Did China’s one-child policy have benefits?

As a leader I would never institute a one-child policy, which I consider to be an immoral restriction on personal liberty.  But if we ask whether this policy had benefits for China, it absolutely did.

For instance the policy made China a more educated society more rapidly.  It is simple economics that putting a lot of money into the education of each child is easier to do with a single child than with three or for that matter seven kids.  The effects of the one-child policy are illustrated through a natural experiment of sorts.  Chinese children who ended up born into twin pairs showed significantly slower rates of schooling progress, worse grades, lower chances of college enrollment, and worse health.  These differences do not follow mainly from the lower birth weight of twins or other birth-related problems (though that is one factor), but rather they stem from the lower resources which are invested in children in larger families.

See Rosenzweig and Zhang, Review of Economic Studies 2009.

By the way, the one-child policy was not the main reason why Chinese fertility fell.  Between 1970 and 1979, before the policy was put in place, the total fertility rate fell dramatically from 5.9 to 2.9.  After the policy was introduced, the total fertility rate actually fell more gradually than during that earlier stretch, settling into 1.7 by 1995.  The best estimate we have is that the one-child policy lowered Chinese births by an average of 0.33 per woman, which is a noticeable but not drastic change.

Even in purely practical terms, it is highly likely the policy has been obsolete for some while.

See Therese Hesketh, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing. “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years.” New England Journal of Medicine, September 15, 2005, 1171-1176, and Marjorie McElroy and Dennis Tao Yang. “Carrots and Sticks: Fertility Effects of China’s Population Policies.” American Economic Review, May 2000, 389-392.


I think Hans Rosling would probably concur, though I look forward to his take.

We are in a happy situation where world birth rates trend toward neutral replacement levels, and we have the luxury of not trampling on procreation as human right ... for a time.

Procreation is not a "human right" anyway. After all, it affects other people in strong ways. If you can't afford a child, either the child will suffer the agony of starvation, or other people will be forced to pick up the bill. Either way, it's an immoral imposition.

What is it with "rights" that make unreasonable demands on non-consenting others?

Procreation is not a “human right” anyway.

Thanks for clearing that up.

Thanks for ignoring the rest of my argument, where I explain why it doesn't make sense to define it as a human right.

In light of the obvious consequences, you might just as well declare a human right to steal or even torture non-consenting others.

You are conflating procreation and taxing others to pay for children. Those two things are not the same.

Keith, if procreation is a human right, those unable to afford a child will be allowed to do it too. Without redistribution or charity, then, the child will suffer dire poverty and even starvation.

Making a child die in agony is clearly a violation of that child's rights, if the concept is to have any moral relevance at all.

I'm with Ran, and would argue further that we need means-tested licenses to copulate. After all, condoms aren't 100% effective.

The rest of your 'argument' deserved to be ignored, much as one does dog feces on the sidewalk.

You are arguing that survival is not a human right. And then arguing for pre-birth death as more human.

Those who call themselves "pro-life" are actually merely pro-birth and then pro-death so solve the resource shortage problems.

Unless you are Pope Francis who advocates redistribution, leading the pro-lifers to oppose him for failing to be sufficiently pro-death and supportive of more guns and more wars for resources. How else can populations be controlled but the four horsemen.

@Art Deco:

"The rest of your ‘argument’ deserved to be ignored, much as one does dog feces on the sidewalk."

Go die in a fire, idiot.

"You are arguing that survival is not a human right. And then arguing for pre-birth death as more human."

You seem to suffer from the delusion that the omission of reproduction is murder. Which is absurd on every level.

Any sort of non arbitrary "right" derives from a state of nature in which a person has de facto rights to fight for his survival -- which includes not just his own personal survival but the right to sire and raise children to equally viable adulthood.

"You seem to suffer from the delusion that the omission of reproduction is murder."

I realize it's too late for this thread, but that's the view I've been coming around to. It's not the only moral principle at play, but if the child is likely to have a good life that's a strong argument for making the child.

Lord Action, there is a dangerous failure mode with this philosophy, that people declare an unrealistically rosy view of the alleged goodness of life, and then others have to pay the price.

We have already seen many of these failure modes in practice, e.g. banning euthanasia even for adults with cancer who demand it. These kinds of rationalizations were used to defend slavery and the "logic of the larder" in farming, and one of the worst things that could happen is if we are all forced to pay for the existence of extra children who will end up miserable and not have positive externalities.

At least at the moment, you can still say "I don't want (to pay for) kids" without being called a murderer. I strongly suggest we keep it that way.

