Many Republicans seem confident that last week’s performance in the mid-term elections bodes the end of the Obama era, and the dawn of the bright Republican future. Many Democrats seem confident that last week’s performance in the midterms was a mere blip on the way to the Emerging Democratic Majority. Both sides would do well to read Sean Trende’s 2012 book, The Lost Majority, which I made my way through this weekend.
To state Trende’s thesis simply: There is no such thing as a permanent majority. Parties are coalitions of disparate groups of voters, and they win by strapping enough different groups together to push themselves across the electoral finish line. Unfortunately, the broader your coalition, the harder it is to hold together. Those different groups may have radically different values and interests; satisfying one may end up alienating the other. Trende suggests that the longest-lived coalition was not, in fact Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famed “realignment,” which showed large cracks as early as 1937, but the Eisenhower coalition that lasted roughly from 1952 to 1988. As the dates suggest, the reason for unity was the external threat from the Soviet Union. That’s a pretty stiff price to pay for internal unity.
I took two major things away from the book: First, you can’t count on demographics to hand you a victory in such a vast and diverse country, because today’s coalition members may end up as a large and growing pillar of the opposition. And second, although both parties are constantly hunting for a mandate for radical change, the voters almost never deliver one. The party stalwarts may want to tear down the current edifice and start over, but the less ideological coalition partners are usually looking for some light redecorating, perhaps along with a specific personal interest like freedom of conscience in business operations, or less restrictive immigration policy. The harder the parties push on their ideological platforms, the faster the “coalition of everyone” starts leaking supporters to the opposition.
Megan McArdle, “No Party Will Get a Permanent Majority”, Bloomberg View, 2014-11-10.
November 27, 2015
October 4, 2015
Believe it or not, the end of the seemingly eternal federal election is finally in sight. We’re getting to the wind-up stage of the campaign and we can now expect certain evergreen political topics to be discussed as we wearily struggle down to the wire. Colby Cosh covers one of the biggest “issues” of every federal election:
The parties are running low on ammunition in the election that never ends, and I can sense, like a tracker laying an ear to the ground, the approach of conversations about demographics and the getting-out of the vote. With this campaign sub-season — suitably located in the autumn — will come talk of “gray power”; dread of the Conservative advantage among bigoted, ornery, vote-crazy oldies; and, above all, the suffocating hatred of the young toward the liver-spotted hands that grip our levers of power and ward off change.
I rarely speak of Baby Boomers without a generous helping of contemptuous spittle. But the great equalizers, pain and death and dementia and distraction, are now starting to take them. The people I call Turnout Nerds obsess over youth voting: it seems unnatural to them, even revolting, that fewer than half of people under 35 bother to struggle to the polls, choosing to deny us their breezy new ideas and their orientation toward the future. (Not that I can see much actual evidence of either quality.)
They do not talk much about what happens to voter turnout once Canadians have passed their peak propensity to vote, which arrives, according to the official estimates for the 2011 election, at the age of 67. The graph, it turns out, looks like a skewed triangle. Voters in the age cohorts from 20-25 had less than 40 per cent turnout in 2011. There is a slow linear climb from there; turnout passes 50 per cent in the mid-30s, 60 per cent in the mid-40s, 70 per cent on the cusp of age 60. It rises to above 75 per cent at about the traditional retirement age.
But the dropoff in turnout from there is steeper than the rise — and how else could it be, given arthritis and lumbago and the other cruel facts of late life? And by age 67, according to an insurance man’s icy “life tables,” more than one per cent of the population is dying every year. If you adjust for mortality, and imagine a hypothetical pool of Canadian voters starting out at age 18, the estimated age at which the highest number of the original group will be voting isn’t 67; it’s more like a flat peak between the ages of 59 and 64. After that, coronaries start taking away more voters than enthusiasm is adding.
September 16, 2015
Matt Ridley explains that demography does not explain the sudden influx of refugees from Africa to the European Union:
Even the most compassionate of European liberals must wonder at times whether this year’s migration crisis is just the beginning of a 21st-century surge of poor people that will overwhelm the rich countries of our continent. With African populations growing fastest, are we glimpsing a future in which the scenes we saw on the Macedonian border, or on Kos or in the seas around Sicily last week will seem tame?
