Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Interesting reading

It has been commented on elsewhere in the blogosphere and it is quite long, but this Nicholas Eberstadt piece from Policy Review on the demographics of Europe and Asia is pretty much compulsory reading. The basic issue is that fertility has dropped virtually everywhere, the UN medium variant overstates population and the UN low variant might be a better estimate, and that almost everywhere we have dramatically dropping fertility and rapidly aging populations. Japan is much commented on and although Japan is certainly not going to take over the world with its demographics as they are, Japan is so rich that it probably can cope. (Also, Japan is such an advanced economy that it is reasonable for people to work longer, because its economy isn't terribly labour intensive). On the other hand, the one child policy in China was a huge mistake, and the demographic consequences could be catastrophic. China's population is aging faster than anything else, and when China hits its demographic crisis it will not be rich, and will have no developed pension system and it will be harder for people to stay in the workforce because jobs in China will be more labour intensive. India faces a much less dramatic demographic precipice, but the same issues do ultimately come up there too. What China and India have in common is their sex ratios are unbalanced, due to a strong preference for boys and the presence of the technology to allow sex determination and abortions. The consequences of this may not be nice either.

What is extraordinary though is the demographic dynamism of the United States. The combination of immigration and higher fertility means that its population is going to actually grow faster than that of almost anywhere else in Eurasia, including India, China and Indonesia. It's place as the third most populous country in the world is in no danger, and in fact it is pulling away. What do we deduce from this? For one thing, don't look for the economic and political power of the US to decline any time soon. This is one little indicator suggesting that when the Americans say they are exceptional, they are right.

But go read the whole thing. It is fascinating, although it doesn't discuss the demographics of the Middle East or of Africa. Much of the Middle East continues to grow like crazy in population terms, but seems to lake the other cultural features needed to do anything useful with the extra population (Human capital is the best thing you can possibly have if you can then use it. But there do seem to be some countries that, at this point in their development at least, are unable to do so. And AIDS is doing horrendous things to the demographics of Africa.

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