Archive for the ‘International Comparisons’ Category

Snapshots of the global pandemic

September 18, 2020

Anders Tagnell

Anders Tagnell and the Swedish Covid experiment by Richard Milne for the Financial Times.

Coronavirus: What explains Pakistan doing so much better than India? by Shoiab Daniele for Scroll.in.

Brazil surpasses 4 million Covid-19 cases amid tentative signs of virus easing by France24.

Europe overtakes U.S. as coronavirus hotspot by Thomas Mulier for Fortune.

A time-lapse map of known COVID-19 deaths

July 10, 2020

Thomas Piketty and the politics of inequality

May 27, 2020

Reasonable people differ on the amount of economic inequality that is tolerable.  But I think almost anyone would set some upper limit.

In today’s USA, a single individual, Bill Gates, is wealthy enough to buy the city of Boston for the assessed value of its property.  The size of Jeff Bezos’ wealth is almost unimaginable.

Meanwhile four in 10 Americans lack enough cash on hand to meet an unexpected $400 expense without going into debt.

Why is this acceptable?  I’ll describe the ideas of the great French economist Thomas Piketty in his new book, Capital and Ideology.  Then I’ll discuss some of the things Piketty left out.

Piketty said the fall of Communism in the Soviet bloc and China discredited egalitarianism and validated the market economy.  Leaders of Western capitalist countries felt they were in a position to tell the working class that there is no alternative.

Even before that, the economic stagnation of the late 1970s discredited the welfare state.  The USA had both high unemployment and high inflation, which was considered theoretically impossible.  One diagnosis was that the welfare state had reached its limit, that it was in a state of deadlock because of the inability to satisfy all claimants.  This had been predicted by Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.  He said that only a fascist dictator would be able to break the deadlock.

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Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher presented a different answer.  Dial back to welfare state, cut upper-bracket tax rates and allow rich people and corporations to accumulate wealth.  They will invest that wealth and the workings of the free market will assure that this works for the benefit of all.

As Piketty pointed out, none of this worked out as promised.  Cuts in marginal tax rates did not result in job creation, economic growth or anything else that was promised.

So why do Reaganism and Thatcherism still prevail?

One reason is that the historic left-wing parties abandoned the working class.  The Democrats in the USA, the Labour Party in Britain and the French socialists came to represent an educated elite rather than laborers and wage-earners.

Politics in these countries has come to be a conflict of elites, between what Piketty called the Merchant Right and the Brahmin Left.  It is like the conflict between the nobility and the clergy in the European Middle Ages and the conflict between landowners and business owners in 19th century Britain.

In the USA, many progressives see today’s politics as a conflict between the plutocracy, whose power is based on wealth, and the professional-managerial class, whose power is based on their academic credentials and their positions in organizations.  Wage-earners are not represented.  Piketty showed that the same conflict exists in other countries.

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As the coronavirus lockdown ends (for now) …

May 21, 2020

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The chart above, via Kevin Drum, shows that the United States has gotten off fairly lightly during the coronavirus pandemic, compared to other Western countries.

The USA has the most total deaths because it has the largest population, but the death rate is the key measure.  The USA is a big country.  Some parts of it are relatively safe and some aren’t, but overall things aren’t as bad as they might be—at least not yet.

 

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The chart above, also by Kevin Drum, shows that the number of new deaths from the coronavirus is tapering off in Western countries.

As the lockdowns end, the death rates will probably rise again—hopefully not to their previous peak.  If they don’t rise, a lot of what epidemiologists have been telling us about contagion is wrong.  I expect we’ll learn the epidemiologists were right.

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Countries that are beating the coronavirus

May 5, 2020

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Countries Beating COVID-19 on Endcoronavirus.org.

Tale of Two Cities Redux: Hong Kong to Ease Its COVID-19 Restrictions, While New York City Situation Remains Dire by Jeri-Lynn Scofield for Naked Capitalism.

Death rates in the year of the coronavirus

April 27, 2020

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Death rates from the coronavirus could be 60 percent higher than estimated, according to an article in the Financial Times of London.

Reporters compiled weekly death rates from cities and countries where this information is available, and compared the current death rates with the five-year average for previous years.

As the charts show, death rates are unusually high in certain countries and cities.  These figures actually may undercount the number of coronavirus-related deaths because they do not take into account possible savings of lives due to the lockdowns, such as fewer auto accidents.

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LINKS

Global coronavirus death toll could be 60% higher than reported by John Burns-Murdoch, Valentina Romei and Chris Giles for the Financial Times.

We Still Don’t Know How the Coronavirus Is Killing Us by David Wallace-Wells for New York magazine.