I don’t think so. The current migration crisis is being driven by war and oppression, not demography. Almost two thirds of the migrants reaching Europe by boat this year are from three small countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. These are not even densely populated countries: their combined populations come to less than England’s, let alone Britain’s, and none of them is in the top 20 for population growth rates.
Well then, perhaps that is even more ominous. If these three relatively small countries can cause such turmoil, imagine what would happen if say the more populous countries in Africa fell into similar chaos. Today Africa’s population (north and sub-Saharan) is about 50 per cent larger than Europe’s (East and West). By 2050, when — according to United Nations estimates — Africa’s population will have more than doubled from 1.1 billion to about 2.4 billion people and Europe’s will have shrunk from 740 million to about 709 million, there will be more than three Africans for every European.
Actually, demography is a poor predictor of migration. Nowhere in the world are people leaving countries specifically because of population growth or density. The population density of Germany is five times as high as that of Afghanistan or Eritrea: unlike water, people often move up population gradients. Tiny Eritrea, with only five million people, is a hell-hole for purely political reasons. It has a totalitarian government that tries to make North Korea and the old East Germany look tame: it conscripts every 17-year-old into lifelong and total service of the state. No wonder 3 per cent of its people have already left.
May 22, 2015
Anton Howes deserves what he gets for a blog post he titled “Highway to Hellas: avoiding the Malthusian trap in Ancient Greece”:
There’s a fantastic post by Pseudoerasmus examining the supposed ‘efflorescence’ of economic growth in Ancient Greece, and some of the causal hypotheses put forward by Josiah Ober in an upcoming book (which I’m very much looking forward to reading in full). Suffice to say, the data estimates used by Ober raise more questions than they answer.
If the constructed data is correct, then not only did Greek population grow by an extraordinary amount during the Archaic Period roughly 800-500 BC, but Greek consumption per capita grew by 50-100% from 800-300 BC. As Pseudoerasmus points out, this would imply a massive productivity gain of some 450-1000%, or 0.3-0.46% growth per annum.
This seems quite implausible to me. Indeed, the population estimates imply that the Ancient Greek population would have been substantially larger than that of Greece in the 1890s AD, along with higher agricultural productivity! This is all the more puzzling as there appears to have been no major technological change to support so many more mouths to feed, let alone feed them better than before.
But assuming the data are correct, what would have to give? Pseudoerasmus explores a number of different possibilities, such as the gains from integrating trade across the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea; or that the Greeks might have shifted agricultural production to cash crops like wine and oil and imported grain instead. None of these quite seem good enough for such a massive and prolonged escape from the Malthusian pressures of population outstripping the productivity of agriculture (although I hope the so-far unavailable chapters from Ober’s book might shed some more light on this).
A remaining explanation offered by Pseudoerasmus may, however, be the winner: that Greeks weren’t using land more intensively as Ober seems to suggest, but rather expanding the land that they brought under cultivation by colonising new areas.
January 30, 2015
October 21, 2014
Hipster economics are standard economics because hipsters are everything the US economy has ever wished for in one convenient package. It’s a group consisting largely of young, upper-middle class people with very little conviction, who will spend large amounts of money to maintain their own comfort and the appearance of diversity and rebellion. They are activists as long as it’s easy, poor as long as it doesn’t involve dirt or hunger, and selfless as long as they don’t stand to lose anything. They represent the sanitizing of national issues so that they can be discussed without being addressed. And all you have to do to control them is use some reverse psychology. They’re not rebels, they’re not even malicious, because they’re not anything except a bunch of kids playing pretend. They’ll eventually grow up and become bankers, lawyers and politicians, just like their parents…
“Robert” commenting on “The peril of hipster economics: When urban decay becomes a set piece to be remodelled or romanticised“, by Sarah Kendzior, 2014-05-28.
September 28, 2014
At The Diplomat, Mohamed Zeeshan talks about India’s self-imposed disadvantages in manufacturing both for domestic and export consumption:
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden Independence Day speech was laced with inspiring rhetoric. But of the many things he said, the one slogan that inevitably caught public attention was this: “Come, make in India!” With those words, Modi was trying to make the case for turning India into the world’s next great manufacturing hub. Understandably, the Indian populace was thrilled.
