Reading recommendations – about demography
Important and interesting articles and reports published recently about demographics, one of the invisible yet almost irresistible forces re-shaping our world.
- “Happy Warrior“, Mark Steyn, National Review, 21 April 2009 — A great little note about demography.
- “The Graying of the Middle Kingdom Revisited“, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 22 April 2009
- “Drunken Nation: Russia’s Depopulation Bomb“, Nicholas Eberstadt, World Affairs, Spring 2009 – Chilling reading about Russia’s demographic decline.
(1) “Happy Warrior“, Mark Steyn, National Review, 21 April 2009 — Excerpt:
Whenever I write about demography, I usually get a ton of responses from folks saying: What’s so bad about falling population? Japan, Belgium and the like are pretty congested: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit more elbow room? Sure. With the rise of mill towns in the south and the opening up of the west, the population of my small municipality in New Hampshire peaked in the 1820 census, declined till 1940 and still hasn’t caught up to where it was 200 years ago. But it didn’t matter. Because we were a self-contained rural economy with no welfare and no public debt.
If Japan and Germany were run like 19th century Granite State townships, they’d be okayish. But they’re not, so they won’t be. You can’t hunker down behind national borders when there aren’t enough young people inside the perimeter with a sufficient level of consumption to grow the economy at the rate necessary to cover existing government obligations.
This is the first crisis of globalization, and it is a far more existential threat than the Depression. In living beyond its means, its times, and its borders, the developed world has run out of places to pass the buck.
(2) “The Graying of the Middle Kingdom Revisited“, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 22 April 2009 — Synopsis:
China’s Long March to Retirement Reform: The Graying of the Middle Kingdom Revisited warns that the aging of China’s population could usher in a new era of slower economic growth and mounting social stress as tens of millions of Chinese arrive at old age over the next few decades without pensions and with inadequate family support. The report evaluates recent government efforts to prepare for the challenge and outlines an ambitious new reform plan. The plan provides for a universal poverty backstop that would protect all Chinese against an uncertain old age. It would also create a national and fully portable system of funded retirement accounts that would allow a growing share of China’s elderly to enjoy a comfortable retirement without overburdening China’s smaller working generation.
With China confronting a serious near-term economic slowdown, some may conclude that now is not the right time to address the long-term aging challenge. The CSIS report argues that China’s age wave is approaching so fast-and its potential economic and social costs are so large-that delay is not an option. Concerted action on the long-term challenge is needed now to ensure that China’s economic fundamentals remain strong as recovery begins. Indeed, it may even hasten recovery by bolstering confidence in the government’s economic and social stewardship.
This report is a follow-up to “The Graying of the Middle Kingdom: The Demographics and Economics of Retirement Policy in China“, The Center for Strategic & International Studies, April 2004.
(3) “Drunken Nation: Russia’s Depopulation Bomb“, Nicholas Eberstadt, World Affairs, Spring 2009 – Chilling reading about Russia’s demographic decline. Excerpt:
A specter is haunting Russia today. It is not the specter of Communism—that ghost has been chained in the attic of the past—but rather of depopulation—a relentless, unremitting, and perhaps unstoppable depopulation. The mass deaths associated with the Communist era may be history, but another sort of mass death may have only just begun, as Russians practice what amounts to an ethnic self-cleansing.
Since 1992, Russia’s human numbers have been progressively dwindling. This slow motion process now taking place in the country carries with it grim and potentially disastrous implications that threaten to recast the contours of life and society in Russia, to diminish the prospects for Russian economic development, and to affect Russia’s potential influence on the world stage in the years ahead.
… It is not obvious that Russia will be able to recover rapidly from its health katastroika. There is an enormous amount of “negative health momentum” in the Russian situation today: with younger brothers facing worse survival prospects than older brothers, older brothers facing worse survival prospects than their fathers, and so on. Severely foreshortened adult life spans can shift the cost-benefit calculus for investments in training and higher education dramatically. On today’s mortality patterns, a Swiss man at 20 has about an 87 percent chance of making it to a notional retirement age of 65. His Russian counterpart at age 20 has less than even odds of reaching 65. Harsh excess mortality levels impose real and powerful disincentives for the mass acquisition of the technical skills that are a key to wealth generation in the modern world. Thus Russia’s health crisis may be even more generally subversive of human capital, and more powerfully corrosive of human resources, than might appear to be the case at first glance.
Putin’s Kremlin made a fateful bet that natural resources—oil, gas, and other extractive saleable commodities—would be the springboard for the restoration of Moscow’s influence as a great power on the world stage. In this gamble, Russian authorities have mainly ignored the nation’s human resource crisis. During the boom years—Russia’s per capita income roughly doubled between 1998 and 2007—the country’s death rate barely budged. Very much worse may lie ahead. How Russia’s still-unfolding demographic disaster will affect the country’s domestic political situation—and its international security posture—are questions that remain to be answered.
This article builds upon this study: “Demography and development in Russia“, UN Development Program, 28 April 2008.
For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest are:
Posts on the FM site about demographics:
- Another front in the geopolitical struggles shaping our world, 3 June 2008
- “The Return of Patriarchy“ – a classic article about demography, 5 June 2008
- More news about Russia’s demographic collapse, 6 June 2008
- The War Nerd discovers van Creveld’s “power of weakness”, and demography, 18 July 2008
- Demographic note for today…, 20 December 2008