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  1. Morningstar
    Morningstar May 22, 2007 at 11:36 pm |

    (and lord knows we have enough people on this planet)

    You don’t really mean that…..right?

  2. Edie
    Edie May 22, 2007 at 11:38 pm |

    I know a “right-to-lifeer” (sic) who points to China as an example of what is wrong with pro-choice. “Forced abortions! Infanticide! Little baby girls murdered!”

    I’ve tried to point out that pro-choice does not equal pro-abortion; That forced abortions are as much anathema as forced pregnancy.

    My thoughts? Until the population of China abandons its preference for boy babies, gives up the notion that more children means more happiness, it will continue to have a population problem that will be met by draconian measures by the government and the genocide of girls.

    But how, dammit, how can they change their thinking?
    Edie

  3. Joseph Kugelmass
    Joseph Kugelmass May 23, 2007 at 12:06 am |

    The Chinese government is concerned with controlling its population, not with improving quality of life for its people. The solution to overpopulation is creating economies that reward investment in a small number of children who are likely to live and thrive. As long as it is economically advantageous for rural families to have many children, they will continue to resist state family planning, justly so.

    To mention just one of the paradoxes at work here: China restricts emigration, as well as free movement within the country, while simultaneously trying to limit family size.

    There can’t be any negotiation between overpopulation and ethics; that would be tantamount to wondering how hard we should work to halt the spread of AIDS in overpopulated parts of Africa.

    I am definitely not suggesting that you would favor, or even consider for one second, such a thing; my point is just that we can’t take world overpopulation into account when considering whether governments have the right to compel abortions.

    (The ironies of talking about this in the midst of battles for abortion rights in the States are turning my stomach, so I’m not going to go there. But obviously the notion of choice is central in both cases.)

  4. Torri
    Torri May 23, 2007 at 3:48 am |

    I remember seeing a news story/documentary about how small country towns in China are being filled with boys with no girls in sight. The young boys in the town end up wanting to move to the city just to meet a member of the opposite sex around their age. I can’t remember it well but that was the general gist.
    My own personal experience puts me on the side of the fence where I think the world really doesn’t need any more population growths. I’ve seen many places I used to visit when I was little, (bush lands, small farms, riding for the disabled) torn down to make room for housing developments, it was a little scary.
    This is an important issue and I agree it would require a change in the society’s thinking to make it work. But how would that happen? I don’t know and I don’t really know enough about the culture to really make any substantial suggestions.

  5. kali
    kali May 23, 2007 at 4:45 am |

    I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about when it comes to China in particular, and I should, really, and I’m a bit ashamed of that, but in general when women get educated is when populations start falling. So that should have been a focus of their population policy right from the start.
    And it seems that the cultural preference for boys needs to be corrected by some MASSIVE incentives for families to have girls. Because studying economics has corroded my brain, it is obvious to me that Chinese families need to be bribed with shedloads of cash to have and raise girl babies. Some kind of cash bonus invested for the girl when she is born, possibly plus free education for women up to PhD level, plus lower tax rates for working women than for men, might correct the economic disincentives to have girls and go some way to remedying the cultural issues behind the preference. But this sounds like it’s probably just the kind of asshole idea that economists are always coming up with, and someone who knows more of the cultural specifics could tell me why it won’t work. I only posted it because this thread has so few comments and I want to learn about the topic!

  6. Dianne
    Dianne May 23, 2007 at 6:09 am |

    how can they change their thinking?

    More wealth, lots of it. I don’t know all that much about China in particular, but generally the birth rate falls as wealth in the general population increases and education for women increases. So more money, more education for women, more opportunities for all. Won’t change things overnight, but at least it’ll be a real change when it happens instead of something imposed by the government that makes everyone miserable.

  7. Callie
    Callie May 23, 2007 at 7:21 am |

    my point is just that we can’t take world overpopulation into account when considering whether governments have the right to compel abortions.

    I absolutely agree.

    Taking world overpopulation into account when looking at health issues in general is really problematic. There are all sorts of ugly ways to combat overpopulation… denying people mosquito nets, vaccinations, ARV drugs, or just basic medicine, for instance. Forced abortions is another really ugly way to combat the problem.

    As an economic/social historian (hey look, it finally comes in handy here!) I’d guess that the best way to stop exploding population growth, given what usually happens in countries, is for societies to give incentives to families to invest more in each of fewer children. Usually that means that kids–boys and girls–need to have the opportunity to receive educations and to benefit from those educations. Dianne’s right that this often goes along with increased wealth.

