At the end of the 1970s, 88% of China’s population lived in poverty. With more mouths to feed than food and other resources to comfortably go around, reformist leader Deng Xiaoping introduced temporary population planning measures which limited urban and some rural households to having one child. Although many reported these measures as a “one child policy”, the rules about the size of families varied based on regions across the country in order to suit the needs of specific micro-economies.
By 2015, the policy was ended as China had by then achieved a remarkable economic and industrial revolution which lifted the largest amount of people out of poverty in the shortest period of time in human history. This achievement has led to the presence of a trend that is generally the rule across multiple industrialised economies: as living standards rise and as societies become increasingly urbanised, married couples usually elect to have smaller families vis-a-vis their counterparts in rural or less affluent urban environments.
Thus, it is expected that China’s population will peak in 2029 before declining in-line with that in other industrialised nations that have high living standards. But while conventional thinking is that it requires a large young workforce to sustain economic productivity, this line of thinking has become increasingly outdated in the 21st century.
This is especially true in China as the Chinese tech sector is at the global forefront of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Even today, China is rapidly pivoting its economy from one that is driven by mass production to one driven by innovation in technology, science and medical research. As the years progress, the profits generated by the human hand will be increasingly generated by the mechanical hand and orchestrated not by human managers but by computers programmed with cutting edge AI technology.
As such, China’s industrial model will expand thanks to developments in the tech sector that will free the existing population to pursue modern educational courses in science and technology while also allowing for high quality/high paying jobs to replace much of the assembly line employment of yesteryear.
This internal model is furthermore a win-win because China’s market-socialist economy allows for the profits generated by the mechanical hand to be invested into the same places as are the profits generated by humans. While the western neo-liberal economic model has already seen factory automation costing thousands in terms of jobs, China’s economic model allows for the move towards automation and AI to create new and better jobs for the existing workforce, while the higher profits generated from quality innovative goods will add new funds to the public sector that will be invested into building increasingly modern infrastructure, public welfare programmes including in education, health and culture, as well as global innovation initiatives within China and among China’d Belt and Road partners across multiple continents.
Thus, while India’s growing population looks set to expand an already out of control wealth gap, China’s ebbing population will help to decrease the wealth gap in line with China’s existing economic pivot to quality innovation.
Taken as a whole, one can credit the progressive population planning protocols of the Deng Xiaoping era with helping China to become fully prepared to make the most out of a population than in ten years will begin a decline that follows similar trends in other industrialised nations. But while western economic models are ill-equipped to deal with AI and preparing existing workforces for these revolutionary changes and while growing populations such as that in India will have to face the challenges of a wide gap between the wealthy and poor, China is well placed to manage these issues on an internal win-win model that is tailor made to meet the challenges of the 21st century in a manner that allows the economy to grow while continuing to bolster the living standards of the people.