Biden’s Population Plan
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
“. . . as I was talking to some of your leaders, you share a similar concern here in China. You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand — I’m not second-guessing — of one child per family. The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.”
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Those are the words that jumped out for us from the nigh-incoherent torrent that tumbled from the vice president of America when he spoke the other day at Sichuan University at Communist China. The vice president complained of, among other things, his own inability to speak Chinese. Toby Harnden of the London Daily Telegraph observed that Mr. Biden’s problem “is not so much that he can’t speak Chinese but that he has no filter and can’t speak English without exaggerating for effect and blurting out, as he puts it himself, what’s ‘in the back of my head.’” The remarks on population are a choice example.
Mr. Biden was, according to the White House’s transcript, answering a question from a student in respect of America’s debts and what measures America is taking “to implement to reduce those deficits and redeem the financial strength of America.” The vice president immediately launched into a rambling response in which he talked about how “the bottom line” is that America has to “deal with two elements of our economy, one being entitlement programs,” which he said were “not sustainable without some changes in large part because we had what we call a baby boom, which doesn’t sound like much to Chinese — 40 million people is not a big deal, I know.”
Here the vice president was met with laughter, according to the White House transcript. But Mr. Biden blundered on, saying: “adding 40 million people to those who will benefit from the Medicare — Medicaid payment — Medicare payments has put the program in a position where changes have to be made.” He then talked about the deficit cutting measures that were finally agreed to in the Congress. That’s when he swerved into his conversation with the Communist Chinese leaders about the similarity of their concerns and how he “fully” understands and isn’t second-guessing the policy of “one child per family.”
It was one of the ghastliest gaffs ever made by an American official abroad, and was promptly recognized as such. Speaker Boehner was quoted by the Huffington Post as characterizing China’s one-child policy as “reprehensible” and asserting that it has “resulted in forced sterilizations and coerced abortions.” Added he: “No government on Earth has the authority to place quotas on the value of innocent human life, or to treat life as an economic commodity that can be regulated and taken away on a whim by the state.” Governor Romney said that there can be “no defense of a government that engages in compulsory sterilization and forced abortions in the name of population control.”
Yet the part of Mr. Biden’s statement that caught our attention was the part where he went on to speak an important warning — that China’s policy has put it in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people and was thus, as Mr. Biden put it, “not sustainable.” Which confronts Chinese communists and American liberals alike with the question: Why aren’t large families and population growth the logical goals of public policy? Indeed, doesn’t China’s emergence as such a powerful and burgeoning country stem from and depend upon its enormous, its magnificent population?
We don’t mean to suggest that productivity gains are not important. We don’t mean to gainsay the role of market liberalization in unleashing China’s potential. We don’t mean to suggest that smaller countries — South Korea, say, or Israel — can’t show enormous growth. But if what Mr. Biden is saying is true, why not go for the sustainability that comes with population growth? We, for one, have not the slightest doubt that the communists’ brutal population control campaigns are not only immoral and cruel but are hurting the country’s chance at greater wealth and improvements in the standard of living, even for poor families.
Your editor has been covering this issue for decades now, and with each passing decade the issue seems clearer and more urgent. But rarely have we seen someone stumble onto the truth in such a way as Mr. Biden’s point about the unsustainability of the Chinese strategy. The truth is that China is not an over-populated country. Neither is India. Each was far poorer when they were far smaller. The Malthusians have been proven so wrong and the religious sages so right. The people in China have taken great risks to have the children they desperately desire. And their desires are not a threat but the road to sustainability of the progress the rising countries, including ours, have been making.