Lately there has been a lot of talk about one child policies as a sustainability measure, essentially curbing population growth to relieve demands on natural resources. This is profoundly stupid for a lot of reasons, the least of which is the creepy predilection for totalitarian and fascist solutions to problems that self-described progressives identify as critical, but it is the dilemma of aging populations that is a direct result of low birthrates.
First of all, fertility rates are important because only women can have children which means that a woman has to have at least 2 children in order to replace herself and the father. Mortality from disease and other causes factor in and in order for a population to remain stable, neither grow nor decline, the average birthrate per couple, for developed countries, has to be around 2.2. In reality this is a pretty complicated topic but generally speaking the U.S. and most of South America are stable, Europe, Russia and China are declining, Mexico, North Africa, and India are growing, and Africa is growing dramatically (4 or more births).
The fact that North America and Europe are either stable or declining in population also makes for an interesting point; are advocates of one child policies suggesting that in Africa there be a mandatory population thinning out? More plausible is that proponents recognize that in poor countries like Mexico and African countries the population will swell so what they are advocating is a balancing out of the global population bore disproportionately by the western developed countries. Either way it is positively shocking.
Japan has been for many years a real world example of what happens in a developed country as the population ages and younger generations are insufficient to maintain population numbers. It’s not just that the economic system strains under the pressure of fewer workers generating economic activity that is used to finance the social services that pensioners require, it is that entire system itself becomes protectionist and cautious which leads to accelerating economic decline.
A recent opinion piece by Financial Post columnist Diane Francis recently generated a lot of controversy when she said the entire world needs to adopt China’s one child policy, which makes me wonder which one of her two children she is willing to give up. The bellweather country for one child per couple policies is of course China and a senior official from China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission (communists are always big on government planning apparatuses) recently declared at the Copenhagen climate conference that this policy was successfully reducing emissions, while acknowledging the aging population side effect. On the emissions front… have you been to China and seen the pollution firsthand?
Apparently the aging population problem is now severe enough that China is rethinking it’s one child policy, in major (aging) population centers like Shanghai the government is actually encouraging couples to have more than one child (providing they get a permit first).
Complex systems are home to complex problems that defy simple solutions, pull a lever or push a button over here and something will blow out over there. The economic threat caused by an aging population is not theoretical or trivial, the strain put on financial systems could very well take down entire countries as the cost of providing for older generations overwhelms younger working generations.
For all of the talk of food and energy resources, the problem here is not the lack of these resources it is poverty and corruption in government denying citizens access to food and other resources. If the global community of nations wants to take up an issue that will certainly result in the betterment of conditions for all people, then they should take up the cause of honest, fair, and open government for all peoples.