Friday, January 30, 2015

"Damage from cancelled census as bad as feared, researchers say"

On the front page of today's issue of Toronto's The Globe and Mail was Tavia Grant's article reporting that the scrapping of the long-form census once collected by Statistics Canada, ordered by the Canadian federal government for inscrutable reasons of its own, has really caused a lot of damage.
The cancellation of the mandatory long-form census has damaged research in key areas, from how immigrants are doing in the labour market to how the middle class is faring, while making it more difficult for cities to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, planners and researchers say.

Statistics Canada developed a voluntary survey after Ottawa cancelled the long-form census in 2010. Many had warned that the switch would mean lower response rates and policies based on an eroded understanding of important trends. Now researchers – from city planners to public health units – say they have sifted through the 2011 data and found it lacking.

Their comments come as a private member’s bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census will be debated in the House of Commons Thursday. The bill, expected to be voted on next week, has slim odds of passing, given the Conservative majority. But it is drawing attention to the impact of the switch, which has created difficulties in determining income-inequality trends, housing needs and whether low-income families are getting adequate services.

The impact isn’t just on researchers. Cities, such as Toronto, say it’s become more expensive and requires more staffing to obtain data that’s of lower quality. The key areas of concern are tracking long-term shifts and understanding what’s going on at the neighbourhood level.

The last census in 2011 cost a total of $652-million, including an extra $22-million due to the change to the voluntary National Household Survey. The total budget for the 2016 census won’t be decided until February or March, Statscan has said. But the current plan is to hold another voluntary survey. All told, 35,000 people will be hired for this effort.

The article goes on to describe groups and cities and provinces and economic classes with specific needs which can't be met by the low-quality data collected in place of the long-form census. I quite like the observation made in the final paragraph of Grant's article.

Sara Mayo, social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, says the result of the census changes has been less data for more money. “In terms of fiscal prudence, this made no sense. Why would any government want to pay more for worse-quality data?”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Greece: The Impact of Austerity on Migration"

A Marginal Revolution commenter linked to a study at the blog Multiplier Effect by Gennaro Zezza providing hard numbers on the scale of Greek population decline and emigration. (Germany seems to be a major destination.)
The Hellenic Statistical Authority (ElStat) has recently released the new quarterly data on employment and the labor force, which includes a measure of the population aged 15 or more (Table 1). While the series published in the previous release exhibited a stable upward trend (reported in green in the chart), the new estimates show that population peaked at 9.437 million at the end of 2008, and then started declining, reaching 9.296 million in the first quarter of this year, i.e. it went back to its 2004 level. (The reasons for the change in the series are due to ElStat incorporating the latest census data: details are available in the ElStat web site).

As ElStat does not publish an up-to-date measure of net migration, we assume this could be measured by the distance between the pre-crisis population trend and the actual values. We therefore computed a simple linear trend on the 2001-2008 data, which shows that population would have now been at 9.686 million, had the previous trend continued. The difference between this value and the population reported for the first quarter of 2014 is thus approximately 390,000 people (4 percent).

ElStat makes available the detail by age groups (Table 2), reported in our second chart, which shows that younger Greeks are declining steadily in number – a trend which is common to many developed countries who chose to reduce the average number of kids per family – while the number of older people is steadily increasing – again a trend common to many countries, linked to longer life expectancy. Summing up the 15-29 groups to the 45+ groups, we find that the decline in the younger population accelerated after 2007, compensating the increase in the number of Greeks aged 45 and over, so that the inverted U-shape of the population in our first chart can largely be attributed to the decline in Greek residents aged 30-44, who are now 2.442 million against a peak of 2.544 million at the end of 2008.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On why demographics mean a near-term recovery in Greece is unlikely

Yesterday's Greek legislative election which placed a SYRIZA-dominated government in charge of the country got quite a lot of attention for a lot of things in the blogosphere. Some, like blogger Charlie Stross, wondered if SYRIZA's election might lead to a global economic shift. Others have noted ways in which the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is breaking from the past, rejecting a religious oath of office as befits his atheism. Common to almost everyone, however, has been concern as to how the election of SYRIZA might change Greece's relationship with the rest of the Eurozone and the European Union. Could Greece get a better deal? Might Greece end up breaking from the bloc altogether?