The Pandemic Doesn’t Have to Be This Confusing by Ed Yong for The Atlantic.  [Added 4/29/2020]

The new lockdown-induced poverty

April 5, 2020

If you deny people the right to provide for themselves, you have a responsibility to provide for them.

Lockdowns are preventing millions from going out and earning a living.  The fact that their jobs may be deemed nonessential doesn’t lessen their need to pay for food, rent and utilities.  There are more serious problems in the world than boredom.

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The U.S. government will provide some minimal relief—one-time-only checks to be mailed to households, extension of unemployment compensation benefits, etc.

But it doesn’t appear as if it will be enough to offset the coming lockdown-triggered recession.  I think a recession would have happened even without a pandemic, but the lockdown will bring it sooner and make it worse.

Deaths and infections from the coronavirus are doubling every few days.  The lockdown is necessary.  A lot of people are going to die in U.S. states who would have lived if their governors had ordered lockdowns sooner.

At the same time, I can understand why those governors hesitated.  The governors who’ve waited longest are, in general, the governors of the poorest states.

Usually, when huge numbers of people suddenly lose their jobs and are plunged into poverty, they take to the streets to protest and strike.

But under lockdown, it’s illegal to take to the streets.  Repressive governments suppress uprisings by, among other things, ordering curfews.  Because of the pandemic, these curfews are already in place.

If a government orders a lockdown, it has a duty to make it possible for everyone, no matter who, to observe the lockdown without fear of hunger or homelessness.

Leaders of some countries realize this.  Others don’t.  The ones that don’t can expect an explosion of mass defiance sooner or later.

LINKS

Somebody’s Screwing You and It Ain’t China by Caitlin Johnstone.

Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury by Jennifer Valention-DeVries, Denise Lu and Gabriel T.X. Dane for the New York Times.

Jobs Aren’t Being Destroyed This Fast Elsewhere – Why Is That? by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman for the New York Times.

New Inequalities and People-to-People Social Protection by Nora Lustig and Nancy Birdsall for Vox & CEPR Policy Portal.

Services Sector Falls Off Cliff: First Data Points from the Eurozone Where Lockdowns Started Earlier by Wolf Richter for Wolf Street.

‘I just want to go home’: the desperate millions hit by Modi’s brutal lockdown by Hannah Ellis-Peterson and Shaikh Azizur Rahman for The Guardian.

Tracking the spread of the coronavirus

April 4, 2020

Click to enlarge. Source: Financial Times

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Click to enlarge. Source: Financial Times

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Click to enlarge. Source: Financial Times

All the nations and governments of the world are being weighed in the balance as to how they respond to the coronavirus pandemic.  Success or failure in bringing the disease under control is an objective measure not skewed by ideology or prior bias.

International comparisons are tricky because nations have different ways of counting and different degrees of reliability in counting.  But these reports from the Financial Times, updated daily and available to the public, give as good a report as any available.  What do they tell us?

LINKS

Coronavirus tracked: the latest figures as the pandemic spreads by the Financial Times.  Contains additional charts.

Why Western Elites Are So Incompetent and What the Consequences Are by Ian Welsh.

Doubling rates of coronavirus deaths

March 25, 2020

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This chart shows that even in Japan and South Korea, the number of deaths from COVID-19 has been doubling every week.  For many nations, the doubling rate is every three days.  It is nearly that much in the United States.  So we shouldn’t be complacent about the relatively small number of people who have died so far.

The coronavirus and the new China-U.S. cold war

March 19, 2020

Xi Jinping visits Wuhan on March 10.  Photo via Unz Review

Xi Jinping is using the coronavirus pandemic to discredit the USA and to position China as the world leader and exemplar.

He contrasts China’s decisive response to the Wuhan outbreak to the slow, fumbling U.S. response.

He contrasts China’s generosity in helping other nations with U.S. economic warfare against vulnerable states.

And his government is spreading a theory that the disease originated not in a Wuhan meat market, but in a U.S. biowarfare laboratory.

Pete Escobar of Asia Times reported—

Beijing is carefully, incrementally shaping the narrative that, from the beginning of the coronovirus attack, the leadership knew it was under a hybrid war attack.

Xi’s terminology is a major clue. He said, on the record, that this was war.  And, as a counter-attack, a “people’s war” had to be launched.

Moreover, he described the virus as a demon or devil.  Xi is a Confucianist.  Unlike some other ancient Chinese thinkers, Confucius was loath to discuss supernatural forces and judgment in the afterlife.

However, in a Chinese cultural context, devil means “white devils” or “foreign devils”: guailo in Mandarin, gweilo in Cantonese. This was Xi delivering a powerful statement in code.

When Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, voiced in an incandescent tweet the possibility that “it might be US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan” – the first blast to this effect to come from a top official – Beijing was sending up a trial balloon signaliing that the gloves were finally off.  