    For subsistence farmers in rural China or South Asia (who need kids for labor), or for families living in slums in India (who don’t have access to birth control), education and upward mobility isn’t really on the horizon.

    Personally, it bugs me to see folks in developed countries get fussy about overpopulation in developing countries (not saying you are zuzu, just a general comment) when the problem with resource overuse it totally a developed world problem. We use up the world’s resources, not Asia, not Latin America, and certainly not Africa. The US eats up 25% of energy resources all by its lonesome every year. Overpopulation isn’t the problem–overuse of limited resource, per wealthy person, is.

    Oh boy, sustainable development, feminism, and economic history all in one topic– I think I’m having a zen moment.

  8. Betsy
    Betsy May 23, 2007 at 8:36 am |

    It’s a tough situation in China — the government understandably wants to keep the population in check (and lord knows we have enough people on this planet), but the enforcement of the one-child policycan be so harsh that it amounts to human rights abuse, and the traditional preference for boys has led to widespread abandonment, and in some cases killing, of girls.

    There’s something about the tone here that I find a little bit…I don’t know…but it makes me a tad uncomfortable. It makes it sound like you would be ok with the one-child policy if it just wasn’t so abusive and sexist, which probably isn’t what you mean. I don’t think any coercive policy toward reproduction can possibly be anything other than a human rights abuse. I’m all for making safe birth control and abortion access widespread, for educating people, for giving women more control over their lives and bodies, all of which tend to naturally reduce the birth rate. But any kind of mandatory intervention on it will necessarily represent a gross intrusion on women’s bodies, which goes against everything I think feminism stands for.

  9. arlene
    arlene May 23, 2007 at 8:55 am |

    The China policy and the anti-abortion, anti-contraceptive mentality of the right-to-lifers are two sides of the same coin. The commonality is government control of reproduction. I see no difference in enforcing a one-child policy and the draconian measures of a country like El Salvador with its forensic vagina inspectors.

  10. Dianne
    Dianne May 23, 2007 at 10:26 am |

    The US eats up 25% of energy resources all by its lonesome every year. Overpopulation isn’t the problem–overuse of limited resource, per wealthy person, is.

    And so unnecessarily too. The US has less than 5% of the world’s population and uses over 25% of its energy resources, for a greater than 5:1 ratio. Most European countries come in at about a 3:1 ratio–still overuse, but somewhat less so. (a href=”http://atlas.aaas.org/index.php?part=2&sec=natres&sub=energy”>Source. I’m in Germany at the moment so I can personally testify that the standard of living here is NOT lower than in the US. If anything it is higher. The living is easy, daycare is cheap (if hard to find), health care available to all. Back the US down to the energy use level found in Europe–which I contend can be done without loss of standard of living–and you could free up a fair amount of that extra energy for people in other parts of the world. Or decrease the global warming component by that much.

    But I’m kind of hoping that the standard of living in China will rise to meet that in Europe rather than that the standard in Europe will fall to meet that in China. So I’d like to see China’s wealth and education levels increase (even at the expense of a temporary increase in their per capita energy use–and therefore potentially a period of relative overuse of energy) at the same time as Europe’s (and the US’s) awareness of energy use, carbon cycles, and other environmental issues increases. And that birth control and when necessary abortion are safe, legal, and optional in both places. And in the rest of the world. And I’d like a pony.

  11. Dianne
    Dianne May 23, 2007 at 10:27 am |

    Gah. Screwed up link above. Source for statements about energy use in various countries in post above.. With apologies for my lack of computer skill.

  12. cara
    cara May 23, 2007 at 10:30 am |

    I agree that it’s a tough situation.

    Here are my thoughts on the situation from a blog post that I wrote yesterday.

  13. Callie
    Callie May 23, 2007 at 10:49 am |

    And I’d like a pony.

    ME TOO.

  14. Callie
    Callie May 23, 2007 at 10:58 am |

    And I’d like a pony.

    ME TOO. You might be joking but I’m totally not.

    This is a problem of affluence.

    While that’s partly true zuzu, Dianne makes good points about Europe. Places that are richer than the US per capita– Scandinavian countries, for instance–do better with resource management than we do. It’s part of their social conscience like it never has been in the US.

    In regards to where the developing world is headed… I think that developing countries on the whole–including East and South Asia–have done much more thinking than the US has about how to protect environmental resources. I’m not saying they do a terrific job with those resources, but given where they are and where we are, they do ok, especially when you take into account how much it costs them to do ok. It doesn’t cost us much comparitively and we do crap.

