Saturday, April 19, 2008

Global Demographics - (Almost) Uncharted Waters

As our readers can see, Edward's most recent detailed analysis of Italy's demographic edifice certainly managed to stir up a batch of tempered comments as one commenter accuses us here at Demography Matters to bend spoons with our minds. If that is indeed the case I am going to try to bend a huge one with this post. The topic is consequently global demographics what we know and more importantly what we don't know. These questions cannot be answered in even the most ambitious blog post. However, we could do much worse than to visit a recent paper by David S. Reher entitled Towards Long-Term Population Decline: A Discussion of Relevant Issues. The paper is as per usual walled for non-subscribers of a university server but you can get a long most adequate survey of the paper here at Edward's Demography Resources.

Let us begin with the abstract which contains two crucial points that are very important to take away.

This paper contains thoughts on the process of imminent population decline under way in much of the developed world and quite possibly in other world regions as well. We are witnessing the beginnings of a vast trend change which promises to bring to a close a period of population growth that has lasted for several centuries. It can be shown that this great change is a byproduct of the demographic transition that unleashed a number of the forces leading to where we are today. The extent to which much of the developing world will follow the reproductive trends of the developed world, with their social and economic implications, is discussed. The decades ahead for much of the world will lead us into mostly uncharted territory that bears few similarities with past periods of population decline. The purpose of this paper is to stimulate reflection and debate on a subject that looms as perhaps the key social issue of the twenty-first century.

As many of you may know from rudimentary knowledge of demographic processes the original idea of the demographic transition always encompassed the idea that fertility would stabilize at replacement levels once the final stages had been dispensed with. This is then to say that the original idea of the DT envisioned a notable degree of balance (homeostasis) in the level of population with the obvious exception that an ever marginal decline in mortality coupled with a rise in longevity would steadily translate into ageing of the world's population. We know now that this idea of a balanced steady state (and no, this choice of word is NOT coincidental) in fertility must be seriously doubted and for all intent and purposes discarded as a valid theoretical explanation. Consequently, it is only very few developed countries today that can boast a fertility rate at replacement levels and indeed if we pull out the ruler none of the developed economies save perhaps the US qualifies for the strict definition of replacement fertility. This must then be the first important thing to take away at this point. The demographic transition or more specifically the evolution of fertility and rising life expectancy is not over and at this point there does not appear to be a theoretical governing mechanism to provide a balance. On the contrary and most worryingly we are now observing that the rapid decline in fertility which has occurred across a wide batch of developed economies is now being repeated, and more importantly fast forwarded, in the context of many emerging and transition economies. Notable examples here would be Eastern Europe, large parts of Asia, as well as Northern Africa. Conclusively this leaves us with two intertwined points which are absolutely crucial to be aware of. Firstly, and as I have argued before the demographic transition is not over and following from this is, as mr. Reher puts, the fact that we are moving into uncharted territory.

In general, I would say that Reher's small article is a good starting place if you want to understand some of the issues at work and also if you want to understand what the historical background of the demographic transition is. Reher frames his discussion around the issue of population decline and how world is now moving into a new regime of steady to declining population dynamics. Obviously and since mortality rates have declined much faster than fertility rates it will take some time before the global population actually start falling in numbers even if of course notable asymmetries are present. For example Russia's population is already declining and so is Japan's and unless aggregate European fertility rates rise to an almost unimaginable number the population will begin to decline slowly here too in a few years (also it has to be said with important asymmetries). Even though this perspective is important I am not a big fan of narrating the demographic changes in the context of population decline. There are two main reasons for this. First of all I think that population decline on a global scale need not be a detrimental development for the human race. In fact, a considerable amount of evidence supports this. Secondly, because I am convinced that the main economic effects from demographic changes need not be found in the context of declining populations in absolute numbers but rather in the form of the rapid and relentless process of ageing which is sweeping the planet in these years. Reher of course also notes this and mentions several times the potential impact of ageing. However, I like to take it even further. Another way to look at the demographic transition is consequently to look at it as a transition in age structure of a society. I am thus very much in tune with the original work on this conceptualization by the Swedish demographer Bo Malmberg. In this way and from a macroeconomic point of view the focus on ageing and changing age composition of a society opens up an important unattended flank in the realms of macroeconomic theories of growth and capital flows. In this context I feel that the following issues are very important to keep in mind ...

  • The implied notion of an economic steady state runs into severe calibration issues in the context of the ongoing demographic transition. Growth theorists, of course, were always from the beginning aware of the potential effects of a skewed relationship between old and young people in a society. A whole battery of research consequently exists under the common notion of OLG (overlapping generations framework) which deploys standard life cycle assumptions to derive steady states in a modeling context of a rudimentary age structure of society. However, the theory runs into distinct problems when trying to formulate a steady state framework for countries that do not appear to exhibit a steady level of output growth over the long run. In this way, the steady state becomes a proverbial moving target. In addition there is evidence to suggest that the demographic transition is not a deterministic process but rather path dependent and thus endogenous to the growth process itself. Given the fact that we don't how this process ends it makes the potential modeling endeavor extremely difficult.
  • Economies today are not closed but highly interdependent. If we couple this with the fact that the process of ageing occurs in radically different tempi across the batch of global economies I believe a number of important externalities can be identified in the context of the global economy. What does it for example mean that Japan is running a near 0% interest rate policy because it has found it impossible, after more than a decade, to effectively escape deflation? What does it mean for global capital flows that some economies are now, not only prone as the original theory predicts, but rather dependent on external demand to grow? And what happens as all the global economies steadily age thus all becoming ever reliant on external demand to grow?*
  • Growth is above and beyond driven by the availability and quality of human capital; both on a macroeconomic and microeconomic level. Institutional set-up matters in the sense that they can make or break an economic edifice depending on their efficiency but without human capital the economic engine does not work. Institutions can be a powerful catalyst for the quality of human capital but on the other hand modern institutional arrangements also seem to be at the very heart of the dramatic decline in human capital formation (fertility) we have observed and indeed are observing. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that a negative feedback mechanism is at work with respect to the quantity and quality of human capital. And as Edward likes to frame it, a society has a maximum capacity for growth when its age structure is at a specific golden level (i.e. when the most productive cohorts (say 25-45) are at their maximum size relative to the whole population). Yet, as the demographic transition ripples through this median moves steadily upwards and in this context the extra productivity extracted does not carry the same weight as it did before. In fact, and going back to the idea of a steady state it seems a very sound theoretical assumption to state that in order to observe a steady state of economic growth we need to have a balance by which the size of the most productive cohorts is fairly stable (the US would seem to be almost the only empirical precedent here).

