Dominic Lawson: The best population policy is to have none

The humane approach is to let each family, in every country, choose its own fertility rates

Share
Related Topics

Sometimes a news story can be so distressing that it is almost impossible to read to the end. One such was Clifford Coonan's report in The Independent, headlined "The Only Ones". It told how the overwhelming majority of the thousands of children killed in last week's earthquake in Sichuan were "only ones", the living – and now dead – embodiment of China's one child policy.

Not every reader was empathetic, however. Mr Roy Reese wrote to The Independent describing this newspaper's report as "the height of editorial irresponsibility ... would it be preferable that China housed two billion people, with a significant percentage of them starving? There is simply no reason to value the loss of an only child more than the loss of any other child."

Add Mr Reese to the large number of Westerners who eulogise China's coercive population control polices, involving forced abortions, state-sponsored infanticide – and now a grotesquely skewed male/female birth ratio, with its own dire social consequences.

The longer-term results are also becoming all too clear: there is a stark imbalance between young and old, which by the middle of the century, if not sooner, will see an intolerable financial burden fall on a workforce almost outnumbered by pensioners. Will the "little emperors" – the cosseted only sons of the one-child years – give back to their aged parents the same care and undivided attention which they themselves received?

Perhaps the 80 per cent of them who manage to find brides will do so. For the most part, however, I fear we will see much more of what The New York Times revealingly reported a year or two back: a dramatic growth in rackety old people's homes, with the neglected residents sleeping several to the room.

The awful truth is that this demographic experiment – involving cruelty and misery on a scale which few in the West truly comprehend or even care about – was almost certainly unnecessary. This is the conclusion of a new book by the American historian Matthew Connelly, published this week by Harvard University Press.

It is called, aptly, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population. Connelly demonstrates that through entirely voluntary family planning, the Chinese birth rate had already been declining rapidly – in the decade before the introduction of the one-child policy the average number of children per family had dropped from 6.4 to 2.7.

This was not good enough for the Chinese Communist Party however, which had a visceral belief that the fertility of individual families, just like industrial production, should be controlled and directed by the state. The shocking theme of Connelly's book is how Western governments – and most especially successive US administrations – supported a policy which would have appalled them if it had been imposed on their own families.

In 1983, the United Nations awarded the Chinese General responsible for the most brutal and coercive measures the first United Nations Population Award, together with a large sum of money and a diploma. The UN Secretary General of the day, Javier Perez de Cuellar, personally congratulated General Qian Xinzhong, despite one of the award committee, a Nobel prize-winning economist, having resigned in disgust.

The population control freaks of the present day argue that all they want is "proper family planning". They are less honest than some of their predecessors. In 1967, the US magazine Science admitted that "the things that make family planning acceptable are the very things that make it ineffective for population control. By stressing the right of parents to have the number of children they want, it evades the basic question of population policy, which is how to give societies the number of children they need."

The underlying fear of the West's would-be population controllers remains that of sheer numbers. In the early 1960s organisations such as the World Population Emergency Campaign would run advertisements headlined "The Population Explosion Can Shatter Your World" over a photograph of Africans with grasping hands, adding the pay off line: "People will not passively starve. They will fight to live".

As Connelly observes, "population control presented itself as a charity, helping less fortunate people. But it was the only one that promised to make them go away."

The authors of such advertisements were already scared stiff by the thought that while the indigenous folk of the white West were dutifully shrinking their birth rate, other races were not doing so. They feared, though they did not always admit it, a form of racial annihilation as the dark or yellow-skinned hordes burst their national boundaries and began to colonise (or conquer) the relatively under-populated nations of the developed world.

In another respect, however, the surface arguments of the neo-Malthusians have changed quite dramatically. In the past they had insisted that the countries of the developing world faced starvation – and that it was only humane to encourage them to sterilise themselves. Now, however, their concern appears to be the opposite: the teeming billions in countries such as China and India (now a net exporter of food) are becoming more affluent.

They can increasingly afford the things which we have taken for granted, such as a meat-rich diet and private transport – yes, a car! The effect of this is, in the short term, predictable: higher food prices, and higher oil prices. Because these Subcontinental masses have the audacity to aspire to what we already enjoy, we in the West are having to pay a bit more to maintain our own standard of living.

That might present a political problem for the likes of Gordon Brown, or George Bush, were he to be in a position to seek re-election, but as a moral argument for advocating smaller families in the developing world, it is utterly null. In a less neurotic and fearful world it would be seen as a reason for countries such as America and Russia to reclaim for agriculture the vast tracts of farmland which in recent years have been allowed to fall idle.

As for "population policy", the sanest response is not to have one. The only humane approach is to let each family, in every country, choose its own fertility rate according to its own desires and concerns for the future. Forget about "national birth rates": every family is different. Even within nations there is – and should be – no such thing as a "norm". Some people will want to have only one child – or none at all. Let them. Others, despite the easy availability of contraception, will want a home tumbling with children. Let them. The alternative is tyranny and torment.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

Software Engineer - C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

Software Team Leader - C++

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software Tea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: what if Hillary sticks, drowning sorrows and open sesame

John Rentoul
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor