Banking on Acceptance: China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

The Beijing-headquartered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) opened in January 2016, establishing itself as the newest member of the multilateral development bank community. Commonly billed as “China’s answer to the World Bank,” the AIIB aims to invest in infrastructure and other productive sectors across the Asian continent. Concerns about China using the AIIB as a front for its strategic and economic objectives plagued the bank’s planning stages and initial months of operations, but such concerns were difficult to substantiate before the bank had funded any projects. The recent announcement of the AIIB’s first four funding projects suggest that, while China is using the bank to its advantage, it is also maintaining the bank’s legitimacy as a multilateral institution.

China officially proposed a multilateral infrastructure bank for Asia in 2013, an announcement that received an unenthusiastic response from the United States and Japan. Both countries were concerned that founding a new bank, not necessarily beholden to “international standards of governance and transparency,” could provide China with the opportunity to exert disproportionate influence over Asia’s development agenda.

These concerns were substantiated in 2015 when it was announced that China would be the largest stakeholder in the bank, with a 26% voting share, after funding $29.78 billion of the AIIB’s $100 billion capital. Given that major changes to the bank, including capital increases or alterations to the governing structure, must be approved by a supermajority totaling 75% of the voting share, China effectively possesses an informal veto power over many AIIB decisions. However, Beijing has been keen to assuage worries of Chinese dominance. The chief of the bank stated that China will not seek to increase its voting share – in fact, he alluded that China’s voting share may decrease over time as more members join. In addition, China will not possess a formal veto power, a stark contrast to the United States’ formal veto over structural changes within the World Bank.

That said, Chinese interests were clearly supported when the AIIB began to consider development project proposals, the first of which were approved in June 2016. They included revitalizing slums in Indonesia and upgrading the power grid in Bangladesh, as well as constructing and improving roads in Pakistan and Tajikistan. While these projects will undoubtedly benefit China, they also show that AIIB’s reputation as a multilateral bank will not be undermined to serve solely Chinese interests.

To understand how the AIIB benefits China, it is necessary to look at Chinese development in the larger context of the country’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. Inspired by the ancient Silk Road, OBOR seeks to connect China with trading partners through Asia, the Middle East, and Africa via an “economic land belt” and a “maritime road” that links Chinese ports to those of other countries.

The AIIB, as a formal investment institution with international support to increase regional prosperity, is partly a way to fund OBOR. It is therefore unsurprising that the AIIB’s projects for Pakistan and Tajikistan are directly related to OBOR.  Both projects call for the construction and improvement of roads, which is critical to trade between China and other Asian countries.

But consistency with OBOR’s objectives does not mean that these projects are simply moves by China to increase its regional influence. Rather, the AIIB has chosen to co-finance all of these projects, except the one for Bangladesh, with other multilateral agencies including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the World Bank. Co-financing mitigates the risk that the young AIIB and its stakeholders are accepting and eases concerns in the international community regarding the transparency and governance standards of the AIIB. Cooperating with respected multilateral agencies ensures that the AIIB will, at least for these projects, comply with accepted international standards. This compliance strengthens the bank’s standing among multilateral institutions.

Still, some are convinced that the AIIB is prioritizing Chinese interests at the expense of regional prosperity. In particular, there is concern that AIIB rejected a project for India in favor of a road construction project for its strategic ally, Pakistan. However, the president of the ADB, which is the lead financer of the project, stated that there are “so many projects in the list in many countries. It just happened that the Pakistan project was approved first because it could be done quickly.” That this statement comes from the ADB strongly suggests that financing for the Pakistan project was not a case of the AIIB favoring China’s regional allies. Given Japan’s tenuous relationship with China, the Japan-backed ADB would have little incentive to finance a project in Pakistan if it believed that it would solely aide Chinese interests.

The AIIB is increasingly perceived as an institution that complements other development efforts, as evidenced by co-financing and support from other multilateral banks and the membership of other global powers such as Australia and Germany. Such acceptance is beneficial to both the multilateral development industry and China. Increased membership could augment the capacity of the AIIB to contribute to infrastructure development, leading to greater prosperity for China and the rest of the continent. Such a prospect is certainly motivation for the AIIB to continue to seek success not only in its project outcomes, but also in the eyes of the global development community.

Advertisements

China’s Lack of Philanthropic Culture?