Euthanasia? That's a non-sequiter.

I just mean that revealed preference indicates the vast majority of people strongly prefer living to not-living. So if you can make a life happen, you probably should. You are doing good by creating the life, and you are doing bad by not doing so. For most people the direct way, parenting, is by-far the most effective way of making that happen.

"unrealistically rosy view of the alleged goodness of life"

Fair enough, but we're nowhere close to that margin today.


I think Ran means to say, "You can have Reproductive Rights. Or, you can have the welfare state, Gaia, open spaces, etc. But, you can't have it all." It seems "Malthusian."

Switching from fascism to theology. The first commandment (in Genesis) God gives to creation, including man, is to go forth and be fruitful, i.e., procreate.

Switching from theology to biology, procreation is an imperative after eating and not being eaten.

Re: biological imperative: Let's just ignore even other ape species have individuals who don't get laid, and of course the reality of contraception, artificial fertilization, virtual sex, masturbation etc.

I'll ignore your other ramblings.

I think he means to say just what he said.

I agree with Ran.

Thanks for mentioning it.

Procreating doesn't make any demand on any other. It's like you are saying freedom of speech is not a human right because it affects the people who hear it or obligates them to respond in kind

I think taking money from others is not a human right. I also think making children die in pain is not a human right.

Just put the pieces together.

Your trying to combine two rights into one. Birthing a child and neglecting or abusing a child are two different acts, just as owning a gun and shooting it a people are. Binding them together is just muddy thinking.

"Birthing a child and neglecting or abusing a child are two different acts "

Only if you have the means to support the child.

The preadolescent suicide rate, even in poverty, is close to zero.

"The preadolescent suicide rate, even in poverty, is close to zero."

Well yeah sure, if you starve to death before you can say "mommy" your suicide rate will be zero.

No idea what you want to tell us with these sociopathic ramblings.

I think he means that revealed preference indicates humans strongly prefer living to not living.

I'd be more impressed with this revealed preference if children had actual suicide rights, and weren't taught they'll burn in hell forever for it.

But even then, there would still be an important distinction: Revealed preference for not dying is not the same as genuine enjoyment of life, simply because we have a basic survival instinct. You can hate every day, or e.g. underestimate the risk and severity of torture, and still not kill yourself.

Not to mention we lock people up if they consider it and tell them they are selfish and immoral. There is an entire industry of religion that pushes this angle.

How much easier to just reduce the birthrate and increase per capita gdp!

Much of the anti-imigration libertarian argumentation ("If we have welfare state, we can't have free imigration", or , in more radical version, "if we have state, we can't have free imigration") could be recycled in an anti-free reproduction argumentation (("If we have welfare state, we can't have free reproduction")

The reality is if you take more than you put in, you are a charge on other people and dependent solely on their willingness to keep paying your freight.

A publicly guaranteed basic income seems to be a fairly popular idea on this board, but I don't see how it wouldn't also come with restrictions on people's reproductive rights and immigration limits.

"After all, it affects other people in strong ways. If you can’t afford a child, either the child will suffer the agony of starvation, or other people will be forced to pick up the bill."

How is affording a child determined? What's the child affordability index? If a child is suffering from some other form of agony, a debilitating disease, for instance, what's the remedy, euthanasia? Who says someone else will be forced to pick up the bill? Actually, children born into bad circumstances, orphans for instance, are often happily raised by others. Of course, that usually happens in more "primitive" societies, not the advanced welfare state you no doubt favor. According to your warped Malthusian thinking, the state determines human rights, or maybe you do. You're a sickening individual.

"not the advanced welfare state you no doubt favor"

You're making stuff up. I never implied anywhere that I favor the advanced welfare state.

Adoption is nice and well, but you can't rely on that, because there's no guarantee of it.

"If a child is suffering from some other form of agony, a debilitating disease, for instance, what’s the remedy, euthanasia?"

Perhaps. If the child can understand it and consent, certainly they should have that right. Of course, that will be attacked by totalitarian forces too, and they will be forced to suffer. We all know that.

"How is affording a child determined?"

Depends on your standard, I'm sure. I wouldn't want to be born into a state of poverty, so I wouldn't wish it on others, either. Surely we can agree that if someone is homeless and can't afford their own food, they shouldn't procreate?

"You’re a sickening individual."

Because I think making childen suffer is wrong, or because I think forcing others to pay for your reproduction is wrong, or perhaps because I criticize nonsensical human rights definitions?

Having a child is like buying a car, you can live without and your rights aren't violated. The world doesn't owe you either, and in the case of the child, the child doesn't owe you suffering and availability as this "human right" implies.

