Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Post-colonialism and migration in Italy

An article about the recent surge in boat migration from Africa to Italy caught my attention with an interesting comparison.

Italy has declared a state of emergency on the southern island of Lampedusa and appealed to the rest of the EU for help following the arrival of up to 5,000 people fleeing the political upheaval in Tunisia.

Silvio Berlusconi's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said he had contacted Catherine Ashton, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs, to propose a blockade of Tunisian ports by the EU's Frontex agency which could "mobilise patrols and refoulement [the forcible return of would-be migrants to their country of departure]".

He said a similar exercise was carried out by Italy when 15,000 Albanians arrived in 1991. "I hope the Tunisian authorities accept the Albanian model," Frattini said in an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

The Albanian model? Frattini's comparison made a certain amount of sense, in that migration from Albania to Italy only began after the collapse of Communism in Albania let Albanians leave their impoverished for work. Frattini might be imagining that Tunisia without Ben Ali would trigger similar migration. If so, his comparison is off-base: the collapse of Communism in Albania led directly to the collapse of the Albanian economy and border controls, creating the incentive and the means for Albanians to leave their country, while the end of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia coincided with harder times, yes, but not with an economic collapse comparable to post-Communist Albania's.

After I blogged here about Malta last month, I made a tie-in post at another group blog, History and Futility. Malta's current status as a democratic European nation-state embedded in the European Union is grounded on a particular interpretation of Maltese cultural and geographic realities. Other interpretations are possible.

Malta in the Mediterranean

The small light green circle surrounding the archiepelago reflects Malta’s identity as small and unique, isolated in the Mediterranean on its small land base and with its unique culture; the large purple circle to denote Malta’s location within a sort of Italian sphere of influence, more vestigial than before, thankfully, when Italy lay claim to Malta (and the other territories within the circle) as rightfully Italian regardless of local opinion; red denotes Malta’s links with North Africa, low key and unemphasized but real as evidenced by the Semitic Maltese language and the apparent popularity of post-independence Malta’s flirtations with a radically anti-colonial Libya; black, to show Malta’s location within the European Union, its hoped-for final destination. Different people can agree that Malta is located at 35°53′N 14°30′E and disagree on the relative importance of the different human factors–language, religion, migration, history, trade, politics–which assign meaning to those geographic coordinates.

Much the same sort of thing can be said about Italy, which had its own maps, its own perceptions of its neighbourhood. These perceptions were more aggressive by far than anything of the Maltese, granted.

Greater Italia

I copied this map of Italian territorial claims under fascism from the Wikimedia Commons. As described by the creator brunoambrosio, it is a map of "the 1940 project "Greater Italia", inside the orange line and dots, in Europe and North Africa. Self-made (I have based my work on the original Commons Image:Mediterranean Relief.jpg, licensed PD-USGov). The green line and dots show the biggest extension of Italian control in the Mediterranean sea in november 1942 (while the red shows the British controlled areas, like Malta)."

Albania, source of modern immigrants to Italy, was firmly in the Italian sphere; Tunisia, then (under French protectorate) not a source of immigrants but rather as a target for irredentist sentiment and in many ways an Italian settlement colony, was included briefly; Libya, the "Fourth Shore" of Fascist Italy and core of the Fascist Roman Empire, was Italian for thirty years. Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia are not shown here.

James Miller noted that for most of its history Italy was caught by the image of the Mediterranean as a forum for expansive imperialism, as a place where Italy could show off its emergent great power status and underline its modernity.

Students of literature often construct their understanding of a topic primarily from books and readings. But that’s not the case for students in Giuliana Minghelli’s new [Harvard] course on cultural migrations between Africa and Italy, where they have witnessed a performance by one of the assigned authors and have the opportunity to develop their own creative responses.

Minghelli, associate professor of Romance languages and literatures, found her interest in the subject piqued by her study of Italy’s early 20th century modernist writers. Many of them, she discovered, were either born in or had lived in Africa.

“People like Futurism founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti chose Africa as the stage on which to perform the speed, modernity, action, and violence of his Futurist poetics,” Minghelli noted. “That is quite intriguing. Why Africa?”

On the one hand, she said, Africa represented a blank canvas onto which Italian writers could project their wildest fantasies. At the same time, the continent functioned as a land of exile and escape, initially from the fascist regime that controlled Italy in the decades leading up to World War II.

Later, in the 1960s, writers fled from the homogenization of capitalist consumer culture. For instance, author and film director Pier Paolo Pasolini traveled to Africa in search of an alternative, uncontaminated world.

Indeed, despite a desire on the part of many Italian authors to paint Africa as a primitive and exotic world, the continent is very close to Italy, perhaps uncomfortably so for many at the time. After the unification of Italy in 1861, Italians strove to present themselves as a thoroughly European culture, repressing what Minghelli calls “the Africa within Italy.”

Yet Italy also needed Africa, for economic reasons and because it was felt practicing colonialism would establish a stronger sense of national identity. The Italians were late to the “scramble for Africa,” waiting until 1936 — after the conquest of Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia — to proclaim an official Italian Empire. The desire for conquest was buoyed by archaeological excavations in Africa that unearthed Roman ruins, which Italians used to link their colonizing activities to the glory of the Roman Empire.

“If you’re interested in the question of Italian nation-building and identity formation, Africa is really central,” Minghelli said.

The post-colonial element in Italy's relationship to once-subordinate and migrant-receiving, now independent and migrant-sending, countries on its frontiers is something that doesn't seem to have been investigated that much, notwithstanding the origins of many of these unpopular immigrants in former Italian colonial or near-colonial countries (Tunisia, Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia) and the importance of post-Italian Libya as a corridor. It played a role: see how Italian links encouraged a relatively much greater volume of post-colonial immigration to Italy from Eritrea as opposed to Somalia. Where else does it play a role, though? What networks have been established? What attitudes are there in Italy towards migrants from ex-Italian colonies: empathy, dislike?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Set them free"

One theme that Burgh Diaspora has been exploring in its study of urban redevelopment is the likelihood that for residents of depressed areas--the blog focuses its attention on American cities, on places like Buffalo or better yet Detroit, where the census resulted revealed that the Motor City's population fell by a quarter over the past decade--emigration makes much more sense than staying. Ryan Avent's post at the Economist argues that trying to keep people from leaving isn't very clear-minded.

[N]ot every state can benefit from adding new people (nor should they). One panel featured two officials from the state of Michigan, which has suffered from a long period of decline and which continues to seek ways to right the ship. It would be possible, even easy, to resurrect Michigan. What would it take? Start with a special visa programme, in which skilled immigrants from other countries are offered easier visa terms and an expedited road to citizenship if they accept a visa that requires them to work in the Detroit area for five years. Follow that up by endowing a massive, DARPA-style energy research laboratory in the Detroit area. Set up special venture capital funds that offer excellent loan terms to start-ups connected with the lab or area universities, if they're willing to locate their new business in Michigan. Set up a special economic zone in southeastern Michigan that features an "invisible" border with Canada. Build high-speed rail lines from Detroit to Chicago and Toronto. Do all that, and I guarantee you that Detroit will be growing like mad in ten years. Honestly, even the visa programme alone might generate a turnaround.

The question is: to what end are we resurrecting Michigan? If the goal is to help the residents of Michigan, it would be much cheaper and easier to do so by investing in those individuals, in order to help them move to more successful local economies. Indeed, without investments in the people of Michigan, it's not clear how much a turnaround in the state's fortunes will benefit existing residents. Many have stayed in the state because they love the place, no doubt, but many others have not left because they're unprepared to find success in growth industries elsewhere. Moving the growth industries to their backyard won't change that fact.

If you're the governor of a declining state, you can't help but do everything you can to return your state to growth. But it's important to remember that the best thing for the American economy as a whole will often be for people to leave lagging areas.

