Razib from Gene Expression has brought up a topic that I've occasionally wondered about: whether the Chinese will advance more rapidly thru genetic engineering due having less philosophical or ethical opposition to the idea:
My opinion is that because the Han people tend not to be encumbered by the same ethical limitations due to individual rights they will make great advances in human genetic engineering. I even think they'll tailor soldiers-and create something of an army of clones .
Ethical considerations aside, there are reason to expect progeny genetic engineering will be widely used in the USA before the same happens in China. We have to consider the economic environment, the regulatory environment, and the motives and knowledge of the prospective parents.
The first economic consideration is the higher living standards in America. Initial technologies for genetically enhancing progeny will be very expensive. There are more people in the US who will be able to afford them than in China. Also, since there is a lot more money available for research and for venture capital start-ups in America most of the work currently being done to develop faster, cheaper DNA sequencing machines, gene therapy, and other relevant technologies is happening in the USA. So the first businesses that start up to offer progeny genetic engineering services will probably be started in the USA. Of course higher US regulatory barriers could easily cancel out that advantage.
At first glance the regulatory advantage appears to be in China's court. The Chinese government probably will not stand in the way of initial attempts to provide genetic enhancements to create higher IQ children. But there is one reason why this may not turn out to be the case: High IQ people are harder to politically control. Also, if Chinese parents decide they want to have children with more aggressive personalities the mainland Chinese regime may see these personality types as an additional threat to autocratic regime stability. By contrast, higher IQs and more assertive personalities pose less of a threat to the US political system (anyone want to speculate about what the US political system would be like with higher IQ and more assertive people?). So will the Chinese leaders choose regime stability over competitive edge? It is possible.
Then we come to the prospective parents. Currently the US has an advantage in the amount of knowledge available to its citizens. That advantage is shrinking as more mainland Chinese gain access to the internet. If only a quarter of Chinese parents get access to the same amount of knowledge as Americans have access to then they will have roughly the same total number of people who can make informed choices. The other issue here is incentives facing the parents. Will American or Chinese parents feel more incentive to have brighter kids? On one hand the ethical issues (of a neo-Luddite sort that I think ridiculous - but they exist in the minds of many) will weigh more heavily in the minds of American parents. At the same time, the practice of competing with others is more deeply rooted in American culture. SUV driving Yuppies will be faced with the prospect that their kids won't be able to get into the same quality colleges as they attended because the Joneses and Smiths down the road are genetically engineering their kids (via trips to other countries with more lax regulatory regimes). At that point the attitudes of the Suburban moms toward genetically engineering their own kids may shift in favor of being able to use this new kind of advantage because this advantage will be seen as having far greater value than foreign language immersion with the au pairs, Suzuki piano lessons, or getting the kids into the top local expensive private schools (which will be raising their standards anyhow when brighter genetically engineered kids start applying.
The competitive forces in the US favor the choice to genetically engineer at the personal level. Once the competitive urges of suburbanites come to the fore it will take only one overwhelming Congressional vote to dissolve the regulatory obstacles. You can bet that the US national security establishment will line up with the ambitious suburbanites to support greater freedom of progeny genetic engineering. Then the American per capita GDP advantage will do the rest.
Okay Razib, what do you think of this argument?
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2002 October 12 03:45 PM Biotech Society|