The World’s Demographic Outlook and The African Century

While the fate and power of most nations is judged usually by military and economic factors, demographics — the size, make up, and growth rate of the population — are of equally vital consideration. A country’s population is its greatest resource — especially when it is well invested in — and military and economic might are best achieved with larger, younger, and more well-educated people.

The United Nations Population Division, a leading source of demographic data from around the world, has released projections of what the world’s population will look like by 2100. Much of the developing world, centered on Sub Saharan Africa, is poised to become one of the leading economic, political, and cultural centers of the world, with young and fast growing populations supporting vibrant economies while the developed world copes with rapidly aging and shrinking populations.

Of course, these are just estimates, and a lot can change in nine decades; moreover, it is not a given the governments and elites of these nations will make the most of their demographic dividend. But the following rundown and analysis, courtesy of The Washington Post, shows what dramatic changes are may be in store for the world order in the coming century.

1. Africa booms, Asia plateaus, and Europe shrinks

It is a good thing Africa is such a large continent, because it total population is expected to more than quadruple within the century. That means “four times the workforce, four times the resource burden, four times as many voters”, to say nothing of the subsequent global clout; long after Asia and Europe peak — the former in fifty years, the latter as we speak — Africa will keep gaining more people for generations. Meanwhile, North and South America will continue to grow at a slow yet sustainable rate.

2. Nigeria Rises

While Africa takes center stage in the world, it is Nigeria in particular that will lead the way. Already the most populous country on the continent by a significant margin, and fifth most in the world, the country will be home to nearly a billion people by the end of the century — all living within an area roughly the size of Texas. This is an incredible, if disconcerting, rate of growth in a country rife with corruption, instability, sectarian conflict, and abject poverty — yet also with tremendous potential, resource wealth, and entrepreneurial spirit. If the government plays it hands right, Nigeria could be the next China — a major player in the global economy with a large and talented workforce, and thus a probable world power.

Speaking of China, the nation of 1.5 billion is in the midst of a demographic crisis, as its population stagnates and ages rapidly, undercutting economic growth while placing a financial burden on the government and its people. And while it will “continue to be an enormous, important and most likely very successful country”, its demographics will place considerable challenges on its aspirations and potential.

As for the other contender for new superpower status, India’s country will continue to grow at a healthy rate until around 2065, by which point it would have long surpassed China as the world’s most populous country. Its population will still be fairly young, and it, too, will have great potential to be a major cultural, economic, and military power, provided it makes the necessary investment in infrastructure, healthcare, and education.

Indonesia, presently the world’s fourth largest country by population, will continue to grow moderately, though like Nigeria, it punches below its weight despite its size, and faces similar constraints to its population growth in the form of environmental degradation, corruption, and poor infrastructure.

Finally, the United States will remain an outlier in the developed world by continuing to grow at a steady and sustainable pace, with room to spare. While its challenges are obviously not as vast as those of its developing world counterparts, mounting inequality, political dysfunction, and infrastructural deficiencies will need to be addressed to take advantage of its unique balance of wealth and population vitality.

3. The world economy pivots to Africa

Given the aforementioned population explosion, Africa may continue down the path of Asia, which also came to political and economic prominence amid and because of its young and growing population; indeed, Africa will be almost as big as Asia by the end of a century, catching up with unprecedented speed:

Between 1950 and 2050, Asia’s population will have grown by a factor of 3.7, almost quadrupling in just a hundred years. Africa’s population, over its own century of growth from 2000 to 2100, will grow by a factor of 5.18 – significantly faster than Asia

Pause for a moment to consider Asia’s boom over the last 50 years – the rise of first Japan, then South Korea, now China and maybe next India – and the degree to which it’s already changed the world and will continue to change it. Africa is expected to grow even more than Asia.