The problem, as Burgh Diaspora notes, is not only the question of how to regenerate a community when you combine necessary investments in cultural capital with geographical mobility, but the need of how to avoid the cheap fix of avoiding population decline not by making a city more attractive for a mobile population but by keeping populations simply locked in place. Not-dismal optics can't substitute for economic development, and in the long run won't discourage emigration but simply make the system more brittle: Look at East Germany after reunification. I like the conclusion here: "[T]he main point is important. Invest in people, not places. If a place is good at developing people, then it will be a desirable residence."

Also, here.

For some, the climate or the built environment is more important. Both variables influence migration. However, most people will tolerate bad weather, a high cost of living, and an ugly built environment if it translates into personal or familial development. Migration is still primarily a matter of economics.

What Glaeser doesn't mention is that leaving Buffalo is more advantageous for the individual than staying, controlling for educational attainment. Increasing geographic mobility promotes economic development. Rural communities committing civic suicide understand this. Policymakers need to catch up.

This applies to human communities on all scales: cities, regions, countries, continents even. This may be easier said than done, but it has to be said.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Ripples from Bengal"

As an addendum to my previous post, I thought I'd share with our readers an essay from Himal South Asian, the December 2010 essay by Afsan Choudhary "Ripples from Bengal". Drawing from the history of his family, descended from mid-19th century migrants from what's now Bangladesh to what's now West Bengal, Choudary provides a potted history of migration in Bengal--at first within, then from--from the 19th century on. Migration patterns are intimately tied to the patterns set by colonialism.

Migration – be it within national borders or beyond, voluntary or forced – has long been part of Bengali life. Anil Seal, in his seminal book India and the Emergence of Indian Nationalism talks of how the British in Bengal created the new clerical ‘babu’ class to serve their own needs, which coincided with the aspirations of the emerging Bengali middle class. Schools and colleges sprang up in response to the demand for education, but soon there were more graduates than jobs. This is what set off the internal migration from Bengal to other parts of India, particularly modern-day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where there was demand for an educated class. The Ganguly family of the well-known Indian film stars Kishore and Ashok Kumar was part of this Bengali migrant population.

While Bengali migrants to North India (and Burma) belonged largely to the middle classes, the journeys of the poorer migrants usually took them to the Indian Northeast. When Syed Ahmed Khan and the Nawab of Rampur (in present-day Uttar Pradesh), the former a Muslim and the latter a Hindu, came together to fight the immigrant Bengalis, they were responding to classic anti-immigrant sentiment. Their organisation, a splendid sign of interfaith political cooperation, was dedicated to fighting these new arrivals. Syed Ahmed’s virulent anti-Bengali feelings are rooted in the appearance of Bengali graduates taking jobs that locals thought were rightfully theirs. When many people in India today rail against Bangladeshi/Muslim ‘outsiders’, there are clear echoes of the rage at the arrival of Bengali Hindu migrants into the colonial United Provinces.

Migration, which is today seen as a security issue between New Delhi and Dhaka, began with little protest from local indigenous people when it came to the Northeast. There were no national borders to be crossed at that time – it was all British India, and the locals were not asked their opinion because they were poor and with little political organisation. It really did not matter whether anyone was going there, went the thinking, because no one else wanted to do so.

Between 1947 and 1971, large-scale migration was non-existent in East Pakistan save for the border areas, where national boundaries existed in the eyes of the states but not the border people. My grandfather travelled back and forth between Shillong, where he ran a restaurant, and Dhaka, where his family had moved after 1947, thus existing as a stranger in both lands. In 1965, while he was visiting Dhaka, war broke out between India and Pakistan. He was declared an enemy, his restaurant was seized by his business partner and he was rendered a pauper overnight. Till his death in the mid-1970s, Grandfather gradually retreated into his own mind, continuing to live in his Shillong home inside his head. He had experienced what many Hindus did in East Pakistan: living in two lands and then paying a price for doing so, despite the fact that the two lands look and feel – and are – so similar. Likewise, for my ‘refugee’ uncles, life in East Pakistan was brutal, as they had no networks and never managed to build or find any. They were lost in the labyrinths of failure into which most forced migrants disappear, marginalised and part of neither land, immigrants to nowhere.

[. . .]

Internal migration rem.ains a largely invisible phenomenon. Within Bangladesh, people move to harvesting work every season, creating a relatively unknown migrant culture with its alternative survival strategies and values. And as the landless population increases, so too does internal migration. Some move from the rural areas to Dhaka, choking an already dysfunctional city even as the new extreme poor populate the city in a desperate attempt to survive. Sometimes internal migration produces deadly results, as in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. From the mid-1970s, the Hill Tracts saw militant insurgency by the indigenous Chakma population and a brutal pacification attempt by the Bangladesh Army. One containment strategy was to bring in landless people from the tidal flats of the Bay of Bengal to the hills, and give them free land for cultivation. The clear idea was to create a pro-state local population to marginalise the highlanders and reduce them to a minority. The new migrants, already brutalised by poverty and natural disasters in their erstwhile homes, became vicious in protecting the land given to them. In this way, then, internal migration was successfully used as a military tool, while the indigenous highlanders lived in refugee camps in India. When they returned following an agreement in the mid-1990, few got their land back.

While emigration and migration to most areas require certain qualifications, connections and money, none of this is required when one moves to India. Duly, millions have gone across the border over the last century. This process, which was an ‘internal migration’ till 1947, thereafter became an illegal international border crossing, increasingly attached to security implications. In the Indian Northeast, clashes between migrants and local indigenous populations have resulted in regional instability, while elsewhere in India the Bengali of Bangladesh is often accused of being linked to ‘terrorist’ activities. Many of these migrants are reduced to mere shadows, living lives of wretched poverty and fear. Another destination for the very poor is Pakistan, where many work as domestic servants and in the fisheries sector, so badly off that they spark pity even among Pakistanis. Their lives as migrants are as poverty-stricken as the ones they left behind at home.

We now see three distinct trends in Bangladeshi migration: emigration for settlement to Europe, Australasia and North America; contract labour migration to the Gulf and a few Southeast Asian countries; and of course the movement of people across the border areas, mainly to India. Migration to West Asia has drawn attention due to its enormous impact on the home economy. Remittances have emerged as a key driver of economic growth and poverty reduction in Bangladesh, increasing at an average annual rate of 19 percent over the last three decades. The World Bank reports that remittances – the bulk of which come from West Asia – now exceed all other types of foreign-exchange inflow. The Bangladeshi migrants in West Asia do not constitute a monolithic block, of course. Professionals are comfortable, while labourers lead miserable lives. But when the latter return to Bangladesh, they constitute a newly rich group in impoverished rural areas, a new local elite impacting on power relations – and keeping the economy from collapsing.

Bangladesh entering the 2010s

The Economist's Asia blog Banyan has a post up exploring the mechanics of Bangladesh's upcoming census. The quality of information available to date, the reader learns, is poor and quite debatable.

According to the adjusted 2001 census figures, Bangladesh’s population stood at 129.3m (an initial count put it at 124.4m; an adjustment for the standard rate of undercounting then boosted the figure). Those familiar with the census mechanics tell of a muddle, marked by “multiple technical problems” starting with some official’s decision to procure inferior paper, which fouled up the optical-scanning process…which in turn undermined the quality of the data set. This time, donors are handling the pens and paper—the EU is chipping in over €10m ($14m), or more than a third of the total cost of the census.

The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ population clock claims that, at midnight today, that number had risen to 150,220,172. But many think the clock is running too slow. Bangladesh’s statisticians have almost certainly underestimated the natural population growth since the last census, according to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research. Researchers at the Dhaka-based international research institution—it has been monitoring the country’s population for 40 years and has the longest-running and most comprehensive demographic data in the developing world—put Bangladesh’s current population at 162m.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) agrees, almost to the letter: it put the population at 164.4m in 2010. It is the UN body’s estimate that has enraged Bangladesh’s politicians, some of whom care about these things. A.M.A. Muhith, the finance minister, has called the UN estimate—which suggests that the government may have 14m citizens it would appear to prefer not to have—“condemnable” and “unauthorised meddling”.

