Changing course after hitting the iceberg
China's Communist Party -- which cannot be practically distinguished from its civil government -- has changed course on the country's notorious and odious One Child Per Family past and will now "allow" families to have as many as three children. The country had a one-child limit starting more than 40 years ago, then relaxed the rules to permit two children in 2016.
■ This abrupt course change is yet another data point that runs contrary (and massively so) to the "China's leaders think 100 years ahead" trope. Any demographic trend evident now surely was obvious five years ago. And any trend that was obvious five years ago undoubtedly could have been noticed fifteen years prior to that. From a perspective of mere government competence, the failure to project how badly this would play out should be profoundly embarrassing to the authorities. Assuming families immediately went out and conceived second children upon the change in 2016, it's going to be the middle of the next decade before those "extra" children start to have families of their own.
■ So, the demographic problem was easily foreseeable. But the idea that a government has any say whatsoever in the number of children people are "allowed" to have is so hard to fathom that it's difficult to sustain the kind of gobsmacked outrage that it truly deserves. The original appalling policy was in place for so long that it largely became background noise.
■ Yet, we should try to remain outraged. We're not talking about something beneficial (like a government insisting on compulsory education for children). We're not talking about something benign (like a government prohibiting parents from giving their children obscene names). We're talking about a policy backed by law, and enforced with government-mandated abortions and deprivation of second children's legal right to exist.
■ This isn't even to mention the obvious first-order consequence of China's government-imposed family limits: A wildly out-of-balance gender imbalance. The country's sex ratio has resulted in 34 million more men than women. Even in a country with a population of more than a billion, that's more than just rounding error: It's a population of "excess" males that outnumbers all the people in Texas.
■ But the fundamental problem here isn't even the awful consequences of the policy. It's the assumption that such a policy has any legitimacy in the first place. Having a child is a profoundly hopeful act. It is also one that belongs, in the most intimate way, to the individuals involved. Deeply embedded within the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is the right to create life itself. Nothing could demonstrate a more obvious disregard for the sanctity of the individual human life than a policy mercilessly enforcing limits on the number of individuals who are recognized with a "right" to exist.
■ It wasn't what Gerald Ford was talking about, but his words apply: "[A] government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have." Ford was talking about material wants. In this case, the rulers of China have a government big enough to take away everything their people might want. On their behalf, and on behalf of the inherent rights of human beings everywhere, we should look with certain disgust upon the very assumption that government has any such power in the first place to tell people how many children they are allowed to have -- whether three, two, one, or any at all.