Don't call it a spade
WAR IS PEACE
SLAVERY IS FREEDOM
IGNORANCE IS KNOWLEDGE
Inquisition, for the most part. The corporate PR racket sells that diversity is a strength because having different people in your organization gets you different points of view, and that results in better input for discussions and thus better decision-taking. Which is exactly how it doesn’t work in practice. Racial diversity is welcome so long as everyone is strictly progressive, and USG has been busy promoting ideological uniformity across its whole empire. In recent years who basically can’t get a job if you are caught dissenting with the most trivial progressive dogma. As Trotsky had it, in capitalism those who don’t work shan’t eat; under communism those who don’t obey shan’t eat.
The argument itself is true, though. Actual diversity does bring different points of view, which can often be interesting. But that requires actual ideological independence. The ideological landscape in the West is completely owned by USG, and one can hardly found any original ideas that differ even slightly from the progressive platform. But far away in East Asia, people can afford to think for themselves. And they do, for the most part, producing actually interesting ideas. If there’s an argument for learning exotic languages, this is it. This blog is proof of that.
The talk of the street these weeks in Japan is a proposal for reforming pre-primary school, and making not only kindergarten (3 to 6 year olds) but even nurseries (0 to 3 year olds) part of mandatory schooling. This might sound similar to the recent “universal pre-K” idea in the US, but the argument here is not about the cognitive benefits of early schooling. The point is purely monetary: if woman are to join the workforce, as Japan’s Abe government has publicly proclaimed they must, well somebody should take care of the babies then. Nurseries as of today are regulated by the Ministry of Welfare, which has a bunch of agencies skimming the budget, so that nurseries are underbuilt and baby nurses has laughably low salaries. Corruption is rampant, and the law isn’t working, as there’s a severe shortage of available nurseries. The idea is to change the law to make nurseries depend on the Ministry of Education, and be run as normal schools. There’s no shortage of schools.
Interestingly enough, a similar debate has been going on in China for a while. While the countries are close by geographically, of course China is very different Japan in many ways. China is a communist one-party state, and it has no big issues with their workforce. What China and Japan do have in common is a dire demographic problem. Low fertility.
A while ago there was a post by some man called Ma Qianzu 馬前卒, writing about demographic policy. As many of you will know, China has had a One Child Policy for decades, which this year has been finally modified to allow 2 children per couple. The revision of the law of course caused a very big reaction in China, and people have been debating the issue for years. This Ma Qianzu guy is apparently an official intellectual, party member, who basically provides the smart version of government propaganda. He’s a smart commie. And there aren’t many of those, so people listen to this guy, even if they don’t agree with them (public opinion in China, at least among the young, is rabidly anti-government).
While Japan can often produce interesting policy ideas, in the end Japan is still a USG vassal, with tens of thousands of American troops watching over the country. China on contrast is an actually independent country, so they have much more freedom to think about policy in their own way. This article by Ma Qianzu was a good proof of that. It’s very first paragraph was such a good example of clear, frank thinking that one could never see in any Western publication. I couldn’t believe my own eyes. It made so much sense I got tears in my eyes. It said:
As long as the fear of downward mobility remains, opening up the One Child Policy won’t change anything. My peers reacted to the new law with derision, not because they can’t afford more children, but because a second child would impact their living standards, make the middle-class lifestyle they desire become unachievable.
The original wording is somewhat more dramatic. Downward mobility is stated as “falling from their class”. And ‘class’ is a very charged word in Communist China. Class struggle is still a mainstream concept over there. The guy is an official intellectual of the Communist Party: class struggle is what he writes about. Demographic policy in China is a function of Class Struggle. In this case, the white-collar middle class is refusing to breed because they fear the cost will make them drop out into the proletariat. And they aren’t having that.
The writer goes on describing why exactly having a second child would make people think that they would have to abandon middle-class living standards. He aptly says that the whole idea of “not being able to afford more children” makes no sense. Our parents, he says, were much poorer than we are (back in the Mao days), yet they all had plenty of children. Of course, children cost less back then; they played out in the street, went to free state schools, healthcare was unavailable so children would die every now and then, which if sad, was still accepted as something that happened. It was no big deal.
Today, though, people have much higher incomes. But that surplus income, and then some, has been taken over by skyrocketing school fees. “Malicious capitalists”, as he aptly puts it, are taking advantage of the status anxiety of people, and charging exorbitant fees for children books, cram-schools, and other assorted services for middle-class children. Competition to get into top colleges in China is fierce, so people spend every single dime they have to make sure their children have a chance. And then they complain they can’t afford more children.
Part of the issue, Mr. Ma says, is that schools close down too soon. Parents work late, until 8 PM on average, and children leave school at 5 PM. Kids have 3 hours without supervision, so the parents take them to cram schools if only to have them go to some place until they can leave work. Once you get them into cram school, though, the signaling spiral starts. Nobody wants to be that parent who takes his kid to the bad cram school. You want the good one, and the good one is worth money. So cram schools end up charging exorbitant tuition for lousy cram schools, and parents have their small precious discretionary income gone down the drain into education fees.
