Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Social Impacts of the Economic Slowdown: The Latvian experience

Guest Post by Eliana Marino

The economic and financial crisis that started in 2008 seems to be on its way to being overcome by many EU member states, but the population in some of the most touched countries is still labouring under the ongoing effects of the slowdown. Latvia, which underwent an annualised decline of 18% of GDP in the first quarter of 2009 and still has the highest unemployment rate in the EU, is experiencing a veritable revolution in its population structure and is preparing to face serious demographic challenges.

The strong recession experienced in the last few years has sadly confirmed the high propensity of Latvian people to migrate for economic reasons and generated a real “exodus” of working age population.

Before 1999, a peak of emigration was registered due to the endogenous migration potential of the collapsed Soviet Union, but, from 1999 to 2002 the outflows seemed to stabilize and to show a slowing trend. This trend changed with the accession to the European Union and the immediate application of the free movement of labour by UK, Ireland and Sweden, which decided to open their borders to New Member States immigrants without any transitional restrictions. These conditions created an increase in the number of emigrants in 2006 and the “old” member states definitely replaced the Russian Federation and the ex Soviet Republics as main countries of destination.

The decline of the outflow in 2007 is linked to Latvian extraordinary economic growth which appeared to guarantee an increase in the wellbeing of the population. This situation started to deteriorate in the second half of 2008, generating a new rise in emigration decisions and increasing more and more in the following year.
Net migration has always been negative and, combined with a Total Fertility Rate among the lowest in EU, it strongly contributed to a progressive and continuous decline of the total population.

Official data, as analyzed above, cannot provide a real portrait of migration dynamics in Latvia. While the registration of immigrants is enough reliable due to the strict controls at the external borders of the EU, emigration statistics are completely unreliable because the large majority of emigrants did not declare its departure and no alternative method is adopted to catch up their real number. The gap between registered and factual data is showed by the comparison with statistics provided by the destination countries, as showed in the graph below:

More recent data were collected through the EU funded project The Geographic Mobility of the Labour Force , consisting of a survey conducted in 2007. The study arrived at the conclusion that a bit more than 40˙000 people emigrated between 2004 and 2005 (87% more than registered data). The authors forecasted that intensive emigration was expected to continue and that, looking at the number of respondents who said that they wonted to leave and at those who already did something in pursuit of this dream, by 2010 between 10˙000 and 16˙000 people were supposed to leave Latvia, thus totaling 50˙000 to 80˙000 emigrants from 2004 to 2010.

These estimates were presented in 2007 when Latvia was going through a period of sustained economic growth and no one could even imagine the economic collapse which the country is undergoing in this moment.

The survey, which I personally conducted in Riga from September to December 2009 and which involved some of the major Latvian experts on migration issues, showed that around 30,000 people are supposed to have left Latvia in 2009 and the same number is forecasted also for 2010.

These massive emigration flows from Latvia can strongly affect the future demographic and economic structure of the country, creating serious problems of labour shortage, unsustanability of the pension system and huge population decline.

Since the years of great economic growth, Latvia experienced a huge problem of labour shortage due not only to the lack of high skilled professionals but also to the general discrepancy between demand and offer of labour. In 2006-2007 this situation was one of the main topics of political and public debate and, under the pressures of the enterprises, the government approved a more liberal immigration policy in order to select labour force from abroad.

The downturn of 2008 caused an inversion of the trend: enterprises were obliged to reduce the labour force and the employment rate decreased together with the level of wages. These elements represented the main push factors for emigration and they are currently generating a real “exodus” of the labour force, creating dangerous structural problem in Latvian economy. Actually, lack of labour and especially of high skilled professionals will be a veritable challenge for the economic recovery of the country and nowadays it is one of the main reasons of concern for Latvian politicians and intellectuals.

From the demographic point of view, the impact of emigration can be considered under two different aspects:

- emigration of working age population makes the demographic burden increase: the number of inactive people (children and retired people) exceeds the number of active people, creating serious challenges for the sustainability of the welfare system;

- the most part of the outflows consists of working age population (from 15 to 65 years old) that includes people in reproductive age (from 15 to 49 years old). A huge number of emigrants in this particular age group means a further reduction of the natural increase of the population. In fact, they will probably have their children abroad or the migration decision itself will discourage the creation of numerous families.

