Saturday, October 31, 2015

What do you think are some overlooked demographic issues?

I would like to assure everyone that I am working on a post in response to yesterday's news that China is shifting to a two-child policy. (Brief reaction: I do not think it will change much, given the consistently low level of fertility in East Asia and Chinese-majority societies. Demographic changes in China will come in other ways.)

In the meantime, I am curious to know what readers might think are demographic issues of note that are not being covered, here, in the larger blogosphere, and in the mass media and academic journals. What's being overlooked?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Some thoughts on the 2015 Canadian election (#elxn42)

Last Monday, the long-awaited Canadian federal election finally occurred and produced a rather remarkable shift.

For comparison, below is another Elections Canada map, this one from the 2011 election.

One obvious result of this shift is that the long-form census will almost certainly be restored in time for 2016. A minor election issue, there seems to be time enough to fix things for 2016. Certainly, as explained by the Ottawa Citizen's Jason Fekete, fixing the census is a cost-effective way for the new Liberal government to prove itself to its supporters.

Statistics Canada is quietly waiting for its official marching orders from a new Liberal government to quickly reinstate the mandatory long-form census and have it ready for 2016.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have promised to restore the mandatory long-form census that the Conservative government eliminated in 2010 and replaced with a voluntary National Household Survey that critics say has significant holes in its data.

The incoming government has also promised to make Statistics Canada “fully independent,” believing Stephen Harper’s Conservatives meddled with the data collection agency for its own political purposes.

Trudeau’s new Liberal government will be sworn in Nov. 4 and is expected to move almost immediately to restore the census to allow Statistics Canada enough time to have it ready for its rollout in May 2016.

“We will immediately restore the mandatory long-form census, to give communities the information they need to best serve Canadians,” says the Liberal platform.

(I would note, parenthetically, that this year as in 2011, I voted for the NDP candidate in my riding. In 2011, the NDP candidate won; in 2015, the same parliamentarian, incumbent, lost.)

I noted in my post here on the 2011 election that this year's election revealed and crossed some interesting fault lines. The split between Conservative and non-Conservative MPs in the Greater Toronto Area, for instance, mirrored fairly deep splits of class and ethnicity, the better-off downtown voting for non-Conservative candidates and the suburban peripheries voting for Conservative candidates. This year, the Liberals swept the entire Toronto area, and then some.

I also noted that the NDP came from nowhere to become the dominant political party in Québec, even all of French Canada. I speculated that, between its existing English Canadian base and its new dominance in French Canada, the NDP could well be on track to replace the Liberals as one of Canada's two natural parties of government. This did not happen. While the NDP does retain a strong presence in Québec, and likely has potential for recovery now, years after the taboo of a NDP presence in Québec was spectacularly breached, the party is going to take a long time to recover across Canada.

This Tuesday, I put together a collection of links about the election, noting (for instance) the disenchantment of many Canadians--including right-leaning Canadians--with a Conservative government they saw as betraying their interests for its own benefit, the renewal of the connections of newer immigrant groups with Liberals, and so on. All of these things produced what, by any account, is a Liberal landslide, one that took the Liberals from third party to governing majority and even saw the Liberals make inroads into areas of western Canada like Alberta lost since the 1960s.

What will come next? Will the splits of old recur, and how? Follow this blog.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Some links on the Syrian refugee crisis

  • This CBC report, noting the extent to which ISIS tries to police the intimate lives and everyday business of people living in the territories it controls, demonstrates that there will be very many incentives for large numbers of refugees to continue to flee Syria.
  • The Boston Globe's photo blog The Big Picture had photos from the refugee crisis, including the famous heart-rending photo of young Alan Kurdi's limp body.
  • Although the numbers of Syrians who have found refuge if not formal refugee status in the Gulf States are not trivial, Bloomberg was correct in noting that many Syrian refugees saw more hope in Europe than in the Gulf. Thomas Piketty has argued that the European Union's acceptance of refugees, particularly that of Germany, bodes well for its future. A post today made at Lawyers, Guns and Money by Adam Luedtke makes useful points, first that the numbers of Syrian refugees reaching Europe is smaller than the number of Yugoslav refugees two decade ago.
  • As noted by The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer and as also observed by Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen, South America could become a major destination for Syrian refugees. A lack of official support means this is unlikely to happen, even in countries like Argentina, Brazil and Chile with large Syrian-origin populations.
  • In Canada, meanwhile, the official response has become an election issue. The story of the aforementioned Kurdi family, with family connections in Vancouver, added complications for Canadian immigration minister Chris Alexander, as have contested allegations that the Prime Minister's Office has sought to restrict the flow of Syrian refugees. Scott Gilmore of MacLean's argued that Canada could increase is intake twentyfold, while author Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer in The Walrus looked at Canada's intake of Indochinese boat people in the 1970s.
  • On my native Prince Edward Island, meanwhile, there was some interest in taking in forty Syrian refugee families. One family has come in, with perhaps more to follow.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

On Population Matters, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the United Kingdom

While I was reading my RSS feed the other day, I came across an Open Democracy essay by Adam Ramsay with the eyecatching title of "The charity which campaigned to ban Syrian refugees from Britain". The British charity Population Matters, concerned with demographic trends in the United Kingdom and potentially unsustainable populations there, has opposed the resettlement of Syrian refugees there.

