China’s One-Child Loopholes

China Sex Ratio

Keating details the new change to China’s one-child policy (OCP):

Under the new system, couples will be allowed to have a second baby if either parent is an only child—a significant slice of the population given that the policy has been in place since 1980. This isn’t quite as dramatic a change as it sounds. China has been gradually adding exceptions to the rule for years amid concerns about the country’s aging workforce.

In rural areas, couples were already allowed to have two children. Many other couples were allowed two children if the first was a girl. Different rules also applied to China’s ethnic minorities—about 8 percent of the population.  Authorities already claimed that since 2007, the strict one-child policy has applied to less than 40 percent of the population.

Fisher looks at how the OCP has been enforced:

The awful persistence of forced abortions, sterilizations and infanticide in China reflect a contradiction in the Chinese system — and in the one-child policy itself. The senior leadership in Beijing may set national policy, such as today’s relaxation of the one-child policy, but it’s local- and provincial-level officials who choose when, whether and how to actually enforce those policies. If those mid-level officials want to do things differently — say, in the above case, by continuing to use forced abortions to control birthrates, even though Beijing banned that years ago — they often do.

This is probably the thing that Americans most misunderstand about China: It may be run by a giant authoritarian bureaucracy, but the system can get really messy. The people at the top have a lot less control over mid-level officials than outsiders often assume. Local officials will sometimes go their own way. So the question for Beijing becomes, How do you steer all those local officials to do what you want? The one-child policy is a study in how that can go wrong.

Yglesias calls the OCP an “unmitigated disaster”:

It’s a huge impairment of human freedom, but it’s also left China with a rapidly aging population and a severe gender imbalance among its younger cohorts. We’ve also learned more broadly that birth rates fall pretty dramatically in basically all societies that feature birth control technology, women with some modicum of autonomy from their male partners, and access to global popular culture. Which is to say that even without population control measures, most developed countries have birth rates below replacement level and most developing countries are rapidly converging.

Bloomberg’s editorial puts the relaxation of the OCP in context:

The rest of the world may celebrate this as the loosening of an odious infringement of liberty. For the Communist Party, the issue never even arises. It seeks only to fine-tune the rules for demographic purposes: China needs more children — but not too many. (The change is listed alongside another technocratic tweak: “Allow doctors to have a license to work in more than one hospital.”) A step forward for human liberty, no doubt — in a system that still doesn’t understand what liberty means.

Previous Dish on China’s one-child policy here.

(Chart from Nomura via Business Insider)