I'm not at all sure that SYRIZA will be capable of this change, if only for demographic reasons. Helena Smith's recent article in The Guardian, "Young, gifted and Greek: Generation G – the world’s biggest brain drain", provides an idea as to the scale of Greece's demographic issues.

Call them Generation G: young, talented, Greek – and part of the biggest brain drain in an advanced western economy in modern times. As the country lurches towards critical elections this weekend, more than 200,000 Greeks who have left since the crisis bit five years ago will watch from overseas.

Doctors in Germany, academics in the UK, shopkeepers in America – the decimation of Greece’s population has perhaps been the most pernicious byproduct of the economic collapse which has beggared the country since its brush with bankruptcy.

“Greece is where I should be,” says Maritina Roppa, 28, a trainee doctor who left Greece three years ago for Minden, north-west Germany. “It’s such a pity that people like me, in their 20s, have had to go.”

Of the 2% of the population who have left, more than half have gone to Germany and the UK. Migration outflows have risen 300% on pre-crisis levels, as youth unemployment soars to more than 50%. Around 55% of those affected by record rates of unemployment are under 35, according to Endeavour, the international nonprofit group that supports entrepreneurship.

“It is a huge loss of human capital whose affects will only begin to be felt in the next decade,” said Aliki Mouri a sociologist at the National Centre for Social Research. “People who have been educated at great cost, both to their families and the public purse, are now working in wealthier countries which have not invested in them at all,” she added, acknowledging that even in good times Greece had difficulty absorbing the surplus of professionals its universities produced.

[. . .]

Despite the first signs of economic recovery – in November figures showed that Greece returned to growth for the first time in six years, its worst recession in postwar history – the exodus is not abating. Increasing numbers want to join the already record 50,000 Greeks estimated by the OECD to be studying abroad. Schools are being inundated with requests by students to be enrolled on courses for international exams that could prepare them for foreign fields.

“Greece doesn’t allow you to progress,” said Carmella Kontou, an aesthetician considering moving to the US. “You can’t even begin to think of having a family or achieving things that elsewhere in Europe would be considered totally natural.”

One major trend that Greece shares with much of the rest of Europe is rapidly-aging population with fertility that has been well below replacement levels since the mid-1980s. Domestically-produced human capital was already quite scarce. Immigration to Greece, meanwhile, as noted in Charalambos Kasimis' March 2012 profile "Greece: Illegal Immigration in the Midst of Crisis" has become increasingly problematic. Many immigrants who came to Greece when the country was prosperous have returned to their homelands. The plight of illegal migrants, entering Greece from across the Aegean from the Middle East and elsewhere, has meanwhile become legendary. It's worth noting IRIN News' Preethi Nallu and Bloomberg's Jonathan Stearns have noted that, while these migrants welcome SYRIZA's victory, they do so largely because they think that a SYRIZA government will help them leave for other, more prosperous, European countries.

Rokan Mondal, who says he spent six months walking from his native Bangladesh to Greece in 2008, believes Alexis Tspiras will ensure that he doesn’t have to go back.

Mondal, 23, was among a crowd of hundreds who turned out to cheer Tsipras as he arrived at Syriza party headquarters in Athens late Sunday after his election victory. He said he hopes a Tsipras-led government will make it easier for him to acquire Greek citizenship. At the moment, he has a card that lets him reside in Greece only and not elsewhere in the European Union.

“I believe I’ll get the passport,” Mondal said as he mingled with a handful of other Bangladeshis who rushed forward as Tsipras appeared. “Then I can think about Italy, Germany, Spain.”

Mondal encapsulates some of the expectation both at home and abroad that falls on Tsipras. His party, also known as the Coalition of the Radical Left, ousted the government implementing austerity, while the anti-immigrant far right party Golden Dawn placed third.