This situation has to be combined with the low levels of Total Fertility Rate which characterize the country since more than 20 years ago. In Latvia, the first demographic transition to a rational regime of reproduction began at the end of XIX Century and the total fertility rate was lower than the replacement level already in the second half of the Century, due to repressions and harsh living conditions during the wars and the Soviet occupation. The replacement level was met only in the 80s after the introduction of partially paid child birth leave. Since then, the birth rate has decreased to unprecedented level and has represented an issue of serious concern for Latvian government. In particular, the decline of total fertility rate accelerated during the economic and political transition, since the Soviet centralized welfare collapsed and the national government opted for a shock therapy instead of a gradual and progressive transition to the market economy.

However, Latvian government recognised the need to ensure reproduction of the population as a prerequisite for the nation’s existence and started to evaluate adequate tools for family support. The adoption of successful family policies made the birth rate level stabilize since 1999 and start to increase at the beginning of the XXI Century. Anyway, the total fertility rate never reached the replacement level and it is still among the lowest in the EU (average 1.4 children per woman in the period 2005-2010 ).

As a consequence of these indicators, Latvian population dropped from 2.5 to 2.2 million people in 15 years and the negative growth rate is expected to accelerate in the next years.

The experts interviewed in the last months of 2009 proposed different solutions to both economic and demographic challenges but they agreed on the fact that a more liberal immigration policy might be really helpful to solve problems of labour shortage and pension sustainability as well as to contribute to the inversion of the negative demographic trends. However, this proposal, which is one of the main topic of public debate since the economic boom, is in direct conflict with the hostility of national population toward immigrants. Latvian critical historical experience with integration of different ethnicities is the clearest explanation of this hostility and probably some years are still needed to overcome these cultural barriers.

In definitive, the results of the survey allow to conclude that Latvia needs some important structural reforms (concerning an efficient social policy, a comprehensive population policy, a strong action against corruption and a reduction of the bureaucratic burden) to be implemented by the national government in order to prepare the country to play its role at the European and international level and to take the best advantages from the opportunities provided by the integration and globalization process. The first step to achieve this objective is the promotion of a cultural change whose main goal is to dump the “dependency from the past” and to open mental and factual borders to modernity.


1/ Latvija Statistika (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia), www.csb.gov.lv, accessed on April 17th 2010

2/ Herm A. et Al, THESIM-Toward Harmonised European Statistics on International Migration, Country Report Latvia, Sixth Framework Programme, priority 8.1: Policy Oriented Research, Integrating and Strengthening the European Research Area, December 2004

3/ Krišjāne Z. et Al., The Geographic Mobility of the Labour Force, National Programme of European Structural Funds “Labour Market Research”, project “Welfare Ministry Research”, University of Latvia, co-financed by the European Union, 2007

4/ Eglīte P., National Policy for Increasing the Birth Rate in Latvia, in Humanities and Social Sciences Latvia, University of Latvia, Institute of Economics-Latvian Academy of Sciences, 2008

5/ UNdata, www.data.un.org accessed on January 30th 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Macroeconomics, Representative Agents and Demographics (wonkish)

Allow me to highjack the debate here at DM by moving in with a very wonkish piece. Be aware, that unworldly math and neo-classical economics will follow, but I thought that you might find it interesting anyway. I guess that the simple question here is whether the multidisciplinary crowd at DM and in the comments section believe that there is any hope at all for macroeconomists in the future?

I certainly hope so, but I will let you be the judge ...

Upon first reading what I am, more or less, pasting below, my thesis councillor opinioned that this particular piece of text was a malignant tumor that had to be surgically removed if the patient (in this case, my master's thesis) were to make it alive. I agreed with him back then and I still do, but I thought that the section was too interesting to be devoted entirely to the dustbin. Moreover, the debate on the state of macroeconomics has gotten new life on the back of the financial and economic crisis with a lot of interesting contributions in the past 2 years [1] and I wanted to add my own spin on, at least, part of the issues involved.

