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Historically, demographics has been a slow-moving variable. But the East Asian economies — especially China, Japan and South Korea — have flipped so fast from rapid population growth to decline that they practically have whiplash.

As a planned economy, China was once obsessed with expanding its population. But, in 1957, the economist Ma Yinchu published “The New Theory of Population” and cautioned that this trend would soon begin to undermine China’s economic development. Though the government initially criticized his theory unfairly, Chinese leaders eventually took his warnings to heart, encouraging family planning as a way to promote economic growth.

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