The Corner

Re: The Ugly Beast Returns

Lots and lots of e-mail came in yesterday about my post on Diane Francis’s notion that we implement a China-style one-child-policy for the world. Much of it was in agreement. But let me focus on one criticism. Here are a couple of representative e-mails from the relatively well-mannered:

Jonah,

The article reached by your link makes no mention of abortion. Your conclusions are dreck. Lighten up…

Broomshankir,

Tommy the Cat

And from a more serious fellow:

Dear Jonah:

I didn’t like your comment about the Canadian population-control op-ed, and here’s why….

First of all, you ought to candidly ackowledge that a lot of people sincerely believe the world and its people would be better off if the planet does not become overcrowded. This is a serious issue that ought to be addressed seriously.

For you to say that the Canadian op-ed argued for mandatory abortion seems inflammatory and inaccurate. You must realize that it is perfectly possible for a nation to disincentivize and/or penalize people who have more children than they or the planet can afford, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME disincentivizing and/or penalizing abortion. You really are adopting the absurd pro-choice position when you imply that women have no choice but to become pregnant.

Also, please note that, in 2002, China outlawed the use of physical force to make a woman submit to an abortion or sterilization. True, that prohibition is not entirely enforced, but surely forced abortion is not a central feature of China’s one-child policy. Even if it were, other nations could certainly disincentivize having too many kids, without in any way encouraging either forced or non-forced abortions.

Sincerely,

Here’s my basic problem: You simply cannot globalize China’s policy without forced abortions. Yes, yes, you could offer family planning. You could change the song from buying the world a coke to buying the world a condom. But, at the end of the day, by accident and on purpose, billions of women would still get pregnant. Isn’t that the whole point of so much pro-abortion rhetoric: Legal abortion is needed because unplanned pregnancies happen.

Then what? If the ban doesn’t get enforced after a second pregnancy, it’s not a ban. If there’s an exemption for “unplanned” pregnancies, then there will be billions of unplanned pregnancies.

One option might be to come up with a global tax system where you levy an enormous fine or fee on every child after the first. China does that. Well, if anything like that happens, you are on your way to fulfilling the dream of eugencists: more babies from the rich, fewer from the poor. Congrats! And you would still have the compliance problem.

I guess you could forcibly sterilize women after they have one child. What a moral triumph that would be!

The second reader says that China has been trying to discourage forced abortions since 2002. From what I’ve read that’s hardly been super-successful. But keep in mind, China can move away from forced abortions now because they used them so much in the past. The society has moved to a one-child culture thanks to the authoritarian policies it’s had for a generation. Taking that policy global, would almost certainly mean starting the way China did. Have fun sending the Blue Helmets into Africa and the Middle East on that project.

But let’s assume that counseling and education and a system of non-evil “disincentives” could be implemented on a global scale from square one. It’s still grotesque. And you still have the hypocrisy issue I raised in my initial post. Whenever pro-lifers advocate non-coercive policies to discourage abortion, the bleating over “reproductive freedom” begins. But for some reason it’s okay for champions of “reproductive freedom” to advocate in favor of the same sorts of policies so long as they encourage abortion. It seems to me that such a position undermines the claim that pro-choice activists aren’t in fact pro-abortion.

There are mountains of problems with the whole population-bomb formulation and with the idea that it would be good for America or the West to have fewer kids (paging Mark Steyn). But this idea that you can globalize China’s evil policy without taking a hammer to decency and liberty is absurd.

Update: Good point, from a reader:

Hi Jonah

 

You write:

 

One option might be to come up with a global tax system where you levy an enormous fine or fee on every child after the first. China does that. Well, if anything like that happens, you are on your way to fulfilling the dream of eugencists: more babies from the rich, fewer from the poor.

 

It is worse than this, actually, the proper description would be:  more babies from the rich and poor, fewer from the middle class.

 

Certainly the rich won’t be deterred by fines.  But, same goes for the poor since you can’t fine people who have no money and you can’t burden with additional taxes people who pay no taxes. You could condemn them to involuntary servitude, in lieu of fine payment, but I don’t think we’re, as a society, willing to stomach that much.

 

The ones for whom a hefty fine can make the difference between economic survival and going under are the middle class. We already have a situation where the middle class birth rate is lower than in other layers of the society, a policy like the one delineated above will make this situation worse. Carried over a generation or two, we can get back to a medieval “masters and serfs” society.

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