If the Greek population is set to start shrinking, with many of its most talented young people leaving their country to find work and with few people moving to replace them, I'm hard-pressed to imagine how the Greek economy can recover to pre-2008 levels of output. Where will the workforce come from? The scale of investment required to finance economic growth in Greece given the shrinking workforce does not strike me as likely to be realized. Who will provide the funds? Even if SYRIZA manages to achieve the debt renegotiation its thinkers and leaders have hoped, can it be enough?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Notes on Newfoundland and Labrador

My post earlier this week about the inevitability of large-scale out-migration from Atlantic Canada, overlooked the remarkable economic growth of Newfoundland and Labrador. Etienne Grand’Maison and Andrew Sharpe's July 2013 paper for the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, "A Detailed Analysis of Newfoundland and Labrador's Productivity Performance, 1997-2010: The Impact of the Oil Boom" provides a good overview of the offshore oil development that, according to Statistics Canada, made the traditionally poor province one of the richer in Canada. The Conference Board of Camera rates GDP per capita on par with that of Switzerland. This wealth, something lacking elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, is an asset.

Sudden prosperity has definitely helped the province's demographics. As data collected in the 2011 census makes clear, while Newfoundland and Labrador has an older population than the Canadian average, from 2006 it actually experienced some positive growth, on the order of 1.6% between 2006 and 2011. In all Atlantic Canada, only Prince Edward Island experienced more rapid growth. This helps deal with the province's issues. (The blood donor shortage I mentioned in a June 2010 post might not get much worse, much more quickly.

Fertility in Newfoundland and Labrador, while having recovered from its nadir in the 1990s, is still somewhat below the Canadian average. The underlying demographic dynamics, as noted by then-premier Kathy Dunderdale to the CBC, are arguably scary.

Newfoundland and Labrador's population peaked at 580,109 in 1992, the year the federal government declared a moratorium on much of the cod fishery around the province.

The population hit a low of 506,330 in 2006, with Statistics Canada putting the count in December at 513,555.

Despite some modest growth, Dunderdale said the province needs to do much more. In 2007, then premier Danny Williams introduced a $1,000 incentive to parents for each newborn, with an additional $100 for each of the first 12 months of life or adoption.

Newfoundland and Labrador once had one of the highest birth rates in the country, but has for decades seen declining enrolments in schools, particularly in rural areas. In 1986, Newfoundland and Labrador had almost 104,000 students between five and 14 years of age, with that number cut to just over 53,000 last spring.

The latest census found that Newfoundland and Labrador trailed the other provinces with the lowest percentage of young people.

A 2012 CBC essay goes into more detail about how the decline of the school-age population was accompanied by a redistribution of the population, with the school-age population of the capital of St. John's and its census metropolitan area growing while the school-age population outside was collapsing.

The November 2007 regional population profiles created by the provincial Department of Finance seem to hold out, more than seven years later. The population of St. John's and its area is thriving; the remainder of the province is decaying. The observations of a friend's essay I noted in February 2013 remain true.

[The Newfoundland fisheries] existed for centuries and employed thousands of people, with many more engaged in processing, exporting and transporting the catch.

Then it got overfished. It collapsed in the early 90s, and it crashed hard: in some areas, stocks declined 99% over 50 years.

The fisheries have been under a moratorium for exactly 20 years now. There has been no improvement. Instead, the ecosystem is changing: invasive species are moving in, predators are devastating the remaining populations, and there is little to no evidence of a recovery. The Newfoundland fisheries are, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Large numbers of Newfoundlanders refuse to accept this. They demand that the fisheries be re-opened, as if the fish are merely hiding: the second a boat hits the water, the cod will come leaping out of the surf by the thousands, eager to be caught.

Others have accepted that the fisheries are dead, but insist that the jobs need to find them: they’re going to sit tight and wait for the government to find an industry for each and every teeny, tiny dot on the map. Even the towns with only a dozen residents. Even the towns accessible only by sea. Even the towns without reliable electricity or running water.

The hinky thing is that the young people seem to get it.