In November 2014, the Charities Aid Foundation published its annual World Giving Index, which measures and ranks global giving behaviors. In the report, China was ranked 128 out of 135 countries. Last year, China was also criticized by Reuters because few wealthy Chinese citizens donated publicly to fight the spread of the Ebola. And back in 2010, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s invitation to charitable giving, known as the Giving Pledge, was turned down by many of China’s millionaires.

At first glance, it might seem fair to say that China, the world’s second-biggest economy, is lacking a philanthropic culture, and that its people are reluctant to donate to  charitable causes. But maybe we should examine what several wealthy Chinese citizens said about their giving behaviors.

givingpledge

When asked for his opinion on the Giving Pledge, Charles Zhang, the Founder and current CEO of Sohu Inc., said he would not follow the same donation model that Bill Gates used. Instead, he preferred to pay more money in taxes to the government, because he believed that this was also philanthropy, and the best way of helping the poor. Charles Zhang is not the only one who feels this way. Last year, the World Food Program called on Chinese firms to donate more to fighting Ebola. Deborah Brautigam, director of the China Africa Research Initiative, said “It’s likely that state-owned firms would prefer the Chinese government to take a lead on this…They’re unlikely to come forward independently and would assume the government, which does have experience in contributing for emergencies, will be better at knowing what to do.”

It is believed that hoarding culture, the absence of religious motivations, and emphasis on family wealth–a tradition from an imperial, agrarian society— collectively make the Chinese give the cold shoulder to charity giving. Nevertheless, that’s not true.

Since childhood, every Chinese citizen has been taught to emulate their ancient role models who would gladly be “the first to bear hardships before everybody else and the last to enjoy comforts.” Showing concern for the country and its society is the essence of Confucianism. It encourages people to commit themselves to the welfare of the society when they are successful, and to stay disciplined when they are in distress. Confucius taught people to contribute to welfare through government. He believed people should “cultivate his personal life, regulate his family, and then govern his state; when all the states are well governed, that person brings peace and harmony throughout the world.” Cosmopolitanism exists in Chinese culture, but there is little initiative on how to help others as a third party outside the government. This phenomenon is rooted in the social structure of China.

The current social structure in China is focused on a strong state and weak society. China’s lack of philanthropic culture is largely due to heavy restrictions on civil society. People are accustomed to relying on the government, resulting from the government’s unlimited power in the past. The public always expects and trusts their government to solve social problems. Such inertia in thinking impedes social engagement. Unlike the “necessary-evil” political tradition in the west, the state is “the good” for the Chinese. Owing to people’s unawareness and inability, civil society grows slowly in this “acquaintance society.” However, is a thriving civil society really necessary to create a philanthropic culture? Myanmar
 was ranked first in the Index with restricted civil society.

Those who help others are always noble, however minuscule their contributions are. But it is equally important to seek out the for reasons behind people’s behaviors, rather than merely criticizing them. Hopefully, there will be changes in China. Jack Ma, the co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, is pouring much of his personal wealth into the creation of philanthropic trusts, which represents 2% of the company’s current equity (roughly $3 billion). This might be the dawn of a new era of giving among China’s freshly minted billionaires.

 

Into the Twilight

An aging population can pose many challenges to both families and developing nations. In China where the dominance of traditional filial pieties have dictated social norms, manly elders fear having no warrant for filial support after retirement due to changing norms. At this juncture, a brilliant trend-spotter, Starcastle offers a promising alternative. Starcastle is a Shanghai-based joint venture company between a large Chinese conglomerate, Fosun Group, and an American hedge-fund giant, Fortress Investment Group, that caters to hospitable senior living communities for retired elders. A stereotypical life of quiet retirement is unheard of at Starcastle. Instead, classy, up-to-date activities like tai chi, calligraphy, dances, social media messaging, and gaming in open-air cafés invigorate the facility and the lives of its residents.

The vibrant scenes playing out in this “castle” reflect a prominent trend in China’s social service market. Attracted by the country’s aging population, major U.S. firms including Emeritus Corp., Life Care Services LLC, and John C. Erikson have broken into the Chinese market in a tight consultation with Chinese firms, developers, and government officials. Small-scale government sponsorship like tax incentives and direct financial support for private nursing institutions dates back to as early as the 1950s. The number of institutions established, however, was not even close to being enough to care for the country’s elderly population, and poor infrastructure, service quality, and prices never appealed to the Chinese people. Reflecting on its past failure to build up the senior services market, the Chinese government made some effort itself to increase participation by allocating a huge block of land in Beijing for senior housing, overtly relying on the private sector in developing senior care.

