Thursday, October 04, 2012

Demographics is destiny: The China Syndrome

You've got a few (thousand) choices besides me if you're looking for hard-hitting analysis of last night's presidential debate.

But there's one line Mr. Romney used -- and he's used it lots before -- that sparks this morning's effort: "I'm not going to keep spending money on things I got to borrow money from China to pay for."

It's a good line. China holds a huge amount of our national debt. I've joked for years that there's no need for China to ever invade us if they want to bring us to our knees: All they've got to do is call their loans.

That's called kidding on the square. Or whistling past the graveyard. Something like that.

As we keep buying more and more we can't pay for, China owns more and more of our debt.

Some people look at this and -- in all earnestness -- think it's dangerous for a potential enemy to have so much of an investment in our country. But think about it for a minute: It would also be dangerous for China to have no stake.

Right now, if America succeeds, China profits. That's an incentive for them not to do anything bad to us, except send us the occasional Asian Longhorned Beetle, Emerald Ash Borer, or Brown Marmorated Stink Bug infestation. And put lead in our kids' toys.

So even if, by some economic miracle, we could buy all our debt back from China, we wouldn't really want to. We want China to feel invested in us, but we don't want to be dependent on them. It's a balance we must seek, not an either-or proposition.

But China has another problem besides potentially shaky American T-bills (remember that financial cliff we're about to go over?) and it's not easily solved.

China has a surplus of men. Young men.

China decided to control its population with a strict one child per family policy. Forced abortions, sterilizations, all sorts of repressive tactics were used to enforce this policy.

In a perfect world, even with a one-child policy, roughly half of the one-child families in China would have a daughter and half would have a son. (When nature takes its course there are slightly more girls born than boys.)

But, in our imperfect world, that's not how it worked out. Many Chinese baby girls were aborted, or killed after birth. For cultural reasons, and perhaps instinctive ones too, parents who could have only one child wanted that child to be a boy.

But now... there's lots of Chinese boys and few Chinese girls. That's great if you're obsessed with Malthus: the Chinese population must and will go down.

In the meantime, though, what do you do with all the extra boys?

There are three possibilities and two of them aren't likely: The Chinese government could embrace and promote homosexuality. Let the boys pair off. Cultural reality, however, says that's unlikely.

There could be some sort of mass religious movement with a strong monastic component. If young men want to go off and be monks, that would ease the problem of having too few girls to go around. But... how do you start a monastic movement in an officially atheist country?

The third choice -- and by far the most likely -- is to start a war.

There's a reason why 18-year olds are sent off to wars: They're naturally aggressive, they want to prove themselves, and they think they're immortal. The Chinese government either must find an outlet for the aggressions of their male surplus population or they may be toppled by them. What do you think the Chinese oligarchs will try to do?

If I were in the Russian government -- with a thinly-populated, resource-rich East and a long border with China -- I'd be taking this possibility very, very seriously. The Mongolians have resources as well, and a lot of empty space. They can't be comfortable either.

There are other targets for potential Chinese aggression, the United States included. But the Chinese government is practical and cynical. Resources are wealth. A little war will ease the population pressure and bring great potential wealth to the Middle Kingdom. And sad, bloody human history is replete with examples of brides being found in conquered territories. A push into Russia and/or Mongolia seems most probable.

Will the winner of the November election have to deal with this? Maybe not. Maybe the lid can be held on the pot a few years more. But I hope they're making plans in Washington, too. How do we handle this? How do we ride this out? Can we stay neutral? And, if we can't, with whom must we stand?


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

oh my curmy! i hadn't ever thought of this. and so true. sarge always said 18 year olds were the best soldiers because you told them what to do and they went and did it, fearlessly. oh my...

smiles, bee

The Curmudgeon said...

You know, it's interesting. I just read an article online over the weekend about the Jewish 'homeland' Stalin established in Siberia -- near the Chinese border. The Russians were thinking even then of how and where the Chinese might expand.