The sun comes up like thunder:
“And the sun comes up like thunder out of China ‘cross the bay.”  That is a line from “On the road to Mandalay,” a splendid if rather dated song about love and empire.  Rumor has it that China is going to end their one child policy.  At present the law allows a couple to have only one child; there are exceptions, but that is the rule.  And they may be about to change that.

It may be the dawning of a new day.  Of course such a draconian law must inevitably lead to much unhappiness, and who could object to that?

China is big, really big.  Back in the insensitive days of yore there was a riddle: suppose you march the Chinese past a single point six abreast at a smart clip; how long would it take for them all to get past?”  The answer is that they would never all get past.  China was growing so fast that the numbers yet to pass by would always increase.  Those days are over.  Already the birth rate is so low and has been low so long that the work force is in decline.  Had you objected to the riddle as being prejudice you would have been met with incredulity.  Nothing was said about the character of Chinese.  It was just a way of making a fact comprehensible.  But I think from a modern perspective the argument can be made that the suggestion is dehumanizing.  No matter, it’s no longer true. 

But as in the song, this dawn may herald a storm.  They seem to think that they can permit their country to grow or at least to stabilize.  I really don’t think it’s going to stabilize.  The one child policy was only enacted when the birth rate had bottomed out.  When they have occasionally relaxed the policy in places where the birth rate was very low indeed there has been no response.  I think there will be no effect this time either.  Birth rate has to do with consanguinity, not with rules.  And consanguinity is only going to continue to decrease as young people move to the cities as they are doing.

I suspect that efforts at enforcement are costly.  Again it’s rumor but it has been said that there are a half million police whose only task is to keep women from having more than the single permitted child.  Those police must be competent and reliable people.  They will make a needed contribution to a declining work force.  Or maybe they will simply be put in the military.  China has been stretching her mighty thews militarily.  The spectacle gives some people pause.  I am not worried.  With a low birth rate she cannot be looking for trouble along those lines; better just continue to grow economically at the amazing rate she has now sustained for many years. 

What does worry me is that the leaders really don’t know what I am saying about birth rates.  They probably expect to get a baby boom.  When that doesn’t happen they are going to get very unhappy.  And when the leaders are unhappy China is unhappy.  And when China is unhappy the world is unhappy.  I don’t know what might happen, but it might not be good.

I’m sure they’ve been warned that they might not get a baby boom but there is kind of a difference between being warned about a puddle of … and actually stepping in it.

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