Chinese Scholars Discover Human Capital, Disavow One-Child Policy

In the continuing battle between Malthusians who view humans as “useless eaters” whose populations must be centrally controlled, and those of us who see creatures uniquely endowed with brains and talent, Chinese scholars have fired what one hopes is the opening salvo to bring an end to China’s brutal and repressive practice of forced abortions, and ultimately disastrous one-child policy.

Researchers with the Research Development Center, a prominent government-affiliated think tank, on Tuesday said in a newspaper opinion piece that Beijing should consider revising the policy. The researchers focused on China’s aging population and a predicted dearth of young workers.

The list of signatories to Thursday’s letter included several high-profile figures, including Beijing University sociologist Li Jianxin and Internet entrepreneur James Liang.

Mr. Liang, who advocates a complete dismantling of the family-planning system rather than a two-child system put forward by others, said he initially became interested in the one-child policy when he came across research showing that innovation and entrepreneurship are dominated by young people. He said he feared a shrinking of the population of young people would hamper the country’s efforts to evolve beyond being merely the world’s factory.

“From an economic perspective, the one-child policy is irrational. From a human-rights perspective, it’s even less rational,” Mr. Liang said.

Irrational, indeed. And yet another in the countless proofs of F. A. Hayek’s thesis that government central planners can’t (see here, here, here and here): they are not omniscient and can never possess information sufficient to make rational decisions. Their policies have instead inhibited immeasurable human potential.

While Mr. Liang is not hopeful of a change in policy coming soon, its aging population may well force China to follow in the footsteps of Singapore, which 40 years ago imposed stiff surtaxes on families with more than two children; and today provides families with subsidies for an unlimited number of children.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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