19 July 2013

Market liberalisation and sex-selective abortion in Asia

A very interesting abstract of a paper at NBER, and the accompanying article at Foreign Policy magazine, argue that the market liberalisation policies after 1976 are a heavily contributing factor to the sex-selective abortion phenomenon in China, even more so than the actual One Child Policy. I certainly would not be surprised at this, as the destabilising effects of the household responsibility system on China’s socioeconomic landscape have been immense, but I imagine that the assertion that the HRS is more to blame for China’s sex imbalances than is the OCP will be a controversial one, and not only in China.

Also, the Foreign Policy magazine article also links the piece by Mara Hvistendahl about the causes underlying sex selection in Asia. Unfortunately, the issue of sex-selective abortions is already something of a political football, and Ms Hvistendahl points out some of the shady - to say the least - history of the joint involvement of the pro-abort and green Malthusian movements in engineering the institutional and physical infrastructure necessary for sex-selective abortion to become widespread. These two factors in China: privatisation (and thus the introduction of market logic into decisions about family planning) and easy access to the infrastructure needed for sex-selective abortions, driven by a confluence of ideologies in the global technocracy valuing population control as a positive end, have produced a tragic condition for millions of what are commonly called here ‘bare branches’ and ‘leftover women’, which will very likely take multiple generations to undo. Whether privatisation and technologically-driven control over reproduction, the primary sufferers of the fallout are always, always the working class. And it isn’t merely the over 330 million foeti who have been aborted since these policies were introduced; it is also the living young men and young women who are forced to navigate a demographically-shattered society with growing wealth and education gaps.

We inheritors of the modern pseudo-West have a great deal to answer for in China. Not merely for the Opium Wars and the legacy of colonialism, but for the ideological imports which continue to poison Chinese culture and hinder the basic needs of its people.


  1. Great post. I think the specter of liberal “market eugenics” is one that needs to be taken more seriously. But again, people in the West, and especially the Anglo-American West, have a roadblock when it comes to the issue of private vs. state action.

    I have actually come across many purportedly progressive people who support eugenics so long as the State is not coercing anyone. Of course, private market eugenics will always be tilted against the poor, but they cannot seem to grasp that.

  2. Absolutely! It's one of those weird lacunae in American politics where people (even people who claim to care for the well-being of the poor) are willing to tolerate massively inegalitarian setups and outcomes so long as a certain set of precepts are followed.

    Even Ms Hvistendahl herself, in her extended debate with Ross Douthat over abortion, showed this to be the case. Obviously she was unhappy with the massively inegalitarian setup and outcomes that were being produced in Asia via easy and encouraged access to abortions for the poor, motivated by a desire for population control. But her favoured approach of limiting women's access to ultrasounds, in order to preserve the precept of a woman's 'right to choose' abortion whilst limiting the socially-detrimental outcome she wants to avoid (namely, selection against girls), seems to me cognitively dissonant.