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babies lined up to enter factory

China Farms Children to Goose GDP

The Chinese government makes the Wall of Shame today for efforts to gin up population growth. Our disappointment mounts in the wake of a recent announcement about “success” in these efforts. That is so sad, because it means public policy in China is actually persuading couples to conceive, birth and raise children as economic pawns. Repeat after me: I am not an economic pawn conceived to boost GDP; I am a human being.

The world’s most populous nation is famous for its “one-child policy” to slow population growth so it could actually feed and care everyone. That policy wasn’t perfect. There have been questions about whether the growth rate would have slowed on its own, and there were certainly instances in which officials violated human rights in order to meet quotas. But the idea of a nation being accountable for its population size and using public policy to try to keep its population within carrying capacity is very smart – and perhaps essential. China’ population is still growing, expected to peak in 2030 at just under 1.5 billion.

So it really chaps my hide to read that China is actually seeing some “success” from its new two-child policy implemented in 2016. That policy was enacted because China’s leaders became more worried about GDP growth than feeding its people. This Reuters headline caught my eye:

Second-Child Policy Increases Births by 7.9 Percent

The story reports:

“New births in the world’s most populous nation reached 17.86 million in 2016, up around 1.4 million compared to the 2011-2015 average, said Yang Wenzhuang of the National Health and Family Planning Commission.”

China is expecting to be adding, over the coming years, 17 to 20 million new human beings to the planet every year. That’s adding an entire New York City or Mexico City metropolitan area every 365 days. The purpose, according to a news release from the Commission, is to address “major demographic challenges such as an aging population and a looming labor shortage.” Also from that release:

“The long-term effect of the universal second-child policy is very helpful to China’s sustainable development,’ said Yuan Xin, a professor of population studies at Nankai University in Tianjin.”

This is simply ridiculous. There is nothing sustainable about this policy. There is abundant evidence that our current 7.4 billion population is liquidating the planet of its resources and damaging our life-supporting ecosystems. It’s also quite clear that China cannot feed its current population using resources within its borders (thus, it is buying agricultural land in other parts of the world). Every new citizen of planet Earth adds to a human carbon footprint that is destroying our habitable climate. And China is subjugating these problems to its worry about keeping factories running full steam.

Memo to China: If your population stops growing, your economy no longer needs to grow. If your population starts contracting, your economy can – and should – contract. A nation’s economy needs simply to be big enough to meet the needs of its population. Shame on you for incentivizing couples to conceive children for economic purposes. And double-shame for adding to the world’s existential environmental crises in service to GDP.


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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

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