India is one of the world’s ten largest economies (and is third largest on a purchasing power parity basis), with a total annual output of nearly $2 trillion. As much as 57 percent of this output is produced by a service sector that employs just 28 percent of the population, largely concentrated in urban parts of the country. That is no surprise, because most Indians lack the skills and education to join the more knowledge-intensive service sector. What they need is what successful developing nations all over the world have had ever since the Industrial Revolution: a robust and productive manufacturing sector.
Yet India’s manufacturing sector contributes just 16 percent to the total GDP pie (China’s, by contrast, accounts for almost half of its total economic output). Victor Mallet, writing in the McKinsey book Reimagining India, recently offered an anecdote that was illuminating. “One of India’s largest carmakers recently boasted that it was selling more vehicles than ever and that it was hiring an extra eight hundred workers for its factory,” he wrote, “But the plant employing those workers belongs to the Jaguar Land Rover subsidiary of Tata Motors and is in the English Midlands, not in job-hungry India.”
Mallet goes on to make a point that has been made frequently by Indian economists: The world doesn’t want to “make in India,” because it is simply too painful. There’s bureaucratic red tape, a difficult land acquisition act, troublesome environmental legislation, a shortage of electricity, and a lack of water resources. The only thing India doesn’t seem to lack is labor, but that merely adds to the problem. As Mallet points out in the same essay, aptly titled “Demographic dividend – or disaster?”, “India’s population grew by 181 million in the decade to 2011 – and (despite falling fertility rates) a rise of nearly 50% in the total number of inhabitants is unavoidable.” But the number of jobs being added to feed that population is inadequate.
However, the labor dividend is still important. India doesn’t need to reduce the number of hands on deck. It needs to weed out the challenges that stop them from being productive.
September 3, 2014
People seem to want to get freaked out about China passing the US in terms of the size of its economy. But in the history of Civilization there have probably been barely 200 years in the last 4000 that China hasn’t been the largest economy in the world. It probably only lost that title in the early 19th century and is just now getting it back. We are in some senses ending an unusual period, not starting one.
Warren Meyer, “It is Historically Unusual for China NOT to be the Largest Economy on Earth”, Coyote Blog, 2014-08-30.
August 12, 2014
In sp!ked, Jennie Bristow reviews P.J. O’Rourke’s latest book, The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again).
For the British ‘Baby Boom’ was very different to its American sibling, in both respects of the word. Demographically, Britain – like many other Western countries immediately after the Second World War – experienced a spike in the birthrate, but this dropped back quickly until the mid-1950s, when there was a less dramatic, but more sustained, bulge over the next 10 years.
Size isn’t everything, however, and the other aspect of the Baby Boom label is the period of prosperity and growth that followed the war in the US. O’Rourke’s introduction to the UK edition of The Baby Boom points out another fact that tends to be ignored in the slating of the British Baby Boomers – that ‘postwar experience in America was very different from postwar experience in a place where war, in fact, occurred. That is, we had the “post-” and you had the war.’
Throughout the book, O’Rourke’s fond accounts of growing up during the Fifties, which are generally amusing and often stylistically annoying, hammer home the space, freedom, affluence and indulgence enjoyed by the American Baby Boomers as children. In Britain, accounts of the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of the Fifties tend to extend to children playing by the river and neighbours leaving their front doors unlocked, glossing over the more drab reality that kids did not have anything to play with inside, and that most homes were not worth burgling.
Given the divergence in experience between the British and American Baby Boomers, one might wonder how the American debate, about the problems of the Boomers’ size, wealth and health (which, many grumble, means they will live ‘too long’, robbing younger generations of their fair share of pensions and healthcare resources), became plonked on to Little Britain with scant regard for the differences.
The answer lies partly in what the US Boomers did share with their counterparts in the UK, and in parts of Europe, too. This was the experience of growing up in the tumultuous Sixties, when youth appeared to be in the vanguard of a cultural revolution that swept aside established norms and values, rejecting the authority of tradition and, above all, of adults.