How long before China enacts policies to encourage more children?

For what? By the time they are old enough to work, most economic functions of low-skilled labor can be replaced by smart capital.

For the more intellectual labor, it will take a little longer, but that only suggests selectiveness in children, not quantity. Every low-talent child will just be another useless mouth to feed.

So why is Japan still incentivizing children so eagerly?

I don't know the specifics of Japan, but if I were them, I'd be very selective about it.

Given the ongoing and increasing below replacement fertility rate, clearly Japan is not incentivizing birthing more children.

The problem is free lunch economists see babies as a production good, so that raising the price of the production good is best done by slashing the labor price to pay for tax cuts that create negative taxes.

But the problem is that the free lunch economists are the one hand waving economists: if we produce more goods, supply side, then growth will follow, and we get more supply by more profit.,,,

Done by cutting labor costs....

This is in the era of eliminating the confusing two hands waving economists: one the one hand lower wages means more profit leads to more supply, on the other hand, lower wages means less money to buy the supply which means less profit as inventories explode.

Japan has focused on supply, but not demand. But the actors are more rational than economists give them credit for: "sure I get a bonus for having a child, but then I get only the burden is seeing my child have no future in the world because society will not pay them enough to live a good life, and if I try to help, I will lose far more than the reward for increasing supply."

Women in Japan are struggling to exit the barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen cultural role (as one of my bosses put it decades ago). If they avoid having children, they can be second class professionals, but still they have autonomy. If they have children, then they cease to have even the second class status of being a professional.

But the focus on cutting labor costs to boost profits means that the man in a marriage with children will not earn enough to support woman with two to three children at a professional lifestyle, If both work, then they can live the lifestyle, but once she has children, she can no longer work to maintain the lifestyle.

Free lunch economists can not allow the idea that higher labor costs and zero profits are the key to population increase or at least stability in population. They will focus on the zero profit aspect and argue that there will be no incentive to produce more if there is not profit to be gained, so nothing will be produced at all, as if increasing demand will not increase supply by the invisible hand of the market.

Remember, profit is the bonus for scarcity, and scarcity is what restricts demand.

Scarcity is the byproduct of demand. No demand, no scarcity.

"scarcity is what restricts demand"

Something tells me that you don't know what "demand" means in an economic context.

For war and defense, perhaps? Despite relatively good relations, there's tension in the South China Sea between China and the US, and scholars like John Mearsheimer predict some sort of conflict in the future between the US and China simply for purely structural reasons that a rising power presents to a former hegemon. Also the migrant crisis in Europe presently is at least partly driven by the disproportion between the young population of Europeans relative to the young population of the Middle Eastern and African migrants, which has been caused by Europe's fertility crash. If Europe's fertility had not crashed, this migration into Europe would not be happening and Europe would likely be exporting population, like it had been until just a few generations ago.

The European refugee crises happens because political leaders have made a choice that it should happen. They could have chosen to close the borders instead. It has nothing to do with fertility. The refugees low-skilled labor is not needed either, with the minimum wage in place and all.

For war and defense... again, selectiveness is more economical. You don't need cannon fodder that can barely hold a gun, you need a smaller number of people who can run a modern military. In fact, the fewer soldiers will have to suffer and die, the ethically better overall.

Europe's political leaders would not be in a position to let this migrant crisis happen if there hadn't been a fertility crash.

As for war and defense, they still demand fighting and dying, and you need people for that.

"Europe’s political leaders would not be in a position to let this migrant crisis happen if there hadn’t been a fertility crash."

I don't see the connection. You mean the place would have been so crowded that the political pressure would have been overwhelming? Maybe, but this doesn't mean Europe would be better off. And it was still a political decision.

"As for war and defense, they still demand fighting and dying, and you need people for that."

In 2035? Probably fewer than you think. Certainly not low talent people.

Yes, if Europe had a large young and fertile population, especially lots of young men, its political leaders would have a lot more trouble pulling this sort of thing.

In 20 years' time, war will still require people fighting and dying.

"In 20 years’ time, war will still require people fighting and dying."

You're still missing the broader point that encouraging raw population growth is not the economical way to optimize anything, including war and defense capacity.

You're missing the point, which is that raw population growth itself is an element of war making capacity.

I can accept population growth in China could increase their capacity, but it doesn't follow that encouraging population growth is the optimal way to spend political or financial capital to optimize their capacity.

> For the more intellectual labor, it will take a little longer, but that only suggests selectiveness in children, not quantity.

