Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Cost of Social Engineering

The economic 'miracles' sweeping emerging ecopower giants like India and China were always more apparent than real.  In large part that happened because we were distracted by the bright, shiny thing - their burgeoning economies - and largely overlooked the wobbly social, environmental, agricultural and political foundations that lay beneath.

China, for example, is now facing a powerful population bomb.   Not the one that led the Communists in the 60s to impose the One Child policy, the bomb that has been created by that very same policy.   A terrific article in The Guardian reveals how One Child was instrumental in China's industrial revolution but now threatens it in the future.

Life expectancy has soared in China, while fertility has plummeted due to strict birth control policies. In 2009 there were 167 million over-60s, about an eighth of the population.  By 2050 there will be 480 million, while the number of young people will have fallen. "It's a timebomb," warned Wang Feng of the Brookings-Tsinghua Centre for Public Policy in Beijing.

China's economic miracle has been fuelled by its "demographic dividend": an unusually high proportion of working age citizens. That population bulge is becoming a problem as it ages. In 2000 there were six workers for every over-60. By 2030, there will be barely two.

Other countries are also ageing and have far lower birth rates. But China is the first to face the issue before it has developed – and the shift is two to three times as fast.

"China is unique: she is getting older before she has got rich," said Wang Dewen, of the World Bank's China social protection team.

The article notes that Chinese leaders have used the economic boom to raise money for investment in infrastructure but at the expense of ignoring pensions and the healthcare system.  And now many experts are said to advocate scrapping One Child in favour of a two-child policy.

This is but one of the headaches wracking China.  It also must deal with a looming freshwater crisis; air, soil and water pollution; energy security; food security; and the need to find ways to ease class pressures that are building, especially between rural and urban populations.

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