These are but some of the questions which arise in the context of the global demographic changes and their impact on the economic environment.

If we return to Reher's piece I think that a couple of noteworthy rather random points can be extracted.

As I have relentlessly been arguing in the context of the topic at hand one of the most preoccupying concerns is that the observed and lingering trend in the developed world now seems to be repeating itself in the context of the world's emerging economies. In fact, as we have seen a wide array of transition countries are now finding themselves with severely damaged population dynamics. Reher is very specific on this topic which he uses essentially to argue that the world is now, for better or worse, entering a completely new and unknown demographic regime. Also he latches on to the idea that the demographic transition is indeed a path dependant process and not one which occurs automatically in the context of a pre-scheduled process of catch-up growth from the point of view of transition economies ...

Throughout the developing world, aging and its attendant economic and social challenges will become an acute social issue relatively soon after it becomes a central concern for societies in the developed world (Demeny & McNicoll, 2006b, 257–259). The intensity of change will leave these nations with but a brief window of the opportunity for modernization within which to take full advantage of the ‘‘demographic dividend’’ derived from their own transitions (Bloom et al., 2003).

What drove (and drives) this rapid demographic transition in the first place? This is perhaps where Reher is most elaborate. He consequently engages in a large and detailed discussion of the social change that occurred along side the demographic transition. Specifically, Reher devotes a large section to the changing role of women in our society and what effect this has had on childrearing. As far as I can see especially an elaborate account of the quantum effect of fertility emerges (curiously without a reference to the original work by Becker and Barro). Reher especially devotes attention to the process of family planning and completed family size. This is then an entrance point to the tempo effect (postponement of births) of fertility decline. As such, at any given point in time couples (or women) have a desired family size but the steady process of birth postponement may exert a notable influence on the final fertility level (i.e. cohort fertility). Moreover, Reher also refers to studies by the Austrian demographer Wolfgang Lutz who has devoted a lot research to the idea of a convergence towards a common very low level of fertility in Europe. An even more interesting side issue here is to actually develop a theory to explain these developments in desired family size potential convergence towards a one-child ideal. A considerable amount of debate has been made in the context of European sociological studies and specifically in relation to studies which have shown how many women in Europe's low fertility regions do not want to have children at all. A couple of months back Edward had a very elaborate piece on Demography Matters on this topic. Ultimately of course the idea that all this in the main can be pinned on the emancipation of women in terms of labour force participation and the social changes which accompanied it remains a rather dubious theory. Edward shows us as much in a recent very detailed analysis of Italy's demographics.


Finally, Reher manages to hit the proverbial nail on the head with his comments on international migration and the potential for ageing societies to mitigate their demographic travails through importing labour.

Labor shortages will be one aspect of the issue of aging. In some countries, this shortage of working age population is easy to predict because numbers of births have already been declining for several years. We believe that it is only a matter of time (perhaps 2–3 decades) before they begin to affect many or most societies in the developing world. The availability of surplus labor (potential migrants) to compensate the dearth of labor in the developed world may eventually be called into question, as the sending countries begin to suffer labor strictures of their own.

(...)

International migration itself, the focus of much current attention and concern, is unlikely to represent more than a temporary and rather inadequate solution for skewed age structures and population decline for two reasons. (1) Fertility among migrants, while initially higher than among the native populations, very quickly tends to decline to levels holding in the host society. (2) More important, perhaps, is the fact that many sending regions will be experiencing labor shortages of their own within two or three decades. It is unquestionable that these countries currently have abundant supplies of surplus labor that can be funneled fairly directly to receiving countries, normally developed ones, suffering from labor shortages. This situation, however, cannot be sustained indefinitely because of the dramatic fertility decline
taking place among those sending countries.

The only problem here with Reher's account is his time frame. 2-3 decades is way too optimistic. These issues are here today and very soon, if they are not already, they will come on the political agenda most prominently in Eastern Europe where for example the EU is still spinning the inter-relationship where CEE and Baltic migrants travel to the West as a positive one. The fact is that it is not and if the EU does not wake up to this they may end up with a lot dissatisfied new member countries.

In Conclusion

Reher's piece is well worth more than a scant glance. What I particular like was already emphasised in the beginning of this review. The demographic transition is not over but remains an ongoing process and this means that the global economy or society is moving into uncharted waters. At this point we already know a lot about the effects of demographic change but since we don't know the extent and/or the end of the changes themselves we are faced with a rather peculiar scientific problem. Personally, I tend to, unlike Reher, focus mainly on the dramatic force of ageing which is sweeping across the global economies. Especially, I like in this context how Reher emphasises the fact that the demographic transition seems to be moving much more rapidly in emerging and transition economies. This is a very important empirical fact to take away. In this respect I also think that Reher manages to pinpoint very accurately the issues which pertain to global trends of migration from the point of view of the sending countries rather than the traditional spin that this is a win-win situation for all parties involved.

