Demography is destiny

Comte was right about that. This excellent article, “Power and Population in Asia”, by Nicholas Eberstadt (via Arts & Letters) gives a 40,000 ft. overview and rundown on the major players on the Pacific side.

Eberstadt discusses the ongoing Russian demographic disaster. “In absolute arithmetic terms, this Russian mortality crisis qualifies as a catastrophe of historic proportions. … Russia’s burden of illness today, however, is not primarily communicable and infectious, but instead overwhelmingly chronic and/or behavioral — the sorts of problems that are seldom susceptible to quick, cheap medical fixes. … At any given age … today’s Russians are more likely to succumb to fatal risk than their parents.” Zaire with permafrost indeed. At this rate, in the next few decades, Russia will exit the scene forever as a major power. A continent-sized power vacuum is opening up in Eurasia. Woo hoo. Stay tuned.

Eberstadt also discusses Japan’s slide into senility:

But the most extreme and extraordinary instance of population aging will be witnessed in Japan. By [2050] … almost 30 percent of Japan’s populace will be 65 or older, and almost every ninth Japanese will be 80 or older. This future Japan would have very nearly as many octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians as children under 15 — and would have barely two persons of traditional “working age” (as the 15–64 cohort is often, not unreasonably, construed) for every person of notional “retirement age” (65 and over).

Maybe the Japanese can keep workers active, operating manufacturing robots from their wheel chairs. And maybe the Japanese will set up training camps in the former North Korea (once the Commie regime disintegrates) to teach the half-starved, illiterate victims of Communism to be “guest workers” who can live in barracks outside of town and be bussed in to change the bed pans. Whatever happens, this all bodes ill for any hope of a raging Japanese economy in the years ahead. An old-folks home is not going to be a cockpit of economic vibrancy. No way. Remember Paul Kennedy’s prediction, that Japan was going to surpass the USA? Duh, no.

So Russia and Japan are sliding off into the Sunset. OK. Now, what about that 800 lb gorilla?

China’s population growth has flattened off. So, the short version is “they’re big, they’ll stay big, but they are not getting lot’s bigger.” But Eberstadt downplays what I think is the big news, the incipient disaster in China as a result of their “girl shortage” due to sex-selection abortions:

It does not seem wild, however, to propose that the emergence and rise of the phenomenon of the “unmarriageable male” may occasion an increase of social tensions in China — and perhaps social turbulence as well. Exactly how China’s future cohorts of young men are to be socialized with no prospect of settled family life and no tradition of honorable bachelorhood is a question that can be asked today, but not answered.

Sure it can. One way to answer the question is by reference to other countries and other times, as was done in the more alarmist and believable essay “A Surplus of Men, a Deficit of Peace: Security and Sex Ratios in Asia’s Largest States”. Short answer: All Hell is going to break loose in a Confucian society where 15% of the men can never get married. Things could get ugly. Again, stay tuned.

Eberstadt notes that India faces much the same problem, with many, many baby girls aborted. But India seems to me to be a more resilient society, with a functioning democracy, courts, free press, etc., i.e. its Anglospheric inheritance. So, I think India is a stronger society even if less stable-seeming on the surface, not relying so much on political repression to keep a brittle sort of order, like China. Also, India seems to be embarking on genuine economic liberalization, with the dismantling of the “license Raj” which means it is poised for major growth. And India seems likely to have more balanced growth than China does. (See the much-cited article, Can India Overtake China?, and this.) So, I am hopeful that India will have a strong economy and polity and be better able to withstand the mayhem when the consequences of this not-enough-girls thing start to become apparent. Fingers crossed.

Another thing. In a society with a shortage of women, the big losers are likely to be the women themselves. When they are in short supply, that are treated less as autonomous beings and more as scarce and valuable chattels. (Rodney Stark discusses the status of females in Roman society in The Rise of Christianity — the Romans practiced female infanticide and had a chronic deficit of adult women.) The struggle for women’s’ rights in the countries where they are 45% of the population will be dramatic indeed in the years ahead.

To a Jacksonian like me, the bottom-line best news from Eberstadt is this:

[T]he United States is [projected] to grow from 285 million in 2000 to 358 million in 2025. In absolute terms, this would be by far the greatest increase projected for any industrialized society; in relative terms, this projected 26 percent increment would almost exactly match the proportional growth of the Asia/Eurasia region as a whole. Under these trajectories, the United States would remain the world’s third most populous country in 2025, and by the early 2020s, the U.S. population growth rate — a projected 0.7 percent per year — would in this scenario actually be higher than that of Indonesia, Thailand, or virtually any country in East Asia, China included.

