Too Many People?

Are World Population Trends A Problem?

edited, with an introduction by Ben Wattenberg, by Karl Zinsmeister
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 53 pp., $6.95 (paper)

Between 1949 and 1973 the population of China increased 64 percent and today it is over one billion. The Deng regime claims that high rates of population growth, lower rates of death caused by modern medicines, and a generally poor and badly educated population have forced China to spend too much on housing, food, and employment. The resources drained for these purposes could be used, Chinese officials argue, to develop and “modernize” the country. To arrest population growth, the regime has created a program of mass “ideological education” and a system of economic incentives to encourage people to have fewer children (in many cases, according to guidelines set by the Ministry of Health, just one).

The government has set targets for each province, which in turn allocates birth quotas among its counties. County officials pursue the process down through communes and production teams or cadres. Slogans, posters, radio broadcasts, public exhibits, and editorials are used to encourage smaller families; contraceptives and sterilization are provided by the government free. Couples who have only one child are rewarded by supplementary payments, preference in housing, free education for their child, and higher retirement pensions, among other measures. Those couples who have more children than is recommended can become ineligible for job promotion or suffer a reduction in their monthly wages.

Critics of this policy in the United States claim that it is “coercive” and that forced abortions and sterilizations, as well as cases of infanticide, have been condoned by Chinese authorities. The Chinese government has responded that these critics have seized upon isolated instances, reported in the Chinese press, of “overzealous” behavior by family-planning workers and have treated them as representative of the policy as a whole. They say the key to the Chinese program is “education,” and that while there have been mistakes, as might be expected among so large a population, “coercion” could not be responsible for the remarkable declines that have been observed in the Chinese birth rate in recent years. Hundreds of millions of families could not, they say, be forced to have fewer children; they have seen, rather, that it is advantageous for them to do so. Moreover, they say, the success of the Chinese population program has helped the Chinese to enjoy a better standard of living and to devote resources that might have gone to the feeding and training of children to projects that would help the Chinese economy to grow.

There is, however, evidence of increasing opposition to the one-child policy, especially among the rural population. Peasants claim they have a duty to have sons, who continue the male line, contribute to the family economy through work on the land, and support their parents in old age. Under the current policy, fewer than one half of Chinese couples are likely to have a surviving son. The one-child policy also appears to conflict with state policies allotting the use of land to families on the basis of their size, thereby giving them an incentive …

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