A modest proposal: Many women who get pregnant young and single simply have a strong desire to become mothers. Welfare benefits are generous enough in the Western world that having kids and collecting checks is an attractive alternative to minimum wage labor. Plus a lot of women simply have strong maternal desires. Low-income women see motherhood as a rite of passage to adulthood the same way that high-income women see university education. What if we maintained, or even raised, these welfare benefits, but required the new mother to be artificially inseminated with sperm from very high-{IQ, C, E} men. That is genes expected to produce very high earning, high tax-paying offspring. Identifying a few men of very high value and paying them a lot for their sperm means we could easily impregnate millions of women from +4 sigma fathers. Even assuming -2sigma mothers and 50% mean-reversion, the median offspring's still +1sigma. That's a very productive tax base, and a significantly positive NPV investment for the state, even with generous welfare benefits. Terrance Tao should be siring thousands of kids.

That makes a lot more sense than encouraging children non-selectively. It's not politically realistic in the western democracies, but China could do it.

Terrance Tao is not a baller, and he doesn't have tattoos or ride a motorcycle.

By the way, I often wondered why doesn't a billionaire do this?

Pay a million dollar trust per kid, and have 1,000 kids.

Who the hell wants 1000 kids?

Mandantory pregnancies or the party officials come and drown the husband in a big bucket. I am sure utilitarians could argue that it would do SOME good even if they wouldn't put the order in place themselvesf.

When will China end the "one-party policy?"

If fertility was already falling, then did the one-child policy even have much of an effect at all?

We have stories of oppression, and the smoking gun of the sex ratio.

Still, China had real experience with famine, and probably did not feel luxury in their decisions.

Not very indicative smoke. Similar skewed sex ratios are found in countries without this policy.

By World DataBank, China is number 1 in male births. By CIA data they are number 4. Not exactly middle of the pack. link

Yes exactly. There is a pack, and the other countries within it don't have a one-child policy.

@ethan Bernard - I think Gochujang is right, in that one-child exacerbated the Asian tradition (really world wide) to have a boy to perpetuate one's surname. Ironically, I did a statistically study once (using Galton stats, Poisson distributions) that to have a better than even chance of your surname surviving you must have at least three sons, and to really get to 90% plus territory you must have 10 sons. Having one son only gives you a mere 25% chance of your surname surviving, as I recall.

The Cultural Revolution came right before the one child policy. Policies during the Cultural Revolution undermined the family (communal eating, no private property, denunciation of parents, destruction of family trees, relocation to remote places, anti-sexuality etc). That explains a lot of the falling birth rate from 20 years earlier. You would assume that given the return to "normalcy" after the Cultural Revolution, that birth rates would climb. The one child policy prevented this.

There were more boys as well. Maybe someone with local knowledge could tell us how common are female entrepreneurs or business managers or political bosses in China? Cause or effect?

Wasn't there word in the past coupla weeks about China now having more female billionaires than the US?

How dicey, though, has any resulting sex ratio imbalance been or might it be over the next decade or two? (Thanks to Gochujang above for the Bloomberg link: any more recent coverage with any varying perspective?)

Does the Rosenzweig and Zhang study account for the fact that multi-children families in China tend to be from rural regions or disadvantaged minorities? If these confounding variables aren't accounted for, then the results of the study would be misleading.

They are comparing only-childs with twins, not with the ethnic minorities that are allowed to have more than one child

I thought it was the other way around? The one-child policy could be circumvented by paying a fairly heavy tax on the second child. Rural families have less money to pay the tax.

Does the 20th/21st century phenomenon of drastically declining birthrates have any historical precedence? Have there been any serious studies or philosophical thoughts about the true reasons and implications? It seems to me the decline has a lot to do with the rational increase of cost and decline of the benefits of having and raising children in the modern age.

The historian Philip Daeleader says that what evidence there is indicates there was an autonomous demographic implosion in the occidental world which went on from the mid 3d to the mid 7th century. I think he lists plague as one factor (as there was a hideous plague in Byzantium in the 6th century). Another factor he lists would be the agricultural system and the reliance on slave gangs. Also, per Daeleader, what fragmentary evidence there is indicates that serfdom emerged initially in the 7th century in the area later known as Ile de France. The opportunity for procreation among serfs was much greater than was the case for slaves.

The period from the mid 3d to the mid 7th century was an unhappy one in Europe. Best not to have a recap.

"The period from the mid 3d to the mid 7th century was an unhappy one in Europe."

When I think of that period in European history my mind draws a complete blank. Were any building of note built? Any artists or writers? Any cultural influence that survived?