A lot of literature is out there on this topic of the general trend in global demographics but I do think that Reher's piece is one of the better specimen.

* In more technical economic terms we are speaking of the fact that the global economies, as a result of ageing, will tend to have the same time-preference for consumption over saving thus leading to the optimal policy choice of many countries becoming the nurturing of a perpetual external surplus vs. the rest of the world. The formal theoretical impetus for this argument can be found in the notion of the inter temporal approach to the current account (see also here).

20 comments:

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

THE 'FRAMING' OF THE SCIENCE OF GLOBAL DEMOGRAPHICS AND THE REFUSAL TO EXAMINE UNWELCOME EVIDENCE OF THE HUMAN OVERPOPULATION OF EARTH

A particularly pernicious disturbance exists in the human community. ELECTIVE MUTISM is one of the great, clear and present dangers to human and environmental health. It is a worldwide “plague” in our time from which many too many in the vast community of science suffer egregiously. That elective mutism has afflicted so many in the social sciences is one thing. The family of humanity can understand, I suppose, how social scientists do not possess the most adequate expertise to speak out loudly and clearly regarding the emerging and converging global challenges derived from the human overpopulation of Earth.

On the other hand, what I find reprehensible and unbelievable is the way scientists with appropriate expertise in the physical and biological sciences, whatever their excuses, are choosing not to fullfil their professional responsibilities and not to discharge duties only they can perform. Their willful refusal to comment on good scientific evidence of the human species’ overpopulation of the planetary home God blesses us to inhabit is as unacceptable as it is perverse.

See the following link for a presentation of the apparently unforeseen evidence of demographics of the human species,

www.panearth.org

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001
http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/

Tory Voter said...

"Their willful refusal to comment on good scientific evidence of the human species’ overpopulation"

I see you are worried that we may be becoming overpopulated. Assuming you are right for the moment, do you have any concrete policy proposals which we might consider to enable us to think about what we might do?

In any event congratulations, since this certainly makes a break from the commentator on the last thread on this blog who felt we were all in imminent danger of dying out. I suppose the current situation does allow for a pluarlity of views, but here the differences do seem to be very large indeed.

And what do you think about the arguments the poster here advances that we are all in the middle of a global demographic transition towards below replacement fertility - which if I understand things aright would mean that those very high population numbers which seem to worry you - but not some of the other commenters here - will start coming down Does this news put you any more at your ease, or do you think the numbers aren't coming down quickly enough?

And what about those who are already on 1.2 TFRs, should they be cutting back their fertility even further?

Aslak said...

From an enviromental point of view, I think you could make a pretty good argument for regional overpopulation in places like China, India, Bangladesh and even much of Africa if current trends continue. (Even the American Southwest could be considered overpopulated by some measures if you consider the limited amount of water available) Japan is also a good example, although the population there is now declining.

The way I see it at least, the most important thing is to avoid rapid changes in either direction. A TFR of 1.1 can't be good in the long run, but then neither can a TFR of 7 or 8. Stabilization is the key, I don't think it's hugely significant if TFR is 1.9 or 2.3. Having said that, I think a smaller population in much of the world would be a good thing, both in terms of the environment and quality of life.

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Dear Tory Voter,

Thanks so much for responding to my post.

Absolute global human population numbers are not coming down nearly fast enough. Even with a substantial decrease of the population growth rate in some countries, the total population of the human species has been skyrocketing and is continuing to increase much too rapidly.

Perhaps the widely shared and consensually-validated "demographic transition" that is anticipated in the middle of Century XXI is an example of specious preternatural thinking and theorizing, borne of political convenience and economic expediency.

You have asked a wonderful question,

"Assuming you are right for the moment, do you have any concrete policy proposals which we might consider to enable us to think about what we might do?"

Perhaps we could follow what we already know from good science, reasoning and common sense. We can choose to respond ably and much differently, in a more reality-oriented way, to the global challenges before humanity, challenges we can certainly manage because we have induced them by our spectacular unrestrained overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities, the ones now threatening to engulf the surface of Earth.

Of course, it is fair to ask what the family of humanity could choose to do "ably and differently." Several ideas come to mind.

1) Implement universal, voluntary and humane programs that encourage people to limit the number of offspring to one child per family.

2) Establish an upper limit on the growth of the individual human footprint.

3) Restrict immediately the reckless dissipation of limited natural resources so that the Earth is given time to replenish them for human benefit.

4) Substitute clean, renewable sources of energy, through the use of substantial economic incentives, for the fossil fuels we rely upon now.

5) Recognize that everything human beings do on the surface of our tiny planet utterly depend on the finite resources of Earth. One consequence of this realization is understanding that there can be no such thing as an endlessly expanding global economy, given its current leviathan-like scale and anticipated growth rate, on a relatively small and noticeably frangible planet with the size and make-up of Earth.

The family of humanity has huge global challenges to address and overcome. Our leaders appear much too contented with arguing about which country will take the first step forward. Meanwhile, as reasonable and sensible actions are not taken, the threats to human and environmental health grow more daunting day by day.

As I see it, many leaders understand quite well the precarious status of the natural world we inhabit; nonetheless, they adamantly refuse to acknowledge or speak openly about the distinctly human-induced predicament that looms ominously before the family of humanity in our time.

Billions of human beings–- some overconsuming, others overproducing and still others overpopulating the Earth –-are ruining our planetary home as a fit place for human habitation and life as we know it. At least to me, what is incomprehensible and tragic is this: our leaders know what all of us are doing that is destructive of human and environmental health and still they remain resolute in their reckless pursuit of a “primrose path” to the future.

