Friday, February 21, 2003

This piece by James Pinkerton (via 2Glenn) asks whether western civilization is in demographic decline. He talks about the demographic decline of Europe, and asks what this means for the future of the continent. I think the situation regarding Europe is indeed troubling. If the population of Italy drops by half, then other groups of people - probably from North Africa - will come to fill the gap. Given the ageing of the Italian population, Italy will need them, and when it comes down to it, countries do not stay empty, and North Africans have been flowing over the Mediterranean into Europe when the opportunity arrives for millennia. The unpleasant part of the question comes when we question how smooth (or otherwise) this change will be. Given how badly assimilated most North African Muslims are in southern Europe at the moment (especially in France), and that the news over the last 18 months has been dominated by the actions of the sorts of people who rant that "The Andalusian catastrophe must not be repeated" and the like, one doesn't initially feel optimistic. However, we are talking long term, hundred year or more trends here. And cultures do change in that time, or at least different parts of the cultures wax and wane. (Look at the history of Germany over 150 years). It may be that we are at a time when this prospect appears more extreme than it actually is, and that in 50 or 100 years time North Africa may have gone through the equivalent of the Enlightenment (or at least the Reformation).

As to the rest of the world, the prospect of America's ethnic makeup changing concerns me not much at all. America is not an ethnic nation. This is its greatest strength. It has an extraordinary ability to turn immigrants into Americans. (Why were all the September 11 hijackers based in Europe? Because American muslim immigrants are too busy being patriotic Americans. Yes, it is on the whole really like that). It is inevitable that America will have a very different makeup in 100 years than it does today, but I just don't think it matters much. There is a very good chance that the people who live there will have very similar values and very similar respect for democracy that Americans do today. And if that is true, who seriously gives a shit about the colours of people's skins. (I feel similarly about my native Australia. It is not as good at turning immigrants into Australians as America is turning them into Americans, but it is still pretty good at it).

But as to the question as to whether the muslim world can turn into a (or the) major influence in the world in that time, I really doubt it. To succeed you need the right demographics (ie lots of young people) and you need to be able to use that human capital effectively. At the moment, the muslim world (or at least the Middle Eastern and North African muslim world) is so backwards that it just cannot do this. It it starts doing this, which as I say above is not out of the question, then it has a tremendous amount of catching up to do. And this will take time.

And as for the rest of the world, Japan is completely screwed. They have a worse demographic problem than Italy, and their hostility to immigration of any kind is such that it will take enormous changes before they do anthing other than grow old and decline. I am very pessimistic about this country. As for China, their long term growth has been hobbled badly by their one child policy. To the eyes of seventies Malthusians this looked like a good idea, but today it looks to have been pretty dumb. They will grow for a decade or two yet, but then they will hit their demographic time bomb.

The key question is really India. India does have the demographics, and has the beginnings of the industrial base. (What they do not have at the moment is the infrastructure. Possibly the one thing that Indian governments need to try to achieve above all else is the beginnings of an infrastructure building binge as has been occurring in China). This isnt a short term issue, but in the longer term I am more optimistic about India than I am about China. And as far as the question of whether this worries me, it doesn't much. India is a culturally dynamic place, a democracy, and its political and cultural elites tend to have what some people might refer to as Angloshere values. I rather like the Indians, and I think their importance in the world is often dramatically underestimated.

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