Augustine is the only person I can come up with off the top of my head.

Constantine, Justinian, the Hagia Zsofia, Greek Fire, the stirrup, the mouldboard plough, modern turned soil row crops, trebuchets, water mills, spinach cultivation, modern Christianity, the Nicea Council and trinitarianism, the reconquest of Italy, the cultural emergence of sports clubs and political parties, defeat of the Persians and first confrontations with the Mohammedans, &c, &c.

Yes, some things happened in Europe between the 3rd and 7th centuries.

Those names are mostly from Eastern Europe. I was referring to the west which is what I think the time period listed in the quote was referring to. Also not a lot of cultural achievements on that list. Mainly agricultural advancements and military conquests.

Western Europe relocated itself to Constantinople (temporarily renamed Istanbul today) in the period in question. It was a Greek and Latin speaking city at the political,economic, and cultural center of the Roman Empire throughout the period. The Europeans relocated their culture and writing and politics and a lot of population back west between the Venetian Crusade and the Renaissance.

Also, pretty much all of the doctrine and practice of modern Christianity isn't a cultural achievement? Modern sport clubs and political parties? Ecclesiastical architecture? If it isn't a three minute pop music video with gyrating hips, I guess it just isn't culture to you.


good links

Isn't that one of the most common occurrences in economics? Things that are good economically are often abhorrent (to some, anyway). Where do you draw the line? You're happy to say "anyone should be able to have children, because liberty, even though it is a net economic benefit", but minimum wages are abhorrent, because they're not an economic benefit? Welfare is abhorrent because it isn't an economic benefit, but open borders should be encouraged even though it's not an economic benefit?

This is something that has dominated economics only since the 80s, in my experience. Growing up in the 60s, Malthus, for example, was used as an example of the failure to consider the two sides of every aspect of the economy.

His message was a one handed one. Too much demand by excess low wage workers leads to scarcity of supply so they will starve.

A two handed economist simply argues that too little supply will limit demand by the invisible hand, just as too little demand will limit supply no matter how high the profit by the invisible hand.

Except the hand is not invisible - it is the signal of money changing hands. The focus on printing money is yet another case of one handed economics. If we print money and give it to the people who already have money because they can repay the money we print, then the money will pay for the supply from high profits, as if the invisible hand moves the money from the rich to the pockets of the working poor in tax cuts, but not welfare nor higher wages. The invisible hand is the several trillions in cash being borrowed by Obama and given in tax cuts to the working poor so that the woman working three part-time low wage jobs will have three children so she can get a $4350 tax cut to pay for a down payment on a $35,000 SUV.

"If we print money and give it to the people who already have money because they can repay the money we print, then the money will pay for the supply from high profits, as if the invisible hand moves the money from the rich to the pockets of the working poor in tax cuts, but not welfare nor higher wages."

Sometimes I think you just string words together at random.

Of course, the policy was never implemented evenhandedly, either by region or by status. It is speculative to draw conclusions about its effects.

"Chinese children who ended up born into twin pairs showed significantly slower rates of schooling progress, worse grades, lower chances of college enrollment, and worse health."

Ethnic minorities in China (for example Uyghurs) have always been exempt from the one-child policy, and some ethnic groups are (much) more likely to give birth to twins: just by way of example, among Nigerians the number is 1 in 22, among Europeans 1 in 70, among Japanese one in 150, and among (Han) Chinese 1 in 250. Of course, different ethnic groups perform differently in terms of schooling, college enrollment, and health. The paper you cite (PDF is here, by the way: http://repec.iza.org/dp2082.pdf) doesn't discuss the ethnicity of their sample, but the authors do mention that the data was gathered in Kunming province in the southwest, which has a much higher than average percentage of non-Han Chinese. So maybe the researchers were unwittingly measuring effects that have nothing to do with being-a-twin, and much more to do with achievement differences whose variance can largely be explained by ethnic background.

Racist! But then almost everyone is, if you judge by their actions rather than their words. So really I accuse you only of frankness.

A racist reduction of that data is possible, but only if you "flatten" Nigerians into blacks, Han Chinese and Japanese into Asian, etc.

Yes, I am sure the cries of racism can be stopped by referring to more narrow racial categories. By the way, what we know of population genetics strongly suggest that the data does "flatten"

Anyone who sees thousands of distinct populations is probably not a racist. Anyone who groups them by how they look, probably is.

Anyone who groups them by how they look...


Those census questions were drafted in times of great racism. Some related history here.