Zhao Lijian made a direct connection with the Military Games in Wuhan in October 2019, which included a delegation of 300 US military.

Via Asia Times

The Chinese leaders claim to have the coronavirus under control in their own country, and now are taking a lead in fighting the disease worldwide.  Pepe Escobar went on to report—

Beijing sent an Air China flight to Italy carrying 2,300 big boxes full of masks bearing the script, “We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, flowers from the same garden.”

China also sent a hefty humanitarian package to Iran, significantly aboard eight flights from Mahan Air – an airline under illegal, unilateral Trump administration sanctions.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic could not have been more explicit: “The only country that can help us is China. By now, you all understood that European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper.”

Under harsh sanctions and demonized since forever, Cuba is still able to perform breakthroughs – even on biotechnology. The anti-viral Heberon – or Interferon Alpha 2b – a therapeutic, not a vaccine, has been used with great success in the treatment of coronavirus.  

A joint venture in China is producing an inhalable version, and at least 15 nations are already interested in importing the therapeutic.

Now compare all of the above with the Trump administration offering $1 billion to poach German scientists working at biotech firm Curevac, based in Thuringia, on an experimental vaccine against Covid-19, to have it as a vaccine “only for the United States.”

Via Asia Times

China’s governing philosophy is a weird mixture of Maoist thought control, Confucian conservatism, blood-and-soil nationalism and neoliberal capitalism, together with elements of independent civil society left over from the Deng Xiaopeng era.  But Chinese success and American failure to deal with the coronavirus make the Chinese system highly appealing.

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The worst of the pandemic is yet to come

March 16, 2020

Click to enlarge. Chart Updated 3/18/2020

[Updated 3/18/2020]  The chart in the upper left shows the spread of the coronavirus in Italy.  Others show that France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the USA are on track to follow in Italy’s footsteps.  So far the virus is spreading more slowly in Canada Sweden and the UK.  

Nobody can know for sure what will happen, and France and Germany are somewhat better prepared for a health emergency than the UK or the USA, but I don’t see anything in place that would save any of these countries from Italy’s crisis.  And of course the situation in Italy may become much worse that it already is.

Unless things change, COVID-19 will not be the last or the worst pandemic.  People and governments need to concentrate for now on dealing with the emergency, but afterwards we need to think about why we were caught by surprise, and why our globalized economic system can enable infection to spread from a single source, possibly a live-animal meat market in China, to every corner of the globe in a matter of months.

I include myself among the complacent.  I have a certain limited intellectual understanding of the crisis, but I don’t feel it in my bones.  As the saying goes, I lack the courage to believe what I know.

LINKS

The incompetence pandemic by Matthew Karnitsching for POLITICO.  Mainly about Europe.

Conceit and Contagion: How the Virus Shocked Europe by Bruno Maçães for Quillette.

The USA, China and the coronavirus pandemic

March 14, 2020

We Americans have long liked to think of our ideals of freedom and democracy as models for the world.  But China, whose leaders reject those ideals, seems to be doing a better job that we are of protecting its citizens and the world from COVID-19.

Advocates of democracy claim that our system is better because it provides a reality check.  When the government fails to do its job, the loyal opposition and free press are there to point it out.

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China’s initial response to the coronavirus showed the truth of this.  The first physicians to detect the coronavirus were threatened by police for spreading false rumors.

But once China’s rulers realized the truth, they drew upon the strength of a totalitarian system, which is to be able to focus all a nation’s resources on a single objective.

By the way, I greatly admire the courageous Chinese doctors and nurses who risked their lives to stop the spread of the disease,  Not only the Chinese, but the whole world, owe them a debt.

The Chinese appear to have succeeded in stopping the spread of the disease in a relatively short time.  The number of cases in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, seems to be leveling off at about 70,000.  This is cases, not fatalities.  Hubei has a population of 58 million, almost as great at italy, with 60 million.

Dan Wang, an American living in Beijing, reported on the effectiveness of quarantine measures there.

Click to enlarge. Source: Forbes

The problem with the Chinese system of government is: How can we be sure?  In any large, hierarchical organization, whether corporate, military or something else, those in the lower ranks will tell those in the lower ranks what they want to hear, and those in the higher ranks will tell those in the lower ranks what they want them to believe.

I think there will be a natural tendency of those on the lower levels of the Chinese hierarchy to report everything is under control, whether or not it is.  I know a college professor with a great many Chinese students.  She tells me they are all cynical about reports of success in China, and whether all Chinese cities will get the same protection as Beijing.

Under Deng Xiaopeng, there was enough of a limited free press and civil society to point out the problems.  Will this be true of Xi Jinping?