Of course, Asia’s progress had as much to do with good governance and prudence resource management than it did with demographic. If African nations can harness their population boom and make the necessary public investment, then the largest and most prominent among them — Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, to name but a few — can be the next Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Otherwise…

If they don’t improve, exploding population growth could only worsen resource competition – and we’re talking here about basics like food, water and electricity – which in turn makes political instability and conflict more likely. The fact that there will be a “youth bulge” of young people makes that instability and conflict more likely.

It’s a big, entirely foreseeable danger. Whether Africa is able to prepare for its coming population boom may well be one of the most important long-term challenges the world faces right now.

4. Not just more people, but more longer-lived people

As a testament to their socioeconomic progress, the average lifespan in both Africa and Asia on both continents is and will continue to grow. By 2100, Africans will be living 50 percent longer, equal to the North American average today, albeit it still lower than the rest of the world will be by the point. Within the century, the average European and North American will be 87.6 and 89 respectively, an amazing achievement that will nonetheless strain social security systems and economies if not properly prepared for. (Cue automation and guaranteed basic income?)

5. Immigration may save the West

Barring an unanticipated baby boom, most of Europe and the West world will face dramatic population decline, as is already occurring in places like Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Ukraine (each among the more populous states in the continent). Unless they can incentivize higher birth rates or offer better economic prospects for raising a family, opening their borders to more new citizens will be the only and most immediate way to reverse course; indeed, generous immigration policies are what have kept the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand steadily growing into the future, despite falling fertility rates.

Of course, the high levels of immigration needed to offset the rapid population decline would come with its own risks, namely cultural clashes, the challenge of assimilation, and mounting, potentially violent nativist resentment. In an ideal world, perhaps the surplus of young people in the developing world could be channeled to the shrinking nations of the rich world, who could use more laborers and caregivers. This has already begun to happen to a certain degree, and over time it would mitigate imbalance of the world’s demographics, wherein growth and youth will be concentrated in poorer regions.

The see the rest of the Post’s analysis beyond this broad overview, click here. Otherwise, as usual, please share your thoughts and comments.

 

An Illuminating Interview About Philosophy and Science

Marx was not entirely wrong in arguing, in the Communist Manifesto, that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”, but I am not convinced he identified the most profound struggle, which is actually between different ways of making sense of our life and giving meaning to it. We can bear almost anything, but not meaninglessness. Philosophy has withdrawn from the task of providing meaningful narratives, and this has left plenty of space to fundamentalists of all kind. We need philosophy to be intellectually engaged again, to shape the human project.

— Lucian Floridi, in an interview with Sincere Kirabo at OldPiano.org.

I recommend you click the hyperlink and check out the rest of the discussion. It is a very informative look at the intersection between philosophy and science, and what lies ahead for both fields as they an increasingly vital role in our fast-changing and troubled world.

A Case For a Gentle Decline

As per my habit during a sudden onset of writer’s block and a lack of time, I’ve decided to share an article that pretty much encapsulates my view of a given topic – in this case, the future of the United State’s prominent global status.

Charle’s Kenny, a writer in Foreign Policy who maintains a weekly column known as The Optimist, recently wrote a brief but well-argued article arguing in favor of America’s downgrade from its role as the world’s sole superpower, to something basically akin to the “great power” status that defines most wealthy developed nations, such as the UK and France. Indeed, he’s not the first to tackle this issue, as there has been relentless over the last several years, expressed by people all political persuasions, concerning the US’s inevitable, if not already occurring, decline on the world stage. Even casual conversations among colleagues, friends, and coworkers seems to confirm this rather ubiquitous perception.

Generally, this argument emerges in a rather despairing and even fearful way. America may become less stable, less wealthy, and less capable of defending itself. Our political system will continue to break down and even worsen this demise, and our society will remain polarized, cynical, and struggling, feeding a vicious cycle for decades to come. But barring these concerns and predictions – which are a whole other discussion – the argument is centered entirely on our status on the international stage, rather than the domestic one.