Some now think the questions help redress racism, but I'm not so sure. I'd like to have them struck from the census, the SAT, etc. I am not alone. Perhaps in a couple generations we'll be ready.

among Nigerians the number is 1 in 22, among Europeans 1 in 70, among Japanese one in 150, and among (Han) Chinese 1 in 250.

This is one reason that infant mortality varies by country. I believe that Hispanics in he USA also have a low rate multiple births.

This China's one-child policy was good is a wrong-headed argument on many levels, even when it's right economically.

For example, by analogy, it's been said that Stalin's forced famine in the Ukraine was good for the USSR because it forced industrialization, and broke the 'Kulaks' hold on politics and the status quo. Likewise, by analogy, it's been said that the French Terror was necessary to purge the aristocracy and clergy from influence. Similarly, by analogy, it's been said that the Nazi policy of executing hostages in retaliation for Nazi resistance was successful in crushing the resistance (John Keegan has made this claim). Likewise, the Mongol conquest, Tamerlane conquest, Assyrian conquest were all aided by deliberate terrorism to break down resistance. Likewise MAD in nuclear warfare. Ditto dropping atomic weapons over Japan.

What's the common thread here? In the long run such policies are immoral and wrong. Take the atom bombs over Japan. Was it necessary to drop the second one? Even the first one over a civilian population? Remember, the policy of dropping bombs depended on the Japanese emperor caving in and surrendering. I can see how he might have been so upset by the bombs that he would order the entire nation to collectively fight to their deaths (like Hitler did). Luckily for the world (and the Japanese) he did not. But the Allied response took this gamble without much debate.

In China, the one child policy was hardly the reason China became more wealthy. Rather, what it did was create more boys than girls, and artificially "age" the population so that now the Chinese are about as grey-haired as the Americans, but without the potential to catch up to US GDP now that the Chinese low-lying fruit has been plucked.

As Greg Mankiw has said, a large population is a plus, not a minus (and he practices what he preaches). Thus India, which also did some forced sterilizations, is demographically ahead of China (though economically behind).

Contraception as murder?

My thought is that Chinese leaders probably had close experience with children dying of starvation, and in that light saw contraception as a significantly lesser evil.

@Gochujang - exactly, contraception is murder. Recall the famous sci-fi story of the intelligent meerkat which had the mental reasoning of a human being, and was planning on starting a family that would eventually take over the world, only to suffer, in the final closing paragraph, the indignity of dying in the jaws of a dumb predator cat that was stalking it. Wish I had kept that book, as I don't know who the author was, but it was an excellent read.

The point of the story is: how many black Einsteins have died in Africa because of poor infrastructure, or, analogously, how many unborn Einsteins are there, that could have saved the world and among other things invented a truly safe, cheap and affordable flying car?

I think you see my point. Against this, 99.9% of newborns are nothing but dregs on society that, with lots of money, patience, resources and the like, might grow up to be a net plus in the world rather than a net minus (but it's a close call).

I think you picked the wrong framing. If procreation is a human right, it is because it is a natural desire of the organism, and not about what it will achieve in a utilitarian sense. We want people to have kids in order for them to have happy families, and to excel at all that makes them human. The other road ("more geniuses") leads at the least to the Nobel sperm bank, and not to 2 kids with big dreams.

But in the bad old days, when global population was on exponential rise, I think there was some justified fear that as many kids as people want would not lead to the happy families they desired.

As I say, happily those fears have receded.

Einsteins can only manifest in cultures devoted to learning and research, with the resources to identity, nurture and employ such talents. And cultures are also a result of genetics and environment. Africa does not meet any criteria, except in some very limited areas. Rather, i would posit that the remote possibility of some Einstein rising up from that place does not justify the imposition of billions of Africans on the world, not just for the sake of the world, but also for their sake, given the quality of life they are likely to have. The first is an extremely improbable development, the second is a certainty. There are only so many Africans who can live off of the largesse of the developed world.

I think you are also being a misanthrope about the 99.9%. A successful society is made by almost all of the people in it, regardless of IQ or brute input into the economy,. A conscientious, law abiding and civic-minded person of mediocre IQ in a society of such types which has mechanisms to exploit the talents of their betters will tend to produce a good place to live. I would even argue that it is this mass of mediocrity (not at all mediocre at the global level, but rather something special) that creates the livable society, while the idiosyncrasies and pathologies of some of their brilliant peers will bring other benefits without reducing the appeal of society. This is how we can have all those sociopathic company types.

"Chinese leaders probably had close experience with children dying of starvation"

Yes, from their own party's policies. The Great Leap Forward!

