Healthy economies need young workers. And thanks to its one-child policy, China is facing a less-than-rosy economic future. Here's a lesson in demographics and worldview.
It's widely believed that China will supplant the United States as the leading power in the world by no later than the mid-21st century. Not only will China's Gross Domestic Product exceed that of the United States, it may climb two or even three times as high.
But an increasing number of experts have begun to doubt that China's GDP will ever even match ours. And the dream of restoring "the global centrality that Chinese consider their birthright" will remain just that, a dream.
There's a reason for the doubt: There are simply not enough Chinese.
The idea would strike most people as ridiculous. They'd say China has too many people, not too few. With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, China is home to one-fifth of all the people on planet Earth.
But that huge number obscures the country's looming demographic crisis. That crisis is the subject of an article in the June Atlantic Monthly entitled "China's Twilight Years." In it, Howard W. French, the author of two books on China, tells readers that "In the years ahead . . . [China] will transition from having a relatively youthful population, and an abundant workforce, to a population with far fewer people in their productive prime."
Today, China has slightly less than five workers for every retiree, a ratio French calls "highly desirable." However, by 2040, the ratio is estimated to be 1.6-to-1. Folks, that is a staggering change.
The demographic downturn is already having an impact in some unexpected places. Last year, China announced it was reducing its armed forces by 300,000 men. While the official spin was that it was part of its "peaceful intentions," the more "compelling explanation" was demographic: "With the number of working-age Chinese men already declining . . . labor is in short supply."
As French puts it, "The consequences [of this demographic downturn] for China's finances are profound." The downturn is already becoming a "drag on economic growth," and what it portends for China's future is really scary: by 2050, the number of Chinese over 65 is projected to rise to nearly 330 million from 100 million in 2005.
This will leave China with a choice, in the words of Mark L. Haas of Duquesne University, between "guns and canes." In other words, it can only pursue global centrality at the cost of ignoring its rapidly aging population or vice-versa. It will have to choose between avoiding social unrest at home or pursuing global influence.
This unenviable choice is a self-inflected wound. I'm referring, of course, to China's infamous "one-child policy." Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Review of Books, said that "Perhaps no government policy anywhere in the world affected more people in a more intimate and brutal way than China's one-child policy."
Which is now, of course, a "two-child policy," a policy that is scarcely better. Because, folks, it's a worldview problem. As John Stonestreet has said before on BreakPoint, "Christianity sees children as gifts of God: the natural, desirable result of the loving, lifelong commitment and physical union of husband and wife. The secular and certainly communist worldviews see children as commodities: subject either to parents' desires and 'lifestyle choices' or to a government's economic and political goals."
We in the West are not immune. John went on to warn that Western "cultural values are leading to our own similar, though personally chosen, 'one-child policies' and demographic decline."
In the end, China will get old before it enjoys the widespread prosperity and the global leadership it considers its birthright.
And that is because it has spurned birth in the first place.
Originally posted at breakpoint.org.