[Paleopsych] Independent Institute: Wendy McElroy: China's Missing Women

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Wendy McElroy: China's Missing Women

    China's Missing Women
    September 1, 2004
    [22]Wendy McElroy

    China has announced a [23]"Care for Girls" program with financial
    incentives for those who produce daughters.

    According to China's official news agency, [24]119 boys are now born
    for every 100 girls; the "natural" ratio is 103-107 for every 100. By
    2020, it is estimated that China may contain 30 to 40 million restless
    bachelors. Unfortunately, the proposed "cure" merely continues the
    process that helped create the crisis: namely, social engineering.

    Social engineering occurs when a centralized power tries to manipulate
    or override people's preferences to make them behave according to a
    social blueprint. It is the opposite of allowing a culture to evolve
    naturally according to the preferences of individuals. Rules are
    imposed, sometimes by dangling carrots but usually by wielding sticks.

    In the early '80s, the one-child policy was selectively imposed upon
    the Chinese people as a way to override the popular choice to have two
    or more children. Additional pregnancies were subject to [25]coerced
    abortion. The one-child policy did not seek to disproportionately
    reduce the female population; it aimed at a general reduction. But the
    state's vision of "a family" did not factor in the preferences of

    Generally speaking, the Chinese have favored sons over daughters,
    partly because the culture has undervalued women. But there are also
    practical reasons. In rural areas where hard labor means survival,
    sons are usually stronger. Moreover, daughters leave home upon
    marriage and their adult labor enriches the husband's family. Thus,
    when rural families are forced to limit their families, they may act
    to ensure the birth of sons. If an ultrasound reveals that a fetus is
    female, the woman may abort. (Improved technology has also contributed
    to the sex imbalance.) If a female infant is born, she may be killed
    or sent away for foreign adoption.

    Thus, the latest Chinese census shows that the rural provinces of
    Hainan and Guangdong have sex-birth ratios of 135.6 and 130.3 boys to
    100 girls respectively. The sex imbalance is what the social theorist
    [26]Friedrich von Hayek called an "unintended consequence." Every act
    has unforeseen and unintended consequences that may determine its
    impact far more than the act's intended goal.

    Hayek saw at least two practical problems with social engineering,
    both of which involve unintended consequences. The first problem
    speaks to the nature of a healthy society. If left to the labor and
    ingenuity of individual members, society tends to evolve answers to
    the problems confronting it.

    Hayek used language as an example of both problem-solving and
    unintended consequence. No one sat down to plan the development of
    language. Human beings evolved a sophisticated and standardized form
    of communication because they wanted to trade and establish intricate
    social relationships. Language was an unintended consequence a tool
    that evolved--as people individually pursued the intended goal of
    socializing. Or, Hayek would phrase it, language is "the result of
    human action but not of human design."

    To Hayek, when a government oversteps its proper function of
    protecting freedom and begins, instead, to dictate choices, it damages
    the dynamics of a healthy society. It prevents individuals from
    adapting and evolving solutions.

    The second practical difficulty with social engineering was [27]"the
    knowledge problem." In accepting the Nobel Prize in Economic Science
    for 1974, Hayek [28]explained, "The recognition of the insuperable
    limits to his knowledge ought [to guard] the student of society ...
    against becoming an accomplice in men's fatal striving to control
    society--a striving, which makes him not only a tyrant over his
    fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization
    which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts
    of millions of individuals."

    In terms of China, Hayek would argue that a centralized bureaucracy
    could not successfully design the choices or determine the outcomes
    for hundreds of millions of people with whom it has not even
    consulted. This becomes especially true as circumstances change over
    time. All the bureaucracy can do is to attempt to control people by
    limiting their options. And, the longer it imposes social control, the
    more unintended consequences stack up.

    Part of what China faces now are the unintended consequences of a
    two-decade long attempt to socially engineer the Chinese family.

    The proposed remedy is to introduce yet another program of social
    engineering this time with the seemingly benevolent goal of increasing
    respect for girls. But Chinese social control does not have a
    benevolent history. Those who view the [29]"Care for Girls" program in
    such a light should remember that the one-child program was first
    applauded as progressive and voluntary by many Westerners.

    The ultimate folly of the [30]"Care for Girls" program may well be
    that it is unnecessary. Simply by becoming scarce, girls have become
    more highly valued. The issue of "the missing girls" has social
    commentators speculating wildly about China's future. Will roving
    gangs of young men overrun the nation, or will China declare war in
    order to siphon off her [31]"surplus" sons?

    With a new appreciation of their importance to society, the role of
    women in China seems poised for redefinition. The Chinese government
    can best help that process by getting out of the way.

    [32]Wendy McElroy is Research Fellow at The Independent Institute and
    editor of the Institute books [33]Freedom, Feminism and the State and
    [34]Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-first


   22. http://www.independent.org/aboutus/person_detail.asp?id=488
   23. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3557898.stm
   24. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/95943/1/.html
   25. http://portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/08/05/wchin05.xml
   26. http://www.hayekcenter.org/friedrichhayek/hayek.html
   27. http://www.zetetics.com/mac/soceng.htm
   28. http://members.shaw.ca/competitivenessofnations/Anno%20Hayek%20Pretence%20of%20Knowledge.htm
   29. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-07/08/content_346700.htm
   30. http://english.people.com.cn/200408/13/eng20040813_152873.html
   31. http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i34/34a01401.htm
   32. http://www.independent.org/aboutus/person_detail.asp?id=488
   33. http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=40
   34. http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=43

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