So you get:

1. Communist Party dictatorship starves millions to death.
2. Communist Party dictatorship uses deaths to justify brutal anti-liberty "one child" policy"

True, but it took another 20 years for Chinese leadership to wrap their heads around the idea that they might be the problem.

If the US population was the same as China you might have a different view of the situation. Imagine 4.5 times as many people everywhere in the US. Ohio would have 50 million people. If that were the case, at a 2% growth rate, Ohio's population would reach 100 million in 35 years and 200 million 35 years after that. Is there any point where you would say that the population is too big and you need to control it?

Might be worth noting having more children is much more likely without access to (voluntary) birth control, and one thus expects its availability and affordability would be the dominant factor in falls in birthrates.

Tyler, I think your argument is built on an incorrect assumption: that the amount spent on education is the dominant factor in educational achievement. That might have been true over 100 years ago when you generally had to actually travel to buildings where precious knowledge was stored, but even in the receding nightmare of early post-Maoist China, books must have been relatively cheap by historical standards. Well, the ones they hadn't burned, at any rate (which were mainly historical or cultural).

If you think you can learn the important stuff reading books, you are certainly living an elitists life.

Try becoming a machinist from books. Or welder. Framer. Steel worker erecting bridges or tall buildings. Build a rock crusher.

That was not my argument.

I am assuming that we care about human capital accumulation because it promotes growth. It's nice that we can measure the effects of the policy, but it should be no surprise that population control leads to growth in the short term. The basic Solow model predicts as much, but a big conclusion is that you cannot use population control to obtain continued long run growth. Maybe you could make an argument that having too many children puts you into a human capital "trap" but I am not aware of any research on this issue. (Not my field so I can happily claim ignorance...)

My impression was that population control measures were promoted in the development literature in the 70s and 80s. I remember reading a book -- might have been by Bill Easterly -- which debunked this idea.

@MC - but in the long run, the Solow model says only technology matters, nothing else (including population, balanced budgets, savings rates, etc). The Solow model ignores how the rate of innovation is a function of the size of a population, due to both network effects and a larger population insures that once in a while you'll have an "Einstein" born. i.e., rate of innovation, say d/dt (R(t)) = N*R(t) (exponential) or = N*R(t)- M*R(t) (S-shaped curve) But in Solow's model it's exogenous, magically falling from the sky. I personally think innovation can be taught, so it's endogenous not exogenous...like what is it, the Romer model?

Let us just on net it was very bad.

In order to control the rampant breeding that is threatening our planet, you wouldn't have to limit a woman's brood, but merely put in place strict standards for child rearing and require that the breeding couple bear all the costs for the first 18 years. It would then be like thoroughbred breeding then, where people naturally limit the breeding to what they can afford.

The threat has almost completely shifted to not enough breeding now. Fewer and fewer places have above replacement fertility, and that trend shows no sign of reversing.

What rampant breeding? Birthrates are falling all over the world.

Sure, but they are still extremely in some parts of Africa and Middle East which spells disaster...

What rampant breeding is in Middle East? Most middle eastern countries are in the range of 2-3 childs for woman; above the replacement level, yes, but not much.

The fact that some places are already sub-replacement while others are lagging far behind means that even if the dust will eventually settle on rampant breeding the various ratios of population in the world will have altered the balance of power, consumption, IQ within mankind irrevocably. I would rather live in a world where French Catholics kept breeding like rabbits and the Russians filled Siberia than in one where Nigeria has overtaken France, Germany and the Benelux countries put together in population with little to show for it.

Also, need I remind you of MENA areas like Egypt, Gaza (!!!), Jordan and others? A TFR aof around 3 is nothing to scoff at when you have no water, insufficient education, a youth bulge and economic opportunities and not even enough women for every man to have one and become a respectable person with a family tying him down.

@Moreno: those are falling too. Yes there are still some pockets in those parts of the world with higher birthrates, but there are less and less of those and even those are declining too.

This was an excellent post. It clearly separates the normative from the positive, separates means from ends, addresses the most obvious objections (e.g., for twins, "what about birth weight"?) immediately, and kicks the comments beehive.

Where is Steve Sailer to tell us that the world needs more Chinese people?

I don't think he's that kind of IQ ideologue. More likely an equal opportunity immigration restrictionist. What the world definitely does not need is more Africans and subcontinentals.