Economic prosperity might halt out-migration. It might even attract a substantial number of migrants, even non-Canadian migraqnts. One thing that it can't do, at least not without unrealistically high levels of investment in Newfoundland outside of the St. John's area, is reverse the depopulation of what is now the province's hinterland. There may be exceptions--I noted on my own blog in June 2010 the apparent success of outlying Fogo Island in attracting a certain number of cultural tourists--but can singular exceptions like Fogo be made to apply to the entire island? I suspect not. Newfoundland and Labrador may be doomed to become a Greater St. John's with scattered regional centres, the outports of old which once supported a vibrant fisheries-based economy and culture being, with exceptions, emptied.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On "Why the Muslim 'No-Go-Zone' Myth Won't Die"

The Atlantic's David A. Graham has an article up taking an in-depth look at the concept of ubiquitous "no-go zones" run by Muslims in western Europe. First introduced to the mainstream by Fox News television coverage, Graham notes that this pre-Eurabian concept comes from the conflation of three separate, misunderstood, phenomena.

It seems to stem from two or maybe three real phenomena. The first is the presence of sharia courts in some places in Europe. In the United Kingdom, for example, "Muslim Arbitration Tribunals" are officially mandated but set up outside the court system and can resolve civil and family issues through Islamic law; there are also reports of informal religious courts. There are similar Jewish courts in Britain, and the Muslim tribunals have received encouragement from figures including then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. On the other hand, there are convincing arguments that the courts can sometimes be bad for women. (There's a fascinating echo of the Ottoman empire's "millet" system, in which non-Muslims were allowed to set up their own courts to deal with matters of personal law.)

The second real phenomena is the rise of vigilante sharia squads in some places. For example, in Whitechapel, East London, CNN reported on bands of Muslim men who try to keep alcohol out of the area and harangue passers-by about morality. RedState's Erick Erickson thinks he's caught CNN red-handed: While the network criticizes Jindal for not knowing of any real no-go zones, CNN itself reported on one! But the analogy doesn't quite hold. What's happening here is disturbing, but well-short of extremist-run enclaves. These are just ad-hoc groups, and area Muslims by and large condemn it in CNN's reporting. There's no evidence that these squads are powerful or widespread.

The third factor is what are known as "Zones Urbaines Sensibles," or "sensitive urban zones," in France. These areas are defined by their socioeconomic status—they're characterized by high unemployment, high rates of public housing, and low educational attainment. As it happens, many of these areas are populated largely by poor immigrants from the Muslim world, creating a neat but misleading correlation. Some of the "no-go" coverage has suggested that police and other emergency services dare not go into these areas. The United States is sadly not immune to dangerous city areas where emergency-service providers feel unsafe, so in that way this is a universal phenomenon. But as BusinessWeek notes, it's not the case that the government has written these zones off; in fact, they've been designated for further attention and work on urban renewal.

Tracing the meme to the writings of Daniel Pipes early last decade, Graham notes that the idea has since been spreading online, through people participating in social networks ideologically predisposed to this belief.

If you dig through the fever swamps of the Internet, you can see the idea spreading since then. For example, the blog "Violence Against Whites" chronicles the SUZs and other alleged no-go zones across Western Europe. (Other material on the site includes claims that Boers were ethnically cleansed in South Africa and a section on "white martyrs.") reports, "These areas are Muslim-dominated neighborhoods. Non-Muslims dare not set foot into the areas."

I noted earlier that there are popular misestimates of population, based on non-random and inaccurate samplings. Graham notes, depressingly, that phenomena like these are often resistant to correction.

Erroneous beliefs such as these tend to concentrate along people's partisan or ideological axes. (The same is true of liberal media, though not in this particular case.) And once an idea has taken seed, it's extremely difficult to root out. As political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have shown, corrections can actually backfire, increasing holders' faith in their incorrect beliefs.

And yet, this needs to be done.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On the inevitability of out-migration from Atlantic Canada

Halifax, capital of the Atlantic Canadian province of Nova Scotia, has some serious demographic issues. In May of last year, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald's Brent Bundale and Davene Jeffrey summarized the findings of the Halifax Index 2014. Bundale had noted in 2012 that a relatively strong Haligonian economy could be threatened by labour shortages. This has become a serious problem.

Halifax is facing a population crisis as fewer people move to the city and more pack their bags for other parts of the country, a new report says.

Immigration to Nova Scotia’s biggest city hit an eight-year low last year, while outmigration to other parts of Canada spiked to its highest level in over a decade, the report found.