Tory, for a moment please consider that our top rank scientists have not found adequate ways of communicating to the family of humanity what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the unregulated increase of human population numbers, the unbridled growth of per-capita consumption, the reckless dissipation of Earth’s limited resources and the relentless degradation of the planet’s frangible environment could result in the destruction of our celestial orb as a fit place for habitation by humankind and life as we know it. When taken together, these distinctly human activities appear to be growing at a breakneck pace toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world’s colossal, ever expanding, artificially designed, manmade global economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic 'wall' called "unsustainability" at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth’s ecology is collapsed.

Sincerely,

Steve

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/

vital core said...

one commenter accuses us here at Demography Matters to bend spoons with our minds. If that is indeed the case I am going to try to bend a huge one with this post.

I scanned this article, looking for the juicy spoon-bending parts, but found nothing of note.

Summary: Japan and Russia are imploding, and Europe following soon. Will the trend continue? We offer no theory.

However, I did find the comments to rank in the spoon-bending catagory.


tory voter, In any event congratulations, since this certainly makes a break from the commentator on the last thread on this blog who felt we were all in imminent danger of dying out

I didn't see a single person on the last thread say this. What I saw was the statement of fact that European Caucasians were presently dying out. This is an objective fact.


aslak, the most important thing is to avoid rapid changes in either direction. A TFR of 1.1 can't be good in the long run, but then neither can a TFR of 7 or 8. Stabilization is the key,

This theory does not jive with primate behavior. We humans have always had wide swings in ferility, as one tribe does well and genetically overpowers another doing less well. Stabilization with genetic diversity is a violation of natural law. It will not happen.

And this is exactly what the current data shows us: we see large migrations of peoples from high-fertility areas to low fertility areas. Those people who "stabilize" will be pushed aside in the never-ending war between selfish gene pools. The fantasy of stablilization is the conceit of a dying race.

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Dear tory voter, aslak and vital core,

Please take a moment to explain what you expect will occur that results in the stabilization of population numbers of the human species on Earth in the year 2050, given the fully anticipated young age distribution of a global population of 9+/- billion people at that time?

What do you suppose billions of fertile young people, who are expected to be capable of reproducing in mid-century, will be doing with their sexual instincts and drives other than what human beings have been doing for thousands of years?

What do you imagine the human world will be like in 2050 when the global family of humanity is widely expected to reach 9.2 billion people?

It seems to me that apparently unforeseen scientific evidence regarding the population dynamics of the human species is suggesting several things to us:

1. Free, immediate and universal access to contraception is required;

2. Open access to family and health planning education is made humanely available to everyone;

3. The time for the economic and social empowerment of women is now.

4. As a means of accelerating the present downward movement in birth rates in some countries, a VOLUNTARY policy of one child per family would be initiated worldwide.

5. The many human beings who are suffering the unhealthy effects of obesity will share their over-abundant resources with many too many people who are starving. Today 25,000 people are dying from hunger and 100 million more people are close to starvation.

6. Every effort to conserve energy and scarce material resources will be implemented.

7. Substanitial economic incentives are necessary for the development of energy resources as alternatives to fossil fuels.

8. Overhaul national tax systems so that conspicuous per human over-consumption of limited resources is meaningfully put at a disadvantage.

9. Humanity needs a new or else substantially modified economic system, one that is subordinated to democratic principles and more adequately meets the basic needs of a majority of humanity who could choose to live better lives with lesser amounts of energy and natural resources.

Overall, what is to be accomplished is a fair, more equitable and sustainable distribution of the world’s tangible (e.g., food) and intangible (e.g., education) resources, as soon as possible.

Plainly, what is necessary now is intellectual honesty and courage as well as a willingness to begin "centering" the attention of the leaders of the human community on the threats to humanity, life as we know it, the environment and the integrity of Earth that are posed by the leviathan-like scale and patently unsustainable growth of the human population worldwide.

Sincerely,

Steve

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

The leaders in my not-so-great generation of elders evidently wish to live without having to accept limits to growth of seemingly endless economic globalization, of increasing per capita consumption and skyrocketing absolute global human population numbers; our desires appear insatiable; we choose to believe anything that is politically convenient and economically expedient; and we act accordingly, come what may for long-term human wellbeing and environmental health.

We live in a material dreamworld of our own making, thank you very much. We take great pride in our beliefs and actions and dare anyone to question what we are doing. Please do not present us with scientific evidence that our widely shared and consensually-validated fantasies, and our conspicuous over-consumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities, are soon to become unsustainable on the surface of our planetary home precisely because Earth exists in space-time, is relatively small and bounded, and has limited resources upon which life as we know it and national economies depend for existence.

In any case, under no circumstances ask the question, "Whatsoever is is, is it not?"

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

From my humble perspective, many too many leaders of the global political economy are turning a blind eye to human over-consumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities that can be seen recklessly dissipating the natural resources and dangerously degrading the environs of our planetary home. The Earth is being ravaged; but it appears many leaders are willfully refusing to acknowledge what is happening.

Because the emerging global challenges that could soon be presented to humanity appear to so many able scientists as human-induced, leaders of my generation have responsibilities to assume and duties to perform now.

Perhaps leadership in our time has too often chosen to ignore whatsoever is somehow real in order to believe whatever is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable, religiously tolerated and culturally prescribed. When something real directly contradicts what leaders wish to believe, that reality is denied. It appears that too many leaders are content to hold tightly to widely shared and consensually validated specious thinking when it serves their personal interests.

Is humanity once again finding life as we know it dominated by a modern Tower of Babel called economic globalization? That is, has human thinking, judging and willing become so egregiously impaired by our idolatry of the artificially designed, manmade, global political economy that we cannot speak intelligibly about anything else except economic growth and profits without sounding like blithering idiots?

Edward Hugh said...

