Obsessing over China?

Chinese exceptionalism, or do we just notice it because it is so large.  I clicked through to this chart from a link on Instapundit that said to note how Chinese fertility fell off the map.  When I watched the video though, what I saw was ALL the fertility rates falling at roughly the same pace, at roughly the same point.  The lesson seems to be that fertility tends to drop with increasing mortality, wealth, and technology -- which is what many of us have been saying in response to Paul Ehrlich for years.

I am probably over-reading this, but I am sensitive that there is a sort of storyline of Chinese exceptionalism -- due to their taking some sort of totalitarian third way -- that seems to be admired among certain US socialists and environmentalists and Thomas Friedman.  This hearkens back to all the admiration for the Japanese MITI-managed economy, right before their economy crashed for two decades or so.

China flourishes because it has a culture, never fully suppressed by Mao, whose people take well and quickly to capitalism -- much of the development around Southeast Asia in previous decades was led by expat Chinese.  The totalitarianism that is, depressingly, so admired by the US intelligentsia is just going to lead China into the abyss.  Already we can see bubbles emerging due to the state's forced mispricing of key economic inputs, from capital to oil.  The burden of spending on triumphalist projects like super-bridges and mega-buildings and Olympics and high speed trains is going to start appearing over the next few years.

Here is my prediction:  The Chinese are going to have a bubble burst that will rival any such economic explosion that we have seen in the last century.  I have been looking at the situation and by a number of metrics, the bubble is already huge.  I would bet against China, but the problem (as with all shorts) is timing.  Government officials, if they really dedicate themselves to the task, can extend bubbles for a long time.  Even in the US, which is less authritarian and more transparent, it can be argued that Fannie and Freddie and Barnie Frank and Alan Greenspan helped push off the reckoning by at least 5 years.   Of course, the longer you push it off, the worse it gets.  Which means the Chinese bubble is going to be a doozy.

Postscript: Here is a nice example -- admiration from US environmentalists for China gutting their economy to make arbitrary goals

It's interesting to note the dedication China has displaying in achieving its [energy efficency] target -- shutting down entire operations and even executing rolling blackouts. Surely there would have been some amount of embarrassment for the nation on the world's stage if it had missed its target, but that likely would have been minor. It's worth noting the difference in political culture: What do you think would have happened if the US had such an energy-reduction target to hit, but a sagging economy got in the way?

I can tell you with some certainty: We would have missed that mark.

Will there never be an end to Americans who take advantage of our uniquely strong speech protections to laud totalitarians?


  1. LoneSnark:

    With the case of China, however, I suspect they can push it off indefinitely. In any country such reorganizations can be pushed off until the government goes bankrupt, and the Chinese government would have a long way to go before that could happen.

  2. Sean:

    Ha! Can't actually watch the video yet, but I'm pretty familiar with Chinese fertility rates. Been working in China for a decade now, wary of the reverse demographic dividend.

    Anyhow, the dirty little secret about the one-child policy is that the fertility rates dropped before the policy was ever suggested. (Technically there is no national law, it remains a "suggestion" from the central bureau. The horror stories arise from local petty tyrants.) They spiked in the 60s after the famine but soon dropped after survival rates rose. They were below replacement levels before the one-child policy was promulgated.

    There are a few sociologists who have been pushing China to begin encouraging births. Simply ending the one-child policy today wouldn't have much of an effect because most people only want one child for economic reasons. Unfortunately there are so many people who owe their power to the Population and Family Planning bureaus that it is dangerous to threaten the only directive they have had for 30 years. (Also note that also means claiming those bureaus were both not needed and harmful at some point in the past.)

  3. deadcenter:

    "The lesson seems to be that fertility tends to drop with increasing mortality, wealth, and technology ..."

    You forgot education, better education generally equals fewer children.

  4. Robert:

    Strong free speech protections do not provide net advantages to laud totalitarians because it prevents the permanent suppression of the empirical data that exposes the totalitarian's claims as a sham. Just look at how the last year has unraveled decades of effort to suppress empirical data about the climate.

  5. perlhaqr:

    Heh, it will be funny if we end up in a position to buy back all those capital resources from China.

  6. huskercr:

    I do not follow the "fertility tends to drop with increasing mortality" concept. If the increase in mortality is at the child-bearing ages then I suppose this is likely to be true, but I believe (without fact checking) that mortality has been DEcreasing in China over the last couple of decades. Perhaps the statement was intended to be fertility tends to drop with increasing longevity?

  7. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    > The lesson seems to be that fertility tends to drop with increasing mortality, wealth, and technology — which is what many of us have been saying in response to Paul Ehrlich for years.

    Really? I've been saying something more like:

    "You're a f***ing IDIOT, Paul!!"

    Your polite approach doesn't seem to be working -- he still gets MacArthur Grants, speaking engagements, etc... despite never having had a single significant prediction come true.

    Might I suggest you come over to my camp? You're not likely to do any worse.