Indeed, as Kenny argues, it is precisely these concerns that should further motivate us to decouple from our entrenched presence in the world and focus more inwardly on addressing the many issues that ails us. The less time, money, and political energy is expended abroad – often with little return in value – the more we resources we can invest into our crumbling infrastructural, dysfunctional public education system, and weakening economy (among many other things). Among his prescriptions:

Perhaps Washington could take a baby step or two toward scaling back its global commitments by returning the defense budget to its Reagan-era average, a move that would save about $250 billion a year. Surely what was good enough for a world riven by the Cold War, when the Warsaw Pact had 249 combat divisions and we lived in constant threat of global thermonuclear Armageddon, is also good enough for the United States today — at a time when al Qaeda apparently has fewer than 100 fighters left in Afghanistan. And it really would be a baby step: Even with a $250 billion cut, the United States would still outspend China about four times over.

Defense cuts would allow the United States to tend to a few other priorities, which just might take Americans’ minds off the fact that their country is no longer No. 1. Perhaps the United States could focus on constructing a high-speed rail line or two, or maybe even finish the job on extending health care. After all, of the large economies that enjoyed a AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s last week, the United States ranked at the bottom of the list in terms of life expectancy, and it was the only country without universal health care. Perhaps America could also spend a little more on basic education; the United States was at the tail end of the AAA club when it came to believing basic scientific truths like evolution, and it scored lowest out of all those countries on international tests of students’ math skills.

Granted, while many conservatives or libertarians among you – who probably also support a tone-down global presence – might still chaff at the idea of America putting all the saved money into other “big government” ventures, the argument is still sound: we’re better off squabbling about how to spend all this public money here and our nations’ future, than we are watching it go to waste on overseas ventures that not only amount to very little for all their worth, but in many cases backfire as far as making new enemies or fraying current alliances. Furthermore, the Pentagon is no less wasteful with it’s money than any other state institution, as a recent article (also from Foreign Policy) reports.

On the hand, many humanitarian-minded folks, myself included, might not feel too keen about reverting back to an isolationist stance either. The US is a rich and powerful country, with ample private and public resources, as well as a dynamic system of innovation and scientific achievement. All this could still do a lot of good in the world, and even an America called away from much of the glob will still maintain all these advantages. I think it stands to reason that the US need not find the choice between a ubiquitous global presence and a desire to address global problems to be mutually exclusively. Today’s globalized and internationally-oriented world provides plenty of capacity for even small but well-oriented nations to do their part.

Canada is a major contributor to UN Peacekeeping operations for example, while the Scandinavian nations are among the most generous donors of international aid. Norway in particular makes for a good case study on the virtues of maintaining this balance: a restrained global presence, as far as toning down diplomatic and military muscle, but ample involvement in aid projects, conflict resolution, scientific funding for cures, and other global public goods. Sure a country of far greater size, wealth, and resources as the US could manage the same, given a proper re-balancing and re-orientation of direction.

Historical precedence also paints a favorable picture. Many of the wealthiest and most successful nations today – many of which outperform the US in many respects – were formerly great powers. Countries such as the UK, France, Germany, and Japan actually became more rich, stable, and prosperous following their downgrades after World War II  (though the last two certainly present a slightly different scenario, given the benefit of US aid and a relatively benign post-war occupation). Most developed nations with high-standards of living were hardly ever global powers to begin with, but have still managed to reach and maintain prosperity. The US, given the comparative advantage of being able to plan ahead and redistribute greater resources, would stand to gain a lot more than it’s predecessors and peers.

Of course, there are several problems here. One concerns greed: many American business elites benefit from the US tossing it’s weight around the world, opening up markets and promoting US-friendly policies abroad (indeed, the nexus between money, lobbies, and foreign policy is underrated but long-standing). It’d be difficult to imagine influential economic interests conceding to losing the comparative advantage brought to them by their nation’s considerable diplomatic influence.