Based on what little I know, I think the Chinese have responded magnificently and the world owes them a debt.  But if the opposite were true, it would be a long time before I had any way to know it.

Here in the United States, we have Donald Trump, a totally incompetent, but democratically-elected leader who denies reality as blatantly and obviously as any Communist ruler of old.

The saving grace of our system is that his failure to lead is not hidden.  it is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see and a willingness to face facts.

And the other saving grace is that we the people can take constructive action without waiting for orders from the federal government.  State and local governments, universities, research centers, commercial corporations and civic groups are all taking corrective action.

Still, we should ask ourselves.  How is it that we are so completely unprepared?  Why do we have so few hospital beds?  Why is it that China and other countries are able to test for COVID-19 on a large scale and we are not?

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The coronavirus and the test of reality

February 26, 2020

Passengers disembark from virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship

Photo via New York Post.

The first duty of any government is to assure the survival of its people.  The COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus is a test of how well the world’s different governments can perform this basic duty, and they will be judged on how well they perform that duty.

It doesn’t matter whether leaders call themselves conservatives, socialists or something else.  Are they able to act effectively and without panic to meet a threat?  Are they able to face facts or do they punish truth tellers?

Here in the USA, our President and Congress have mainly been fighting over problems generated by governmental policy and a couple of things that don’t really exist—the alleged Trump-Putin collusion and the imaginary Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Now, along with the rest of the world, we face a real external threat—one that can’t be made to go away by means of public relations or changing the subject.

The Trump administration’s budget priorities are its nuclear weapons modernization program and the new Space Force.  In contrast, as Nicole Wetsman of The Verge reported—

The administration’s proposed 2021 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cuts $25 million from the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response and $18 million from the Hospital Preparedness Program. The administration also asked for over $85 million in cuts to the Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases program.  [snip]

Housed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response is charged with responding to public health emergencies.  It also coordinates public health responses with local and international partners and manages the Strategic National Stockpile, which squirrels away critical medical supplies for use in emergencies.

The Hospital Preparedness Program aims to ready hospitals for emergency surges of patients, and it’s already under-equipped to handle situations like the ones currently seen in China.  Right now in the US, hospitals are already swamped by the flu and are counting their supplies of protective equipment.

Cuts to the Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases program would further hamstring the CDCs ability to do research on diseases like coronavirus and to gather the scientific information that lets it prepare for outbreaks like this one. [snip]

The 2021 budget request did ask for an additional $50 million for the CDC’s Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund.  That fund, which was established in fiscal year 2019, is currently being used in the ongoing coronavirus response.  That money, though, is activated only after a public health threat appears.

==The Verge.

The coronavirus has not yet reached our shores.  There is still time for the U.S. to rally.  There is still time for President Trump to assume leadership.  There is still time for Democrats in Congress and on the Presidential campaign trail to make an issue of this.  Will they?

It is not just an American issue, of course.  All the world’s leaders—Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Emanuel Macron, Boris Johnson and the rest—will be weighed in the same balance.

∞∞∞

The coronavirus threat makes two other things clear—the need for internationalism and the perils of globalization. Let me explain what I mean.

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Is the U.S. educational system failing?

December 11, 2019

My friend James in Texas e-mailed a link to a New York Times article on the latest results of the Program for International Assessment tests, which compare proficiency of students in 79 school systems around the world.

Overall the U.S. results didn’t seem to be that bad.  American children are in the middle of the pack of advanced nations in reading, somewhat below in math, but better overall than in the previous round of tests.  However, as the Times writer pointed out, there are disparities within the averages.

About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the exam.

Those students, he said, face “pretty grim prospects” on the job market.

James is an architect.  He worked as a substitute school teacher in the 1980s, taught design and algebra in community colleges in the 2000s and is now working on a certificate to teach in high school.  These are his observations from two decades.

1. Detracking – all kids dumped into same classroom, no honors or remedial grouping, no separate special ed class, teacher now must do 5 or 6 different lessons simultaneously instead of one. Advanced kids are bored and essentially teaching themselves, while slower kids are perpetually lost and have stopped even pretending to care.

2. No enforceable conduct standards – no consequences for anything, 2/3 of kids are basically feral, kids know teachers are powerless, with no administrative support, teachers given all responsibility for “classroom management” with zero actual authority, too busy being social workers and ringleaders instead of teaching.

3. Time theft – minimal lunchtime, no recess, obsessively timing every activity to the minute, weeks stolen for state testing, teachers’ weekends stolen for useless seminars and endless meetings. Kids can’t sustain attention enough to think deeply about anything, and teachers don’t have time to breathe, let alone teach.

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Where the world gets its stuff

December 9, 2019

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Most countries of the world used to get more stuff from the United States than they did from China.  But now it’s the other way around.  Now most countries buy more stuff from China.