The impetus for the the discussion below essentially came as I realized that the only way that I could meaningfully attempt to stand on the shoulders of giants in terms of mapping a relationship between ageing and capital flows was through the use of representative agent models and thus through the use of classic macroeconomic microfoundations. This is naturally logic for any trained macroeconomist, but I started out believing that my specific problem demanded a different theoretical approach and it lead to a discussion on the merits of the representative agent.

So without further ado ...

The Macroeconomics of Demographics, do we need micro foundations?

One key proposition for this thesis is that the demographic transition needs to be rethought or perhaps more aptly reformulated Edward Hugh (2006). Although this is certainly not a new proposition, it is important to emphasize in the context of the applying a model (idea) of the DT as a foundation for economic analysis. One particularly important feature is that while many of the outcomes of the demographic transition may be operationalized in the context of economic phenomena (and thus theory), economic theories cannot, alone, explain the underlying processes which give rise to these economic facts. In essence, this means that we need to venture beyond core economic theories to adequately account for the links between demographics and macroeconomics.

This presents us with a rather unique challenge. One the one hand economic convention demands that results and modeling be expressed in a sometimes rigid and arcane mathematical language, but this may not always be appropriate. Considerably complexity on the conceptual level may be lost in the transition from complex empirical regularities to formal economics. As a result, The idea that a proper understanding of the demographic transition demands an interdisciplinary approach in relation to economics is a key proposition for this thesis, but also one which is difficult to adhere to since the theoretical framework through which ideas on macroeconomics and demographics are usually expressed remains the classical one with utility maximizing representative agents whose behavior in optimum is aggregated to the macroeconomy. Specifically, this aggregation is crucial but also, as it turns out quite problematical in both a theoretical and methodological sense.

With this point stated as an initial qualifier, the main theoretical model chosen to motivate the empirical analyses in my thesis is the intertemporal current account [2] and in this context, the notion of intertemporal optimality and intertemporal optimization are key principles.

The idea of intertemporal choice comes from Fischer (1930) who laid the foundation for the idea that value has both a time and quantity perspective. This fundamental proposition which today forms the backbone of financial and economic theory was later treated by Roy Harrod (Harrod (1939, 1960 and 1963)) to formulate the dynamic theory which later has given rise to the notion that the utility of consumption in two periods be related via the market (as well as potentially subjective) discount rate. The main idea to recognize here is the fact that income (Y) can only be saved (s) or consumed (c) and that the decision to do so depends on the discounted value of foregoing consumption today relative to tomorrow. The imperative question to answer in the present context is thus how ageing might explain this intertemporal substitution between savings and consumption on an aggregate level.

This research program, as it were, has been given plenty of thought in the annals of economic theory as it is addressed by Modigliani’s life cycle hypothesis and thus complemented by Friedman’s famous permanent income hypothesis Friedman (1957), Modigliani and Brumberg (1954) and Modigliani and Ando (1963). These contributions have been the source of an almost dizzying amount of empirical tests and further theoretical elaborations and in order not to get bogged down in too much detail it is worthwhile to focus on the main faultlines. where the life cycle and permanent income hypothesis have widely used to differentiate Keynes' original idea that consumers spend out of current disposable income which again has led to a never ending discussion about time horizons. This discussion however is also somewhat of a false debate I think since the Keynesian idea of a marginal propensity to consume out of current income and consumption smoothing frameworks presented by Modigliani and Friedman are not mutually exclusive. In fact, knowing when to apply either one is a key task for macroeconomists since both ideas may teach us important things depending on the setting.

Further into the realms of Neo-Classical economics and what has become the leading paradigm in moder macroeconomics the Keynesian result has decisively been dragged through the mud. For example, Robert Lucas’ rational expectations hypothesis was specifically formulated in the context of showing the irrelevance of policies to affect output and inflation in short run (The Lucas Critique). Even as the pure supply side economics was surplanted by the New Keynesians up through the 1980s and 1990s the representative agent paradigm had already been locked in and relative to the core neo-classical models the New Keynesian models are very similar in methodological setup.