The difference reflects UNFPA’s pessimistic assumptions about the speed of fertility decline. Helped along by one of the world’s most expensive fertility-reduction programmes, Bangladesh has seen a dramatic fall in its total fertility rate. In the late 1970s, women had seven children on average; by the early 1990s just over three. The fertility decline settled at a plateau in 1993-2002, but has resumed sliding since. It has not, however, made up for that lost time. In 2010, the year Bangladesh’ s National Population Policy aimed to achieve the replacement level fertility of 2.2, it still hovered at 2.5.

[. . .]

Arithmetically speaking, it is a battle over the size of a denominator—many indicators of economic development are expressed as a proportion of the total population. Politically, a small population is a nice thing to have. This is because the smaller it is, the more impressive Bangladesh’s progress on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will look (and the warm feeling would be mutual). This refers to progress made towards the goal of halving the proportions of poor and hungry people. So the size of the population matters, either directly or indirectly, for it serves as a denominator in the vast majority of indicators by which progress on the goals in the MDG framework are measured.

A good place to start an overview of the Bangladeshi population might be to compare it with the Pakistani population. Until 1971, after all, Bangladesh was known as "East Pakistan", the eastern wing of the state that was supposed to include the Muslim-majority territories of the former Raj. The underrepresentation of East Pakistan in the country's affairs led to a regionalist movement that became a separatist movement that led to a Bangladeshi declaration of independence and eventually liberation by India. Of the two wings, East Pakistan was the most populous; estimates gave East Pakistan had 70 million versus 60 million in West Pakistan. In the early 1970s, after the half-million killed in the 1970 Dhola cyclone and the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of civilians killed by Pakistani soldiers in the 1971 war, Bangladesh was seen as having far worse development prospects than rump Pakistan, called a "basket case" by Henry Kissinger, the sort of "hopeless" land that Paul Ehrlich would have callously abandoned to famine and mass death.

Instead, things have reversed. Even the highest estimates for Bangladesh's population place it behind the population of Pakistan, and the difference will continue to grow as Bangladeshi fertility rates remain below the comparable Pakistani figures. Bangladesh is catching up on the Human Development Index, too; indeed, Bangladesh has seen some of the highest rates of HDI growth in the world. While still lagging behind Pakistan on metrics like literacy and life expectancy, Bangladesh is catching up quickly. The Bangladeshi economy, too, has done reasonably well since the 1990s, driven by a successful garment industry and famously the home country of microcredit institutions. Tahmina Anam is right to conclude that more things are going right in Bangladesh than wrong.

Regarding Bangladeshi demographics, Mohammad Shahidul Islam at Roubini.com suggests that Bangladesh is set to enjoy the economic dividends of its advanced demographic transition.

Based on the stylized facts of the demographic transition model, one can see the dynamics of Bangladesh’s population transition. According to the United Nation’s Population Prospects 2008 database, total fertility rates (TFR) in Bangladesh have declined, from 6.85 children per woman in 1971-75 to 2.36 in 2005-2010. The TFR is projected to approach a replacement level (2.1) in the period 2015-2020. The population growth rate declined from 2.67 per cent in 1970-75 to 1.42 per cent in 2005-2010. The crude birth rate and the crude death rates in the country are now 21.6 and 6.3 (per 1000 population) respectively.

Based on these statistics, Bangladesh is now at the beginning of Stage III of population transition. In other words, it has entered the stabilization era of population transition. Bangladesh’s population transition has been following nearly the same pattern that Europe and East Asia experienced.

[. . .]

Bangladesh’s dependency ratio has declined, from 92 in 1975 to 53 in 2010. A nation’s demographic window generally opens when the dependency ratio (non-working to working age population) goes below 50. In South Asia, Bangladesh and India are projected to enjoy a large demographic window (2015-2050) thanks to a sharp decline in their dependency ratios.

[. . .]

Until the 1980s, Bangladesh’s per capita income growth was very low owing to a high dependency ratio. With a high birth rate, low death rate and subsistence economy the country’s economic development till the 1980s resulted in poor per capita income growth. However, the scenario has changed since the late 1980s and early 1990s when Bangladesh witnessed a sharp decline in population growth and a steady increase in GDP growth with low volatility.

Of special note, Bangladeshi sex ratios are better than elsewhere in the region.

Moreover, Bangladesh has done much better than many of its neighbours, including India, in terms of gender-related demographic statistics. This development will provide additional impetus to Bangladesh’s demography. With an improved sex ratio, the females’ share is approaching half of the total working age population in Bangladesh. Studies show that the actual growth rates of South Asia and other lagging regions were at least one percentage point lower than their potential growth due to gender imbalances.

I've come across anecdotal press reports of Bangladeshi women being valued as potential marriage partners in Indian states like Punjab lacking in marriageable women. Interesting possibilities lie here.

This connects to the phenomenon of Bangladeshi emigration. It is large, in absolute numbers and relative to receiving areas, as Banyan notes. There is an overseas Bangladeshi diaspora numbering somewhere in the area of four million people, mostly concentrated in Middle Eastern migrant-receiving countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as to Malaysia, but including large communities in the United Kingdom and the United States, even the nucleus of a Bangladeshi-Canadian community here in Canadian Toronto. Much larger in absolute size is the scale of Bangladeshi immigration into India, most controversially into the northeastern state of Assam where the presence of Bangladeshis--Bengalis, generally--has become a political issue frequently erupting into violence, but also into culturally kin West Bengal and elsewhere in India.

This emigration, frankly, is inevitable. Before Bangladesh was East Pakistan it was East Bengal, a region with a Muslim majority separated from the region and British imperial province of Bengal certainly not because it was a self-contained unit with economically viable frontiers (as noted by Nafis Ahmad in a 1950 paper for Economic Geography) but because it had a Muslim majority population. Under British rule, East Pakistan was a producer of commodities, raw materials to be transferred to the Bengali industrial centre and port in Calcutta. The inter-state frontier led to East Pakistan being cut off from its natural hub, now in the Indian state of West Bengal. While Bangladesh has since developed its capital Dhaka as a new industrial centre and port in Chittagong, it still lags behind West Bengal economically. Critically, despite the state frontiers separating Bangladesh from neighbouring Indian states Bengal remains a functional human region in a way that--say--the Punjab divided between India and Pakistan does not, with a shared language and culture and a famously porous border and communal relations generally less fraught. In Partition, for instance, Bengal lacked the same scale of communal violence as in Punjab, while the dwindling of the Hindu proportion of the Bangladeshi population from 40% a century ago to a bit more than 9% now has as much to do with lower Bangladeshi Hindu birth rates as it does with the forced migration and/or massacre of Hindus. (A highly disproportionate share of the murdered and displaced civilians in 1971 were Hindus, targeted by Pakistanis--not their fellow Bengalis--for persecution by virtue of their religion.)

All things considered, it would be more surprising if Bangladeshis didn't Emigrate, to India and elsewhere. Whatever notable degree of economic development Bangladesh has achieved, it is ultimately still dependent on the wider world for its future, and Bangladeshi migrants are a critically important resource for their homeland, the mostly unskilled and semi-skilled labourers sending back huge volumes of remittances to their homeland despite their vulnerability--as now in Libya--to events in their adopted homelands.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A profile of Tōhoku

I'd like to start by reiterating the point of Edward's post Sunday, about the likelihood of the earthquake triggering systemic changes in Japan. Certainly the recovery process will be long: Bloomberg's Shamin Adam suggests, after the World Bank, that it might take five years for Japan to finish rebuilding.

My take? Curiously and quite unexpectedly, I learned that the afflicted region of Tōhoku in northern Honshu hosts--shades of the Taiwanese village of Houtong--a cat-loving island community. The first paragraphs of Wikipedia's article on Tashirojima suggest interesting parallels with Houtong. The two communities, it seems, are economically marginal with the decline of their previous extractive industries and facing rapidly population decline and aging, while cats are among the most famously enduring invasive species. When the people go, the cats remain.