This map, which has been making the rounds of the Internet, appeared in the Financial Times—behind a paywall, unfortunately for me, because I don’t subscribe to the FT.

Many economists think the turning point was in 2001 when China joined the World Trade Organization, which included the world’s most advanced industrial nations.

China became entitled to “most favored nation” status, which means no trade barrier against a WTO member could be higher than a barrier against any other member.

I say China’s gains had to do with the effectiveness of China’s industrial policy, and the lack of any U.S. industrial policy.

China told foreign nations that if they wish to sell goods in China, they would have to locate manufacturing facilities in China.  Furthermore they would have to share their technological know-how with Chinese partners.  Then the Chinese would take their new knowledge, improve on it, and use it o compete with their former partners.

The U.S. government, under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was content to let this happen.  American consumers benefitted from cheap imports, and stockholders in American companies shared the profits of offshoring.

Meanwhile the United States dissipated its wealth in waging pointless and inconclusive foreign wars, while China used its wealth to make itself stronger.

Unlike his predecessors, Donald Trump has correctly identified terms of trade with China as a problem.  He deserved credit for putting this issue on the table.

But his scattershot tariffs on Chinese goods do not solve the problem.  All they do is to create a market for goods from other low-wage countries.

The Chinese government successfully executed a long-range plan to build up its industrial strength, using subsidies but also building up the infrastructure and know-how of the nation as a whole.

The U.S. government has no plan.  It has been content to stand aside and allow financiers to hollow out U.S. manufacturing.  Tariffs aren’t an answer unless they are part of an overall strategy to rebuild.

The Chinese aren’t to blame for our problems.  Our leaders are to blame for our problems.  We are to blame for our leaders.

LINKS

The New China Syndrome: American business meets its new master by Barry C. Lynn for Harper’s magazine.

How Bill Clinton and American financiers armed China by Matt Stoller for BIG.

China Revolutionizes World Trade While Washington Dozes by Geoffrey Aronson for The American Conservative.

The changing balance of world population

November 27, 2019

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge

I came across these two maps on the Brilliant Maps web site,  They show the changing balance of world population over the past century.

In 1900, the population of North America exceeded the population of Latin America.  Now it is the reverse.

In 1900, the population of Europe vastly exceeded the population of Africa.  Now Africans are more numerous.

The population of present-day China is only slightly less than the population of the whole world in 1900.

To get a better idea of the absolute increase, you’d need to enlarge the maps, and enlarge the bottom map a little more so that the sizes of the little squares (each one equivalent to 500,000 people) are equal in size.

The population of China has more than tripled since 1900, but the population of the United States has quadrupled and there are five times as many Canadians and Australians.  There are more than 10 times as many Mexicans, Brazilians and Nigerians as in 1900 and more than 20 times as many Ethiopians.

A nation can be populous and weak, like India and China in 1900 and Nigeria and Ethiopia today.  Nevertheless, there is a relationship between population and power in the long run.

Bertrand Russell wrote somewhere that if there is to be world peace, nations must agree to limit their populations as well as their armaments.  He had a good point, but I’m not sure such agreements are feasible.

There seems to be a universal demographic transition.  When modern medicine and agriculture reduce death by disease and famine, the death rate falls and population increases rapidly.  When living standards rise, contraception is available and women are emancipated, the birth rate falls, eventually falling below replacement rate.  Governments don’t seem to be able to affect this very much.

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More about the Brahmin left and merchant right

September 24, 2019

Democrats in the U.S., the Labor Party in Britain and left-wing parties in France no longer primarily represent the interests of wage earners, according to Thomas Piketty, the famous French economist.

Instead they represent an educated elite, which he calls the Brahmin left, while the conservative parties represent a financial elite, which he calls the merchant right.

The educated elite are not an intellectual elite.  Having advanced college degrees don’t make you an intellectual any more than owning stocks and bonds makes you an entrepreneur.

I agree that there is less conflict of interest between the educated elite and the financial elite than there is between the two elites and the majority of wage-earners.

In a typical Fortune 500 corporation, the CEO, the board of directors and the institutional stockholders would be the merchant right.

Salaried middle management, the highly-paid consultants and most especially the human resources department would be the Brahmin left.  Their income would not come from financial assets, but from their rank in an organization, for which they would qualify by means of educational credentials.

The human resources department of an organization usually determines the organizational culture.  Typically HR people are big on diversity training and being LGBTQ allies because these things do not affect the wealth of stockholders or the power of top management.

American non-profit organizations such as universities and hospitals and also government agencies are adopting a  corporate model.

This means a well-paid top-heavy administrative overhead along with lower pay, higher demands and less security for those who do actual work.   Adjunct teachers, hospital nurses and letter carriers are treated just the same as factory workers.