Well, the author rightly points out, as a Communist Country, we must not allow evil capitalists from taking advantage of the insecurity of our people and make rich from a signaling spiral. China should forbid private ownership of education facilities, cram schools included. Actually, cram schools should be forbidden, period. If children have to spend more time in school, then so be it. Have schools open until late, at least until their parents finish work. If kids are to study, let it be at good Communist schools, and not perfidious capitalist cram schools.
A problem with keeping kids at school until 10 PM is that… the schools don’t want the kids around. Parents today are increasingly litigious, and when a kid gets hurt at school parents waste no time suing schools for damages. Under firm Communist principles, that doesn’t do. Parents should be stripped of the right to sue schools for what happens to their children inside them. Children spent most of their waking time in schools, not at home. Schools have as much a right to custody over children than their parents do. Sure, people will complain that this goes against natural rights, the sacred property rights of parents over their children. But that, you’ll notice, is bad feudal Confucianism. And we are now a Communist country. So no more of that absolute parental rights nonsense. Kids aren’t their parents’. You didn’t build that.
At this point I started to get uneasy. Hey, hey. There’s a reason kids are regarded as being the property of their parents. Parents (generally) have an interest in their children’s welfare. Schools don’t. A school teacher can be an evil asshole and beat your kid for fun. Or ignore it while other kids bully him into suicide. Overly litigious parents are certainly a drag on the system, but to fix that you don’t need to change the whole legal idea of custody.
I got even more uneasy, outright anxious, when the author mentioned how in recent years we see more out-of-wedlock births, with women having children without husbands, and that is a good thing because it shows how old feudal family values are disappearing and moral progress is obviously good. The path to Communism! I didn’t see that coming. Don’t be fooled by the guy’s progressive nonsense; single-motherhood in China is, while certainly increasing, still extremely rare. And for good reason; there is no welfare. Chinese women don’t want to have children with their husbands as it costs too much; why would they be willing to have children on their own? That some skank gets knocked up once in a while is obviously just a proof of lack of foresight, not the vanguard of future Communist birth ethics.
Now the whole idea of socializing children in China, or mandatory universal pre-K for 1 year olds in Japan has the common idea that child-rearing is a cost, in both labor and money, and that if the state took care of that cost, people would have more children. And yes, sure, up to a point, child rearing costs money, and it can be a hassle. Some people enjoy taking care of babies, but some people sure don’t. I know of plenty of women in Japan who went to work because they found their cubicle jobs easier than their annoying babies. For these people, subsidized daycare would be a godsend.
But there’s another side to that equation. If you reduce the costs, you make it easier to consume. But what’s the incentive for having kids anyway? If your children are going to be closed up in some government facility for 12 hours a day since age 1 until they leave to college and never come back; what’s the point of having children at all if you don’t get to see them?
Let’s face it, the demand for children in developed countries today is effectively indistinguishable from the demand of pets. People have children because they are adorable, small and cuddly, and many people enjoy having some small cutesy thing to care of.
In the old days, people didn’t have pets. They had livestock, they had animals to use them. You had a dog to hunt, or watch the house, you kept a cat so he would eat mice and other vermin. You had cows to milk, pigs to eat, chicken to give you eggs. You didn’t take care of animals, take pictures of them, find them cute, watch them or buy them clothes. You had them outside, treated them like shit, and efficiently exploit them as an economic resource. You had as much livestock as you could afford, as they were supposed to be a profitable resource.
Not today though. People don’t have animals, because it’s cheaper to buy animal products in the supermarket. People who have animals today have them as pets; as small cutesy things to make them company. You pet them, cuddle them, take pictures, watch their every reaction with amusement.
In the same way, in the old days people had children as a resource. Kids weren’t found to be cute (the word itself didn’t exist until the 19th century); they were annoying brats to be trained into farm hands or money earners for the family. People sent their children away as soon as 8 years old, and had no emotional hangups about it whatsoever. People had a lot of children because they were profitable, or at least there was a gambling chance of getting an awesome kid who raised the whole family out of poverty.
Today though, kids today are a cost, not a profitable resource. And so people have don’t have large families the same way they don’t have livestock anymore. They have kids like they have pets, as small cutesy things that give them company. Things to watch and enjoy. People actually use the same vocabulary to refer to both children and pets the same way. Some people actually call their pets “children”!
The children market, such as it is, is determined by the demand of pets. Having the government socialize the costs of childrearing might help a bit on the margin, but it won’t shift the fundamentals of the market. The fundamental issue is that children aren’t profitable, and there’s no market incentive for having large families.
Social Matter had a characteristically childish post where they made a more or less accurate assessment about why present policies are wrong, but remained completely clueless about what could possibly fix the issue. “It’s not about money”. Indeed it’s not about the money. Children don’t make money and people have internalized that over the last 100 years. And that’s why people don’t have more than 1 or 2 children; the same way people don’t generally have more than 1 or 2 cats. To create incentives for people to have large families there’s only one way to do it.
Make it again about money. Change tax incentives so that childless people get their tax burden tripled, while large families are tax free. Make it profitable. Bureaucrats, East and West, are obsessed with socializing anything. But we have decades of experience with market incentives. People like money more than they like kids. At some point somebody is going to have to say it.