  15. Matan
    Matan May 23, 2007 at 12:26 pm |

    arlene Says:
    The China policy and the anti-abortion, anti-contraceptive mentality of the right-to-lifers are two sides of the same coin. The commonality is government control of reproduction. I see no difference in enforcing a one-child policy and the draconian measures of a country like El Salvador with its forensic vagina inspectors.

    As a number of people have said above, this point is so, so important. I’d like to remind people of the (ongoing, I assume) hellhole that is the Marianas islands. (For those who aren’t familiar with the situation, here’s a link to the “Real Scandal of Tom Delay”.) I first learned about this in Al Franken’s The Truth (with jokes).

    To make a long story short, the situation makes explicit the reality that so much anti-choice rhetoric is much more about controlling women than about “a culture of life”(TM).

  16. Callie
    Callie May 23, 2007 at 1:35 pm |

    zuzu, true, true.

  17. Frumious B
    Frumious B May 23, 2007 at 2:31 pm |

    (and lord knows we have enough people on this planet)

    You don’t really mean that…..right?

    What, you think we need more? I’m totally in the zero population growth camp.

  18. Mighty Ponygirl
    Mighty Ponygirl May 23, 2007 at 2:36 pm |

    You cannot have me.
    That is all.

  19. Kristen
    Kristen May 23, 2007 at 2:53 pm |

    And it seems that the cultural preference for boys needs to be corrected by some MASSIVE incentives for families to have girls.

    Unfortunately, its a little more complicated than that. In China*, it is expected that a male child will take care of his parents and grandparents as well as any other generations as they age. However, a female child is expected to marry and care for her husband’s family rather than her own. Consequently, if a couple has a single female child, the fear is that they and their parents will be left destitute or dependent on charity from the village in their old age.

    So incentives tailored to promoting the lives of young women won’t necessarily be effective. The only real solution is to provide some type of social security (which their developing economy cannot afford) or change the culturally ingrained norm that women are “given” to their husband’s family.

    * This is based on my work as a developmental economist and discussions I’ve had with emigres from the rural areas for what its worth.

  20. hk
    hk May 23, 2007 at 3:47 pm |

    They had an interesting program on PBS that focused on women in China. It was called “China from the inside” .

    From what I recall the government tries to push the idea that girls and boys are equal. I also think they said something about giving college scholarships to females. It also showed the birth planning officer visiting young women to discuss their birth control.

  21. Morningstar
    Morningstar May 23, 2007 at 4:44 pm |

    To clarify, I don’t have a problem with the goal of one child per family, and I do think it’s understandable for a country with 1.3 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population, to want to put a lid on population growth. But I feel strongly that coercive methods are wrong.

    Overpopulation in China is a myth. There is plenty of room for people, there are plenty of ways to feed people, and I have to say it’s somewhat shocking to see someone support (even implicitly) a policy that limits the choices of individual families.

    China wants to curb it’s population because this is a means to exert control. A small central power of communist elite is governing more than a billion people, and they recognize that more people equals more trouble for them. Don’t be fooled by claims of overpopulation or tales of economic progress as a result of these draconian policies.

    This is the way the Chinese government stays in charge.

  22. kali
    kali May 23, 2007 at 4:59 pm |

    Kristen, I think I vaguely remembered that factoid actually. I was putting it together with the one other thing I remember about women in China, which is the effect of a shortage of women on the marriage market.
    You’d think that the shortage of women would mean that familes could contract more equitable terms in a marriage, (and it does seem like a marriage can be viewed as a contract between families as much as between two individuals, there) but instead all that is happening is that women are marrying “up” more than they did and the status quo of how a marriage actually works remains unaltered. (and there is a large and dangerous contingent of disaffected lower-class men who will never find wives.)

    I actually had the half-formed thought that women having increased earnings power might combine with them being in a sellers’ market for marriage to change that status quo. I do think money is the only way to shake up old traditions.

    But then it’s taken a very long for women in the West to start marrying down and reaping the benefits of increased bargaining power within marriage, despite the many ways in which it’s a rational move for a lot of women. So there’s no reason to suppose the process would move any faster in China.

  23. hk
    hk May 23, 2007 at 5:02 pm |

    I think that most countries are overpopulated, and I don’t even have their governments trying to feed me that line. It’s my own personal opinion, but it really doesn’t have anything the family planning riots in China.

    I did rememer something else from the program on PBS, and I don’t recall if this applied to all parts of China, but woman whose first born was a girl could try for a second child.