Just to be clear, I’m in favor of sticking up for the rights of minorities, women and other groups that are targets of prejudice.  What’s wrong is using this as cover for lower wages, longer hours, expansion of contingent work and a fight against labor unions.

Such are my observations about American institutional life.  I don’t know how true these observations are true of institutions in Britain and France, or whether they are true at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

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The rising human tide in Africa

September 7, 2019

“If the biggest global news story of the past 40 years has been China’s economic growth,” wrote demographer Paul Morland, “the biggest news story of the next 40 years will be Africa’s population growth.”

In his book, The Human Tide, Morland traced what’s called the demographic transition in society after society, from Britain and Germany to China and India.  The pattern is that societies experience surges in population when the death rate falls and life expectancy increases, but then the fertility rate levels off and then decreases.

In many parts of the world, including North America, Europe, Russia, China and Japan, the fertility rate is below 2.1 children per woman, which is the replacement rate.

In general, each successive society that underwent this transition had a bigger and more rapid surge in population than the ones that went before, but also a more sudden drop.  The latest region of the world to begin the demographic transition is sub-Saharan Africa, and that part of the world is still in the early stages of its population surge.

United Nations statistics quoted by Morland show that:

  • Of the 48 states and territories with fertility rates of 4 and above, all but seven are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Nine out of 10 countries with the highest fertility rates are in Africa.
  • Every one of the 30 countries with the lowest life expectancy are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • All but two of the 30 countries with highest infant mortality rates and the lowest median age are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The population of sub-Saharan Africa is growing more than twice as fast as the world as a whole.

Fertility rates in Africa are falling, just as in the rest of the world, and Morland is confident they will continue to fall.  But they are falling from such a high level that there will be a population surge regardless.  Population growth depends not only on how many children the average woman has, but how many women there are of child-bearing age.

My knowledge of Africa is superficial, but it is obvious that conditions in sub-Saharan Africa are bad.  Much of Africa is at risk of famine.  Africa is torn by war and ravaged by drought—which can only get worse, as global temperatures rise.  Corruption is prevalent.  Although there are bright spots and encouraging signs, most African governments still are on a spectrum from corrupt semi-democracies to dictatorships for life.

I have to say that I have a good impression of African immigrants in the USA—not only highly educated professionals from Nigeria and Kenya, but also poor refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Somalia, whom I got to know as a volunteer driver years ago for a Catholic refugee resettlement charity here in Rochester, N.Y..

Most of the refugees struck me as having great resilience, great personal dignity and a strong desire to repay the least little kindness.  Somali refugees were moved into a section of a public housing project, and the smell of Somali home cooking replaced the smell of marijuana in the hallways.  The managers were glad to have tenants who didn’t drink alcohol or take dope, play loud music late at night or get into fights in which the police had to be called.  From what I’m told, they’ve all thrived since.

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Preparing for an age of population decline

September 6, 2019

The fertility rate in virtually all countries is declining.  The fertility rate in much of the world, including North America, Europe, Russia, China and Japan, is already below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per average woman.

If this goes on, world population will peak soon after the end of the century and start declining.  Populations of a few countries are declining already.

This is good news.  All other things being equal, it means less danger of famine, less pressure on the environment and less competition for scarce resources.

Click to enlarge.

But there are problems, too.  One is decline of nations as their populations become older and smaller.  Another is a change in the world balance of power during the transition, as some nations shrink while others continue to grow.

Two Canadian writers, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, explored these issues in a new book, EMPTY PLANET: The Shock of Global Population Decline.

The fertility rate is 1.4 in Japan and 1.1 in South Korea.  In the short term, this means an ever-larger elderly population that must be supported by an ever-smaller working age population.  I don’t think it is an accident that Japan has more robots per person than any other country.

A younger population tends to be more ambitious, innovative and warlike.  An older population tends to be more cautious and peaceful.  Older populations consume less, which is a good thing—but not for a capitalist economy, which requires growing markets.

In the long run, unless there is a change of direction, countries with low fertility rates could literally die out.  Americans and Canadians, with fertility rates of 1.8 and 1.5, have kept up national population numbers through immigration.  But the Japanese and South Koreans accept virtually no immigrants.  They see immigration as a threat to their racial and cultural purity.

In the short run, Japan and South Korea face economic decline and, in the long run, a slow fading from the world scene.  All countries whose birth rates fall below the replacement rate will face this dilemma sooner or later, the authors wrote.

Demographers have a term, “the population transition.”  It describes how countries go from having a high birth rate and high death rate to a high birth rate and low death rate (a population explosion) and end up with a low birth rate and low death rate.

