Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Environmental Benefits of China's One Child Policy

I've read in the news that the blind Chinese activist is eager for China to get rid of its one child policy.  Will environmentalists oppose his agenda?  After all, Paul Ehrlich's ideas remain influential.  It has been claimed that China would have an extra 300 million people right now had it not introduced this policy.  Such population growth would scale up greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption.

Siqi Zheng and I have worked on a different environmental benefit of "4-2-1" (4 grandparents, 2 parents, 1 kid).  As Chinese urbanites have only 1 kid, they have very strong incentives to seek out "green cities" to guarantee this precious child's health and happiness.  Pollution injures both.   Dora Costa and I have argued that the willingness to pay to avoid risk rises faster than national per-capita income.  As China grows richer, this logic implies that China's willingness to pay for safety and environmental regulation will increase and this will help to supply "green cities".  Zheng and I have a Journal of Economic Literature submission that fleshes out these ideas.

Demographers have long noted that a consequence of China's one child policy is that the nation's population will age.  Given that nations need young people, China will face a choice between large scale immigration or retracting the 1 child policy.  In my work on climate change adaptation, I have argued that there are hundreds of millions of people in Southern Asia who will be seeking a better life (think of Bangladesh) and migration to a "middle class" China in the year 2030 will offer gains to trade.  While environmentalists have worried about international migration of millions of environmental refugees, a more optimistic interpretation of this trend is that there will be gains to trade in the international labor market.  The U.S has welcomed millions of migrants here over the years.  China's population "crisis" can be defused relatively easily here.