Source: The Economist

Services for the aging population in China do in fact need a serious overhaul. In 2000, China’s 60-year-and-older population reached approximately 10% of the total population. Chinese government officials project that one third of China’s population will be over retirement age by 2050. Many blame the demographic fallout on the 1979 One-Child Policy, which dramatically shifted population balance. Increasing life expectancy has also contributed to the problem. In 1980, life expectancy for both sexes was 64 years. In 2001, it rose to 78.1 years. When these numbers are tied together with the average retirement age – 55 for female and 60 for male – it turns out that the elderly have a significant portion of their lives left after retirement.

 

The developing senior care sector is also in response to another noteworthy demographic trend – the rise of the urban middle class. The increase in China’s middle class population has been extraordinary. By 2022, more than 45% of the population is expected to be categorized as middle income earners. Right now, the mass middle class accounts for more than half of that number, but many expect the upper middle class, who can pay a premium for quality products and discretionary services, to become the new mainstream. Senior care does not come cheap. Starcastle primarily targets wealthy business owners in Shanghai who are capable of paying high costs for independent-living apartments, nurse care, housekeeping, and healthy meals. Rising labor and service costs, prices for land-use rights, and costs involved in the overall process inevitably drive the industry to target the rich for profitability. Senior care communities are attainable only for the powerful middle class, at least for now.

Of course, current efforts by foreign firms and domestic developers are not enough to entirely fend off the burden of caring for the aging population. There is still a large chunk of the population, mostly in rural areas, who cannot take part in this upmarket industry. China’s remarkable economic growth may also stall, dragging down middle-class ambitions with it. Chinese government’s ambiguous guidelines on its censorship and regulations on private, especially foreign, firms may put a halt to the deluge of development efforts in elderly care, as well.

In most developed countries, social benefit programs along with the long-lived culture of planning for post-retirement have been a cornerstone for caring for the elderly. China’s unique social, economic, and cultural environments  requires a new or revised development model that suits China’s characteristics. Amidst many uncertainties, one thing seems to be clear though; greater government participation and subsidies beyond allowing foreigners to participate is needed, so that all can comfortably live out the twilight of their lives.

Liberty to the People, Fetters to the Government

China’s Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) sector has long been surveilled, regulated, and suppressed by the central government. But there is now a gleam of hope: the Third Plenum of the 18th Congress Party adopted a reformist decision on November 12, 2013, signaling a possible willingness to extending the role of NGOs under the Xi Jinping administration. The Decision highlighted “social governance” to delineate the country’s governing order, acknowledging the significance of a mutual assistance between the government and the people.

In fact, the gesture of relaxed control over NGOs was looming even before this official pronouncement. In just the past 25 years, over 50,000 officially registered NGOs have emerged, and Karla Simon, an author of “Civil Society in China” expects this number to double in the next two years or so. Until 2011, NGOs were required to have a state sponsor to officially register with the government. Nonetheless, the government has eased this rule, and some even say that they encourage organizations to have a non-state sponsoring agency.In China, all NGOs must, by law, be registered with local governments, but the reality tells a different story. There are approximately 1.5 million unregistered NGOs, constantly mounting in number and influence. Although those that deal with overtly contentious or subversive political issues remain on local governments’ radar, the array of causes the government condones has significantly increased as well.

 

 

Behind this increasing tolerance is political and social decay that has almost coerced the government into allowing its people more participation in governance. Politically, it has become difficult for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to legitimatize its monopolistic rule. Since the erection of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the CCP’s legitimacy depended on its strict adherence to the socialist ideology, a consummation of Chinese culture. Since the party adopted a market economy which contradicted socialist roots during the 1989 reform, it has constantly refurbished its new economic framework as necessary ‘pragmatism.’ Yet, the party’s intensive reinforcement of a capitalist economy has inevitably breached on socialist tenets and jeopardized people’s trust in the government.