Tashirojima (田代島?) is a small island in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. It lies in the Pacific Ocean off the Oshika Peninsula, to the west of Ajishima. It is an inhabited island, although the population is quite small (around 100 people, down from around 1000 people in the 1950s). It has become known as "Cat Island" due to the large stray cat population that thrives as a result of the local belief that feeding cats will bring wealth and good fortune. The cat population is now larger than the human population on the island. (A 2009 article in Sankei News says that there are no pet dogs and it is basically prohibited to bring dogs onto the island.)

[. . .]

Since 83% of the population is classified as elderly, the island's villages have been designated as a "terminal villages" (限界集落) which means that with 50% or more of the population being over 65 years of age, the survival of the villages is threatened. The majority of the people who live on the island are involved either in fishing or hospitality.

Tōhoku, a six prefecture region, has always been marginal, a relatively late addition to the Japanese ecumene.


Tōhoku was the last stronghold of the Emishi, a non-Japanese people linked to the pre-Yamato hunter-gatherer Jomon culture but eventually conquered and apparently assimilated by the 9th century CE. An interpretation of one recent DNA study of different regional populations in Japan might confirm that the Emishi left descendants in the current population of Tōhoku, noted as containing relatively fewer Yamato migrants than populations in western Japan. (Might.) Distant from the main centres of population and resources in western Japan, Tōhoku remained something of a frontier for a long time. In terms of the inhabitants' spoken language, for instance, the people were mocked for their thick dialect within Japan and without, the lower and deviant status of the Tōhoku dialect remaining still. Apparently the rustic character of Hagrid in the Harry Potter series has his speech rendered in Tōhoku dialect.

Tōhoku has become increasingly marginalized within Japan, in terns of its relative heft. Proof of this is easy enough to come by, since most of Tōhoku is included in the historical unit of Mutsu Province, which gathered together what is now the prefectures of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima along with two municipalities in the Sea of Japan-facing Akita Prefecture (Kazuno and Kosaka). (These last two municipalities, combined have a population a bit more than a half-percent of the four prefectures entirely in the former Mutsu.)

The region has under sustained relative, even absolute decline, for centuries. The most populous Japanese province at the beginning of the Shogunate, ranking behind only the Musashi province that included Tokyo, towards the end of the end of the Shogunate the two provinces switched positions. Mutsu suffered severely from famine-associated mortality crises in the mid-18th and early 19th centuries, its population falling absolutely and Mutsu's proportion of the Japanese population declining steadily from 7.5% in the 1721 population survey to 6.9% in the first Meiji census in 1873 census. The population of the Mutsu region did more than triple in the half-dozen generations to the 2010 survey, to reach 7.1 million in 2010, but its share of the total Japanese population slide further to 5.6% as of 2010. If not for the Meiji-era colonization of Hokkaido--up until the last quarter of the 19th century an island barely integrated into the Japanese political framework and populated by only a hundred thousand people--Tōhoku's gradual decline might have become that much more visible. As is, the region contains some of the least densely populated areas in the country, as Scott's map shows nicely.

This all brings us back to the question of the future of Japan. As a relatively rural and agricultural region, Tōhoku traditionally supported the Liberal Democratic Party, which whatever its other flaws at least continued to channel investments in local infrastructure. Scandals about misinvested funds and fundamental doubt helped Tōhoku transfer its loyalties to the Democratic Party.

In Tohoku, the northern part of Japan’s biggest island, Honshu, and the home of Democrat founder and former leader Ichiro Ozawa, the beating was also fierce, if not quite as emphatic, as the LDP took 9 seats and the Democrats 26.

“Tohoku is generally conservative, with farmers supporting the LDP’s policies. But before the election their attitude had changed,” said Masaki Hara, a retired Sendai resident, who joined me watching results, along with many other captive ferry passengers, some of whom had lost interest in the Yomiuri Giants game on a competing TV screen.

Hara said citizens were questioning the value of big infrastructure projects, such as a subway line in Tohoku’s largest city of Sendai that had seen cost overruns, while doubting the Liberal Democratic Party’s vision.

“I don’t like Ozawa, but I support his taking on the LDP.”

One certain consequence of the disaster in Tōhoku is its destruction of the old order. Tashirojima might survive by dint of the tourism value of its cats, but how many of the small agricultural and fishing villages wrecked by the disaster will come back? Where will the money come from? Where will the people come from? Will even the regional metropole of Sendai regain its position relative to other Japanese cities less favoured by disaster? As Spike Japan's Richard Hendy pointed out, the devastation visiting not only on the Fukishima complex but on the other electric plants in eastern Japan, along with the region's power grid separate from western Japan's, means that Tōhoku--not to mention the rest of Japan--will be short of electricity, that most basic force of post-industrial civilization, for months if not years. As Charlie Stross noted in a separate post, the shortages of electricity ensure the premature deaths of thousands of vulnerable people deprived of air conditioning this summer, as far south as greater Tokyo.

Tōhoku doesn't have the resources to recover its pre-disaster levels. Japan likely doesn't have the resources necessary to let Tōhoku recover fully, and almost certainly lacks now and will continue to lack the interest in doing so given its other challenges. Tōhoku, I predict, has peaked: the long relative decline it began under the shoguns and continued through Meiji and the eventful 21st century will only accelerate, new reasons added to the many old for the decline of rural and marginal Japan that Hendy describes in his blog. The Japan Statistical Yearbook shows that the region's prefectures have been exporting people in large numbers for the past decade. Why will this slow down? Humans may be less resilient than cats, but then again, humans rightfully demand much more from their environment than their pets. Tashirojima's cats may well thrive long after Tashirojima's people have departed to whatever destination.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Surely There Is Nothing “Funny” About What Is Going On In Japan?

As Japanese officials continue to toil away in what we all hope will be a successful bid to avert a worst case scenario nuclear meltdown even while thousands of Japanese still remain missing and unaccounted for, financial market participants across the globe have been struggling with themselves to answer one and the same question: just how serious are the economic consequences of all this devastation likely to be?

Basically, the economic issues raised by Japan's continuing agony can be broken down into a number of categories, and especially we need to think both of global and local impacts, as well as the short term, mid term and long term implications of these.

Short-term Pain, Mid-term Gain?

The short term local consequences are evidently likely to be quite severe. Given that large parts of the country have been (and continue to be) without electricity, that factories have been flooded and part of productive capacity permanently destroyed etc, etc, GDP is bound to plummet quite substantially as output drops and takes time to recover.

At the global level the short term consequences are hard to evaluate. That there will be dislocation to extended supply chains is obvious, the Japanese may well buy less luxury goods, while on the other hand becoming more dependent on imported energy, a development which could well affect oil prices. In terms of global demand, it is important to remember that Japan is a significant net exporter, so in theory one country exporting less should simply leave room for others to step in and fill the gap. But things aren't as simple as that, and global trade inter-linkages mean that local shocks can easily be amplified in a way that conventional economic models find hard to capture. The shock that radiated out from the US during the great depression is a classic example from history. Impacts were much greater than a cursory inspection of direct trade effects would have suggested.

But more than anything the issue which is being raised by Japan is one of confidence, and one of how we think about risk (an issue which has been lurking in the background without being resolved since the start of the financial crisis). Problems in evaluating risk and shocks to confidence levels are hardly good for risk sentiment, and it is an increasein this sentiment which is, at the end of the day, giving momentum to the current expansion in global economic activity. And of course risk-negative phenomena are not only to be found in Japan, a fact of which this weekend's opening of military engagements in Libya is just one more painful reminder.

Low Frequency Events Becoming More Frequent?

The whole of the last week has been characterised by a high level of uncertainty, with oil prices remaining extremely volatile and sharp movements in the value of the yen having such a negative influence on currency markets that the G7 felt itself forced to step in. So while the external economic damage seems at the present to have been contained, with one “bad luck” event after another taking place the momentum behind the current recovery is surely coming under a lot of pressure, and all prudent analysts will doubtless be busy revising downwards their growth forecasts for the second half of the year across the board.

