- - Monday, November 2, 2015

After decades of brutal enforcement, China has announced the end of its one-child per couple policy. Introduced in 1979, this attempt to control population has prevented the birth of up to 400 million persons in the world’s most populous country.

But the end of the one-child policy is not the end of the government attempt to control reproduction, the most intimate and fundamental human right, by abortion and sterilization. The control is draconian. A couple who has the forbidden second child must pay a fine of 40,000 yuan, the equivalent of $6,338.37, almost two-thirds of the average annual Chinese wage. The fines brought the government 2 trillion yuan, or $314 billion, since 1980. There has been no public accounting of where this money went.

There’s a natural lobby for continued population control by a large bureaucracy with almost unlimited powers, operating even in remote rural areas. The two-child limit still requires official permission for the second child and the bureaucrats still have the power to say no and the authority to assign fines.

The Communist authorities changed the game, not for humanitarian concerns and continued foreign protests, but because the inevitable demographic catastrophe was about to overtake the country. Demographic trends are notoriously hard to predict, but a turnabout in birth rates among Israeli and West Bank Arabs, for example, has dropped substantially, and birth rates among Israelis, and not just the religious Jews on the West Bank, have increased substantially. The trend challenges the argument that Arab majorities would inevitably dominate the region.

But in China, with 30 percent of the population of 1,400,000,000 over the age of 50, the government is dealing with the threat of rising social costs and a shrinking work force. The Chinese public calls the government social network “4-2-1” — four grandparents and two parents ultimately dependent on one child. Falling birthrates are worrying many of the world’s developed economies, especially Japan. But the announcement of new rules is not greeted enthusiastically on China’s social media; many urban couples say they can’t afford to jeopardize their rising living standards with the birth of another child.

Abortion is easily available, and couples have often aborted female babies to make sure they have a son for later support. The upcoming census is expected to reveal a ratio of 122 boys born for every 100 girls, replacing the usual 106 boys for 100 girls. More than 35 million young Chinese men, more than the entire population of Canada, for example, can expect a life without a wife. Some Chinese demographers suggest a solution of recruiting Southeast Asian women to close the gap. Several hundred thousand illegals from those countries are working now in China’s manufacturing plants. But so far there has been no official government sanction of such immigration.

It’s not clear whether the new regulations will cover so-called “illegal children,” those born in excess of one child per couple. Government census figures put this number at 12 million, but other estimates reckon the correct figure is two or three times that, perhaps 3 percent of the population.

There’s an obvious lesson in Beijing’s madness and its inhuman, immoral and inoperative attempt to control population through government fiat. Untangling this Chinese puzzle would be a monumental task even if the 50 million bureaucrats — a bureaucrat for every 27 Chinese — wanted to untangle it. As long as the Marxist elite rules that’s unlikely.

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