Amnesty has called on the UK and other EU countries to 'significantly increase the number of resettlement and humanitarian admission places for refugees from Syria'. Yet the UK has Europe's fastest growing population and England is one of Europe's most densely populated countries. People have difficulty finding homes and jobs and even getting a seat on public transport. Our cost of living is rising as our growing population requires ever greater expenditure on infrastructure projects to meet this growing demand. It is becoming ever harder to protect our environment and to limit our contribution to climate change as numbers climb inexorably.

Instead, the UK and other EU countries should continue to support migrants from the Syrian civil war and other conflicts in the countries adjacent to those conflicts. In addition, the international community should consider intervening in long running conflicts with regional implications.

This Ramsay has connected the underlying themes of racism and xenophobia which, he argues, are present in this movement.

Population Matters has long called for “zero net-migration” to the UK: essentially, “one in, one out” - a position more extreme than the BNP. It's not just them. Last year, the Swiss organisation Ecopop (as in “ecology” and “population”) launched a referendum campaign calling for net immigration to be cut to 0.2% of the country's population. Swiss people need, as they put it, “lebensraum”. In their January 2015 magazine, the Swiss referendum campaign was the top item in Population Matters “international movement” section.

It's not just their extreme views on migration which are controversial. Among Population Matters' six policy proposals for the recent general election was a suggestion that child benefit and tax credits should be scrapped for third and subsequent children. With child poverty as high as it is in Britain, it must have been the only charity in the country celebrating as Osborne subsequently cut tax and universal credits for third and subsequent children. Many were surprised by the Chancellor's decision, but, as Polly Toynbee put it, “there was always a eugenic undercurrent in Tory thinking: stop the lower classes breeding.”

Of course, none of this is new. Malthusian arguments have been used to justify brutal policies ever since the British civil servant responsible for Ireland, Sir Charles Trevelyan, wrote that the great famine there was an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population”.

This genocidal tradition is, of course, not represented in contemporary Malthusianism. But the broader questions of race and gender are uncomfortable for them. The organisation wraps itself in the flag of women's empowerment and concern for global poverty, and I am sure that for most of those involved in it, those are genuine worries. But any interrogation of these issues ends in a deeply problematic place. George Monbiot, as ever, puts it in the clearest terms: “People who claim that population growth is the big environmental issue are shifting the blame from the rich to the poor”.

This article got quite a lot of attention, in the comments at Open Democracy, in the blogosphere (see the Bright Green blog), and eventually from Population Matters. In "7 reasons why some progressives don’t get population", Chief Executive Simon Ross responded to the criticisms. For instance:

Migration is running at unprecedently high levels and is the British public’s greatest concern. People can see the impact of one of Europe’s highest levels of population density and population growth, particularly in London and the south east – a growing insufficiency of affordable housing, conveniently located education, responsive healthcare and comfortable transport. These all hit the poorest hardest. However, progressives typically consider themselves internationalists, with a hearty welcome for others, and so would rather not address the issue. We think there has to be limits to migration for any society concerned about environmental sustainability. That doesn’t mean no immigration. If well managed, UK emigration of 300,000 each year provides plenty of leeway for admitting some refugees while achieving balanced migration. That said, the huge numbers involved, with three million fleeing Syria alone, preclude migration being a solution for most.

I would note that, in fact, no one has proposed resettling the three million Syrians in the United Kingdom. I would also note, after Ramsay, that countries where Syrian refugees are concentrated, particularly Jordan and Lebanon, are facing absolutely and proportionally much greater stresses than the United Kingdom in Ross' implied scenario with fewer resources.

More broadly, I would also observe that Ross' scenario actually doesn't prescribe very specific for the Syrian refugees. What, exactly, are they supposed to do? Should they stay in Jordan and Lebanon, perhaps seek resettlement elsewhere, perhaps return to Syria? Ross' essay talks at length about how everyone is responsible, but it also provides no concrete solution. Earlier in his essay, Ross talks about the world of the ideal versus the world of the material, but he addresses neither in regards to the Syrians. This leaves me profoundly suspicious. I'd find a straightforward statement that the refugees should be left to hang more honest, in truth, than the statement that something could possibly be done, hopefully, if all goes well.

What do you think of this?