The Chinese government is finding it harder to reverse the lasting effects of the one-child policy than it thought. Faced with the prospect of an aging population supported by too few young people, China decided in 2013 that it would allow couples to apply to have a second child. Now numbers are in on how many couples decided to take the government up on its offer. The expectation was that around 2 million applications would come in, but the government has gotten only half that. Reuters reports:
About 30,000 families in Beijing, just 6.7 percent of those eligible, applied to have a second child. The Beijing government had said last year that it expected an extra 54,200 births annually as a result of the change in rules.In Liuzhou city, in the southern Guangxi region, only 20- percent of eligible families applied, while in Guilin city 30 percent applied. And in Anhui, a largely poor central province, just 12 percent applied, the newspaper said.
The Chinese have tried to spin it, saying that the applications are in line with their “estimate of less than two million [new children] annually,” but as the FT points out, not every couple who applied will wind up having children, so the real number could be more like 600,000 new children in the first year of the relaxation. That’s obviously much less than the 2 million number. The one-child policy was in effect for many years, and this is just the first year of the new relaxed policy, so perhaps we will see better results in the coming years.But if this year’s numbers don’t improve, the Chinese government may find that years of brutal fertility suppression have actually changed the values and preferences of its population, such that bringing birth numbers up may be a very, very difficult task indeed. The idea that you can subject birth rates to technocratic governance of this sort, bringing them down when they seem high, bringing them back up on command when a demographic crisis threatens, is an extreme version of the kind of hubris that infects central planners everywhere. Human beings aren’t machines that can be adjusted in ideal ways every few years to ensure some sort of maximal societal utility. The Chinese may be about to find that out to their own chagrin.