Swiftly demolishing another great myth about the Sixties, O’Rourke points out that, in reality, ‘the Baby Boom was the tailgate party, not the team on the field’: ‘There was a lot of “talkin’ ‘bout my generation” (Pete Townshend, born 1945), but it wasn’t my generation that was causing “What’s Going On” (Marvin Gaye, born 1939) during the “Youthquake” (a coinage from Punch, edited by people born when mastodons roamed the earth).’
January 7, 2014
Chronologically speaking, I’m a late Baby Boomer, but I’ve never felt I was a Boomer culturally. In the New York Times, Richard Pérez-Peña helps to explain why this is:
This year the youngest of the baby boomers — the youngest, mind you — turn 50. I hit that milestone a few months back. But we aren’t what people usually have in mind when they talk about boomers. They mean the early boomers, the postwar cohort, most of them now in their 60s — not us later boomers, labeled “Generation Jones” by the writer Jonathan Pontell.
The boom generation really has two distinct halves, which in my mind I call Boomer Classic and Boomer Reboot. (Take this quiz to see where you stand.) The differences between them have to do, not surprisingly, with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — and economics and war. For a wide-ranging set of attitudes and cultural references, it matters whether you were a child in the 1940s and ‘50s, or in the 1960s and ‘70s. And it probably matters even more whether you reached adulthood before or after the early ‘70s, a time of head-spinning changes with long-term consequences for families, careers and even survival.
Late boomers like me had none of that — no war, no draft, no defining political cause, and most of our fathers were too young for World War II. I remember, as a teenager, seeing old footage of the riots outside the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, and thinking, “People my age don’t feel that strongly about anything.”
People raised in the immediate postwar years had more faith in their government, and an idealistic view of America that curdled in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My childhood memories of the evening news, on the other hand, include the war, protests, Watergate and the dour faces of Johnson and Nixon, not the grins of Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.
In this way, I think we late boomers have more in common with the jaded Generation X that followed: we had less idealism to spoil. No, I don’t remember where I was when Kennedy was killed and innocence died (I was an infant), but I sure remember where I was when Nixon resigned and cynicism reigned. Older boomers may have wanted to change the world; most of my peers just wanted to change the channel.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
December 14, 2013
David Warren invites a lot of knee-jerk reaction with this passage in a recent essay:
Whether in West or East, however, the mechanism of societal disintegration is the same. It could be described in one phrase as “the liberation of women.” The modern economy lures women away from home and family with (ludicrously false) promises of wealth, pleasure, and freedom. Industry required a more docile labour force, the State required revenues from double-income taxation. At a level more fundamental than economics, the times have offered atomizing ideologies — the promise of “democracy” in which everyone will be treated the same, whether man, woman, or some other thing. As Goldman has rather plainly shown (and Roberts showed long before him), we must cherchez la femme.
For women are, as they have always been, the bedrock of both family and religion. Men have, and will be by nature (whether this is recognized or not) the hunters and gatherers and bread winners. There is no point in debating this, for either one gets it or one is wilfully obtuse. A certain minority of talented women have always flourished outside the home, and perhaps a like proportion of men not flourished in the absence of any marketable skills — but the case is straightforward in the main. What we have been enduring, for a century now, is an attempt to change the order of the world by social and sometimes genetic engineering; with results clearly visible all around us, to say nothing of the grief and loneliness and self-pity that each of us is carrying inside.
Curiously enough, Goldman homes in on a statistical fact that Roberts elided. It is that a sharply increasing female literacy rate is a more or less infallible predictor of demographic collapse, in all non-Western countries. Or as I mischievously put it, on Twitter only last night, “statistically and objectively, the quickest way to destroy a nation is to teach their women to read.”
This remark would invite several gallant qualifications. The modern emancipation of women began in the West, where Christian teaching had always accorded women the greatest respect. The social changes were therefore slower and easier to assimilate, here. It is when what happened more gradually in the West, happens more suddenly in the East, that the transformation becomes catastrophic. The whole ancestral order of society comes down, in one generation rather than four or five. And they haven’t seen the worst of it yet, for the West had accumulated reserves of wealth, with which to pay some pensions and geriatric bills. The East will face a more dramatically ageing population, without the reserves.