Halifax’s population grew 0.4 per cent last year, half the municipality’s normal rate and lagging behind most Canadian cities.
“If our population declines, our fiscal sustainability is threatened,” Paul Kent and Fred Morley, both with the Greater Halifax Partnership, said in an introduction to the Halifax Index 2014.

“The biggest challenge we face as a community is hanging on to our new graduates and attracting immigrants.”

Parts of the index mirror findings of the Ray Ivany-led report released earlier this year on improving the province’s economy. A key finding of the Ivany report was that Nova Scotia must grow its population through immigration and encouraging students to stay.

One noteworthy thing about all this is that, by the standards of Atlantic Canada, Halifax is in relatively good shape. It attracts large numbers of migrants from throughout Atlantic Canada and from Nova Scotia, and it attracts a disproportionately large share of Atlantic Canada's immigrants. Port Hawkesbury, a Cape Breton town and noteworthy source of migrants whose mayor was interviewed in connection with the collapse of the new migration of Atlantic Canadians to Alberta, is not so favoured at all.

John Phyne and Linda Harling-Stalker's paper "'Good to be Alberta Bound?': Out-Migration, In-Migration and the Strait Region of Nova Scotia, 2001-2006", concentrating on the area of northern Nova Scotia including Port Hawkesbury, is a solid paper combining economics and ethnography. It makes a case that, outside of relatively favoured areas like Halifax, substantial out-migration is inevitable. With limited options for well-paying employment, a dispersed and highly rural population structure, a century-long perspective on migration seeing it as an inevitable life stage, little lasting in-migration (whether from other regions of Canada or from non-Canadian sources), and sustained below-replacement fertility rates, the authors predicted the decay of that region's fabric. That decay, I would suggest, can be generalized to the whole of the area.

These constraints on the labour force will limit the region's growth. A Toronto Dominion February 2012 report, "Estimating Longer-Term Growth Prospects in Canada's Provincial Economies", makes just this point.

Québec, the Maritimes, and Manitoba rounded out the middle-to-bottom positions. We see that productivity gains among the group were tightly clustered (1.1-1.5%). Therefore, the difference in the headline GDP growth number among these five provinces stemmed primarily from labour supply growth. Québec generally had a lower labour force participation rate than the others in large part due to an older populace. However, this did not translate into lacklustre labour supply growth because of the province’s ability to attract about 15-20% of all new immigrants admitted to Canada each year. Of the group, Prince Edward Island (PEI) recorded the highest labour supply growth of roughly 1.0% per year from 1990-2007. While annual population gains within PEI were not significant, the labour force participation rate did increase by more than three percentage points over the benchmark period. In comparison to both Québec and PEI, the remaining three provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba) fell somewhere in the middle on labour supply growth front. In spite of their underlying differences, economic growth among the five provinces in this group came in at 1.8-2.4% per year.

Worse will come.

The expected outflow of individuals to other parts of the country, combined with struggles to attract international migrants, weigh down the labour supply prospects for Québec and the Atlantic provinces. Our projections have Québec clocking in at a mere 0.3% labour supply growth over 2016-21. The numbers for the Atlantic provinces are not much better. Combining these disappointing numbers, with lacklustre productivity gains, results in economic growth range from 1.1% to 1.4% per year in each of these provinces.

In response to these demographic constraints, papers like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business' October 2009 "The Future of Atlantic Canada: Dealing with the Demographic Drought" (authored by Amelia DeMarco and Bradley George) and the Centre for the Study of Living Standards' December 2009 "The Productivity Performance of Atlantic Canada" (authored by Peter Harrison and Andrew Sharpe) have identified improving productivity as the only way forward for the Atlantic Canadian economy. The problem, as especially the last paper notes, is that there have been many calls to imrpove productivity in Atlantic Canada but little success. The economic structure of the region, concentrated in low-productivity resource industries and retail, is resistant. What economic convergence has come, in Newfoundland and Labrador, has come from offshore oil driving strong growth in the past decade. Will this last even for Newfoundland? Will the remainder of Atlantic Canada enjoy similar bounty? I have my doubts.