There are two reasons which make me think that such a move is completely warranted. In the first place we have a global system which is completely "tensed" at this point. Many problems generated by the financial crisis have been simply kicked down the road a bit, in a bid to buy the time to find the solutions. What this means is that the whole global edifice is extremely sensitive to the impact of unusual events and sudden shocks. Which means that there is a tendency to find that just when you thought things were getting better you start to discover they are actually getting worse.

Japan has provided us with one very good example of this. Towards the end of last year the Japanese economy had been going through what is euphemistically called a "soft patch" - the economy actually contracted in the last three months of the year - but in January and February there did seem to be signs that things were getting better, and one guage of small-business sentiment (the Economy Watchers Index) had even started to surge.
The Economy Watchers' Survey index for current conditions in Japan rose to a seven-month high of 48.4 in February from 44.3 in January, posting the first rise in two months thanks to a recovery in weather and labor conditions, the Cabinet Office said on Tuesday. But the outlook index was unchanged in February, ending a third straight month of an improvement, leading the government to maintain its assessment of public sentiment. The government repeated that the latest survey showed that "the economy has shown signs of picking up."

This much more optimistic reading, suggesting better weather was lifting confidence, was, ironically, written on Tuesday 9 March, just three days before the deadly earthquake struck. It is a stark, if somewhat tragic, illustration of just how uncertain the world we live in actually is, and of just how difficult it is to forsee certain kinds of phenomena. On another front, who at the start of 2011 would have imagined we would at this very moment be facing a UN backed military invasion into Libyan territory.

Longer Run Impacts

Serious as the short term impacts may well be, in the longer run the shadow which will be cast by what is currently happening in Japan could well be very long indeed, in a way which few today can even contemplate (although see this for a good first pass). The justification for this assertion is not only our increased awareness of our collective vulnerability to the impact of natural disasters, there is also Japan’s pioneer status in one very new and very global phenomenon - population ageing - to think about. As we will see below, the optimistic (I would say denial) prognosis is that Japan will soon valiantly overcome this latest bout of adversity in a similar way to which they overcame the post WWII devastation. The Japanese will surely be valiant in their efforts (one only has to think of the spirit of sacrificeof those poor workers who have been asked to handle directly the reactor problem), but their ability to overcome adversity will not be comparable to that registered in an earlier epoch when they had the wind behind them rather than gusting straight into their faces.

It is for this reason that I recently likened the earthquake and tsunami to another mindset-shaping natural disaster: the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. Both events, for their magnitude, and for the seeming arbitrariness with which they strike any given set of individuals, inevitably leave (and left) searing scars in our psyche, the latter being characterised for the way it opened up the path to what many have termed the modern era, while the latter potentially could draw it to a close.

What I have in mind is this, the Lisbon earthquake lead to a questioning of the "natural order of things" in a way which facilitated a more rational approach to the problems in hand. But the application of this rational approach gave rise to a "second degree" natural order of things, in which (thanks to good governance, an economic hidden hand, and technical expertise) the permanence and stability of the social and economic world around us was almost totally taken for granted.

One good example of this would be the idea of the birth of a "Modern Growth Era", whereby it was assumed that economies would simply grow and grow in perpetuity, driven possibly by the dynamising capacity of ongoing technical change. The curious thing about this kind of interpretation is that Robert Solow, founder of the modern neo-classical growth model, intentionally and explicitly left technology out of his model. From a general equilibrium perspective technology does not necessarily generate economy growth.

And now we are faced with a significant number of advanced economies which may well find themselves, far from growing, actually starting to shrink at some point during the next 50 years. The reason for this, of course, is that working-age populations will be declining and ageing at the same time as the elderly dependent population (and their health and pension needs) will be rising and rising. So it seems we are now about to become aware that the Modern Growth Era was simply that, one particular era in our history as a species and as a group of social and political animals. This era is now, in some countries, starting to draw to a close, and a new one will surely open up. My conjecture is that what is happening now in Japan may well mark a tipping point in our awareness of this process in just the same way as the surge in Sovereign Debt in some countries which occured during the financial crisis marked a turning point in how we think about demography and economics, and in how we see the sustainability of health and pension systems.

Of course, as with all issues, there are still those who remain in denial.

But there is another dimesnion to the Japan crisis and how we see it that ties in with the Lisbon earthquake parallel, and that is our need to change mindset. Basically the issue concerns complexity, and how useful old-mindset linear models are in helping us address the kinds of issue which arise in managing highly interconnected and interlocked economic, social and technological systems.

The Spent Fuel Rods Storage Problem

Evidently examples of inter-connectedness, and the issues this gives rise to, are legion. I have already mentioned trade linkages, and from this point of view it will be highly instructive to watch just how the shock-waves radiate-out (or don't) from their Japanese epicentre in the weeks and months ahead. The global financial crisis was also chock-full of similar examples: Lehman Brothers folded and the rate of infant mortality in Northern India shot up, to name just one. But the unfolding events in Japan give us an almost "locus classicus" version of the problem: what to do with the used fuel rods. Now using a simple and straightforward risk management model, it might even seem to be efficient to store the spent rods in the same enclosures as you put the reactor. They are, after all, easier and cheaper to keep and eye on there, and anyway, this procedure helps overcome the sensitivity of members of the general population to being un the proximity of any form of nuclear waste. But looked at from another point of view, grouping risky elements in close proximity in this way only piles risk on risk in a geometric and not a linear fashion, exposing the entire social and economic system to the impact of a positive feedback melt-down process in almost the most literal sense.

I personally cannot help feeling that something similar is going on in relation to positive-feedback-process risk in connection with the individual units which constitute the Spanish financial system. As long as things don't go wrong, well, they don't go wrong, but if and when they do...............

So while the initial impact will surely constitute what most traditional economists like to call a “shock”, both to the real economy and to the equity and currency markets, this shock is unlikely to knock either the global or the local economy completely off their orbits in the short run. We are not talking (barring that worst case scenario that we all have our fingers tightly crossed won’t happen) about another Lehman type event. We are talking about a major natural disaster in a country with proven response ability. Even if Japan is currently now back in recession, rebuilding will almost certainly mean the local economy bounces back quickly again in the second half of the year. The longer run effects, however, will almost certainly be much more important. On one front the impact may well be to cast a much larger and more intense spotlight on the Japanese economy itself, with increasing questions being asked about the sustainability of its current path giving the declining and ageing population issues which confront it. And on another front, the events of the last week may well end up changing our way of thinking about the world we live in, and how we manage risk and insecurity. One week ago few would have imagined it was possible for a developed country to find itself spinning-off out of control, now the previously "unthinkable" is certainly a lot more thinkable.

At The End Of The Day Isn’t There Something "Funny" About Japan?

Japan’s economy is totally export-dependent, riddled with deflation, has central bank interest rates pegged almost permanently close to zero, while government debt seems to be on a virtually unstoppable upward path. Just to give some idea, IMF Japan projections are for GDP growth of around 1.75% a year between now and 2015. During the same period the government debt to GDP level will rise from 225.8% in 2010, to 234% in 2011 and then onwards and upwards to 249.2% in 2015 - that is the debt is rising at over 5% of GDP a year, while GDP is growing at under 2%. Personally I'm surprised that more people don't think there is something funny about these numbers, especially in the context of ongoing deflation and massive liquidity provision from the central bank.

According to one widely held theory, none of the above matters too much since Japan’s government debt is financed from domestic saving. On this view having near permanent deflation seems to be a massive positive, since it enables money to be printed and debt to be accumulated on a never-ending basis. The perpetual motion machine has finally been invented, and is alive and well and living in Japan. Certainly the situation has all the appearance of permanence, since it would now seem to be virtually impossible for the Bank of Japan to move into reverse gear and raise benchmark rates to what was in earlier days a "normal" level of 5% since how would the government continue to finance itself, whether the savings are domestic or external? And of course, if at some point Japan did come to depend on external funding, and interest rates were forced up to 5% or more...........