This is often attributed to growing wealth, but Bricker and Ibbitson argued that the key factor is cultural change.  It is a combination of:

  • Feminism, women gaining control of reproduction and finding opportunities outside the home.
  • Urbanization, people moving to cities where, unlike on the farm, additional children are no longer an asset.
  • Modernity, people living for themselves instead of to perpetuate a family, faith or nation.

Feminism, urbanization and modernity explain how the fertility rate in Brazil, a poor country, can be 1.7,  well below the 2.1 replacement rate and below the 1.8 fertility rates of the United States and the United Kingdom.  This is good news because it means that the population transition can take place without the whole world adopting the American consumer culture.

When religion and nationalism are strong, fertility rates, all other things being equal, are likely to be high.  Loyalty to faith and nation  likely explain why the Israeli fertility rate is 3.1 and the Palestinian rate is 3.9.

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World fertility rates: international comparisons

September 5, 2019

The fertility rate is the estimated number of children an average woman of child-bearing age will bear during her lifetime.

The replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman.  That is the average rate needed for a nation to keep its population stable.

The world average is 2.4 children per woman, down from 5 per woman in 1960.

The fertility rate doesn’t necessarily predict population growth on the short run.

A nation with a large fertility rate may have little or no population growth because of a high death rate.

A nation with a low fertility rate may have a good bit of population growth if its people are living longer or if there are an unusually large number of women of child-bearing age.

But in the present age, the fertility rate is the most meaningful indicator of whether a nation’s population will grow or decline in the long run.

Worldwide, fertility rates are declining.  If this continues, world population will grow at an ever-slower rate and then decline.  But this will happen sooner—it already has happened sooner—in some nations than others.

Here are the World Bank’s estimates of fertility rates for various nations.  Click on World Bank for the full list.

Niger, 7.2

Somalia, 6.2

Mali, 6.0

Nigeria, 5.5

Iraq, 4.3

Ethiopia, 4.1

Palestine, 3.9

Kenya, 3.8

Pakistan, 3.4

Egypt, 3.2

Israel, 3.1

Uzbekistan, 2.5

WORLD AVERAGE, 2.4

South Africa, 2.4

India, 2.3

Indonesia, 2.3

Argentina, 2.3

Mexico, 2.2

REPLACEMENT RATE, 2.1

Turkey, 2.0.

France, 1.9

North Korea, 1.9

Chile, 1.8

Ireland, 1.8

New Zealand, 1.8

Russia, 1.8

United Kingdom, 1.8

United States, 1.8

Brazil, 1.7

Cuba, 1.7

Australia, 1.6

China, 1.6

Germany, 1.6

Iran, 1.6

Canada, 1.5

Hungary, 1.5

Japan, 1.4

Ukraine, 1.4

Italy, 1.3

Spain, 1.3

Hong Kong SAR, 1.1

Puerto Rico, 1.1

South Korea, 1.1

The fertility rate is calculated by extrapolating the birth rate.  Suppose that in a particular nation, there were 1 million women of child-bearing age and they gave birth to 100,000 children in a given year.  The average was 1/10th of a child per woman in a year.  If the child-bearing years are age 15 through 39, each of these 1 million women could be expected to give birth to an average of 3.5 children during her life.  Adjustments are made according to the age of the mother when the children were born.

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We got Donald Trump, they got Boris Johnson

August 7, 2019

Boris Johnson

A friend of mine thinks that Donald Trump would never have been elected President if the United States had the British parliamentary system instead of the 18th century U.S. Constitution, with its Electoral College and fixed terms of office.  Well, the British parliamentary system produced Boris Johnson.  I think we’re even.

LINK

The Ham of Fate by Fintan O’Toole for the New York Review of Books.

American exceptionalism in medical care

July 22, 2019

Click to enlarge.

I’ve often run versions of this chart on my web log.  It shows that we Americans pay more for medical care than do people of other rich countries, and yet our health is worse, and many of our citizens lack good medical year.  Yet a lot of us are afraid to change.

As a writer for The Economist said:

Republican reluctance to embrace health care, despite the president’s best efforts, is understandable.

On the one hand, America’s health-care system is woefully dysfunctional: the country spends about twice as much on health care as other rich countries but has the highest infant-mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy.  Some 30m people, including 6m non-citizens, remain uninsured.

And yet, though costs remain a major concern—out-of-pocket spending on insurance continues to rise—Americans say they are generally satisfied with their own health care. Eight in ten rate the quality of their care as “good” or “excellent”.  Few are in favour of dramatic reform.

Source: Health spending and life expectancy – The Big Picture

I think many Americans are in the same situation I am.  I have medical insurance that I can afford, providing by a company that I don’t think is going to cheat me.  I don’t know what I’d do if I had to pay my medical bills out of pocket—partly because the insurance company can negotiate lower rates than I would have to pay as an individual.