" It is simple economics that putting a lot of money into the education of each child is easier to do with a single child than with three or for that matter seven kids "

Huh? In my econ 101 they talked about fixed costs and marginal costs. Total costs increase by adding more children, but the marginal costs of adding an additional child are quite small, and in very poor countries, usually more than pay for themselves through child labor. What matters is the size of the firm we're dealing with. Average costs versus marginal return matter more than total costs for the family or small village, and total costs matter more for the city and state. It's not clear what we should expect matters more for human development. Given the general poor quality of public education provided by the state in all third world countries today, optimizing for what is best for the state is likely irrelevant for development. China's government can more efficiently deliver public services to total fewer people, but so what? Government efficiency only matters when you're in the one in thirty chance of your totalitarian government not being completely worthless. It's like choosing to stay in an expensive hotel in Vegas because you plan on winning big gambling.

The fact that there's data supporting one way or the other might say something, but probably really doesn't give as much knowledge as you think it does. It's China, the first response should be to defy the data, by reflex. If China were 10 countries, no one would come up with this nonsense. Its size weighs on the consciousness, dragging down our ability to intelligently analyze it, and as such should be approached with more caution.

If your kids' schools listened to you and consolidated classes to increase students per class from 30 to 100, you would cheer one teacher spreading her marginal effort over three times students?

By the way, I'm an early boomer who ended up in a city that had a number of new factories bringing in new families in the 50s, so my classes were 50+ students in classrooms with 30 old fixed desks plus lots of desk chairs crammed into corners and isles, in classrooms used 13 hours a day. Every election cycle involved voting for bond issues that required tax hikes to fund new schools. The voters voted for lots of tax hikes.

Tyler says an immoral restriction on personal liberty had policy benefits. I guess MR will be closed down later today.

Were I Great Leader, especially of a low-IQ country, I would implement a stiff tax on low-IQ parents and gratuitous subsidies on high-IQ ones.

I consider the one-child policy immoral only so far as it is stupid.

I think that, regardless of your opinion on the one child policy, the fact that the Chinese could pull it off is an indicator of future success at marshaling resources to enact rapid change and growth. When I will see an African country imposing a one child policy and sticking to it, I will invest in that country, because it means that it has both a strong country and an obedient, pliable population that can at least be forced to think ahead and invest more per child.

"The best estimate we have is that the one-child policy lowered Chinese births by an average of 0.33 per woman, which is a noticeable but not drastic change."

Was it necessary, then, if Chinese fertility would have been, what, 20% higher? Admittedly we have the luxury now of knowing that fertility tends to collapse in East Asia, especially in Chinese-majority societies and in urban areas.

I suspect that decades of a one-child policy has resulted in deep systems in China that benefit from it. How doctors make money, how people get hired or fired, how bureaucrats gain power, how schools are run, and on and on. These systems will help continue the low fertility rate independent of any change in law.

I have a suspicion that much fertility is due to a relatively small group of high fertility females. Mothers with 5 or more kids. I asked a demographer about this and he said there was no studies but he suspected the same. If so, the Chinese could have gotten most of the reduction with a 3 child policy, without as much of the oppression or systemic consequences (though still immoral in my view)

I don't buy into the education argument, because adding e.g. one child to a classroom didn't generate high marginal costs.

So, for every one child, adding one child will have a very small effect, so 30 one childs becomes 30 one childs plus 30 second childs and 60s two childs is just slightly more than 30 one childs?

Are you taking into consideration the significant cost associated with a top heavy aging population. Also, it is important to remember that old fashioned Smithian style argument about specialization. If there is a higher birthrate, there will be a higher population. This allows for more trade and greater division of labor. We should also note that many of the goods produced by people are non-rival i.e. ideas, good stories, ect. More thinkers and innovators may lead to a faster rate of technological progress and cultural development. Morality aside, I think that the economic costs of population control are pretty enormous.

Population growth without freedom is a drag on the economy. See Julian Simon.

Another statistical view by Doug Saunder, a writer for the Globe and Mail:


So, no mention of the fact that China is now demographically doomed? They have a rapidly aging population that will be a massive drag on the economy. Thats not a success story.

By the Chinese government’s own demographic estimates, the number of people above age 60 in China is projected to increase to 437 million, or 30% of the population, by 2050. The number of Chinese women aged 20-24 is already in decline, and the number of women aged 25-29 goes into steep decline starting in 2015.

Irrelevant. It only matters if their efficiency at matching workers to work and optimizing skill sets is just as crappy as the rest of the developed world.
With a worker more dedicated at 'fit' to its job, the resulting efficiencies in the short and medium term will push China way, way beyond the traditional measures of other economies.
How will they achieve this? Social credit scoring systems:
See a fascinating example of how this could look (but likely won't)(artists impression):

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