  24. Joe
    Joe May 23, 2007 at 5:19 pm |

    Well, I’m still not sure how I feel about the one-child policy, mainly because I’m not sure if people fundamentally have the right to make more people. Within my personal understanding of human and individual rights I really can’t see the right to create and raise children as one of those rights. So while I don’t agree with forced abortion since it violates bodily autonomy, I think that fines are an acceptable way to control population. If it’s equally applied across genetic and class lines and not used to enforce discrimination/racism/other forms of eugenics then I’m really not sure it’s such a bad thing. The issue then becomes whether it’s necessary or not, which is really more of an economics issue.

  25. Callie
    Callie May 23, 2007 at 5:21 pm |

    Don’t be fooled by claims of overpopulation or tales of economic progress as a result of these draconian policies.

    Morningstar, I’m inclined to agree with you. I hesitate to make assuptions about China because I don’t know much about it, but I do know a fair bit about South Asia, and the subcontinent is a really good counter-example for the Chinese government’s argument that controlling reproduction speeds development.

    In India there are almost as many people (a few hundred million people fewer) in a space much smaller. Abortion is not easy to get. India has developed economically in the same fast, booming way that China has, but without the government imposing draconian restrictions on human rights. Not that the Indian government is perfect by any means, especially when it comes to giving women reproductive choices, but they’re way better than China. And while they’re not the political player that China is yet, they are economically in the same league.

    Here’s a sad thing relating to kids being too expensive to have, and education, which we talked about above. This is from an old article (2000), but China has raised school fees in the countryside as an economic deterrent to having kids.

  26. Nymphalidae
    Nymphalidae May 23, 2007 at 7:48 pm |

    Like it or not, there is probably a limit of how much yield/acre can be produced. The 20th century saw HUGE increases in yield due to technology, but the challenge is to keep yield growing with the population. We’re actually working with less farmland than we were before due to the expansion of suburbs.

    But in general, I agree with what has been said. Draconian measures restricting childbirth will be less effective than educating women and increasing wealth.

  27. Shankar Gupta
    Shankar Gupta May 23, 2007 at 9:55 pm |

    I don’t really see how restricting the number of children a woman can have is any less hostile to women’s rights than restricting a woman’s access to abortion. Isn’t the choice to have a child co-equal with the choice not to have a child? And isn’t that what the pro-choice movement is about?

    Statements like this one, from Joe:

    …mainly because I’m not sure if people fundamentally have the right to make more people. Within my personal understanding of human and individual rights I really can’t see the right to create and raise children as one of those rights.

    totally creep me out. I don’t understand what sort of personal understanding of human and individual rights you have that excludes a fundamental bodily function of humanity. Do you really want a government official deciding whether or not you can have children? Can you not see how readily such a power could be abused to target racial minorities, the poor, and political undesirables? Seriously?

  28. Jill
    Jill May 23, 2007 at 9:59 pm | *

    Agreed, Shankar.

    I would argue that the right to have children is a fundamental one — if only because enforcing restrictions on childbearing involve involuntary medical procedures and being forced to do something with your own body that you don’t want to do (kind of like forced pregnancy). Overpopulation is a major environmental concern, but as Zuzu said, that concern does not justify coercive policies. And if the right to reproduce — or to at least not be forced to have surgery to end a medical condition like pregnancy — isn’t a basic human right, I’m not really sure what is.

  29. Jill
    Jill May 23, 2007 at 10:02 pm | *

    Do you really want a government official deciding whether or not you can have children? Can you not see how readily such a power could be abused to target racial minorities, the poor, and political undesirables? Seriously?

    And if you can’t see how such a power could be used to target certain groups, I would suggest a cursory look into American history — start with American legal history (see Buck v. Bell and Skinner v. Oklahoma), head to Puerto Rico, and explore Nazi Germany.

  30. Jill
    Jill May 23, 2007 at 10:05 pm | *

    Also, read some Dorothy Roberts. “Killing the Black Body” is the Pandagon book club read for this month, and she has a lot of law review articles that cover the same issues. The right to reproduce is one that has been systematically taken away from certain groups of women, usually based on their race, religion, ethic group or class. Natalists and social conservatives still demonize non-white motherhood as a way to score political points and gather sympathy. It’s pretty scary stuff, and in my view, part of being in favor of reproductive freedom is recognizing that huge groups of people have had their reproductive rights denied in ways that involve childbirth, not just abortion and birth control.

  31. Jill
    Jill May 23, 2007 at 10:07 pm | *

    So while I don’t agree with forced abortion since it violates bodily autonomy, I think that fines are an acceptable way to control population. If it’s equally applied across genetic and class lines and not used to enforce discrimination/racism/other forms of eugenics then I’m really not sure it’s such a bad thing.