The CCP has also failed to provide its people the ‘iron rice bowl.’ China’s breakneck urbanization and dependence on global markets have led to many social problems including environmental pollution, land confiscation, food scarcity, and shortages of labor resources and public services. In response, inclusive and innovative ways to participate in governance have been introduced by a new middle class less confined by the socialist ideology. The government has little ground to push ahead with in its complete clampdown on Chinese civil society, and they also surprisingly believe in NGOs for their ideas, practical, hard-worn knowledge of social problems, and ability to gain local people’s trust. In short, the economic and social problems that have been limiting people’s lives are now, in the new front, a source of liberty to the people and fetters to the government.

There are still more restrictions and limitations than freedom and potentials. Of the 50,000 official NGOs, most are still quasi-government organizations affiliated with government agencies. Organizations committed to politically subversive subjects cannot be officially recognized. In regards to the government’s intentional oversight over unofficial grassroots NGOs, some argue that there are hidden rules of “no recognition, no banning, no intervention” that implicitly manipulate and restrict organizations’ operations. NGOs are largely seen as a temporary tool for the CCP to realize its ends.

The Third Plenum’s edict does mean a thumbs-up for reforms that have been going on in the NGO sector. With no specific blueprint on how the 18th National Congress will implement laws and regulations, however, the  future of Chinese civil society still remains a question in the long-run.

Overnight Sensation

On April 30th, one of the major problems plaguing the economic world was partially rectified overnight. The International Comparison Project at the World Bank revised their purchasing power parity (PPP) data for 2011. PPP is a measure to balance the exchange rate between countries based on the purchasing power of of their currencies. PPP is calculated through a basket of goods. For example, if the Thai Baht is able to purchase more food relative to the US dollar, the PPP adjusts accordingly.

Graph depicting forecast of United States and China (The Economist)

One of the geopolitical implications of this change is that China’s economy is now larger than anticipated. The Economist reported that China’s PPP exchange rate is 20% larger than previously considered. This tweak of numbers means that, depending on estimates, China is the largest economy or will shortly be the largest economy in the world. Certain caveats need to be remembered, mostly that numbers self-reported by China always need to be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, the rebalancing is a reminder of what the future holds in store.

China’s inevitable rise is not the only news to come out of the International Comparison Project’s report. PPPs for 199 countries were redone, including most of the world’s developing countries. Sarah Dykstra, Charles Kenny, and Justin Sandefur from the Center for Global Development analyzed the numbers in the report and found an astonishing fact. Based on the new PPPs, global absolute poverty in 2010, defined as living on $1.25 a day, dropped from 19.7% to 11.2%. For example, Bangladesh’s GDP PPP per capita increased from $1,733 to $2,800. This revision caused 247.9 million Indians to no longer be below the absolute poverty line. It also means that more of the world’s absolute poor are now concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, increasing from 28% of global absolute povery to 39%. The reason for these drastic changes in figures is that inflation rates rose faster than the prices in the baskets of goods used in PPP calculations, which has been adjusted in the new 2011 numbers.

 

Global Poverty Rate (Center for Global Development)

While this may seem incredible, it merely reflects a statistical change in measurement. There is still  no consensus on whether $1.25 a day is the right measure to use for determining absolute poverty, even if it is adjusted for PPP. Other indicators have been proposed over the years. The most famous is the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), attempting to include health and education along with GDP per capita. After examination, this was considered insufficient because it didn’t fully encapsulate the deprivations that poor people in developing countries face. The UNDP developed the Multidimensional Poverty Index, attempting to include things like the percent of the population that lacks a floor or clean water. As this is based on survey data, only 104 countries are included in the Multidimensional Poverty Index.

Another argument is that the difference between somebody with an income of $1.25 a day and $1.26 a day is not even negligible. Many suggest raising the line at which we measure poverty above the $1.25 a day of absolute poverty and the $2 a day of extreme poverty, with Lant Pritchett suggesting using $15 a day as the international line. What people in poor countries purchase is also vastly different from what people in developed countries purchase, negating some of the benefits of PPP. Poverty lines also vary between countries, so there have been advocates to change the global poverty line to be adjusted more frequently and be comprised of an average of developing countries.

Village in Africa, same scene before and after the ICP adjustments

This adjustment through PPP does not change the lives of those who are still living in poverty, whether their measured status changed or not by the new report by the ICP. They will still struggle to buy food and pay for school uniforms for their children, just as before. However, measuring global levels of poverty will remain important, as that which is measured gets fixed.