There is also the issue of psychology. While many Americans of all political stripes seem to want a drawn-down on overseas bases and operations, there seems to be an ambivalence about completely giving up our cherished and unique status as a hegemonic “hyperpower.” There is much glory and pride to be had as a nation that can call the shots and pursue it’s interests around the world when needed. For many Americans, it’s a projection of manifest destiny and a by-product of American exceptionalism. Indeed, I’ve found the case for insularity and isolationism to often be presented in ambiguous terms, suggesting to me that most people have a love-hate relationship with America’s preeminent status in the world.

Furthermore, a lot of people see a global presence as crucial to maintaining national security. Our navy keeps shipping lanes open and stops pirates; our regional bases keep rogue states that are in close proximity in check; and our omnipresent diplomatic and intelligence community keeps constant vigilance on threats across the world as they emerge. A similar argument has also been made about how many of the countries that have prospered since last century – including prior great powers – had in fact done so thanks to the US taking up the mantle of “defender of the free world.” To this day, it’s argued that many wealthy states benefit from America’s stronger military forces keeping the peace, and thus facilitating trade and economic growth. They also save plenty of money they’d otherwise be spending on their own military and national security apparatuses (Japan, where we have one of the strongest presences, is an oft-cited example).

All these credible arguments aside, I still believe the US could feasibility and beneficially, for itself and the world, phase itself out of being a major power. Whether we like it or not, the world is becoming increasingly multi-polar, as much of the rest of the planet begins to catch up on our level of development. Similarly, many other rich and developed states are contending with a sense of decline, mostly due to ageing populations and a  general weariness of our increasingly complex world.  The US could still be a great leader and admirable example. We could start to work more from within the very international system we largely shaped, rather than despite it. We could set the example for successful and responsible leadership by drawing down our global ambitions, improving our society and economy, and thus strengthening our capacity to help the world through international directives and public-private partnerships.

All this will be easier said than done of course. But in the course of inevitable the change, we gain nothing from stubbornly refusing to face reality. Better to start a dialogue and begin to plan for what’s bound to come, rather than cling to power with futility, ignoring the benefit of historical precedence. It’s for our own good as much as the world’s.

Purpose Through Adversity

It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order – and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.

-Douglas Hostadter

Would our lives have any meaning if we were immortal or death didn’t exist? Would we even know what life is without knowing death first? Would we appreciate love if we never knew loneliness or value security if we never knew fear? Everything is effectively defined—and given significance—through its opposite and counterpart. If it wasn’t for the horrors of war, we would never appreciate the importance of peace. Poverty needs wealth, freedom needs oppression, and light needs darkness. These things, which are all opposed, are also mutually dependent on each other. This is the paradox in which things that are conflicting are also inextricably tied to one another.

How do you explain death without life with which to compare it to? Is not darkness merely the absence of light and wealth the absence of poverty? Without their opposing force, these concepts and beliefs would be worthless, indefinable, and incomplete. Without this system of disparate forces, we wouldn’t innovate, change, invent, adapt, create…these things, all the beauty and advancements we’re responsible for, are all bred through—and because of—conflict.

Through adversity we survive. Without a challenge, we stagnate and decay.

Life (and human existence in general) is nothing but constant struggle, a struggle that we need in order to define ourselves and give us purpose. If we didn’t have conflict, what would we have? What would drive us and occupy our time? Does not every story and narrative—fiction and fact alike—have a central conflict of sorts? It’s not merely something so metaphysical and grant: it could be as simple as wanting to graduate, getting a promotion, or losing weight…it could be as cosmic as good versus evil, chaos versus order, destruction versus creation.

