On the unnecessary nature of much regulation


I will admit that much of my personal opposition to the swamp of regulations in which we find ourselves is that I personally cannot stand being told what to do: I'll find my own way to my grave thank you very much. This isn't, I'll also admit, all that strong an argument as a public or political policy against regulation. My personal wants or desires only become such when they are widely shared.

However, there is a much stronger argument against said regulation: it doesn't actually do what it sets out to do. Take, for example, what is possibly the world's strictest single set of regulations, China's "one child policy". Strict in the sense that no one else has even dreamed of imposing such a restriction on that most private and personal of decisions, whether to have a child or not (umm, that should probably read "children", shouldn't it?).

Even the most cursory reading around on the subject will show that all agree that, however vile the actual imposition has been (forced abortions and all that) it has been effective. It has reduced China's birth rate below what it would otherwise have been.

Except, well, even that doesn't seem to be true:

According to the paper, the population of the county has grown over the 25-year period of the scheme by 20.7 per cent, which is nearly five percentage points lower than the national average, despite families being allowed two children.

Over that same 25 year period China has had the greatest growth in the population's wealth ever in that nation's long history. As with what has happened everywhere else people have got rich(er) birth rates would have fallen anyway. And when people were freer they had fewer children, in aggregate, than those who were tightly regulated as to their fertility.

So even this, the poster child (sorry) for necessary and effective regulation, turns out not to be quite what it seems. A little more liberty, a few more markets and the increased wealth that both bring are more effective at reducing population growth than strict regulations. Or, if you prefer, economic liberty, the world's greatest contraceptive.