Past Reconstruction to Constructing Rwanda

Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda, things seem to be looking a bit brighter. With an average annual growth rate of eight percent since 2001 and over one million people lifted out of poverty, Rwanda is poised to continue growing by leaps and bounds. Even so, 20% of Rwanda’s economy comes from foreign aid, only trailing its exports of coffee and tea. As with most developing countries, one of the most visible signs of growth is the new buildings sprouting from the ground around the capital of Kigali. As impressive as office buildings and shopping malls are, it remains to be seen how beneficial these structures are to the economy and people of Kigali and other developing cities.

Construction workers in Kigali

The benefits of the construction industry in developing countries is clear. The global construction industry was approximately $1.7 trillion in 2007, and typically accounts for 5-7% of each country’s GDP. Jobs in the construction sector tend to be low-skill jobs, something that most developing countries, and especially Rwanda, have in abundance. A report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that workers in places as diverse as India, Brazil, and China were significantly more likely to be illiterate and have few years of schooling. Construction is also an investment, as there are roads, buildings, and other structures that can be used to house offices, transport goods, and improve the human and business capabilities. Kigali is already one of the most urbanized cities in Africa, and is expected to grow by 79.9% by 2025. Construction in Kigali and satellite cities is meant to ease congestion of an already dense capital of a densely-populated country.

Map of Rwanda

There are some issues with the construction industry in the developing world. The first one involves property rights. Large amounts of people in cities in the developing world don’t have a title or ownership to the land that they live on, especially in slums. Hernando de Soto, president of the of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru, has referred to slums as “dead capital”, alluding to the idea that people make improvements by building shantytowns but are not able to use it for collateral due to red tape. The perniciousness of not actually owning the land that one’s house is built on is even worse. In Kigali, 70% of housing is informal, with the government proposing to demolish that housing and creating more high-density areas and rent-to-own schemes. However, housing in the suburbs of Kigali currently typically costs 25,000 francs ($36.87) a month in a country where 45% of people still live below the poverty line. There’s a fear that parts of Kigali could end up like Nova Cidade de Kilamba, a suburb of Luanda that is a ghost town built and funded by the Chinese.

Developing countries, and Africa in particular, have been raising questions about who benefits from the construction industry. Recent reports by investigative journalists from the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR) in Kigali have found that foreign firms, notably the Chinese, have done a substantial portion of construction. The Chinese are able to undercut local firms by using Chinese contractors backed by subsidized loans provided by the Chinese state. An operations engineer at a Chinese company working in Rwanda stated that his company could get loans with an 8% interest payment while Rwandan companies could only obtain loans with 17-18%, if they could even get a loan at all.

The view of Kigali’s town center and surrounding areas

There is a final concern about construction and corruption. Since construction contracts tend to be a fee and cost of materials, construction companies tend to be implicated more frequently. They overstate the amount of labor used on a project, pocketing the difference. One field experiment in Indonesia found that an increase in official audits of construction projects reduced missing expenditures of labor, ie nonexistent workers, by between 14 and 22%. Construction and engineering companies dominate the current World Bank list of debarred firms, the largest of which was SNC-Lavalin, a Canadian firm, which was debarred over bribery charges around the $1.2 billion funding of the Padma bridge in Bangladesh. Because of these troubling factors, questions, concerns, and confidence over construction in cities like Kigali will continue to surface.

Should We Be Having More Babies?

8721656724_67bed80ee5_b
According to the CDC, the U.S. fertility rate fell to another record low in 2012 with 63 births per 1,000 women. In 2007, the rate was 69.3.

During a quick scan of the shelves of one of D.C.’s remaining bookstores, journalist Jonathan V. Last’s new book entitled “What To Expect When No One’s Expecting” caught my eye. The book forecasts an impending American demographic disaster by bluntly declaring that people are having too few babies. This prompted a hasty reaction from me: “But everyone says our population is growing out of control! Aren’t 3.95 million babies named Jacob and Sophia enough!?”  America’s total fertility rate, an estimation of the number of births a woman is expected to have during her lifetime based on current age-specific fertility rates, is 1.88 according to the latest figures from the CDC, a record low. This prophet of population doom argues that even this statistic is misleading because most of our fertility has been “outsourced” as we rely heavily on immigrants to prop up the fertility rate. Not including immigrants in the population profile reveals that America has a fertility rate of 1.5.

