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China's Birth Planning Policy: Positive Steps to an Uncertain Victory

China's Birth Planning Policy: Positive Steps to an Uncertain Victory


Catherine Yu's Entry For The 2004 Moffatt Prize in Economics

The reforms that have swept through China in the past twenty years revolutionized Chinese society, socially and economically. Tang and Parish describe this change in terms of the social contract:

    "The socialist social contract promised an egalitarian, redistributionist order that provided job security, basic living standards... In return, the state demanded sacrifices in current consumption, a leveling of individual aspirations, and obedience to all-knowing party redistributors... In return for abandoning the ideal of communal egalitarianism and security of jobs and other benefits, the market contract promises that giving free reign to individualistic aspirations will produce better jobs and greater consumption." (Chinese Urban Life Under Reform, pg. 3)
For the most part, it seems that China has completely embraced the new "market contract." However, China's birth planning, or "single child" policy, is a notorious exception to this generalization. The birth planning law requires citizens to sacrifice their individual desires (to marry when they want, to have as many children as they want) for the general good. The reality is that even though China has adopted free market capitalism for the most part, China still retains some socialist, redistributionist economic services, such has public healthcare, some housing, and medical care for the old and poor. As the Chinese population continues to explode and expand, natural and financial resources are barely keeping up with the demand for such services, and job and housing availability is becoming increasingly limited. The government's strategy to deal with this dilemma is to try to curb population growth through birth planning campaigns and programs, so the resources would not dry up as fast as if the population was left to swell up unrestrained.

What makes this birth planning policy so notorious, especially in western developed nations such as the United States (China's Demographic Dilemmas), is the coercive means officials used to enforce it and the countless and uncounted cases of infanticide and abortion that occurred as a result of the minds of citizens being torn between following their personal wants and conforming to public policy. But, emotional objections aside for now, we must examine the logic and effects of the birth planning policy carefully. In this essay, I will discuss the role that demographics play in economics to explain the rationale behind birth planning, then I will assess the policy as a whole, taking its costs and benefits into account.

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