Hello Stephen,

Thanks for coming across and offering your perspective on the ongoing debate we are having here on this blog. I understand your concerns, but think we see things rather differently.

Aslak said:

The way I see it at least, the most important thing is to avoid rapid changes in either direction. "A TFR of 1.1 can't be good in the long run, but then neither can a TFR of 7 or 8. Stabilization is the key, I don't think it's hugely significant if TFR is 1.9 or 2.3. Having said that, I think a smaller population in much of the world would be a good thing, both in terms of the environment and quality of life."

I tend to think we have a consensus about this here on the blog, which isn't to say other points of view don't exist as you will quickly see glancing around the comments. Fertility is a bit like inflation really, both too much and too little are hardly desireable . In inflation terms as far as I can see anything between 1 and 2% is basically OK, 3% is definitely bad as is minus 1.

So basically the 1.9 to 2.3 fertility range is basically reasonably sustainable it seems to me. Anything over 2.3 is likely to produce the kind of upward population explosions you are worried about. 1.2 to 1.3 is basically very rapid implosion indeed, and being realistic for most of the developed world it is important to be clear that it is a damn sight better to have fertility in the 1.7 to 1.9 range than it is to have it below 1.5.

Obviously for the higher order fertility ranges I guess all reasonable thinking folks are agreed that we need to get those down as rapidly as possible, and obviously a judicious mix of economic development, education - and especially female education - and birth control are important here.

I note little emphasis is placed on all this among - say - the Millenium project goals, and I do find this regretable, since as you are indicating a too rapid rate of population growth poses just as many problems as a too rapid rate of population contraction.


"Please take a moment to explain what you expect will occur that results in the stabilization of population numbers of the human species on Earth in the year 2050, given the fully anticipated young age distribution of a global population of 9+/- billion people at that time?"

Well my feeling is that almost everyone - with the possible exception of the Mennonites - will be below replacement level come 2050. So although global population will - as you suggest - be somewhere up near 9 billion by then, and food and energy costs could be pretty high, if recent experience is anything to go by, but the total may well have started to fall by that date, and then given that everyone will be below replacement fertility global population will simply keep falling and falling.

So I think that by the time we get to 2050 all your principal concerns will have been met, the big issue is NOW. Obviously if we could do something to more seriously accelerate the transition in high fertility societies then we maybe we could peak global population at a somewhat lower level, but to do this we need to see the whole question given a rather higher priority than it currently is being given by the major multilateral institutions.

However where I guess we do part company is on the need to do something to try to raise fertility in those very low fertility societies with the most rapid rates of implosion. As we can see not everyone is agreed about even this, since some say that this isn't necessary, as they are doing just fine as they are thank you very much, while others seem to find themselves able to revel in the evident misfortunes of others.

One solution which we advocate here - as a temporary stopgap - is a redistribution of the global population - ie transnational migration - but again not everyone seems to be happy with this as an answer, being prepared to forgo their pension entitlement rather than see their culture diluted. So again, I'm not sure there is any easy answer available. All we can hope to do is increase the level of information available in order to try and help people to take the best decisions as it seems to them - that is I am most definitely a positive and not a normative economist.

" Restrict immediately the reckless dissipation of limited natural resources so that the Earth is given time to replenish them for human benefit."

I've no idea at all how you do something like this, or what it would mean. It does all sound terribly totalitarian and that kinda worries me. But more to the point, and as I have already said recently in a comment on another post, as Keynes said "in the long run we are all dead", and in this case the "we" might be we the humans. Given the pace of technical and bio-tecnological change I have no idea at all what the word "human" you use in that paragraph might mean in 3 or 400 years time. It's a bit like going back and asking people in 1600 what the word "internet" means.

I think sufficient unto the generation are the problems thereof, and our problems are here, and they are now, and they are mainly about developing policies for short term sustainability (which is all we really know about here, the short term), but policies which are consistent with trying to leave the planet in the best condition we are able for those who will come next, whoever they may be.

vital core said...

Edward Hugh, Well my feeling is that almost everyone - with the possible exception of the Mennonites - will be below replacement level come 2050.

It's already 2008. Unless something very strange happens, this seems farfetched. At a minimum, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria (and Botswana?) seem unlikely to be below 2.1 by 2050.

It's at least possible that they might even go in the other direction. And these high population areas are not trivial.

Aslak said...

VitalCore:
You might add Afghanistan to the tally but yes, in general much of Sub-Saharan Africa is a problem in that they've made little progress. Although countries like Iran have been able to cut fertility at the rate that would be required for these countries to reach replacement rate in 2050, I'm pessimistic in that I don't think these countries have the capacity to implement the required family planning programs. Fertility across Subsaharan Africa is just barely coming to come down and I do wonder how these countries are going to cope. I'm afraid things might deteriorate further. In contrast, fertility in the Middle East and North Africa is falling rapidly, which should help stabilize the region a decade or two from now.

Edward Hugh said...

Aslak and Vital Core

"It's already 2008. Unless something very strange happens, this seems farfetched. At a minimum, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria (and Botswana?) seem unlikely to be below 2.1 by 2050."

"You might add Afghanistan to the tally but yes, in general much of Sub-Saharan Africa is a problem in that they've made little progress."

OK. I understand your reservations, but I am still pretty happy with my call. Without intending any offence I would be inclined to use the well-worn adage "it's the economy silly".

Basically we can argue till the cows come home about what are the real factors which separate 2.1 TFR countries from 1.2 TFR ones - and obviously no one really knows all the answers here - but perhaps the difference between those above tfr 2.5 and those below it is pretty obvious, since those below the line tend to be either developed economies or rapidly emerging ones (though not exclusively since Iran and Cuba - eg - are in the group, and they clearly aren't getting their economic development demographic dividend in the way places like Brazil and Thailand are). But it would be really hard to find a developed economy with fertility over 2.5, so some how or another economic development and fertility are related (as I say, we could argue all day about exactly how, but let's black box that part for the moment).