This thesis shall neatly sidestep the grand old issue of the short run vs. the long run but rather home in on the principle of intertemporal substitution (or consumption smoothing in the lingo of the theory) and forward looking behavior of economic agents. Specifically the topics under consideration will be the presence of an aggregate economic life cycle of consumption and saving driven by this intertemporality, how this intertemporality manifests itself, and how the divergence in time horizons between consumers, governments, and companies may affect this life cycle. In a concrete context the idea of intertemporal preference between consumption and saving shall be cast in the context of an economy’s preference or tendency to run an external surplus or deficit.

A Benchmark Problem

In the present context, the use of the intertemporal consumption result can be motivated by the following expression of the agent’s maximization problem (1).

In this setup (a) is equal to assets, (r) is the interest rate which is assumed constant, (c) is consumption and finally (y) is income ( assumed exogenously given). The value of beta (β) is given by 0< β<1. t="0)">

The problem presents one of the simplest forms of the intertemporal decision by our representative consumer. Solving the problem we get the classic result that marginal utility in period (0) depends on the discounted marginal utility in period (t+1); where beta is the subjective discount rate (time preference). In fact, why don't we just go ahead and solve the thing so that you can see for yourself what is going on. Now, I am going to go through with brute force here and assume that any readers with no knowledge of calculus will know full well to skip this part [3]. Using the problem above, we can setup the following constrained optimization problem.

The important thing to understand in these kinds of problems is the distinction between state and choice variables. Here the agent chooses assets and consumption given income and the interest rate. This leads to three first order conditions.

Recognize that as always in such an optimization problem we would first of all like to solve out the Lagrange multipliers in order to get a closed form solution. Moreover, we would like to follow in the mental footsteps of Irvin Fischer and Euler and express this solution as a dynamic relationship between consumption in period 0 and period t+1. Fortunately this is quite easy in the present case (setting "s" to 1 in the third step);

This Euler equation shows exactly the relationship I explained above in words, namely that the consumer’s marginal utility in period (t+1) is equal to the marginal utility in period (t) discounted by the market discount rate as well as the subjective discount rate (beta)

The Origins of the Representative Agent

So, if you made it this far and before an actual discussion of whether the representation above is an adequate and useful macroeconomic construct it is worthwhile to trace its origins because its story is a remarkable one. It first appeared in the context of Alfred Marshall’s Principles of Economics in the form of the representative firm Hartley (1996) and Marshall originally conjured this entity in the context of constructing a supply curve for the industry and essentially, as Hartley points out, the creation seemed rather innocent at first.

However, this was not the position taken by Marshall’s peers and after a devastating critique by, among others, John Maynard Keynes and Lionel Robbins the idea of the representative agent was put to rest in the first part of the 20th century Hartley (1996). It would take some 40 years before the idea of the representative agent was resurrected and this time its endurance would prove pervasive.

According to Hartley (1996) the first use of representative agents in a post Marshall perspective has its origins in the period in which neo-classical economics was reaching its zenith. Concretely, Lucas and Rapping (1970) is cited as the first contribution using a representative agent detailing the theory of intertemporal labour supply which is a core assumption of most real business cycle models Romer (2006, ch. 4). Generally, representative agent models are often narrated in the form of an ideal type Walrasian model where the parameters in question are assumed to represent fixed entities which do not change with policy regimes. The model described above is an example of such a model. Apart from adhering to the ideal of constructing a Walrasian equilibrium model, the modern use of representative agents are also closely linked with the idea of rational expectations Sargent (1993), Lucas (1976) and the famous Lucas Critique attacking traditional Keynesian policy evaluation models Hartley (1997, ch. 4) and Lucas (1976). Finally and as David Colander points out in a review of Hartley (1997), the use of representative agents is also closely tied to the pedagogy of macroeconomics Colander (1997).