This is further support for the article in the Economist last year entitled “Half a billion Americans?” which reported the “shocking” news from America’s decennial census of a far higher fertility rate than expected. That plus continuing to be the world’s immigration magnet means that America is going to have a far younger, more dynamic work force than Europe over the coming decades. (I must quote Gary Brecher’s current War Nerd column: “How do you Europeans live with yourselves? You used to BE somebody. Now look at you. Can’t breed, can’t fight, won’t stand up for yourselves…makes me sick.” Yes. (BTW, read it; it’s good as usual; it’s about Libya.))

Our destiny appears to be more Americans to work, think, create, innovate, invent, invest, build, trade, buy, sell … and, when necessary, to visit swift and crushing devastation on those who would do us harm. Good. Good. Sounds good. (Getting everybody “assimilated” remains an issue — but we’ll deal with that … .)

All in all, I like the demographic cards we are holding.

God bless America, the young, dynamic world-nation of the 21st Century.

17 thoughts on “Demography <i>is</i> destiny”

  1. The problem with Europe is that the Socialist Welfare States have rendered males more and more redundant.Here in the UK males are increasingly neotenic,living with their parents into their 30s and 40s.In dress and behaviour there is often little to distinguish a 12 year old from a 30 year old.Sex is freely available and often young males have no incentive to raise a family even if they father one.
    Incidentally the history of Sparta makes interesting reading.

  2. In India, women are a commodity…. sure maybe not in Bangalore where they take IT and customer service jobs from deserving Americans but elsewhere in suburban India parents who have female children now “sell” them to the highest bidder – no longer does the bride’s family provide the dowry! Pity the poor man …… or not, after all, commodities get stolen as do women of marriageable age. Kidnapping young girls to hold as future brides is also on the rise. Much press in the Asian region on this – I suspect the same is true in China but as the govt controls the press we won’t know about it until they want us to!

  3. “Maybe the Japanese can keep workers active, operating manufacturing robots from their wheel chairs. And maybe the Japanese will set up training camps in the former North Korea (once the Commie regime disintegrates) to teach the half-starved, illiterate victims of Communism to be “guest workers” who can live in barracks outside of town and be bussed in to change the bed pans. Whatever happens, this all bodes ill for any hope of a raging Japanese economy in the years ahead.”

    Only if we have worldwide stagnation in medical technology (which we very well could, courtesy of National Health Care). Otherwise, we should easily have a working anti-aging treatment by 2050.

    Maybe some of those countries where a higher population has a more immediate need for such treatments will eschew controls and limitations and invite researchers to come in and play with stem cells to their hearts’ content.

    Anyway, if that sort of technology comes onstage, a high average age might turn into an advantage; all of the vigor of youth plus lots of experience.

    “In India, women are a commodity…. sure maybe not in Bangalore where they take IT and customer service jobs from deserving Americans but elsewhere in suburban India parents who have female children now “sell” them to the highest bidder – no longer does the bride’s family provide the dowry!”

    This bodes well for the future. Parents who think they might get money out of the deal will be more likely to want baby girls. Maybe if the overshoot the mark, in 20 years they’ll have a glut of women. Stay tuned.

  4. Lex,

    Before rushing to draw too many conclusions from the most recent demographic projections, it’s perhaps worth considering these latest estimates with those that were in vogue a generation ago… in the 1970’s, say. This would allow perspective and forestall pacing too much faith in a “science” that has been so fantastically inaccurate in the past. “Destiny” implies unalterability, and this has yet to turn out to be supported by world events or history, especially in demographics (or economics). (Perhaps we’re living in a Soviet “workers paradise” and just don’t know it? Probably not.)

    In addition, it would be a miracle if the assumptions that are taken axiomatic in order to provide the foundations upon with these projections are based turned out to be as certain as the statisticians seem to believe. If history teaches it’s student anything, it is that he should be wary of forgetting his disipline cannot, by definition, be empirical or rigorous. And that history is never more than a prologue. For every academic that made accurate predictions 40 years ago, I feel very safe in pointing out that there were 100 more who were completely wrong in most respects. The irony of tenure is that in insulates the incompetent from ever having to acknowledge they were wrong or be held accountable (or even to stop teaching falsehood).