At first glance, any devout environmentalist would be thrilled with these shrinking population trends since human total environmental impact is exceeding the sustainable carrying capacity of Earth’s ecosystems. This is reflected by the I= PAT equation with I—the human impact placed upon any ecosystem—being the product of three variables: population (P),  per capita level of affluence (A), and technology (T) or more accurately described as the environmental destructiveness of production techniques. It does not take a environmental economist to realize that a lower global population, and hence a lower P value, will result in less of an impact on our ecosystems.

But an interesting deaggregation of what appears to be out-of-control growth reveals cross-country disparities and cultural differences in fertility rates: Japan has a total fertility rate of 1.3 compared to Mali’s total fertility rate of 6.25. Overall, 99% of the world’s current population growth is in developing countries while the fertility rate in each of the G-8 countries is below 2.1 children per women, the rate needed for a given generation to replace itself.  But environmentalists probably still significantly discount falling fertility rates. It is the absolute number that counts and even assuming that fertility levels will continue to decline, the world population is still expected to reach a staggering 9.6 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion in 2100, according to the U.N’s medium-variant projection.

Last retorts that a shrinking population that is disproportionately old has dire economic, political, and cultural consequences. According to the U.N., “whereas the number of persons aged 60 or over is expected to more than triple by 2100, that of persons aged 80 or over is projected to increase almost seven-fold by 2100.” Last laments that a global population reduction results in a decrease of human ingenuity: “Low-fertility societies don’t innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care.” Negative socio-economic externalities abound like a smaller taxpayer base and labor force and the limited availability of military-age manpower to serve in our armed forces. In 1950, there were 16 covered workers for each Social Security beneficiary. Today, there are a little less than three.

But simultaneously, what can the rationale be of the coerced low fertility rates of the Chinese? Surely the Chinese cannot be dooming themselves to a demographically poor future. And is America really subjecting itself to prolonged economic stagnation via a population implosion? A competing argument can be made that a low fertility rate can actually improve living standards. Until  recently, there were few examples of developing countries with both declining fertility and rising incomes. This has changed as some countries have undergone a Goldilocks generation” of fertility—a generation with a not too high but not too low fertility rate—with the result being fewer dependent youngsters, fewer dependent grandparents, and a bulge of working adults that increase economic output. Also, women comparatively do not have to spend more time raising children and can invest more in the education of the children that they do have and add to the productivity and quality of the labor force.

Because there are fewer dependent children and old people, households are able to save more, and there is more capital and resources that can be accumulated per capita.  Economist Klaus Prettner reproduces these findings in a dynamic consumer optimization model that incorporates endogenous fertility and health investments to show that a fertility decline induces higher education and health investments that are able to compensate for declining fertility under certain circumstances. Even as absolute population levels fall, the “effective labor supply” will actually increase, proving that it’s too simplistic to reduce a country’s economic growth and productivity to a simple population numbers game.

Even as absolute population levels fall, the “effective labor supply” will actually increase, proving that it’s too simplistic to reduce a country’s economic growth and productivity to a simple population numbers game.

Consequently, questions loom about such a key determinant of our environmental and economic future. It is clear that countries concern themselves with two questions: Do we have enough people to support an ageing society? Can we take advantage of the right population numbers to spur economic growth? Viewing these questions through an environmental lens, can we find reassurance in declining fertility amidst competing claims about its effects? Are claims about the global population explosion hyperbolized? Only one thing is for certain. Motivation to stabilize population can be undermined by excessive worry that smaller numbers of young people will be supporting larger numbers of the elderly. The prevailing patterns of behavior and resource allocation can be changed in ways that reduce pensioner/worker ratios and make population stabilization more politically viable. Even if falling fertility can raise living standards—especially the living standards of poor, resource-disadvantaged people—it cannot be an excuse for inaction in the realms of smarter governance and tempered lifestyle patterns in respect to environmental crises and economic stagnation.

UPDATE: The Chinese government announced late last week that they would begin to relax its “one-child policy”. The policy was introduced in the late 1970s to combat rapid population growth but has now resulted in an increasingly aging population and extreme gender imbalance. The change will allow couples the option of having two children if just one of the parents is an only child. Previously, both parents had to be only children.