A free society is more important than free markets
Atanu Dey has been blogging about a serious issue – India’s population problem – and the drag it is causing on India’s social and economic growth. His idea to use free-market economics to solve the population sounds promising in principle, but the mechanism he proposes risks ending up dehumanising people. His central idea is itself debatable
Every person should have an equal and limited right to reproduction and no person should have the right to an unlimited access to the common property resource by exceeding his or her quota of reproductive rights. [Deeshaa]
This idea strikes at the core of human freedom and fundamental rights and violates the very basis of a free, democratic society. Democratic and free societies assign various ‘freedoms’ to their citizens regardless of their economic status. Moreover, any form of restriction on the pool of reproductive individuals has a negative evolutionary effect – a species benefits with the variation provided by a larger gene pool.
The mechanism Atanu proposes involves sterilisation (presumably state-imposed) as a means to making the entire market work by imposing an artificial cieling on supply. Even without taking into account issues like mortality of the offspring into consideration, empowering the state to sterilise its citizens is a step so Orwellian, that it is difficult to reconcile this with democratic values. Sanjay Gandhi learnt it the hard way when he reduced the ‘market price’ of a reproductive right to that of a transistor radio .
How different is this market-based approach from China’s draconian one-child policy?
There is a market-based approach to solving the population problem: but it is likely to be in the form of a slow-acting long term correction that has been witnessed in societies such as Germany and Japan. With rising economic growth and development, people realize that they are better of with fewer kids with high-quality upbringing, than lots of kids with low-quality upbringing.
As countries become rich, they tend to go through a “demographic transition” in which fast-improving medical conditions and high birth rates combine to cause rapid population growth. This was the situation in most of Asia 30 years ago. Eventually, however, birth rates fall significantly, and population growth slows. This causes a shift in the age profile of the population from that of a lumpy pyramid—lots of infants and children and relatively few grandparents—to a kind of Chinese lantern, with relatively few people in the youngest and oldest groups and a big bulge in the middle. For economies, this bulge is good news. It means that a large share of the population is of working age, and the “dependency ratio”—the proportion of people too old or too young to be employed—is relatively low.
In the West, the demographic transition took more than a century. But in South-East Asia it happened in the space of a single generation
There is also the argument that India’s greatest advantage is its demographic profile. In the next few decades, more and more countries will face the problems of a greying population, including China which will see the flip side of its one-child policy. India, on the other hand will have a substantial number of people in the prime of their youth. That could well mean a gigantic economic shift towards India. In that context, the phenomenon of outsourcing could turn out to be the tip of the iceberg.
Related Links: Goldman Sachs’ famous paper “Dreaming with BRICs” which suggested that India has the potential to show the fastest growth in the next 30-50 years; and its critique by Aashish Chandorkar.