It continues to surprise me that more people do not find the whole situation odd: gross government debt to GDP only goes up and up, across all horizons, and this is supposed to be normal and sustainable?

On another version of events, the gross debt argument (gross debt is used simply to be able to make a comparison with other countries, such as members of the EU, where it is gross debt that is measured and quoted) is misleading, since Japan's government also has assets (like land which was acquired during the bank restructuring of the 1990s), and it is the net debt level we should be looking at. I have two responses to this objection. In the first place, the argument fails to take into account the implicit liabilities of the Japanese pension and social security systems. Once this is done you have a number which while still being lower than the gross debt figure is consideably above the hypothetical level of net savings. In the second place, while the values of the Japan government's gross liabilities to its creditors are known and quantifiable, it is much harder to put mark-to-market numbers on the assets being held.

But in any event it is the debt dynamic which is worrying. This is not a cyclical phenomenon, but long term structural, and it is hard to see how this dynamic can be broken at this stage. Looking at the two lines in the above chart, they are moving up almost in tandem. Net debt will hit 130% of GDP this year according to the IMF, and could well be around 155% by 2015, and that was before the earthquake. So I don't really get the point people are trying to make with this argument.

Another issue which leaves me a bit cold is the size-of-corporate-savings one, since what people are saying is unsustainable is government debt. It is simpleton-type thinking to suggest that corporate savings could simply be handed over to the government, since this involves the private sector bailing out the public sector in a way which parallels the way the public sector is often bailing out the private sector in Europe. If things were that simple, don't the people who emphasise this detail imagine someone would have thought of it and done it already?These savings are in private hands, and any attempt simply to appropriate private savings would meet with substantial resistance, not to mention the dangers of capital flight, or larger corporates simply moving offshore.

A Population Which Has Been Allowed To Get Too Old Too Fast?

Evidently what we have here is a clear example of something which only goes on until the day it doesn’t. The underlying problem in Japan is not lack of technical ingenuity, nor is it a shortage of credit; Japan’s fundamental problem is a demographic one. The country has a rapidly ageing population, which after many years of ultra-low fertility and rising life expectancy is now the oldest in the planet, with a median age of 45 and rising. This is the backdrop to all these weird and wonderful economic phenomena we are observing, and is the root cause of the weak domestic demand, and of the ultra-sensitivity of the economy to movements in the external trade balance.

So the big question people need to be asking themselves is just what happens when Japan can no longer deliver the external surplus it needs to sustain economic growth? Trend growth has been falling consistently, and overdecades, in a way which is unlikely to change and logically it will at some stage turn negative.

In particular this is long term contractionary pressure is evident since Japan's workforce is shrinking and ageing. The process is, unfortunately, only compounded by the current "irradiation" problem since it will lower the ability of the country to attract immigrants (at least over the next few years), even were Japan's leaders to give this a priority, which is itself unlikely to happen.

As luck would have it Japan did record its first trade deficit in two years in January, and while this is currently only a passing and transient phenomenon, it does constitute some kind of warning shot for what could one day happen. In fact, the Japanese economy returned to negative growth in the last quarter of 2010, and has been struggling to find the level of exports it needs to sustain growth (even despite the strong emerging market demand) as it has been weighed down since the onset of the crisis by the continuing high value of the yen. Since it is now entirely possible that growth this quarter will also be negative, Japan is now almost certainly technically back in recession.

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan has already stated that Japan is now facing its worst crisis since the end of World War II, and I think it is hard to disagree with this assessment, both in the context of the current “facts on the ground” and given the major challenge the country faces on the demographic front. This is what the consensus view which holds Japan is likely to suffer a temporary economic hit and then enjoy a boost from reconstruction seems to be missing. Japan is very unlikely to have a “New Deal" like economic recovery, for the simple reason that it cannot really afford to have one due to the pressing need to get the debt dynamics better under control.

Indeed already there is talk of raising taxes to help pay for reconstruction work, since clearly a supplementary budget which incorporates more deficit is the last thing JGB market watchers want to hear about at this moment in time. So even if some increase in government debt now looks inevitable this year, the pressure to claw it back in a near term future will be significant.

Not least of the reasons for such caution will be the growing vigilance the country’s debt is attracting from the rating agencies. Standard & Poor’s cut their Japan rating in January, and while Moody’s have been quick to point out that the current crisis will not affect their analysis, they did change their Japan rating outlook to negative from stable at the end of February on concern that the country’s political gridlock will limit efforts to tackle the debt burden. These concerns will only be heightened in the aftermath of recent events.

According to Marcus Noland, deputy director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington what Japan is facing “is a Keynesian stimulus program that nobody can argue with”. Unfortunately, this is far from being the case, Japan is at the end and not the start of its "modern growth era" and any attempt to finance a massive reconstruction programme by issuing yet more debt is likely to provoke just what Noland discounts: a lot of argument. Funny how so many people still fail to find anything “funny” about what has been happening in Japan.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How many Copts are there? or, More on questionable population figures

The Copts, Egypt's Christian minority with a population numbering in the millions, has taken on a fair amount of importance in recent years as the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, in the Middle Eastern and Arab country with the largest population and the greatest amount of cultural and political heft. This potted history gets the details.

The Copts, an indigenous Christian sect, constituted Egypt's largest religious minority. Estimates of their numbers in 1990 ranged between 3 million to 7 million. The Copts claimed descent from the ancient Egyptians; the word copt is derived from the Arabic word qubt (Egyptian). Egypt was Christianized during the first century A.D., when the country was part of the Roman Empire. The Coptic Church claims to hold an unbroken line of patriarchal succession to the See of Alexandria founded by Saint Mark, a disciple of Christ. Egyptian Christianity developed distinct dogmas and practices during the more than two centuries that the religion was illegal. By the fourth century, when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, Coptic traditions were sufficiently different from those in Rome and Constantinople (formerly Byzantium; present-day Istanbul) to cause major religious conflicts. Dissension persisted for 150 years until most Copts seceded from the main body of Christianity because they rejected the decision of the Council of Chalcedon that Christ had a dual nature, both human and divine, believing instead in Christ's single, divine nature.

[. . .]

Following Islam's spread through Egypt, Muslims alternately tolerated and persecuted the Copts. Heavy taxation of Christians encouraged mass conversions to Islam, and within two centuries, Copts had become a distinct minority. By the tenth century, Arabic had replaced Coptic as the primary spoken language, and Coptic was relegated to a liturgical language.

The Ottoman millet system of drawing administrative divisions along religious lines reinforced Coptic solidarity. The dismantling of the millet system during the nineteenth century helped open new career opportunities for the Copts. Egypt's Muslim rulers had traditionally used minorities as administrators, and the Copts were initially the main beneficiaries of the burgeoning civil service. During the early twentieth century, however, the British purged many Copts from the bureaucracy. The Copts resented this policy, but it accelerated their entry into professional careers.

In the twentieth century, Copts have been disproportionately represented among the ranks of prosperous city dwellers. Urban Copts tended to favor careers in commerce and the professions, whereas the livelihoods of rural Copts were virtually indistinguishable from their Muslim counterparts. Urban Copts were stratified into groups of long-time residents and groups of recent migrants from the countryside. The latter group was often impoverished and fell outside the traditional urban Coptic community. The former group included many university professors, lawyers, doctors, a few prominent public officials, and a substantial middle echelon of factory workers and service sector employees.

Anti-Coptic sentiment has accompanied the resurgence of Islamic activism in Egypt. Since 1972 several Coptic churches have been burned, including the historic Qasriyat ar Rihan Church in Cairo. Islamist groups frequently and explicitly denounced Copts in their pamphlets and prayer meetings. The increasing tensions between Copts and Muslims inevitably led to clashes in Upper Egypt in 1977 and 1978 and later in the cities and villages of the Delta. Three days of religious riots in Cairo in 1981 left at least 17 Copts and Muslims dead and more than 100 injured. Isolated incidents of Muslim-Coptic violence continued throughout the 1980s and during 1990.

