Though as learned, as curious, and as wise as he is, Munger is still an imperfect human, and imperfect humans (as we all are) will suffer fits of stupidity. Munger’s fits are rarer than most, but when given room to run, as he was at the recent Daily Journal shareholders meeting, they will occur. One must be a discerning listener to recognize them, but the discerning listener will recognize them.
To wit: Munger offered a conciliatory observation of the Chinese government and its former one-child policy. Munger claimed that the Chinese government "needed to prevent 500 million or 600 million people from being born." Munger continued to tell us how the Chinese government accomplished its mandate. Munger's words: "They [Chinese government] measured the women's menstrual period when they came to work and aborted those [fetuses of the pregnant women] who were not allowed to have children." Munger condoned this ultimate of interventions, saying that "it needed doing.”
Munger failed to expound why "it needed doing." Permit me to expound. It needed doing to mitigate the damage imposed by previous stupid acts involving privilege and economics. China, in the government's eyes, was experiencing too much of you and the right amount of me. The Chinese government was the "me" and everyone else was the "you."
The Chinese government's abortion policy was instituted to counter the assured scarcity that arises when it mandated the stupidest form of economy – communism. Because the government was privileged, it wanted to ensure its rice bowl remained intact. The right amount of me, the Chinese government, failed to consider, or failed to acknowledge, most likely ignored for its benefit, that a capitalist economy solves the problem of too many "you." If you're privileged, why bother?
Those of us inclined toward empathy would have recognized the solution to a growing population -- capitalism. A problem to solve is a profit opportunity. A capitalist economy, guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand, is sure to solve the problems of the day. To assert that 500 million to 600 million potential citizens “needed doing” away with is a stupid assertion given the empirical evidence the economies of western Europe, Japan, and the United States offer.
Munger's stupidity arises for failing to consider the unseen (a lousy economic policy) and its relation to the seen (the abortion policy). Munger's strain of thinking on China and its abortion solution can be likened to thanking the man who shoves you into the lake and then saves your life by fishing you out. Never mind that the man also pinches your wallet and car keys as he slogs your body onto the peer. I suppose the saving needed doing, but the needed doing never should have been needed.
I offer proof that the abortions that “needing doing” never should have been done. Since the China communists legislated in favor of freer markets, entrepreneurs have emerged to solve the problems of the day -- an expanding population being one. China's population at 1.4 billion perches at an all-time high... and so does GDP per capital. Now, guess what the omniscient potentates of China are not mandating, but encouraging? More children.
China's stupid act in response to a previous stupid act still reverberates through the county today, as evinced by disequilibrium of the sexes. Men today outnumber women by forty-two million in mainland China. Population growth might slow when you eliminate half a billion potential citizens, but frustration rises. What's the solution to that problem? Don't ask, and if we are lucky, they won't tell.
I hold Charlie Munger in high regard. I’ll also admit to using the word “stupid” facetiously, and possibly incorrectly. To act stupidly is to act counter to your interest when you know better. Munger might have been speaking stupidly on China’s abortion policy, but I suspect he was really speaking ignorantly. I give him the benefit of the doubt because of his reputation. Besides, speaking ignorantly is preferable to speaking stupidly.