October 30, 2013
In sp!ked, Stuart Derbyshire looks at the unprecedented drop in total fertility rate in most of East Asia:
Fertility rates in East Asia have fallen catastrophically since the early 1970s and are now the lowest in the world. In all parts of Asia, the total fertility rate (TFR) has fallen by half or more in the past 35 years. In Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, the TFR hovers between 1.0-1.3. For a population to replace itself, the TFR needs to be above 2.1. Thus, if these trends in fertility are not substantially reversed, the population of Asia will rapidly shrink as the continent heads into extinction. How did this happen?
Most commentators are inclined to blame the falling rate of TFR on the influence of modernity on women. Speaking in 1983, for example, Singapore’s then prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, infamously remarked that educating women and bringing them into the workforce had undermined their more traditional role as mothers: ‘It is too late for us to reverse our policies… Our women will not stand for it. And anyway, they have already become too important a factor in the economy.’
Falling fertility in Asia involves not just the rejection of motherhood but a broader rejection of intimacy and responsibility of many kinds. About two fifths to one third of women in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan are choosing not to marry. Increasing numbers are not even bothering to date. When I ask my students why this is, they shrug and talk about the hassle and expense, as was highlighted in a recent article. Children are expensive and they are also demanding, intrusive and may not turn out how you desire. Similarly, relationships are messy and difficult, with the ever-present possibility of disappointment. It is easier to live at home, hang out with friends and avoid intimate contact.
The problem in Asia is not modernity but rather the postmodern self-conscious denial of human agency and subjectivity. Young Asian men and women deny that they can be independent and deny that they can forge meaningful intimate personal relationships and so, instead, they accept the relative comforts of living with parents and the relative ease of being single. This denial of independence, intimacy and responsibility is a problem across the world and is bound up in a disregard for human agency typical of mainstream commentary on the environment, terrorism, economics and most other scientific and social issues. The impact in Asia may be more devastating because of the relatively sudden displacement of traditional Asian values without any broader narrative of what modern Asia is. Unlike America and Europe, Asia does not have a clear continental story, no obvious heroic past, unifying welfare state or pan-Asian vision that might blunt a turn towards the denial of the self.
October 24, 2013
It’s commonplace to say “Japan is weird” (I’ve said it myself many times), but even with the constant repetition, I didn’t realize just how weird Japan has become (somewhat NSFW … better not watch this at the office):
Published on 22 Oct 2013
Japan is a country that is dying — literally. Japan has more people over the age of 65 and the smallest number of people under the age of 15 in the world. It has the fastest negative population growth in the world, and that’s because hardly anyone is having babies. In these difficult times, the Japanese are putting marriage and families on the back burner and seeking recreational love and affection as a form of cheap escape with no strings attached. We sent Ryan Duffy to investigate this phenomenon, which led him to Tokyo’s cuddle cafes and Yakuza-sponsored prostitution rings.
February 28, 2013
Strategy Page on the challenges facing the government as the younger generation grows up:
A major source of information about North Korea is obtained by South Korean intelligence experts interviewing the steady flow of refugees arriving in South Korea (via China and the South Korean embassies in neighboring countries like Thailand). For the last decade, over a thousand of these refugees have arrived each year. In the last few years China and North Korea have increased their efforts to reduce that number, which peaked at 2,900 in 2009 and was 1,500 last year. These determined and desperate people keep coming. Separate interviews are compared and checked against each other to obtain an updated and accurate first-hand view of life in the north. This also helps detect the spies North Korea tries (often with success) getting into the south via the refugee route. While the refugees detail the growing decline in living standards up north, it’s also become clear that there is a very real generational shift in loyalties in the north. The generation who grew up during the 1990s famine (that killed about ten percent of the population and starved most of the rest for years) no longer believe in the North Korean dictatorship. Many who came of age before 1990 still do, but for most everyone under 30 the state is the enemy and self-reliance, and not a benevolent dictatorship, is the only way to survive. The North Korean government has been fighting these attitudes more and more, as this generation of unbelievers grows larger each year. The more astute members of the northern leadership see this as a no-win situation. Eventually most North Koreans will be very hostile to the state and more adept at making money in spite of the government, or simply getting out of the country. Most of the leadership is still afraid of enacting Chinese style economic reforms because they believe a more affluent population would seek revenge for the decades of misrule and tyranny. The Chinese say that didn’t happen in China. The North Koreans point out that, as bad as the Chinese communists were in the 1950s and 60s (killing over 50 million people via starvation, labor camps and execution) that was not as bad (proportionately) as what the North Koreans have suffered. Moreover, the North Korean leaders point out that, historically, Koreans have been a bit more excitable and brutal when aroused by misrule. The Chinese say times have changed but the North Korean leaders are not yet willing to bet their lives on that being the case.