Ironically, the occasion for the return of the representative agent to macroeconomics was a widespread need and desire among scholars to provide microfoundations for macroeconomics and thus to differentiate the Keynesian idea of a pure macroeconomic theory. In addition, the modern reincarnation of representative agent models is primarily motivated by the desire to build Walrasian general equilibrium models as well as to imbue agents with rational expectations Lucas (1976). This desire can of course be debated on its own merit, but more interestingly would be to find out whether the use of representative agent models is useful in general. Kirman (1992) and, in particular, Hartley (1997) think that they are not and is devastating in his critique arguing that the impetus to construct microfoundations through Walrasian ideal type representative agents with rational expectations fail on a number of critical measures. Key issues here are the representative agent’s inability to model the obvious degree of heterogeneity on a macro level as well as the issue of aggregating the results derived in a microeconomic context. Hartley (1997) thus attempts the ultimate coup-de-grâce;

The idea that we can start with nothing other than individuals maximizing their own utility and build up a model that explains the macroeconomy is nothing but a myth

It is important to note that the discourse fielded in Hartley (1997) and Kirman (1992) is a fringe conversation, at best. Indeed, as economists attempt to build ever more complex models these always take their point of departure in the representative agent. Especially, it is important to note that modern dynamic general equilibrium models are also fundamentally rooted in representative agent models and as such, these continue to represent the main work horse models in macroeconomics. Moreover, and I am speaking out of personal experience here; no respectable econ department today will accept a paper from their PhD or graduate students as "eligible" without proper neo-classical microfoundations. In this sense, the mathematical expression of representative agents remain the core tool in almost all macroeconomic analysis today (although this may about to change).

Take it to the Dumps?

Two obvious questions impose themselves at this point. One is whether the use of representative agents in macroeconomics has something, in general, to do with the recent soul searching among macroeconomists and the critique against the profession. And the second is whether the study of macroeconomics and demographics in particular calls for the non-use of representative agent modelling.

On the first I don't necessarily think that it exists to the detriment of macroeconomics as a discipline, but I do think that a couple of points need mention. First of all I will echo the point made in Hartley (1997) that given the widespread use of representative agent modelling in almost all corners of macroeconomics and the almost religious devotion to it in graduate and PhD economics I think it is highly problematic that we have not had a more serious debate of its methodological merits. I would emphasize this in particular in the context of the fact that the use of representative agents leads to very inflexible (although rigorous) mathematical models and the blind faith in these models tend to steer macroeconomics onto a very narrow methodological path. During my research and initial ground work for the thesis I actually did write my own representative agent model to suit my specific agenda, but found in the end that I was paying more tribute to the laws of calculus than the connection between ageing and capital flows/open economy dynamics and as I set up the problem I ended up very close to the original benchmark problem.

On the second, I have not come to a decisive conclusion yet but I want to strongly emphasize that this is a very important question. The key transmission mechanism from demographics to the macroeconomy lies exactly in the aggregation of individual behaviour on the basis of life cycle and life course theory and at the moment, the only way that we are able to make such a link is through the representative agent. It is a fair question to ask here whether this is methodologically viable. Another issue would be that at the current juncture life course and life cycle theory are built as bottom-up theories in the sense that they both invariably start on the micro level. But it does not need to be like this. The formulation of a pure macroeconomic theory on how demographics processes affect our economies is something worth thinking about and devoting resources to.

In the end I think that the use of representative agent modelling represent one of the core debates that macroeconomists must have in relation to the recent upheaval in the profession. It would be a mistake to consider me a one-sided opponent of representative agent modelling, but I am skeptical and more often than not I think that the representative agent represents more of a straitjacket than a rigorous economic tool. On the other hand, the rigorous treatment of economic problems that follows from the setup of representative agent models is also fundamentally appealing I think.

Ultimately, I am agnostic when it comes to the need for micro foundations. Clearly we need some form of micro oriented analysis when we study macro variables, but too much of a focus on the micro level may remove attention from complex processes whose main and only playing field is at the macro level. As such and while I would not advocate taking it to the dumps I think that the current macroeconomic debate should reflect a more nuanced view of the representative agent (and the use of Walrasian microfoundations) than is currently the case.

List of References

Colander, David (1996) – Beyond Microfoundations, Cambridge University Press; the book is a compilation of papers with David Colander as an editor of the entire volume.

Fisher, Irvin (1930)The Theory of Interest

Friedman, Milton (1957) – A Theory of the Consumption Function, NBER

Harrod, Roy F (1939)An Essay in Dynamic Theory, The Economic Journal, vol. 49, no. 193 (Mar,. 1939) pp. 14-33.