In poorer countries, the concern is survival, modernization, increasing wealth and prosperity, and so on. In wealthier countries, where such problems are largely solved or marginalized (discounting a minority of people), the concern becomes more philosophical. We strive to maintain the standard of living and comfort we’ve reached, and struggle to resist the wearing down of our prosperous, affluent way of life as time passes. We also begin to develop a more existential dimension to our purpose: we start questioning the purpose of our lives, going through existential crises, engaging in ultimately petty pursuits. Devoid of any real conflict, we engage in subconsciously fabricating them. Or perhaps they were just always there, for we always need some obstacle or challenge of some kind. Even if we reach utopia, we would find our paradise somehow flawed and troublesome in and of itself (boredom would likely be the issue)…ambition and perseverance, this desire to always strive for something and overcome something else, is as much a human trait as inquisitiveness.

Everything is in constant conflict with everything else. We live in a system—globally, naturally, and universally—that is in constant flux and change and chaos and disagreement. And it is this natural state of divergences and clashes that is so dynamic, so beautiful inspite of its absurdity.

A Casual Update on My Life

I figured I’d take a break from talking about politics and society and just discuss some of the musings and missives about my life. I hope this doesn’t strike anyone as self-indulgent or narccisitic. I just want to see if anyone can relate or has any meaningful input. I find it wonderful how many people ultimately relate with me about a lot of experiences, concerns, and beliefs. I think most people would realize they’re more connected – and thus have more affinity for each other – if they took to talking a little more about themselves, albeit in an honest and frank way.

In any case, I find myself very dissappointed in my writing ability lately. There’s so much I’ve wanted to write about, but as usual I find it difficult to structure my thoughts and opinions in a readeable way – or at least to do so often. I think my previous note was decently written, but those sorts are too few and far inbetween, as well as too long. I’m not sure why I can’t seem to share all these things I am so enthusiastic about to other people.

Perhaps my mind is on overdrive and my cognition is too spread thin. I quite literally have a stack of periodicals and books that I’m trying to read, and it keeps growing every day. I bombard myself with way too much news and current events, in addition to scholarly articles about a lot of topics that aren’t timely but that I still want to read as soon as possible. Basically, I get seem to give my mind a rest, and I think it’s starting to affect me.

Remember that insomnia I complained about? Well I’ve largely resolved it, but I’m starting to think my inability to quiet my mind is what contributed to it. Just recently I’ve had nights where I’m thinking about the most random things – life, the future, politics, science, scences from a movie – all while lying in bed.

I honestly can’t figure out why I’m so obsessed with knowledge. I feel like I want to know every thing, at every time, in every way, without realizing that, realistically, I can’t possibily do that. It sounds a lot like an addiction, now that I write this all out. I crave something I know is not reasonable. Could it be that all this reading and self-saturation is some sort of coping method? Does it get my mind off of other, personal concerns? Or maybe I’m looking to into all this and ultimately I’m just really, really into scholarly pursuits?

In any case, I feel like I have way too much to do and way too little time, which is probably a good thing, given how a lot of people out there are unemployed and bored. I’m quite grateful to have a job and to still be living rather comfortably, especially given my dire circumstances financially. But I’m getting impatient. I want a better job and I want it now. I want to get on the path to my Masters, and to my career as a diplomat (or at least as a humanitarian aid administrator). I’m so full of energy about this that I think I’m burning myself out…or worse still, misapplying it. Should I really be on here ranting about all this when I need work urgently? Should I really be reading so much all the time?

I’m starting to think that wanting a job is only cool to think about hypothetically. Looking for it, and coming to terms with the difficulty and ucnertainy of the future, is a different story entirely. Perhaps that’s why I’m so anxious, and why I’m so keen to read and live life with such enthusiasm. Maybe I’m just making the most of the here and now while I can, because deep down I know things will be far tougher to face up to in the future.

I can speculate and rant about this all I want. But in the end, I’m just going to have to stop deliberating and starting doing. I’m way too indecisivie and uncertain about a lot of things, ideologically and in terms of my personal actions. It’s about time I start seriously deling with the obstacles and concerns that I face.

But alas, that’s all easier said than done. It’s going to take a lot more than writig it all down to make me act. I’m going to have to tap into good old fashioned willpower, in all it’s simplicity and intangibility.