Now just take a quick look at what is happening before our very eyes (and right now) on the global economy front. Following the blow-out in the credit system all the G7 economies are steadily entering recession, and this may well be a drawn out affair since the structural rise in food and energy prices means that continuing high inflation (plus a longer term general relative downward drift in the value of G7 currencies vis a vis the emerging economy ones - the euro has still to feel the force of this but I think it will come, in the dollar case is already clear) means that we may well be in for a protracted dose of stagflation.

Yet unlike previous occassions (arguably ALL previous occasions) funds are not coming running home to the G7 economies for safe cover during this downturn - they are fleeing to the emerging ones: hence the steady fall in the dollar, and the rise in currencies like the Turkish lira, the Brazilian real or the Indian rupee. In these countries it is literally raining money.

What this really means to me is that the damn has finally burst - and really there is no turning back. Country after country is hitting the development high road, and I don't see why people have to be so pessimistic about sub-Saharan Africa.

I mean I am talking about 2050, not 2020. So we are looking 40 years forward here. By way of comparison you could go backwards and look where we were in 1968 and where we are now. Better, since the rate of "acceleration" means that things move faster these days, the gap between now and 2050 may be more like the gap between 1950 and now.

And it isn't as if Africa hasn't already started to move economically speaking (obviously on the demographic front AIDS is a massive complicating factor, but since I don't know enough about this topic in detail I prefer to keep my mouth shut here). One trivial sign of the times is that Bloomberg now has a dedicated Africa page. Since I tend to flip through Bloomberg as drink my morning coffee (occupational hazard of being an economist), I can't help noticing how much economic "action" and interest there is now that simply wasn't there 5 years ago. Peope want to find places to invest - as I say people are busy looking for alternatives (for all that pension fund money which is part of what Claus is posting about) since yield in the G7 over the coming decade looks like it is going to be way down (especially if we come to think about relative currency movements). I mean the Dow Jones is holding more or less stationary in dollar terms at the present time, but if we were to be looking at it as measured in euros it would be way down. It is only the persistence of tried and tested partners like the Chinese and the Japanese (and whose appetite for dollar denominated assets seems virtually inexhausable) who are keeping the whole thing ship-shape at the present time - given the CA deficit issue - it seems to me.

Anyway, the point is that even if Africa hangs out on the fertility for a bit longer yet awhile the investment appeal of what is going to be the planet's last redoubt of virgin investment opportunities (no pun intended), and the last source of significant untapped labour reserves is bound to act as a huge accelerator by the time we get through to 2020, so I really expect things to move very quickly from that point.

And the dynamic of migration, wages remittances and inward investment as a kind of "new business environment" incubator should not be underestimated here. Most of the studies show that while the fertility behaviour of migrants may take more, or less, time to converge with the patterns they find in their new host countries, the impact of culture transfer and remittances on female behaviour in the land they left behind is large and quite significant.

I mean the whole global economy is now simply like one of those "filling-in-the-dots" paintings we used to have such fun with as children, once you get two thirds of them coloured in the last third is comparatively easy, especially as I say, with more and more high-accumulated-savings ageing societies looking for places to outsource production cheaply to, for places with customers for machinery and equipment and for places to invest pensions so that the private pension funds have something to pay back to their contributors (again see Claus's post were all this is argued out).

So yes, far fetched as it may seem at this point, I am quite comforable with my call of general below replacement fertility for 2050 (I mean while I am at it, this seems much less far fetched to me than all those earnest expectations you find in the studies for large rebounds in fertility in low fertility societies - for which there is really no evidence whatsoever). At this point in time I am far more worried - following what we have seen in Italy, Poland, Korea etc - that many of the newly developing countries will be suffering from extemely (lowest low) fertility well before we get anywhere near 2050 - and that the global economy could find itself trapped in a huge stagflationary recession due to a combination of high material costs (the resource shortage issue) and lack-of-labour-supply driven inflation (the fertility issue).

Inflation in Russia is currently going through the roof, as it is in Ukraine. It may soon also do so in China. To correct this situation at the fertility level you need 20 or 30 years, so this is why I basically agree with Stephen that our institutions should be waking up now and doing something to try and reduce the extent to which the problem is spreading. Where I disagree with Stephen is in what the problem actually is - since I think - for the sort of reasons I am offering - that our main emphasis now needs to be on trying to resist the total collapse in fertility in countries (like India, Brazil or Turkey) where the decline is very rapid, and where the danger of ending up like Southern Europe is very real.

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Dear Edward Hugh, vitalcore, aslak, tory voter and friends all,

Please join me in an ‘experiment’ that engages both thought and imagination.

Imagine for a moment that the group of us are standing on a promontory at seaside, looking at a huge ocean wave, watching the giant swell move toward the shore where it finally crashes. Think of a tsunami. The wave is moving toward us; however, at the same time, there are many molecules in the wave that are moving in the opposite direction, against the tide. If we observe that the propagation of the global human population is like the wave, and the reproduction numbers of individuals in certain locales are like the molecules, it may be inaccurate for the latter to be looked at as if it tells us something meaningful about the former. The "molecular" behavior of Bill and Melinda Gates, who have no children and do not weigh 500 lbs apiece, does not help us understand what we need to know about the approaching colossal wave because their behavior goes against the rising tide.

Abundant research indicates that countries like Australia, Italy, Russia and Tunisia, among many others, have recently shown a decline in human population growth. Some have called these declines in population local implosions. These geographically localized data need not blind us to overwhelming facts that show us the absolute global population of the human species is still growing and may reach 12 billion by the end of this century. Recent data from the UN Population Divison project that global human numbers will be above 9 billion by 2050. In keeping with what is being suggested here, the world’s human population is like a wave; individual or localized reproduction numbers are like the molecules. Put another way, global human propagation data and evidence of reproduction numbers among individuals, even in many places, may be pointing in different directions.