In the meanwhile, as a 2013 Canadian Press report drawing on Statistics Canada's migration information notes, there are entirely rational reasons for Atlantic Canadians to continue to migrate.

BMO economist Robert Kavcic said inter-provincial migration was well established in the early 2000s as Alberta emerged as the country’s growth engine, but stalled somewhat during the 2008-09 recession.

“Now we’re at the part of the cycle where Alberta (is growing strong again), the unemployment rate is down to around four per cent, and Atlantic Canada has lost a lot of momentum because a lot of the fiscal stimulus there has wound down,” he explained.

He noted that while all provinces are losing workers to Alberta and to a lesser extent Saskatchewan, the drain was especially dramatic in Atlantic Canada, where out migration hit 11,000, or 0.5 per cent of the population, during the last 12-month period for which there is data.

The major factor for the movement is availability of work, the report says. Alberta and Saskatchewan lead the nation with unemployment rates of 4.4 and 3.6 per cent respectively, well below the 6.9 per cent national average. The four Atlantic provinces, meanwhile, have jobless rates ranging from 9.1 per cent in Nova Scotia to 11.0 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As well, average hourly wages are now $6 higher in Alberta than they are in Atlantic Canada — the highest gap on record — and about $4 higher than in Ontario and British Columbia.

[. . .]

Among the least attractive of the 19 areas surveyed, BMO listed Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, London, Ont., and New Brunswick in that order from the bottom.

The inevitability of further out-migration from Atlantic Canada, to Ontario or Alberta or Saskatchewan or anywhere sufficient jobs are availabile, seems inescapable. Equally inescapable is the likelihood that, the more out-migration occurs, the more there will be economic incentives for out-migration as the region's economy continues to fall further behind its peers. As Phyne and Harling-Starker's paper noted, Ireland only managed to reverse similarly high levels of emigration with by developing an economic miracle. Even that didn't last. Absent something surprising, I fear Atlantic Canada might be heading into a feedback loop. Certain favoured areas, like Halifax, might do well. The rest, though?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On what the attenuation of the Alberta advantage might mean

One of the most popular posts on Demography Matters is my November 2012 post "On the Albertan advantage over the United States". There, I noted that the exceptional prosperity of that Canadian province's oil-based economy was attracting very large number of migrants from across North America, including from the United States. A March 2014 Global News report drawing upon recent Statistics Canada data noted that the province's labour market was so strong that it was exerting a pull on the rest of the country.

In 2013, the rest of the country (save Saskatchewan) witnessed an exodus of folks from their province of origin[.]

Where did they go? Virtually all to Alberta.

“A whopping 43,000 people flocked to Alberta last year,” BMO economist Robert Kavcic said in note published Thursday.

The surge in inter-provincial migration – the biggest in 23 years – bumped Alberta’s population up by 1.1 per cent, according to Kavcic.

The demographic contrast between Alberta and the rest of the country is stark, but closely mirrors what’s happening on the jobs fronts [. . .]

[T]he [Conference Board of Canada] nevertheless expects the province to generate nearly 47,000 net new jobs which will push the province’s unemployment rate down to 4.4 per cent by the end of the year.

The national unemployement rate, meanwhile, is stuck at 7.0 per cent. In B.C., it’s 6.4 per cent, and in Ontario and Quebec, the rate is 7.8 and 8.7 per cent, respectively.

The population shift serves to underscore the “starkly different labour market conditions in different areas of the country,” BMO’s Kavcic said.

You'll note that I said Alberta's strong economy was based on oil. At a time when oil prices are collapsing worldwide and given Alberta's failure to diversify its economy away from oil, this is a vulnerability. (The provincial government has found its revenues cut back so severely that consideration is now being lent to instituting a provincial sales tax.) This vulnerability is especially problematic given that much of Alberta's investment, and many of the migrants, have been directed towards developing the environmentally problematic and high cost Athabasca oil sands (or tar sands in the north of Alberta. With lower prices for oil, as MacLean's' Andrew Leach notes, many of the projects aimed at extracting oil from the sands and exporting it to consumers might not even bee needed in the case of lower prices.

