Friday, April 10, 2009

Free market

I define market broadly as any decentralized system for allocating resources, any system that relies on many choices of many actors. Obviously, some markets are freer than others, but freedom in a market is often not proportional to its success, either in efficiency or in fairness.

In China, private choices have led to too many boys and not enough girls. This is the result of the collision of culturally driven demand, biotechnology, and entrepreneurship.

One might argue that the legal constraint of China's draconian one-child policy was the definitive source of this future problem. I don't find that credible because the very same trend is also occurring in India and South Korea, which do not have similar policies. No, those couples who selectively abort their female fetuses are mainly responding to the incentives their cultures provide for sons.

Keep this in historical perspective. The West is ahead of the East on the role of women but not that far.

In any case, markets as well as government plans have unintended consequences. The Chinese sought to solve their runaway population growth, and they did. But they got this demographic weirdness.

Scarce commodities become more valuable, but the expressions of the new value of females in China will probably take many forms. A few possibilities:

  • Women will be able to choose among suitors.
  • China will import women from neighboring, poor countries - Vietnam, North Korea, Cambodia. Many will be used as prostitutes and discarded.
  • There will be a diaspora of Chinese men. Some of them will assimilate; some will be spies.
  • Homosexuality among men will be more common.
  • War is likely as a response to domestic social unrest.
The future is always uncertain. Extra men with nothing much to lose might revolutionize Chinese politics, though I look around at recent history of hopelessness in Ireland and the Middle East, and I'm not optimistic. Still, there's no reason my crystal ball should have all the answers. Add yours in comments.

No comments: