Friday, April 24, 2009

Raining Men

We've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating in light of our post earlier this week on the Demographics of Depression: China is facing some very serious problems even as it emerges as one of the world's powerhouse economies and militaries. The problems are caused by their peculiar demographic circumstances:

While China may become the largest economy on the planet in the next few generations, it will also suffer from some catastrophic demographic problems. To control population growth over the last four decades, most couples are restricted to only one child. This has been widely enforced, to the point where the average number of children per couple has been 1.7.. But many of those couples aborted a child if it is a female, because much more importance is attached to having a male heir. Thus there are 30 million more males than females, and the number is growing. These surplus males are coming of age, and the competition for wives is causing problems. Women are taking advantage of their scarcity, but men are also going to neighboring countries to buy, or even kidnap, young women to be wives. This is causing ill will with neighbors.

The biggest problem, though, is the growing shortage of workers. As the population ages, all those one child families means there will be more elderly than the economy can effectively support. Currently there are 13 working age Chinese for every retiree. In 40 years, there will only be two for each retiree. At that point, retirees will comprise 30 percent of the population (versus 12 percent now.) Traditionally, children cared for their parents in multi-generation households. That model is dying out, and China is faced with huge pension cost increases at the same time they expect their economy to be the mightiest on the planet. But at that point, the largest single government expense will be the care of the elderly, and this will impose crushing taxes on those of working age. Many working age Chinese are worried about this, for there is no easy solution in sight.

A culture can accommodate a shortage of men by reverting to polygamy, but polyandry is not a viable solution for any society. So what does a dictatorial regime, flush with a strong industrial base, and burdened with a huge surplus of young, fighting age males, do? I'm sure that question is not far from the minds of all of China's neighbors.


Pre-Graduation Reading List

Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett once put the following question to 325 selected scholars and intellectuals: What books should every high school student have read by the time he/she graduates?

Thirty works were mentioned most frequently. Mr. Bennett commented that any 10 of them "would compare favorably to what is read in many schools," and added that he himself had not read all 30 on the list.

Not surprisingly, no book published in the last 30 years made the list.

Shakespeare's plays, especially Macbeth and Hamlet, were the only works listed by a majority of the participants - 71 percent.

Fifty percent cited such documents of United States history as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Next came Huckleberry Finn, the Bible and the following works of literature, philosophy and politics:

  • Homer's Odyssey and Iliad.
  • Dickens's Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities.
  • Plato's Republic.
  • John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter.
  • Sophocles' Oedipus.
  • Melville's Moby Dick.
  • Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Thoreau's Walden.
  • The poems of Robert Frost.
  • Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby.
  • Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
  • Marx's Communist Manifesto.
  • Aristotle's Politics.
  • The poems of Emily Dickinson.
  • Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.
  • The novels of William Faulkner.
  • J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.
  • De Tocqueville's Democracy in America.
  • Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
  • The essays and poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  • Machiavelli's Prince.
  • Milton's Paradise Lost.
  • Tolstoy's War and Peace.
  • Virgil's Aeneid.

I don't know many of these you read before you graduated (if you're a graduate) or have read since, but I guess I do know what should be on my reading list this summer - lots of poetry and lots of Faulkner.