So it is natural to fear any change, and to be skeptical of anybody who promises to take away what I’ve got and replace it with something else that supposedly is just as good.

So these fears lock me into a system in which I’m at the mercy for for-profit insurance companies whose profitability is based on maximizing what they take in as premiums and minimizing what they pay back as benefits.

In the best of cases, the insurer’s need for profit is added to the medical bill.

T.R. Reid, in The Healing of Americawritten 10 years ago, said one of the reasons why American pay more for medical care and get less than people of other rich countries is the for-profit insurance system.  At the time he wrote, only Switzerland had for-profit insurance companies.

The other reason is that the other countries negotiate drug prices on a national basis, which the U.S. government is forbidden by law to do, and that medical professionals in the U.S. get more than in other countries.  I don’t have any reason to think any of these things has changed in 10 years.

The justification for the high fees of American physicians is that they have to pay off their medical school debt.  Medical education in other advanced countries is free or affordable.  If Americans ever wanted to cap physicians’ fees, we should combine that with some kind of medical debt forgiveness.

Reid said that there are three alternatives to the U.S. system: (1) the Canadian Medicare model, in which health insurance is nationalized, (2) the British National Health model, in which medical care is nationalized and (3) the system in Germany and Japan, in which non-profit organizations, accountable to patients, provide health insurance.

I don’t think it is feasible to create a patient-run cooperative insurance system for scratch, and I don’t think we Americans have the administrative capability of duplicating Britain’s National Health, even if we wanted to.

So that leaves Medicare for All as the path forward.  And it’s not Medicare for All unless we get rid of private insurance and regulate drug prices.

LINKS

Why a “Public Option” Isn’t Enough by Benjamin Studebaker and Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs. The two writers conflate Britain’s National Health with Medicare for All, which is based on the Canadian system, but otherwise an excellent article.

“Medicare for All” vs “Public Option”: the 2020 Field Is Split, Our Survey Shows by Abby Goodnough and Trip Gabriel for The New York Times.  Where the Democratic Presidential candidates stand.

A ranking of countries by civic honesty

June 28, 2019

Click to enlarge.

To gauge the honesty of people in different nations, social scientists turned in 17,003 “lost” wallets to people in charge in various public businesses and institutions in 355 cities in 40 countries around the globe, and recorded how many of the wallets were actually returned.

Click to enlarge

One surprising result was that there was a higher rate of return with wallets containing a small amount of  money ($13.46) than of empty wallets, except in Mexico and Peru.

In three countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland, they also left wallets with a larger sum ($94.15),  There was an even higher rate of return for wallets with big money than just a little money.

This is contrary to what both experts and non-experts predicted.

Researchers thought that people made an extra effort when money was involved in order to avoid thinking of themselves as thieves.

Switzerland had the highest rate of return for empty wallets and Denmark for wallets with money in them.  European countries overall, including Russia, got high marks for honesty.

China had the lowest rate of return for empty wallets and Peru for wallets with money.  I am disappointed that the United States is so far down on the list.

LINKS

Humans are surprisingly honest when it comes to returning lost wallets by Katherine J. Wu for PSB NOVA.

Civic honesty around the globe by Alain Cohn, Michel Andre Marechal, David Tannenbaum and Christian Lukas Zond for Science.

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Global warming requires global action

March 28, 2019

Click to enlarge.  Source: The Conversation

We Americans have actually done quite a bit to cut back on greenhouse gas emission, as the chart above shows.

But while we and the other North Atlantic nations have been cutting back, China and other nations have been pumping out more.

The average Chinese doesn’t add all that much to global warming, compared to the average American.  But there are so many more Chinese than Americans that China as a nation does more heat up the world more than the USA does.

Click to enlarge. Source: The Conversation.

The problem is that, for now, the economic growth of China, India and the Global South in general requires more use of coal, oil and natural gas.  If I were Chinese or Indian, I would be unwilling to give up my hope of a better material standard of living while Americans and Europeans have so much more than I do and individually leave so larger a carbon footprint than I do.

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The top 1 percent in Russia

October 6, 2017

I’ve posted many charts about the growing concentration of income and wealth in the United States in the hands of a tiny elite.   Here is a chart illustrating inequality in Russia.

You should take note about what this chart shows and doesn’t show.  The ruling elite in the old Soviet Union didn’t have large incomes, and they didn’t live like American millionaires and billionaires, but they did have special privileges, much like military officers compared to the rank and file or like American corporate executives with huge expense accounts.    They had special stories, special medical care, special schools for their children, etc.

Also, the chart indicates that relative equality isn’t everything.   I don’t think many Americans would have wanted to trade places with the average person in the old Soviet Union.

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