    Honest question: How can a restriction that is depends on fining violators be applied equally across class lines?

  32. Joe
    Joe May 24, 2007 at 2:28 am |

    Do you really want a government official deciding whether or not you can have children? Can you not see how readily such a power could be abused to target racial minorities, the poor, and political undesirables? Seriously?

    I do see how it could lead to those things, which is why i put that qualifier after my post. I suppose it couldn’t be justly implemented across class lines in a class based society, but I was more talking about the hypothetical than the practical example in the original post. I agree that the current situation in China isn’t good and that they aren’t going about things in a proper and just manner, but just because some people are going about things wrong currently doesn’t mean the principle itself is inherently evil.

    I don’t really see how it’s creepy to discuss this, though.

  33. Kristen
    Kristen May 24, 2007 at 6:26 am |

    Overpopulation in China is a myth. There is plenty of room for people, there are plenty of ways to feed people, and I have to say it’s somewhat shocking to see someone support (even implicitly) a policy that limits the choices of individual families.

    You’re absolutely right in a sense. China does have enough land resources to sustain an agricultural population at the current level with normal population growth. However, it does not have the resources to sustain that same population in an industrialize/consumer economy.

    My personal take on the issue is that they took a body of economic research that (IMHO) erroneously equates economic development with population control and decided to reverse engineer some growth.

    In reality, population control is a natural result of economic and educational freedom for women and increased economic development is the natural result of those freedoms for women as well. Yet another case of people confusing causation and correlation. Not to mention much of the population control research is nearly 50 years old.

  34. frankly
    frankly May 24, 2007 at 3:39 pm |

    This idea that selecting for male children is something to worry about is very short-sighted. Its a self correcting problem. Heck we should encourage more couple to have only sons. 20 years from now over population is no longer a problem! 1 man and 100 women could reproduce themselves every year, 1 woman and 100 men – eh, not so much.

  35. Wogglebug
    Wogglebug May 24, 2007 at 6:26 pm |

    In the world in general, more economic/social/personal power for women directly causes fewer births.

    In China, the drive for (male) children is based on the lack of Social Security or pensions. I read that even back in the eighties, the only Chinese province that was anywhere close to meeting its population targets was the one that had a primitive form of Social Security.

    China has cities. China has computers. China has so many personal automobiles now it’s beginning to affect global gas prices. They could afford Social Security or pensions if they were determined to, and that would be much easier for the government to achieve than a sea change in family politics. They’re just determined to ignore effective approaches and keep banging their heads against the wall.

  36. me
    me May 25, 2007 at 8:01 am |

    “Honest question: How can a restriction that is depends on fining violators be applied equally across class lines?”
    It can’t, of course. But then neither can voluntary birth control or the bringing up of the children, and the provision of resources certainly won’t be. Supposing it is to be enacted, the best that can be done here is that it is applied equally to all.

    I’m not entirely decided on this issue. I tend towards favouring it in the context of dictatorships in countries lacking full infrastructure, due to the level of resources available for the poorest. I oppose the dictatorship before applying notions of rights, i.e. I seek the best outcome for the greatest number given the current situation and the available actions. Whilst I prefer alternatives, they may not yet be affordable or practical.

    I find the “sexist” label foolish. The context may be sexist, but the policy is not, per se.

    In “The End of Poverty”, Sachs makes a good point that providing adequate infrastructure helps create the confidence that families need to reduce population growth to sustainable levels. The have faith that their children will survive and that they will have an income, so they don’t have more children. This effect is demonstrable in places like India, AIUI.

    It IS an issue. If you don’t think so, you have your head stuck in the sand. Have a look at the growth rates across the world, for a start. Do you really want a J-curve in these countries? The west over-consumes, but even if it didn’t the current population is not sustainable, AIUI. Certainly the current rate of growth is not. And it won’t stop increasing by magic (or by misplaced faith).

  37. Dianne
    Dianne May 25, 2007 at 8:50 am |

    How can a restriction that is depends on fining violators be applied equally across class lines?

    Sliding scale fines? Instead of fining a person X amount, fine them X% of their daily or yearly income? Not a perfect solution, but more equitable than a simple fine.

  38. Adrienne
    Adrienne May 26, 2007 at 2:42 am |

    I know I’m late to the thread but I was actually in Beijing a few weeks ago and had a very informative guide while there. I’ve always known about the 1 child per family rule but I was not aware that until a few years ago you couldn’t marry until you where 25. They dropped it recently to 22. Also, you cannot be pregnant and be in college. Doesn’t add much to the conversation I know, but I was amazed by those few comments she made.

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