that from His perch outside the box of time, the Lord has kept a tally of what might have been: “Your eyes saw my unformed body…All the days ordained for me were written in your book”—all the lives unlived, all the dreams unfulfilled, all the poems and treaties unwritten, all the breakthroughs unknown, all the conflicts unsettled.
Feature Photo Credit: 1986 Chinese poster promoting one-child policy. Text reads, “Implement family planning, implement the basic national policy”. Provided by IISG, via Flickr.