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The trouble with ‘good’ demographics

Apr 10


Declining birth rates throughout much of Western Europe and America, and in other developed nations like Japan, have alarmed social scientists. Concern is most acute in nations where a shrinking workforce will be expected to pay for the rising costs of a much larger retiring population. But on the opposite end of this spectrum, rapid population growth can also destabilize a developing nation’s economy, depending on how that growth occurs.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan observes that rising life expectancies, not births, are the root cause for much of the population growth in nations like China, and he warns that those nations might be headed for economic collapse without an influx of younger workers. But even for nations with healthy demographics and rising birth rates, Zeihan adds, a reliance on imported medical tools and technology will emerge as a key vulnerability in the years ahead.

Everyone, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado, we’re taking a entry from lost a limb in the start. Anyway, we’re taking an entry from the ask Peter forum, it relates to demographics. The question is I talk a lot about declining demographics and the impact that’s going to have. But what about countries that have sky high birth rates? Is this a good is is a bad is this another thing? The two that come to mind are Yemen and Nigeria, both of which have birth rates that are just ridiculously high? How sustainable is this? What’s the impact? Good question. I generally look at birth rates when I’m looking at more advanced economies where the industrial technologies have been in place for decades, when you’re talking about the quote younger economies where industrialization is more recent, there’s a couple other statistics you need to look at. The first is infant mortality, and especially child mortality under five years of age, see how likely is it that a child that who’s born is going to make it to five, and then second is life expectancy overall, is what happens when a country starts to industrialize is they don’t just get concrete and pavement and buildings and rebar and electricity. They also get vaccines and medical care. And this drastically decreases the death rate among the young and drastically increases the average age of mortality among the older folks. So what we’re seeing in Yemen, and especially Nigeria, is a steady inroads of these new technologies into the population. So it’s not just that the birth rate is high. Oftentimes, for these countries that are early in the early industrializing period, the recovery is very high. The question is whether or not the children survive. And then the question is whether the adults survive. So take the example of China from roughly 1985 until roughly 2015, the population doubled. But almost all of that population increase wasn’t from our organic birth rate. It was because people live longer, the lifespan basically doubled in that same period. Now, these gains are real, these people are more productive, but you only get those sorts of gains once. And now that China has basically rested all of the gains in longevity it can’t out of the system is if they’re coming up against the upper level of what humans are capable of today. There’s no one to replace them. So even if nothing goes wrong in the system, no financial crisis, no war, no agricultural crisis, you’re still looking at population collapse, because people can’t live any longer than they are. And for the last 50 years, people have not been having children. So that inverted funnel, the bottom just goes up and sucks away the entire population, Yemen and Nigeria at a much earlier stage of this process, there’s nothing to say that they’re condemned to the Chinese end result. But keep in mind that in the case of these two countries in particular, most notably Yemen, that all of the technologies that allow them to live longer come from a different continent. And so if anything happens to international trade, you should expect infant mortality to shoot up and life expectancy to collapse. And then they get us get sandwiched in between. It’s not nearly as dark of a story is what we’ve got going on in China. But it’s not exactly a great one. If you’re going to have life expectancy, and if you’re going to have infant mortality, be positive aspects on your society. You need to be able to be sure that you can produce the technologies that allow it to happen in the first place. Otherwise, you’re just as dependent on the rest of the world as if you imported 100% of your oil.


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