Choosing the “scope of observation” is like deciding to look at either the forest or the individual trees, either at the wave or its molecules. Thus, the global challenge before us is a species propagation problem, in a way not directly related to individual decision-making and local re-production counts.

For too long a time, human population growth has been viewed as being somehow outside the course of nature. The possible reasons, causes and consequences of human population growth rates and absolute numbers have seemed complex, obscure, numerous, or even unknowable, so that a strategy to address what could be a clear and present danger has been thought to be all but impossible to develop, let alone implement. To have suggested, as most scientists have done, that understanding the dynamics of human population does not matter, that the human population problem is not about numbers, or that human population dynamics have so dizzying an array of variables as not to be suitable for scientific investigation, in a way seems not quite right.

Apparently unforeseen evidence appears to have made it possible for us to grasp human population dynamics as a natural phenomenon and to liberate vital understandings of skyrocketing human population growth worldwide from the realm of the preternatural.

Russell P. Hopfenberg, Ph.D., and David I. Pimentel, Ph.D., give us empirical evidence of a non-recursive biological problem that is independent of ethical, social, legal, religious, and cultural considerations. This could mean human population dynamics is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species. It also means that global human population growth is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop, a relationship between food and population in which food availability drives population growth, and population growth fuels the misperception, or mistaken impression, that food production needs to be increased evermore. Their evidence indicates that as we increase food production every year, the number of people goes up, too. This evidence also makes something else more clear: humanity does not have a food production problem; our abundant harvests will meet the needs of the human community. Of course, Mohandas Gandhi was correct years ago in observing that there is plenty of food to meet the needs of people everywhere; however, that cannot occur if, and only if, many brothers and sisters in the family of humanity are overcome by greed and choose to overconsume and hoard resources. Can we reasonably and sensibly doubt that humanity has a food distribution problem?

With every passing year, as food production is increased, leading to a population increase, millions go hungry. Why are those hungry millions not getting fed year after year after year....and future generations of poor people may not ever be fed? Every year the human population grows. All segments of it grow. Every year there are more people growing up well fed and more people growing up hungry. The hungry segment of the global population goes up just like all the other segments of the population. We are not bringing hunger to an end by increasing food production; quite to the contrary, we are giving rise to millions more hungry people. While millions of people have become obese in my lifetime, billions of people have gone hungry. Humanity is confronted with a food distribution problem not a food production problem, I believe.

This very day 32 countries are short of food. Twenty-five thousand people are dying daily from hunger and malnutrition and 100 million people are at risk of starvation. These challenges are the result of unfair and inequitable distribution of recognizably adequate food supplies.

Perhaps a new biological understanding is emerging with the Hopfenberg/Pimentel research. It is simply this: absolute numbers of the human species, as is the case with other organisms, are primarily a function of food availability. Although the human population explosion in our planetary home appears to be a huge problem, we can take the measure of it and find solutions to whatsoever human-induced global challenges we confront by responding ably to them, in the light of universally shared, humane values.

Sincerely,

Steve

Paul C said...

Steve - I know you mean well, but you appear not to have noticed that it's been common knowledge that famine is the result of a distribution problem (rather than absolute food shortages since the early 1980s, with the work of Amartya Sen. There's no need for a "new biological understanding" - the economic understanding that we have now is sufficient. Unfortunately it has not been sufficient to make substantial changes in the existing food distribution system, although the sharp rise in food prices is part of a correction of sorts.

Edward Hugh said...

Hi Paul

"it's been common knowledge that famine is the result of a distribution problem (rather than absolute food shortages"

Yep. And lack of investment in agriculture. I was put in mind of your point when - doing some research for a piece on the spike in rice prices that I hope to get up later today - I stumbled across this piece in Bloomberg:

India's record rice and wheat harvests may not be enough to ensure food security in the world's second-most populous nation because about 10 percent of the crop is lost to pests or rots in inadequate warehouses. Agriculture Secretary P.K. Mishra yesterday said production of food grains may rise 4.6 percent to an estimated 227.3 million metric tons in the year ending June 30. About 20 million tons of wheat, rice and lentils, the equivalent of Canada's annual wheat crop, is eaten by rats and birds or spoils.

The lack of silos and secure warehouses in India, the world's second-biggest producer of wheat and rice, is hindering government efforts to curb inflation, which has doubled in the last four months to 7.14 percent in the week ended April 5, fueled by a global spurt in food and commodity prices.

``It's a problem of plenty and the government should modernize its warehouses and transportation system,'' said Devinder Sharma, chairman of the New Delhi-based farm lobby group Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security. ``There is a huge pressure because of international prices and now is the time to address this issue.''


About 30 percent of total farm produce in India is stored in the open, resulting in wastage and distress sales. The Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security has recommended spending 76.9 billion rupees ($1.9 billion) on creating storage capacity of 35 million tons and another 157.1 billion rupees to build a network of refrigerated stores to hold 4.5 million tons. Grains kept by farmers are typically stored in rooms, bamboo structures, wooden or mud bins and underground structures and are prone to damage by rats and insects, the group said.


"although the sharp rise in food prices is part of a correction of sorts."

Yep, well as they say it may well at the very least result in a much more efficient use of the food resources which currently exist, and hopefull the rise in prices will stimulate more investment and the spread of more productive agriculture.

Edward Hugh said...