Since the revolution, sources have been suggesting that the ousted Mubarak regime was responsible for some anti-Copt atrocities, apparently operating with a strategy of tension in mind ("Look, we can barely protect the Copts as is, how bad would a democracy be?"). I only hope that a more democratic Egypt will move decidedly away from that decidedly cynical tack.

How many Copts, members of the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, are there? That's a major problem. Wikipedia's three-line entry on the number of Copts gives an idea.

Living in a country of Muslim majority, the size of the population of Copts is a continuously disputed matter, frequently for reasons of religious jealousy and animosity. Some official estimates state that Christians represent from 5% to 10% or less of a population of over 83 million Egyptians[21][22][23][43][44][45][46][47][26][14][15][17][24] while other independent and Christian sources estimate much higher numbers, up to 23% of the population.[14][15][17][21][22][23][24][25][26]

Yes, that's 22 different in-text citations, pointing to different estimates. The estimates do run from a low of four million (~5% of the Egyptian population of nearly 80 million) to a highs of 12 and even 16 million quoted by Coptic Orthodox Church authorities.

How many are there really? Philippe Fargues' 1998 essay "The Arab Christians of the Middle East: A Demographic Perspective" provides a good sober look at the numbers, and he concludes that the low numbers--the ones closest to official numbers--are the most likely ones.

Among the seven Middle Eastern countries which currently have an Arab Christian community - Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine -Egypt is the only one to meet the two conditions which enable its Christian population to be examined over the course of time. One of these conditions is the recording of religious affiliation as a variable, individual characteristic in all the population censuses since 1897; the other is the geographical consistency of the territory covered by these censuses. The latest, carried out in 1986, showed 2,829,349 Christians, 5.9 per cent of the whole population of the country. Updated to 1995, this percentage would give a figure of 3,300,000 people. The Coptic authorities, some politicians, and a number of Coptic or Muslim intellectuals consider this figure to be a gross underestimation of a community which may actually number between 6,000,000 and 12,000,000 people, in other words between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of Egyptians. The statistic is thus alleged to be false, both directly - the results of the census are said to have been manipulated at the top before being published - and indirectly, as it is claimed that some Christians tend to declare themselves Muslims, due to pressure from their environment. Contrary to these allegations however, the statistic seems to be reliable, with the margin of error that all statistics carry. This argument, developed in another essay, is based on the observation that the Egyptian figures are consistent in two respects: both over the whole period of time and at each individual moment in time. The graph formed by the nine Egyptian censuses over a period of ninety years is quite regular, both as regards the whole country, where the percentage of Christians falls in a gradually sloping straight line from 1927, and in the different provinces. If there had been any manipulation, this pattern would not have been constant. On the contrary there would have been variations in the numbers and perhaps also in the consistency of the graph, according to the changing attitude of political forces, of regimes, and of society towards the Christian part of the population. Furthermore, censuses are not the only source of religious statistics in Egypt. The registration of births, marriages, and deaths provides another source. The two operations are carried out by completely separate branches of public administration using quite different methods. They nevertheless provide results which are completely consistent with each other. For example, the birth rate of 30 per thousand, obtained by matching the 85,000 Christian births recorded every year throughout the 1980s to the 2,800,000 Christians counted in the census of 1986, would only be 11 per thousand if the number of Christians were 8,000,000. 17 With such a low birth rate their percentage of the whole population would have undergone a very sharp fall, instead of showing just a slight drop, which clearly contradicts the numbers claimed. So we might as well admit the plausibility of the published statistics.

Fargues' argument is supported by the Pew Research Center's Conrad Hackett in a February 2011 note.

The highest share reported in the past century was in 1927, when the census found that 8.3% of Egyptians were Christians. In each of seven subsequent censuses, the Christian share of the population gradually shrank, ending at 5.7% in 1996. Religion data has not been made available from Egypt's most recent census, conducted in 2006. But in a large, nationally representative 2008 survey -- the Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey, conducted among 16,527 women ages 15 to 49 -- about 5% of the respondents were Christian. Thus, the best available census and survey data indicate that Christians now number roughly 5% of the Egyptian population, or about 4 million people. The Pew Forum's recent report on The Future of the Global Muslim Population estimated that approximately 95% of Egyptians were Muslims in 2010.

Of course, it is possible that Christians in Egypt have been undercounted in censuses and demographic surveys. According to the Pew Forum's analysis of Global Restrictions on Religion, Egypt has very high government restrictions on religion as well as high social hostilities involving religion. (Most recently, a bombing outside a church in Alexandria during a New Year's Eve Mass killed 23 people and wounded more than 90.) These factors may lead some Christians, particularly converts from Islam, to be cautious about revealing their identity. Government records may also undercount Christians. According to news reports, for example, some Egyptian Christians have complained that they are listed on official identity cards as Muslims.

Even if they are undercounts, the census and survey data suggest that Christians have been steadily declining as a proportion of Egypt's population in recent decades. One reason is that Christian fertility has been lower than Muslim fertility -- that is, Christians have been having fewer babies per woman than Muslims in Egypt. Conversion to Islam may also be a factor, though reliable data on conversion rates are lacking. It is possible that Christians have left the country in disproportionate numbers, but ongoing efforts by the Pew Forum to tally the religious affiliation of migrants around the world have not found evidence of an especially large Egyptian Christian diaspora. For example, in the United States, Canada and Australia, the majority of Egyptian-born residents are Christian, but the estimated total size of the Egyptian-born Christian populations in these countries is approximately 160,000. In contrast, there are more than 2 million Egyptian-born people living in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, the overwhelming majority of whom are likely to be Muslims.

Elena Ambrosetti and Nahid Kamal note in their brief paper "The relationship between religion and fertility: the case of Bangladesh and Egypt" that not only has the Egyptian Christian TFR been consistently 15% lower than the Egyptian Muslim TFR in the 1988-1995 period, but that over the 1944-1980 period crude birth rates among Muslims did not fall to the level of the crude birth rates among Christians at the beginning of this period. Thus, even though the Egyptian Christian population more than tripled from 1907 to 1996, from 913 thousand to 3 321 thousand, the Egyptian Muslim population grew more quickly.

If the low numbers are the more accurate ones, why are the higher ones offered? The key lies in the fact that the estimates are offered by the Copts, a minority that has suffered not-inconsiderable persecution to the point of fearing for its survival. The very highest estimates would suggest that there are more Copts in Egypt than there are Dutch in the Netherlands. Security in numbers always appeals. Compare the situation in the United States, where disputes over the size of that country's Muslim population have produced a variety of estimates ranging as high as six or even seven million people. The Pew Research Center's of the United States latest estimate, part of the larger survey of global Muslim populations I've mentioned here earlier, is that there were 2.5 million Muslims in the United States in 2009. Their rationale?

This is a survey-based estimate that has been augmented with an analysis of census data. Let me just describe briefly what the steps were. When I say it's a survey-based estimate, what we have to work with here is what percentage of all the people we screened, from a national random sample, self-identified as Muslim. All of the survey-based scientific evidence we reviewed is lower than our number. As Andy mentioned, the average of the survey-based incidences have been between 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent.

Our own history with this in screening hundreds of thousands of people over the years has been that among the English-speaking public, about 0.5 percent, or slightly under, are Muslim. That number can then be projected against the total adult population of the U.S. All of that would come up with a lower number than we got.

What we got, however, was in incidence rate of 0.61 percent, largely, I think, because we were interviewing not only in English but in other languages. This is a landline telephone survey. We take the incidence number from the landline telephone survey, and we multiply it not times the landline population but times the total adult population because there are people who do not have landlines; they have cell phones - that number is over 10 percent now - and there are a few people in the country, still a couple of percent, who do not have any telephone service at all. We take that into account in the projection.

