The leading entrepreneur and public intellectual says what happened to Japan in demographics is now happening in China more rapidly and severely and calls for more comprehensive pro-birth policies.
Some Western countries like Australia are addressing this issue through immigration. I think this is a card that has not been used yet by China, even if it is restricted to Chinese diaspora only.
I agree with the assessment that China’s extraordinarily low total fertility rate (TFR) will cause huge problems in the future. China will no longer be able to leverage economies of scale due to its smaller population, taxes will have to be high to support the elderly, and those less fortunate will have to work into their 70s due to a strained pension system.
However, I don’t think the solutions proposed by Liang are going to be sufficient. It is important for China to learn from other nations’ failures to increase their own respective TFRs. Singapore just hit a new low of 1.05 this year. South Korea is at 0.8. Even Norway is now at 1.45.
Worldwide statistics show that developed countries have a lower TFR. These countries typically comprise of people who are wealthier and have access to a social safety net far better than the global average.
Therefore, it is naïve to think that giving people money will do much to improve birth rates. Indeed, Singapore has been trying this for more than a decade now and its TFR continues to fall. If Singapore cannot succeed with subsidizing births, China will not succeed since China has far less ammunition to use on this front given it is a far poorer country.
Initiating pro-birth policies such as parental leave is also unlikely to help much. Norway has some of the best social policies to improve births, but its TFR has recently, like China’s, started to plummet.
So here are my proposals (admittedly as a non-specialist):
1) Change the mindset of China’s young adults regarding definitions of a “happy family”. This is the most important point. Malays in Malaysia have a TFR of approximately 2. Chinese in Malaysia have a TFR of approximately 1, despite having more income. Money is therefore not what results in larger Malay families, but cultural differences. To remedy this, the government needs to embark on a major propaganda campaign with pictures of large happy families everywhere, accompanied by slogans of how parents are the nations true heroes. The idea that children should have a happy childhood free of educational pressures should be reinforced. This sounds silly but given the TFR differences between ethnic groups within individual countries, it is clear cultural mindset is the most significant determinant, not economics.
2) Link child rearing directly to career success. The youth in many developed societies now have far more ambitious career aspirations than their parents and grandparents. This is particularly true for societies such as South Korea, where career prestige is important. For those employed in the public section, China should reward actions that improve society. This should include child-rearing. It is these children after all, who will be paying for everyone’s future retirement through their taxes. Therefore, actions such as caring for children or having 2 or more children should factor into job promotions. Data on the average number of children for employees of large companies should also be analyzed so that tailored solutions can be sought to improve work-life balance at those companies with low TFRs. The reason this will work better than cash subsidies is that today’s young adults are interested in more than money. Indeed, societies of richer people have lower birth rates, not higher. Many young adults in developed societies, with South Korea being one such example, consider career prestige too. It is far more satisfying to be able to tell the mother-in-law that you got promoted to the position of “Executive Vice President” than to tell her you received a 2000 RMB cash handout for having a third child (even if the work promotion, in addition to your own competence, was also due in part to having that child). What we are seeing today is a generation of youth who have had an unprecedented amount of investment in their educations. They want to show their parents and family that the investment was worth it, and they achieved career success. Directly linking child rearing to career success will remedy this situation.
3) Allow young parents to travel. Nowadays, young adults get to see the world through social media and want to experience it for themselves. This is challenging for adults with many children. I wonder if introducing a system similar to “Summer Camps” in the United States would allow a few weeks each year for parents to take the trips they have always dreamed of. These “Camps” would be publicly funded and focused on fun activities for the children (sports, watching movies, learning outdoor skills, i.e., not educational) but would give parents time to engage in the activities that only childless parents today can easily enjoy.
Note that with each of these initiatives, it is important to place the burden of child-rearing on the parents and family unit. Society should NOT place this burden solely on women. Campaigns should target men as child-rearers who play an (ideally) equal role. I would also propose introducing paternity as well as maternity leave and strongly encourage fathers (even through somewhat coercive means) to take paternity leave. I do not think that increasing parental leave will increase births, given that some of the countries with the most parental leave have the lowest TFR. However, it can be used to encourage fathers to take a more active role in childrearing. It is unacceptable in this day and age to expect the mother to simply raise the children herself, and it should be frowned upon for fathers to avoid taking paternity leave.
It is worth noting that COVID-19, at least in 2022, is not an obvious contributor to the shrinking population, as China secured effective pandemic containment over the past three years. In contrast, COVID may lead to declining births in 2023.
...seems to rather obviously mean the actually virus itself, no?