    If we forget the 100 fools in order to honor the single “genius” in retrospect, then it is we who are the true fools for mistaking accident for intent. Multiply this by a thousand intellectuals and academics constantly publishing, and like the one in a billion Shakespere-typing monkey, one or two nearly ALWAYS have guessed correctly. It should occur to us that the trick isn’t identifying the correct guess in hindsight, but rather before the comedy or tragedy our “genius” predicts has actually come to pass.

    As an example of what I’m speaking of… here’s a link to a CIA analysist’s prediction in 1997 of what happened in 9/11/01:

    The author seems to have been a genuine oracle. But wait. Consider all the “Intelligence” analysis in 1997, hundereds of thousands of pages written by hundreds of Phd’s and “experts”. Should we have had the foresight to see that the above analysis was the correct one in 2000?

    This said, there’s any number of trends and policy to be derived from demographics studies. But without more specific detail, I don’t think we should accept their arguments conclusions without more consideration.

  5. China and India are both relatively prosperous compared to the bottom tier of the world’s populations and are becoming more so. Many of the surplus men of he coming generations there will probably be able to import mail-order brides from the poorest lands — shoving the demographic crisis down those places. Well, at least the poorest countries aren’t likely to have nukes, wheras China and India already do.

  6. Alexander Crawford: Nick Eberstadt and his colleague Murray Feshbach correctly analyized the decline of the Soviet Union well before its final colapse.

  7. Robert,

    Are we seriously to consider their prediction that the USSR socio-political system wouldn’t work to be a deep insight? If so shouldn’t we give due credit to Aristophanes, who seems to have been making fun of the same socio-economic premises (and rhetoric) 2500 years ago. Ever since Plato wrote the Republic there’s been a succession of Utopic philosophies differing mainly in style while remaining substantively unchanged. How is Trotsky’s concept of “world revolution” substantively different from the French revolutions “Edict of Brotherhood”?

    My point is that the question of “when” isn’t the same as the question of “why”. Nor is the answer to the former question as it relates to the demise of a given political system other than a unique collection of incompletely known variables we generally cobble together after the fact to explain the obvious. But as to the latter question… it takes no great insight to expect certain premises to lead to an outcome that has been the rule without exception in history.

    Likewise, I think it’d be very unwise to think that Russia’s territorial integrity is necessarily related to it’s demographics. A very small elite controls Russia’s nuclear arsenal, and as long as it is in the US’s interest for that stockpile to remain off the world blackmarket we will go to very great lengths to make sure Russias rulers are given no reason to stop cooperating.

    The down side of using zero-sum game theory to hasten the end of the Soviet era is the fact that Moscow is itself in a position today to demand of the world the same zero sum existence. Do any of us doubt that had Hitler had the means at hand to predicate the continued existence of the world upon his own that he’d have hestitated? Do any of us believe that Israel would show mercy were it’s enemies to succeed in it’s destruction?

  8. i disagree with the idea that indian and chinese women will be the big losers from female infanticide. not that i have any actual info to back it up, but it seems like with scarcity, the value of women in india and china will increase. the males will have to marry somebody.

  9. I’m with Bhaskar on this one, how is that a scarcity of women automatically results in “Chattelization” -assuming laws are reasonable fair- one would think the “value” of women would increase with scarcity.

    i.e. Women will go to the guys with more to offer, and leave the guys who are jerks & losers, and given enough demographic pressure, any stigma of divorce would be dramatically lessened. ( at least statistically)

  10. Yes, having fewer women makes each one more valuable, the more so as a society modernizes and personal productivity increases. The situation is analogous to that of businesses under a protectionist political regime: business may suffer overall, individual businesses in other countries will suffer, and consumers will suffer, but individual businesses in the “protected” nation will benefit. In the case of a demographic sex imbalance, women and their families will benefit and individual men will pay higher costs.

    And kidnapping women will be more attractive. However, the way to deal with it is to assign each individual’s ownership to himself and to punish kidnapping, not to pretend that people don’t have property value. Domestic animals are better protected than are wild animals, because it’s possible to own domestic animals and the owner has a strong incentive to protect the animal so as not to lose its value. That’s true for people too, especially if they own themselves.

  11. Alexander Crawford–Trotsky’s “World Revolution” is substantively different from the “Edict of Brotherhood” because the former relied on the Hegelian Dialectic and the latter did not.

    There is a lot more, but that is substance enough for a comment box.

  12. I was scrolling through way too quickly and for a second Jonathan’s comment read along the lines of “And kidnapping attractive women will be better protected than are wild animals”.

    I like how this man thinks. Specially the subliminal part.