As far as it goes, that number gets you to about 1.35 million or 1.4 million, but we take a second step, which was done by Jeffrey Passel, a demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center. He's been recognized for his work in estimating the size of the undocumented immigrant population in the United States. He took the survey evidence I've just described to you, and also the 59,000 screening interviews we did in which we asked everybody we reached, Muslim or not, if they were born in the U.S., and if not, where they were born; if they were born in the U.S., where were their parents born. He took that information and knowing then what percentage of each of the nationalities we talked to identified as Muslim, multiplied that times the census numbers for the size of those groups. Let's say eight out of 10 Pakistani Americans that we spoke to said they were Muslim. That could be multiplied times the census data on the size of the Pakistani-born population in the U.S.

He then accumulated all of that, made an estimate on the size of the child population, which also can be taken partly from the survey, because we asked people how many children and how many Muslim children they had, and summed it all up.

We think this is a good estimate. It might be low because Muslims may be more likely to be cell-phone only than the rest of the population. There certainly may be some reluctance to identify as Muslim. We didn't pick up people who maybe were born Muslim but have lost their identity and are completely secular. We don't include those. But we think this is a defensible number, and it's scientifically based. The numbers we reviewed that are 3 million or more do not have a scientific basis in estimation, according to our review of the evidence.

See here for more on the methodology used in the group's 2007 survey of Muslim Americans.

Consider the stories surrounding these two populations just two more data points demonstrating the need to be careful when making specific claims, about populations or about anything else.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

On migration and the future of North Africa

The prominence of migrants in--not from, but in--North Africa brought up by Libya is something that's explored, in three related (and two somewhat surprising) contexts, in Julio Godoy's Inter Press Service article "For Migrants, Crisis Worsens Economic Situation At Home". Godoy began the article by making the point that the flight of millions of labour migrants from Libya to the countries where their remittances were supporting families will hurt things badly.

[International Labour Organization economist] Schmidt told IPS that these workers’ exodus from Libya is increasing the social and economic upheaval in their countries of origin.

"For Egypt and other countries, the return of the migrant workers from Libya is fatal," Schmidt explained. "On the one hand, the migrant workers come to increase the number of unemployed youth, already very high. On the other hand, the remittances they were sending back home, and which supported economically their families, are over now."

The ILO estimates that the total remittances from Libya to Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Bangladesh and other countries amounted to one billion U.S. dollars per year. About half of this money went to Egypt.

Globally, according to World Bank figures, Egyptian nationals working abroad sent 7.6 billion U.S. dollar to their families at home in 2010.

Schmidt warned that without foreign economic aid and an immediately successful national economic policy, Egypt and Tunisia won’t be able to cope with the return of the migrant workers.

"In Tunisia, unemployment jumped to 17 percent after the migrant workers returned home from Libya, up from 14 percent," Schmidt said. Without immediate economic perspectives, Maghreb youth would again leave the country, most likely to Europe, the ILO expert added.

Uncontroversial, the above. The below, now, is quite controversial.

The Maghreb countries cannot cope with the social and economic consequences of the mass exodus from Libya, warned Robert Holzmann, research director at the Labour Mobility Program of the Marseille Centre for Mediterranean Integration. "In the short term, there won’t be a mass exodus," Holzmann said. "But in the middle term, Europe must prepare for rising immigration from the Maghreb region."

Holzmann, an Austrian national, recalled that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, workers migrated to Western Europe, regardless of the economic reforms carried out in their countries of origin.

"Something similar is going to happen in the Maghreb countries," Holzmann said. "Even the most auspicious reform policies won’t be good enough to create enough jobs to cope with mass youth unemployment. Therefore, the European Union should launch now a new immigration management policy," Holzmann said.

Europe should not be afraid of the new migration. "History shows that immigration can be a positive factor in the development of societies. Despite the bloody causes of mass exodus, migration can be a source of innovation," said Thomas Straubhaar, director of the Institute for International Economics in Hamburg.

Holzmann oversimplifies things substantially: Slovenia has been a net receiver of immigrants since the 1960s, for instance, while Romania has been consistently an exporter of migrants long predating the Communist era. The different post-Communist countries now in the European Union have followed different trajectories, from the former Hapsburg lands' emergence as net destinations for immigrants to the emergence of Lithuania and Latvia as net exporters of working-age migrants on alarming scales. Expecting there to be continued pressure for migration from the Maghreb to Europe for the next decades does seem plausible, mind, in light of the income and other welfare gaps between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, the intimate human and other links between the two shores, and the need for immigrants in some sectors of European economies. I'd suggest that it isn't so much the plausibility of the migration that Holzmann describes that's debatable so much as the reaction to it.

The final element of migration in the Maghreb that Godoy explores, raised by Holzmann, is perhaps the most unexpected: the emergence of the Maghreb as a destination for immigrants.

One of the many social and economic puzzles of the Maghreb region is that despite high national youth unemployment, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from sub-Saharan African and Asian countries could find jobs there, especially in the construction sector.

"For the local, relatively well-educated youth in Libya, Tunisia, and other countries in the region, jobs in the construction industry were not attractive," Schmidt explained. "For Sudanese or Bangladeshi immigrants, these jobs were the only alternative to feed themselves and their families at home."

Why not? Labour forces are never perfectly mobile within a country, and even within a country with very high unemployment there were be unpopular jobs. Hein de Haas noted in 2005 in his profile of Morocco at MIgration Information that not only were migrants in Morocco coming from outside Africa, but that many were staying. North Africa may be substantially less developed than Europe, but it's substantially more developed than West Africa.

Recently, even migrants from Asian countries, such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, have transited through Morocco via the Saharan route. They are mostly flown in from Asia to West-African capitals. From there, they follow the common Saharan trail via Niger and Algeria to Morocco.

Although most migrants consider Morocco a country of transit, an increasing number of migrants who fail to enter Europe prefer to settle in Morocco on a more long-term basis rather than return to their more unstable and substantially poorer home countries. Probably several tens of thousands have settled in cities like Tangiers, Casablanca, and Rabat on a semi-permanent basis, where they sometimes find jobs in the informal service sector, petty trade, and construction. Others try to pursue studies in Morocco.

Yet sub-Saharan migrants face substantial xenophobia and aggressive Moroccan and particularly Spanish border authorities. Since most of them have no legal status, they are vulnerable to social and economic marginalization.

In September 2005, a Moroccan newspaper compared sub-Saharan African migrants to "black locusts" invading northern Morocco. Frequent round-ups have occurred in immigrant neighborhoods and in improvised ad-hoc camps close to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and larger cities, and unauthorized migrants are regularly deported to the Algerian border.

There is evidence that a substantial minority of immigrants to Morocco have migrated for reasons that fall under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. However, the Moroccan government assumes that virtually all sub-Saharan immigrants in Morocco are "economic migrants" on their way to Europe.

This means asylum seekers are rejected at the border or deported as "illegal economic immigrants" even though Morocco is party to the 1951 Geneva Convention, has a formal system for adjudicating asylum applications, and has an Office of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Bureau des Réfugies et Apatrides - BRA) to assist and protect refugees.

The emergence of Maghreb as a destination for immigrants has been explored in the French-language press, for instance in the algerie-dz.com article "L'Algérie devient une terre d'immigration" ("Algeria becomes a land of immigration") or bladi.net's "Le Maroc face au défi de l’immigration subsaharienne". Suffice it to say that if the rest of the Maghreb is following Morocco in hitting a demographic sweet spot with a peaking proportion of working-age adults, combining it with dynamic jobs-intensive economic growth, the attractiveness of the Maghreb for West Africans will only increase. Central Europe is transitioning from net emigration to net immigration; why not? In his later studies referenced here, de Haas suggested that immigrants are already quite numerous in Maghrebin border communities, for instance in the Algerian Saharan city of Tamanrasset with its links to the Tuareg straddling the North/West African frontier and on trade routes.