Alberta is now getting used to the idea that it may enter into a recession. As CBC's Kathleen Petty noted, while some hope that this might lead to a less oil-based economy that could lead to a weaker currency and potentially a stronger industrial sector, rebalancing the Canadian economy, this outcome is not at all clear.

Between 1995 and 2014 the average annual employment growth rate in Alberta dwarfed all the other provinces. Alberta's average employment growth over a 10-year period was 2.50 per cent a year; Ontario was a distant second at 1.44.

What now? As economists and politicians peer over the precipice, looking for the bottom for oil, Ontario's premier is predicting a turnaround for her province.

Kathleen Wynne says "we have a diverse economy and it can be a buffer in a time like this, against some of that volatility." Perhaps, but will it be enough?
[. . .]
As Todd Hirsch, the chief economist at Alberta's ATB Financial, points out, "many manufacturers in Ontario and Quebec have actually been tied into Western Canada's oil and gas sector.

"While the auto sector used to be the largest area of growth for manufacturing, over the past 10 years, it has been specialized equipment, boilers, pumps and other inputs used in the extraction of petroleum" that has kept Ontario's manufacturing sector alive.

Hirsch says Wynne is correct in saying Ontario can be a "buffer", but it won't "be enough to propel overall Canadian growth higher in 2015."

And as Petty goes on to note, without Albertan economy growth to drive national figures up, the Canadian economy and the Canadian labour market would be in a rather different place. With substantial layoffs expected and net migration to Alberta expected to drop, many Canadian job-seekers who could have found employment out west just won't have access to such a strong labour market. This will be a problem throughout the rest of Canada, but I would suggest--on the basis of my personal knowledge and acquaintances, granted--that the effect might be particularly strong in Atlantic Canada. There, over the past decade especially, in the absence of anything like a strong economy with high-paying jobs a whole culture of temporary migration has built up, people moving west to work and earn income for months on end before returning home to spend some time with their families in their home communities. Without the chance to earn this income, the future will be grim for these people.

The thousands of Cape Bretoners who work in the Alberta oil patch are bracing for a grim Christmas -- and even grimmer New Year -- if crude oil prices continue their downward sprial. The collapse in oil prices means tradespeople and labourers may not be called back after the holidays - and many may lose their homes.

Billy Joe MacLean, the mayor of Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia, says the impact could be devastating for Cape Breton depending on how long oil prices stay low. "There will be hundreds and hundreds of people, coming back to Cape Breton, who may be able to survive for four to five months," Mr. MacLean tells Carol.

"But that's the limit. And then you're going to see the tragedy and the devastation of foreclosures on houses, and the seizures of goods," he adds.

Melissa Blake, the mayor of Fort McMurray and the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo, acknowledges there will be an impact on her town as well, and that growth will stall, but the effect will not be as drastic as Atlantic Canada, where the visiting workers come from. "We've got two distinct workforces," she tells Carol. "We have the one that's involved in permanent operations and the one that comes to us as guest workers from other communities." The permanent workforce in Fort McMurray is much more stable, she adds.

More on this Monday.

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Humanity’s Future: Below Replacement Fertility?"

Reading my Inter Press Service RSS feed this evening, I came across Joseph Chamie's essay arguing that, on current trends, the entire world may shift to below-replacement fertility in a surprisingly short time. At the end of his analysis, he concludes that this trend is likely to spread worldwide.

According to United Nations medium-variant population projections, by mid-century the number of countries with below replacement fertility is expected to nearly double, reaching 139 countries. Together those countries will account for 75 percent of the world’s population at that time.

Some of the populous countries expected to fall below the replacement fertility level by 2050 include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey. Looking further into the future, below replacement fertility is expected in 184 countries by the end of the century, with the global fertility rate falling below two births per woman.

It is certainly difficult to imagine rapid transitions to low fertility in today’s high-fertility countries, such as Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, where average rates are more than six births per woman. However, rapid transitions from high to low fertility levels have happened in diverse social, economic and political settings.

With social and economic development, including those forces favouring low fertility, and the changing lifestyles of women and men, the transition to below replacement fertility in nearly all the remaining countries with high birth rates may well occur in the coming decades of the 21st century.

