On May 1 of this year citizens of Shanghai, China could see their credit scores go down if they do not “visit or send greeting often” to their parents. It gives the right to parents to file a lawsuit against their children for neglect. The law is “aimed at better protecting the rights and interests of senior citizens” which is hard to argue with but the method by doing so is peculiar.
Typically the government protects its senior citizens through government programs that are funded by taxes like Social Security or Medicaid. Changing behavior is a very difficult thing to do and is even less likely to be successful when imposed by an impersonal entity like the government. Beijing announced it is embarking on a massive “social credit” system tracking what people are saying on social media. That makes sense in a defacto authoritarian state but, those crazy in-laws aside, we should all be taking care of the elderly.
Yet be fooled that the Chinese government is acting out of benevolence. All governments would love if the social services they provided were taken up by individuals so they could shift their spending elsewhere. Entitlement spending is essentially dead money because it has to be spent and therefore pet projects get sidelined. There are no ribbon cutting ceremonies for paying out pensions. Only revolts when they aren’t paid.
By 2018 Shanghai will be home to over 5 million residents who will be 60 or older. Due to China’s One Child Policy, China is getting old much quicker than most societies should. The government sees the wave coming and knows that they will have a tough time accommodating its senior citizens. Policies like this one are in an effort to shoulder the burden that the Chinese government knows that is will have a tough time with.
Shanghai has often been an experimental city with Chinese policy because it has always had strong government ties. Ties which were entrenched with its state-led development of the 1990s. Therefore order must be maintained for their rule to be maintained.
The law itself is vague and not explicit on how often children must visit their parents but it is nevertheless peculiar to see the hand of the state intrude in such a fashion. It will be interesting to see if the law is extended to other cities or provinces but in the meantime let us all make sure we are taking care of our parents and grandparents. Before of course the government says we have to.