  13. I don’t disagree with you Bhaskar & Fred – you would think that being a scarce resource would surely increase the value of the resource (if not the worth). Anywhere else in the world that would be true, however, we are talking about women in China & India – last I looked neither country had laws especially fair or reasonable. Women and young girls are “stolen” and parents do sell their daughters.

    On the upside, now that females are of recognised value more will survive infanticide and hopefully balance out the equation over the next 20 or 30 years. Jonathan I doubt that the Chinese govt will grant rights of any kind, let alone those of self ownership.

    An interesting aside, and total hearsay at that, I have a friend who regularly visits China for business (at least that is his story!) and he tells me that because of the shortage of women, men there are choosing to live in homosexual relationships. (Choosing might be too strong a word here – after all, what really is the choice?)

  14. George,

    Fichtean, not Hegelian. But I’ll just conceed anyhoo.

    It’s unclear when I consider Trotsky, to know whether to apply Hegels ‘Werden’ in order to conceive “A” morphing into “not A”, or rather “Not A” werden into “A”. But regardless, despite a thesis that “A” cannot be “not A” and an antithesis that “A” is “not A”, the synthesis is a demonstration of why global capitalism is doomed. It’s an internal contradiction!

  15. Alexander–We’ll have to disagree about the influence of Hegel. Didn’t Marx boast that he had stood Hegel on his head by ridding his Dialectic of all the geist stuff and replacing it with materialism?

    Anyway, the substantial differences between 20th century Marxists and French Revolutionaries are quite a few. The French famously installed a goddess of Reason in Notre Dame, in a sort of bow to the Englightenment.

    Marx, on the other hand, insisted, ” Philosophers have sought to know (understand)the world; the point, however, is to change it.”

    With the emphasis on Will (over reason) and praxis, Marx, Trotsky, Lenin and the others are closer to Nietzsche than the French revolutionaries, who looked back towards Voltaire, Rousseau, etc.

    Another big difference that comes in via the Dialectic is the certainty that one class (the workers) will eventually triumph. It is impossible for them not to. The unfolding of history will stop, and the worker’s paradise will be its final synthesis. The “Realm of Freedom” will replace the “Realm of Necessity” and there could never be a falling back. That all seems pretty substantively different from the views of the French revolutionaries.

    One thing I hope we can agree on is that both of these movements were shot through with superstition. There is a sense in which they shared a teleology despite all the substantive differences. By my lights, Eric Voegelin best captured that shared teleology (shared by more than just these two phenomena) in his phrase, “Immanentizing the Eschaton”

    All Best! Shoot low, they’re riding Shetlands!

  16. Eberstadt’s article is well worth reading, but the point pertinent to the comments is that he is not talking primarily about fertility predictions (which are, as noted, unreliable) but about the demographic implications for the population of those people already born, specifically of the male-female birth imbalance in parts of India and China, where it has reached 130 male to 100 female in some places.

    Eberstadt says:
    And it is hard to see how Beijing will be able to mitigate China’s escalating “bride deficit” through any deliberate policy actions for at least a generation (unless of course Beijing stumbles upon a method of manufacturing full-grown Chinese women on demand).

  17. George,

    I was making fun of Hegel (heh).

    Full disclosure: I’m not particularly impressed by Marx, but could be laboring under a delusion of Libertarian freedom;)

    I agree that the rhetoric used in each is unique, but the substantive goals, socially, economically, and logically, aren’t particularly different from those used by the Athenian demagogues and aristocrats in turn. Basically… dialectic, whether describing Platos methods or Marx’s, suffers from the same defect. Philosophers that rely on it always always always end up believing that they’ve “proven” some universal categorical proposition via their deductive method without grasping that their subject (like natural science) only lends itself to the conditional and general claims of logically inductive systems.

    Thus because abtract concepts like “value”, “society”, “good”, “equality”, &etc. are particularly and subjectively understood, and possess conventional meanings that vary across time and culture, one can never in practice rely on much in the way of universal declarations for core premises… tautologies, sure. Mathematics in general, sure. Politics? God? Social mores? No way.

    This is the difficulty in using statistics. If a proposition is a tautology (or axiomatic), then one shouldn’t need statistical support for a universal claim. If a proposition requires a premise only demonstrable via a statistical analysis of particular cases, then the conclusion is ALWAYS conditional and bounded, in which case it can’t be said to be universal. The same is true for the type of casual definitions that formed the basis of both The Rupublic, the Great Committee, and Marxist/Leninist reasoning.

    Probably I’m just taking the problem too seriously….

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