Hi Paul

"it's been common knowledge that famine is the result of a distribution problem (rather than absolute food shortages"

Yep. And lack of investment in agriculture. I was put in mind of your point when - doing some research for a piece on the spike in rice prices that I hope to get up later today - I stumbled across this piece in Bloomberg:

India's record rice and wheat harvests may not be enough to ensure food security in the world's second-most populous nation because about 10 percent of the crop is lost to pests or rots in inadequate warehouses. Agriculture Secretary P.K. Mishra yesterday said production of food grains may rise 4.6 percent to an estimated 227.3 million metric tons in the year ending June 30. About 20 million tons of wheat, rice and lentils, the equivalent of Canada's annual wheat crop, is eaten by rats and birds or spoils.

The lack of silos and secure warehouses in India, the world's second-biggest producer of wheat and rice, is hindering government efforts to curb inflation, which has doubled in the last four months to 7.14 percent in the week ended April 5, fueled by a global spurt in food and commodity prices.

``It's a problem of plenty and the government should modernize its warehouses and transportation system,'' said Devinder Sharma, chairman of the New Delhi-based farm lobby group Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security. ``There is a huge pressure because of international prices and now is the time to address this issue.''


About 30 percent of total farm produce in India is stored in the open, resulting in wastage and distress sales. The Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security has recommended spending 76.9 billion rupees ($1.9 billion) on creating storage capacity of 35 million tons and another 157.1 billion rupees to build a network of refrigerated stores to hold 4.5 million tons. Grains kept by farmers are typically stored in rooms, bamboo structures, wooden or mud bins and underground structures and are prone to damage by rats and insects, the group said.


"although the sharp rise in food prices is part of a correction of sorts."

Yep, well as they say it may well at the very least result in a much more efficient use of the food resources which currently exist, and hopefull the rise in prices will stimulate more investment and the spread of more productive agriculture.

Edward Hugh said...

Hi again everyone,

Just to comment that I am now looking at Vietnam for the post on rice and farmland prices, and the fertility numbers are pretty astonishing - even for me, and I am pretty accustomed by now.

Fertility in Vietnam was as still as high as as a 3.9 Tfr in 1987, by 2001 they were going below replacement. Since that time tyhey have been steadily dropping and by 2007 they were at 1.88 accroding to data from the US census bureau. My guess is that they will now follow all the other Asian countries who have gone before down to lowest low fertility (Thailand currently at 1.64 and dropping for eg. Japan, S Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong all in the 1.2/1.3 range and China, well China's current Tfr is evidently anyone's guess, but is obviously heading fast into the same range as the others).

What is so striking is the speed of the transition in Vietnam, any country with such a rapid decline is heading for equally rapid ageing (which I think is another issue Steve needs to think about) and all kinds of sustainability problems.

So basically the big issue at the present time is the momentum one (since countries like Vietnam still have very large generations in the childbearing ages, even if each woman is having comparatively few children).

The only big holdout really is Africa - most of Latin America will soon be below replacement - and I don't think they will be holding out for long (ie for more than a couple of decades) for all the reasons I have been explaining.

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

The following link provides a 2005 presentation that seems particularly timely in this 2008 discussion.

http://www.populationandsustainability.org/papers/campbellagm.pdf

Thanks for considering it.

Sincerely,

Steve

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Reposting link to presentation by Martha Campbell, which did not post properly in the previous missive.

http://www.populationandsustainability.org/papers/campbellagm.pdf

Steve

Edward Hugh said...

Hi everyone,

As this debate is now steadily winding down, I would just like to emphasise one point: we here on the DM blog do not undersestimate the importance of the problems posed by the planet's rapidly growing population, we just think it is only one part of the problem, and that all of this is a complex problem with many components.

We do not doubt for a moment that if the powers that be treated the population issue (looked at from both ends) with more seriousness, much more could be done. That is why this blog is called Demography Matters, whereas all too often - and especially in an economic context - the leading discourse seems to accept that demography DOESN'T matter.

We on this blog are however, reasonably convinced that the majority of the high fertility societies will rapidly cease to be so (over the next 20 odd years or so) even in the presence of official intertia due to the impact of globalisation and market forces.

(See my Food Prices, Farmland, Global Rebalancing and Rural Labour Shortages and my Fertility, Employment and Inflation in Thailand and Vietnam posts which postdate this one by a week or so and can be found by clicking couple of times on newer posts at the foot of the page).

In particular I chose Vientan for a case study since it lies at the heart of the current rice issue and has a population which is still rising at the rate of 1 million a year even while fertility is well below replacement and falling. This is the so called inbuilt momentum issue. But one day in the not too distant future Vietnam's population will hit a ceiling and start to both decline and age, producing important sustainability problems.

This is the part of the picture those who are holding to the other side of the argument don't seem to see.

Every day, the planet has roughly 250,000 inhabitants . Most of these people are born into poverty and live their entire lives in poverty.

At the same time, and according to the World Bank, 840 million people are still going hungry, two billion are malnourished, and 1.3 billion live in absolute poverty, existing on less than one dollar a day. For many, their lives are driven by a simple obsession: finding their next meal.

What many people do not realize is that 70 percent of these poor, hungry people live in Asia. South Asia alone is home to half the developing world’s poor. Together, Bangladesh and eastern India have as many poor as all of sub-Saharan Africa.


While poverty and hunger in Ethiopia and Somalia have permanently scarred the world’s conscience, the longstanding suffering, hunger, and hopelessness of Asia’s 800 million desperately poor people somehow tend to get overlooked.

So in many ways the key to getting global population into a balanced state lies out in Asia, and it is Asia that I am reasonably convinced we will see fertility drop most rapidly. The problem is that the sheer force of the decline will in and of itself produce yet more problems. This is the part of issue I would like to see much more focus on.

Well, if you have finally worked your way this far down the thread. Congratulations. I hope you enjoyed the read, and have found something useful here whatever your point of view.