The world’s most populous country has reached a pivotal moment: China’s population has begun to shrink, after a steady, yearslong decline in its birthrate that experts say will be irreversible…
…Births were down from 10.6 million in 2021, the sixth straight year that the number had fallen. That decline, coupled with a long-running rise in life expectancy, is thrusting China into a demographic crisis that will have consequences in this century, not just for China and its economy but for the world, experts said.
I know a number of people here follow Peter Zeihan. He’s been saying that this demographic problem will cause a collapse of the Chinese system within a decade.
Decades ago, the Chinese government realized that their nation’s resources couldn’t feed their people if the population continued to grow exponentially. They had personal experience of famines where millions died (some due to erroneous government policies) and they wanted to avoid future famines.
The “One Child Policy” was draconian and could only have been imposed by a totalitarian government like China’s. They succeeded and the population stabilized. When China gained prosperity and education the people themselves decided they didn’t want large families.
Yes, China will go through a period of hardship as the younger generation struggles to take care of the older. But this will work out over a few decades. Once the older population dies (by, say, 2050), China’s smaller population will be better off.
Many countries, including Japan and Europe, will see similar transitions. The U.S. can help mitigate the hardship by increasing immigration.
Zero Population Growth is essential to controlling the destruction of Earth’s environment by the worst invasive species – humanity. The hard part will be controlling the growth of the population in areas where the high death rate has been reduced with modern medicine but reproductive rates are still high, especially Africa. Africa has sensitive environments. Desertification and rain forest destruction by growing populations would affect the entire climate of the Earth.
The hardships caused by population stabilization are real. But Japan has managed to deal with this. China won’t collapse – they will figure it out.
Japan is ahead of China by a decade or two. And it isn’t working out so well for them yet. Government debt can’t grow ad infinitum, at some point it all stops and blows up.
This will only exacerbate the problem because the USA tends to draw the most motivated people and the people who love freedom the most (“brain drain”). That leaves, on average, a less motivated, and a less freedom seeking, population.
Zeihan likes to make big, bold predictions. Drives the clicks. But the trends been in place for a while. The working age population has probably been falling for a few years already. The one child policy (and resulting gender imbalance) combined with urbanization has driven fertility rates below replacement. And there is some good evidence the Chinese have been lying about their true population growth and the problem is already worse than they claim.
As the working age population decreases, investment spending tends to fall, which is bad for the economy. Once that process starts, you can’t stop it. That’s why Zeihan believes the wheels are going to fall off. Japan has been able to deal with this problem with massive government borrowing. We’ll see if China can do the same.
A few years ago, I took a class about sustainable agriculture. The professor hosted the small class (about 6 students) in his own living room. The class taught about organic farming techniques that were highly labor-intensive and low productivity on an acreage basis.
Wendy to professor: The world’s population is over 7 billion. [Now it’s over 8 billion.] Low-production organic farming is nice but it doesn’t produce enough food and what it does produce is expensive. Factory farming with hybrid seeds and artificial fertilizer produces the large amount of low-cost food needed by the growing population. Without this food many people will starve, especially poor people. Sustainable agriculture is elitist – affordable only by the wealthy.
Professor: The sustainable world population is 1 billion.
Wendy: How many children do you have?
Wendy: Isn’t that an SUV in the driveway? Also, I don’t see a food garden. Your property is all grass.
Professor: Snarling, very hostile.
I never got around to mentioning that every revolution in the past that reduced population ended up slaughtering the elite classes first before descending into chaos. Somehow, I didn’t think the professor would have been receptive to that observation.
Chaos is the thing that reduces population the fastest. Unfortunately, it also destroys everything else in its path as well. So afterward, you need to rapidly grow population to be able to rebuild everything.