The refugees report that most North Koreans understand that the police state up there is strong enough to suppress any uprising now or in the foreseeable future and that the only real threat to the dictatorship is intervention (openly or via a coup) by China. Refugees also report that it’s common knowledge that hundreds of North Koreans have died of radiation poisoning or been born with birth defects because of the uranium mining and working with nuclear materials. The government has responded by offering large cash bonuses to those who will work in the uranium mines. The refugees report in detail many other ways the Kim government abuses their subjects.
February 4, 2013
In the Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Last looks at the demographic changes on tap for the United States as the fertility rate continues to drop below replacement:
The fertility rate is the number of children an average woman bears over the course of her life. The replacement rate is 2.1. If the average woman has more children than that, population grows. Fewer, and it contracts. Today, America’s total fertility rate is 1.93, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; it hasn’t been above the replacement rate in a sustained way since the early 1970s.
The nation’s falling fertility rate underlies many of our most difficult problems. Once a country’s fertility rate falls consistently below replacement, its age profile begins to shift. You get more old people than young people. And eventually, as the bloated cohort of old people dies off, population begins to contract. This dual problem — a population that is disproportionately old and shrinking overall — has enormous economic, political and cultural consequences.
For two generations we’ve been lectured about the dangers of overpopulation. But the conventional wisdom on this issue is wrong, twice. First, global population growth is slowing to a halt and will begin to shrink within 60 years. Second, as the work of economists Esther Boserups and Julian Simon demonstrated, growing populations lead to increased innovation and conservation. Think about it: Since 1970, commodity prices have continued to fall and America’s environment has become much cleaner and more sustainable — even though our population has increased by more than 50%. Human ingenuity, it turns out, is the most precious resource.
Low-fertility societies don’t innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care. They don’t invest aggressively because, with the average age skewing higher, capital shifts to preserving and extending life and then begins drawing down. They cannot sustain social-security programs because they don’t have enough workers to pay for the retirees. They cannot project power because they lack the money to pay for defense and the military-age manpower to serve in their armed forces.
Update: Kelly McParland on the plight of some older workers: “If they’d never worked at all, and gotten by on social assistance, they might still have a financial lifeline.”
It would be cruel (and maybe unfair) to say they made their own beds, but it remains the fact that a great deal of the trouble they face results from the refusal to brook a more prudent approach to public finances for so many years. Programs that were unaffordable were pushed through time and again, paid for by more and more borrowing. When crises developed, the borrowing increased while spending was only rarely curtailed. The curse of deficit financing is its snowball effect: annual shortfalls pile up, pushing up the carrying costs, creating a self-perpetuating ever-expanding spending crisis. When a recession inevitably arrives, there are no reserves to deal with it, and even more borrowing ensues.
After so many decades of pretending it could go on forever, without there being a reckoning, the generation that created it is discovering how wrong they were. Not only is it destroying the retirement dreams of so many near-seniors, it’s preparing a poisoned legacy to hand to the next generation, and perhaps the one after that, unless they recognize the need for greater discipline and finally accept the pain that will necessary to put the process back on a sustainable track.
Canada is fortunate that it faced up to its debt crisis 15 years ago and is still benefiting from that fact, but the public memory is short and there will always be pressure to turn a blind eye to debt, and legislate for today. No wonder people get more conservative as they get older. They understand the price that has to be paid for putting costs off to tomorrow.