Harrod, Roy F (1960)Second Essay in Dynamic Theory, The Economic Journal, vol. 70, no. 278 (Jun,. 1960) pp. 277-293.

Harrod, Roy F (1963) – Themes in Dynamic Theory, The Economic Journal, vol. 73, no. 291 (Sep,. 1963) pp. 401-421.

Hartley, James E (1996) – The Origins of the Representative Agent, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 10, No. 2 Spring 1996 pp. 169-177

Hartley, James E (1997) – The Representative Agent in Macroeconomics, Routledge, Frontiers of Political Economy (1997)

Hugh, Edward (2006) Rethinking the Demographic Transition, Working Paper

Kirman, Alan P (1992) – Whom or What Does the Representative Individual Represent? Journal of Economic Perspectives volume 6 no. 2 Spring 1992 pp. 117-136

Lucas, Robert E. Jr (1976) – Econometric Policy Evaluation: A Critique, Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, issue 1 (Jan), pp. 19-46

Lucas, Robert E. & Rapping, Leonard (1970)Real Wages, Employment and Inflation, In E. S. Phelps. ed. Microeconomic Foundations of Employment and Inflation Theory. New York: Norton, 1970.

Modigliani, Franco & Ando, Albert (1963)The “Life Cycle” Hypothesis of Saving: Aggregate Implications and Tests, The American Economic Review, vol. 53, no. 1, part 1 (Mar., 1963) pp. 55-84


[1] - See links in this one for an overview of the initial flurry.

[2] - The main topic being international capital flows and ageing.

[3] - The point here is simply that for graduate economists, this problem is almost too simple but for many others it is unworldly. Here of course lies a great part of the problem!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Some thoughts on the Dutch-Afrikaner connections

During the World Cup, The Nation's Aaron Ross had an interesting examination of the tenuous and contested relationship of South Africa's Afrikaners to the Dutch, divided as much as united by elements of a shared historical, cultural, political and religious heritage, in his "A World Cup Final in the Shadows of History". Some people have said that the final games of the World Cup were almost home games for the Dutch, especially but not only when the Dutch team was playing in the Cape Town founded by the Dutch and where the descendants (of all races) of the Dutch colonial enterprise still predominate. Ethnicity and nationality, as are their wont in events like this, became highly (and annoyingly) contingent.

Now, with the game approaching, the Netherlands stood poised to claim its first-ever World Cup title and to do it on South African soil. It wasn’t quite France about to triumph in Algeria, but for a country in which the memory of apartheid remains so raw, the political subtext has been inescapable. When the Dutch team arrived in South Africa a little over a month ago, the national press had been fixated since March on the controversy surrounding Julius Malema, leader of the African National Congress Youth League, who had revived an apartheid-era song featuring the lyrics, “Kill the Boer”—“Boer” an often derogatory term for Afrikaners.

But for many black South Africans, politics did not harden them to the Dutch fans’ renowned charms. When it comes to the world’s biggest sporting events, the Dutch are the guests at the party that everyone wants to have a drink with. The Afrikaner population accounted for much of the local support in South Africa, but Dutch fever transcended racial barriers. When the Netherlands played Uruguay in the semifinals in Cape Town, an orange monsoon swept through the coastal city, as South Africans and Dutch visitors alike sported orange garments of every variety. Politics was a distant afterthought. At Madiba too, I met Afrikaners supporting Spain and black South Africans supporting the Netherlands for no other reason than they liked the way their favored team plays.

The political element was not completely absent from the equation, though. Tassha Ngolela, a black South African visiting New York from Pretoria, cited South Africa’s historical links to the Netherlands as one of the biggest reasons she was cheering for the Dutch in the final. “We speak Dutch,” she explained to me, before going on to clarify that Afrikaans, the Afrikaner language now spoken by South Africans of all races, is not exactly the same thing as its linguistic forebear.

