A sentinel stirs:
I read a book once called Voyage about an iron windjammer in the late days of sail making a run from the east coast of the United States to the west coast around Cape Horn.  The book was by and large anti romantic, cynical, bitter, nihilistic and pretty much dumped on everybody, particularly the officers.  But there was one moment when a young sailor noticed that there was a quadrangular piece of canvas strung up between the mainmast and the mizzenmast.  It could not be worked like a sail but simply hung in a vertical fore and aft position. 

An old hand spoke to the young man and said, “You’ll know you’re opposite the Cape when you see the Spencer hanging there like a vampire’s grandmother looking for trouble.”  The book did not explain, but in those latitudes great masses of cold air are coming down from the sky, and since they can hit the surface in any direction from the ship a gale may come up from any direction without warning.  The Spencer, so called I suppose because it spans the space between the masts, will catch the wind and tend to swing the prow into the wind, which does nothing for pursuing the course but which at least keeps the ship from capsizing while the officers work out how to manage the crisis.  A following gale is less of a problem and only requires shortening sail very quickly. 

Exasperating though I find the ECONOMIST some times, I do regard it as sort of like the Spencer, hanging there looking for trouble.  Or maybe it is more like a sentinel on watch at night peering into the darkness ready to call into play the vast resources of the army if something seems amiss.  I assure you plenty is amiss.  Our survival is threatened.  And I feel good any time I sense the editorial policy is peering anywhere close to the right direction.  Case in point was a recent article.  (Illegal children will be Confiscated ECONOMIST vol. 400 no. 8743 July 24, 2011 page 12)

It is about the one child policy in China and some of the horrors it entails.  The article does point out that the one child policy was introduced after the birth rate had already fallen.  It justly points out such horrors as sex based pregnancy termination and the confiscation of children by officials who then sell them out of country.  It makes a bigger point than I would of the fact that the sex imbalance caused by a preference for boy children will result in about 20% of young Chinese males with no chance of finding a wife; this they propose will cause social instability.  Well I am not terribly worried.  If Chinese are like everybody else, a fair proportion are not going to be interested in women in the first place.  And even of those who, like me, are very interested in women indeed, frustration does not mean social upheaval.  I have never overthrown a government in my life, and I do not intend to, at last not just yet, I mean I think I can control myself … for a little while. 

They say two things quite clearly that need to be said.  The problem in China is not too many young people, it is too few.  And fertility will not recover for a long time; alas they leave out the obvious, “If ever,” but one take what one can get. 

The one child policy is popular with the aging powers in charge and not popular with the rising spirits, so they seem to predict, I think reasonably, that this policy will come to an end within a few years.  If so, I think they are in for a very rude surprise; any effect of the policy will be found to have been tiny.

And once people begin to see that China is in trouble, maybe we will notice that we are as well. 

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