Conservative thinking on global family planning issues by mattsteinglass
August 28, 2008, 10:02 am
Filed under: China | Tags:

This article in the new “conservative Slate,” Culture11, appears to be arguing that to avoid a massive global gender imbalance generated by son preference in Asian countries, the United States should ban abortion in China.

Not sure whether the idea is to do this with smart bombs, by all joining hands and surrounding Tiananmen Square (worked for the Falun Gong!), or by really working with the Chinese Communist Party in a collaborative fashion on introducting new legislation in the National Asssembly.

P.S. The really funny part comes where 300 million angry surplus Chinese men descend upon the world and demand we bring out our wimmins.

3 Comments so far
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As an editor at Culture11, perhaps I am not in the best position to evaluate the merits of any piece that we publish. I can assure you, however, that Joe Carter, our managing editor, is deeply committed to intellectual honesty and engaging the arguments posed by those with whom he disagrees.

Perhaps it would be a better conversation if you showed the same courtesy. After all, the article makes the demonstrably true points that the gender imbalance wrought by selectively aborting baby girls is unprecedented and dramatic, and asserts the plausible argument that this could be a big problem in the future.

Do you disagree? Because rather than address those points, you’ve implied that Joe might want to bomb China or is so foolish as to think we could pass legislation there — in other words, you’ve been very uncharitable toward someone making a good faith effort to discuss an important topic. For those who haven’t read Joe’s piece, there is no suggestion whatsoever that we ought to invade China, or that we have the ability to ban abortion there.

Perusing your site, it’s obvious that your an intelligent fellow with writerly talent. Whether Joe’s piece is entirely right or utterly wrongheaded, you’d advance the conversation by engaging him charitably and substantively rather than distorting what he said for the sake of snark.

I hope you’ll offer a more considered take on the topic soon. I’d gladly read it with interest and an open mind.


Conor Friedersdorf
Features Editor

Comment by Conor Friedersdorf

Conor, I’ve seen your writing mainly at Megan McArdle’s site, and while I return the compliment that you’re an intelligent guy who takes topics seriously, I also think that this particular piece of Joe Carter’s displays weaknesses that amount to an open invitation for snark.The most glaring problem is the absurd move to considering the excess male population as a military threat to the US. Certainly strong gender imbalance is a destabilizing social element that poses risks of increased violence. But the instinct to cast it as a military threat to the US, to compare the number of sex-deprived Chinese men to the number of military-age American men, is ludicrous. Think it through for half a second: what is the idea? 300 million Chinese men will attack the US because they aren’t gettin’ any?

Then there is the, I’m sorry, amusingly naive suggestion that “hordes” of surplus men in China will be deprived for life of the possibility of “sexual contact” as well as that of marriage. There are 100 large hotels along the Vietnamese-Chinese border at Lao Cai where Chinese men, married and unmarried, obtain all the sexual contact they can pay for with Vietnamese women. Scarcity of women in China raises the price of such sexual contact and increases the returns to both willing and forced prostitution; that is the logical problem to bring up in this context. One might also raise the issue of marriage brokers operating in impoverished Mekong Delta regions, etc.

You can no longer write this article while ignoring the South Korean experience, where two decades of large surpluses of male babies have abruptly turned, in the last few years, into dramatic surpluses of female babies, via the pure beautiful logic of supply and demand. I would think that anyone who believes in the power of market forces would leap at this example of the incredible ability of the market to alter even deeply held cultural biases.

But the real problem is a confusion of agency. You can’t write an article like this without at least some kind of nod towards who it is you are calling on, and what it is you are asking them to do. You can’t write it without acknowledging the existence of international family planning agencies and NGOs (UNFPA, PLAN, FPI, and on and on) that have been working for decades on the problem of son preference and sex-selected abortion in traditional societies. You can’t write it as if you just woke up this morning and realized the problem existed. You can’t write it without asking what the current Chinese government approach to the question is – they obviously have no interest in dramatically imbalanced demographics, so how are they approaching it? You have to look at what the existing responses are and, if you find them inadequate, advance some sense of what you’d do differently. The article instead employs a vague “we” which it’s hard to believe is meant to include anyone other than Americans, and implores “us” to solve the problem of surplus men in China for national security reasons. What is being called for here? For anyone conversant with colonial history, the echoes of the British invocation of suttee as a justification for imperial rule can’t be far from one’s head. If you raise the specter of force, and you’re not talking about force, then please specify exactly what it is you are talking about. I think everyone across the American and European political spectrum agrees that drastic gender imbalances in developing countries are a problem, so let’s see what it is we suggest as an approach. Yes?

Comment by mattsteinglass

Cool blog!

Rocks Tops

Comment by Rock Tops Granite

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