Other black South Africans have been less enamored by their compatriots’ apparent embrace of their colonial past. The Netherlands’ semifinal victory in Cape Town prompted widespread invocations in the local media of an old Afrikaans slogan, “Die Kaap is weer Hollands” (“The Cape is Dutch again”), to which a friend from Cape Town complained, “I don't have a problem with enjoying the soccer for what it's worth but when so many are using terms that relate to colonization to now support and to indicate Dutch favor, that to me is not only a matter of discourse!”

In reality, the ties between the modern Dutch and Afrikaners are thin. The biggest wave of Afrikaner immigration—which included Germans and French as well—occurred between the 1650s and 1790s. Today, most South Africans, Afrikaner and otherwise, don’t perceive any real relationship between the Afrikaners and Dutch. Stephen Ellis, a member of the African Studies Centre in Leiden, The Netherlands, observed that Afrikaners view the Netherlands as a foreign nation, although some derive great amusement when you speak Dutch to them, as it “sounds very old fashioned and archaic.”

The Netherlands also had one of the strongest track records on apartheid among Western nations. After some initial displays of solidarity with the Nationalist government in the 1950s, the Netherlands became one of its most vocal European critics beginning in the 1960s. The antiapartheid movement was especially strong, with some young Dutch people even joining the underground liberation struggle. [. . .]

Still, after centuries of insisting upon their “Africanness” to justify their claims to the land, Afrikaners’ newfound kinship with the Dutch can rankle. Another friend in South Africa reported someone at his gym saying before the semifinal that he was going to support his “distant white cousins.” Despite the Netherlands’ mostly clean hands in South Africa’s racist history, even its merely symbolic ties with that past, from apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd’s Dutch descent to Afrikaans’ Dutch roots, are enough to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many blacks.

The connections with the Netherlands are more substantial than that. After the definitive loss of the Cape Colony at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Dutch regained an interest in South Africa only in the 1870s, consequence of an interest in the religious and linguistic offshoot of the Netherlands in South Africa along with a certain imperialism-associated interest in the South African republics as a potential market. A certain migration to South Africa from the Netherlands continued up to the 1970s, when Dutch economic success and the growing problems of South Africa made migration unattractive. Even after the development of Afrikaans as a language distinct from Dutch, cultural ties remained, for instances in regards to the Calvinism shared by some Dutch and most Afrikaners, and certain language linkages remain (Afrikaansophones work quite well for call centres marketed towards the Netherlands and Flanders).

The odd thing? Despite this vast and irregularly maintained web of connections, and despite the transformations of the white population that reduced its share to perhaps a tenth of the 2010 South African population owing to South African whites' relatively earlier and more complete demographic transition and the post-apartheid white emigration of perhaps a million people that's as much brain drain to the North as white flight, there seem to be hardly any Afrikaners--or any South Africans--living in the Netherlands. Wikipedia's Afrikaner article quotes figures of twenty-five thousand Afrikaners in the Netherlands and another fifteen thousand in Belgium, and presumably there are other South Africans, but yet there doesn't seem to be a significant concentration of South Africans in Netherlandophone Europe. I wonder why this is the case. Is Britain a more natural European destination? Have there just not been any substantive human links formed?


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Look to Geocurrents, e.g. on Mexico

One blog that I find endlessly fascinating is Geocurrents, a map-driven blog written mainly by Martin Lewis that makes use of maps to illustrate facts of regional differences in economic development, say, or diverging demographic patterns, or zones of shared (or divergent) cultural affinities that literally need illustration.

Two posts that I think our readers will like, given Scott's Mexico-related posts, examine that country. One post ("Misconceptions About Mexico’s Birth Rate") points out not only that Mexico as a whole is well advanced in its demographic transition--the volume of emigration to the United States has little connection to supposedly astronomical current birth rates--but that different Mexican states are at very different points on the transition.

Another ("Regional Economic Disparities and Migration in Mexico") makes the point that Mexico's economic divisions are at least as notable, GDP per capita in its federal units varying widely, comparing at the highest to Slovenia's (Distrito Federal) and at the lowest to Albania's (Chiapas). (Even in that case, it's still much higher than GDP per capita in most of Central America, a region treated in more recent posts.)

Anyway, go, visit, enjoy, comment.