A question to our readers: Do you think this is plausible? What do you think this world would look like?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Steve Emerson, #foxnewsfacts, and bad pop demography

Steven Emerson's gaffe about the British city of Birmingham, stating in a live television interview that "[I]n Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in", has gotten global coverage. (For the record, in Birmingham, the United Kingdom's second-largest city by population, Muslims make up 14.3% of the city's population.)

Informed Consent's Juan Cole notes correctly that Emerson has consistently gotten things wrong, assigning responsibility for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to Muslims. One question still has to be asked: How could someone with his reputation get global media coverage? I'll suggest the trending Twitter hashtag #foxnewsfacts wasn't picked arbitrarily

Meanwhile, this would seem to fit with the pattern I mentioned last week of people badly misjudging the size of populations, overestimating them. Joe. My. God. has noted that the same sort of thing goes on with non-heterosexuals, too. The suggestions of the commenter here, that minorities tend to concentrate in cities and that cities are often taken to accurately represent their countries, do point in a plausible direction.

I think one of the primary reasons is the that Immigrants concentrate in the cities.

In my neck of the woods, the rural areas and the suburbs are almost completely white European in decent. But if you go to the local city (which is a small American city that you have never heard of) it is a regular United Nations full of Muslims, Hindus, Orthodox Christians (as exotic to the locals as the other faiths).

The end result is that were people live is more homogeneous then the country at large but where they go to socialize and shop is far more diverse then the country at large. And I think that people get their preconception of what the country as a whole is like not from where they live but from where they shop.

How often have conservatives and nationalists castigated cities, especially large ones, as unrepresentative of their community--too multiethnic, too "cosmoplitan", too secular, et cetera?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On recent post-colonial immigration to Africa

The ever-interesting blog 3 Quarks Daily linked earlier today to another article by Jenni Marsh in the South China Morning Post Magazine, "The town that China built: tourism boom at Zambia's Victoria Falls thanks to Chinese makeover".

"My husband is the best Chinese chef in Zambia," says Liu Xiuyi, a former takeaway employee from Chongqing. "Whenever the president has Chinese guests in Lusaka, my husband is hired to cook for them."

Twenty years ago, with no savings or formal education, the couple emigrated to Zambia when Liu's husband was hired as a chef by a Chinese state-owned construction company contracted to build roads in dusty Lusaka.

Now in their 50s, the Lius have just built a 15 million kwacha (HK$18.3 million) three-star hotel and restaurant, called the Golden Chopsticks, in the former British colonial outpost of Livingstone. They also own property in the Zambian capital; employ about 100 staff, local and Chinese; and rub shoulders with presidents and diplomats.

The Lius are among the estimated 20,000 to 100,000 Chinese living in the copper-rich southern African nation - weak census practices mean precise figures are elusive - and were among the first wave of daring migrants who sought their fortune here.

This Chinese immigrant presence in Zambia is part of a much larger wave of Chinese migration towards Africa. Yoon Jung Park and Anna Ying Chen's recent article "Recent Chinese Migrants in small Towns of Post-apartheid South Africa" takes a look at this migration in connection to South Africa. Much more broadly, Chinese migration to Africa is explored at length in American journalist Howard French's excellent recent book China's Second Continent, excerpted at Quartz and reviewed in The Economist. Substantial Chinese investment has been accompanied by substantial Chinese migration.

For more than a decade, the Chinese government has invested hugely in Africa. The foundation for this partnership was laid in 1996, when President Jiang Zemin proposed the creation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in a speech at the Organization of African Unity headquarters in Addis Ababa. Four years later, FOCAC convened triumphantly for the first time, gathering leaders from forty-four African countries in Beijing. China pledged, among other things, to double assistant to the continent, create a $5 billion African development fund, cancel outstanding debt, build new facilities to house the OAU (later replaced by the AfricanUnion), create “trade and economic zones” around the continent, build 30 hospitals and 100 rural schools, and train 15,000 African professionals. Fitch Ratings estimated that China’s Export-Import Bank extended $67.2 billion in loans to sub-Saharan African countries between 2001 and 2010—$12.5 billion more than the World Bank.

Although there are no official figures, evidence suggests that at least a million private Chinese citizens have arrived on African soil since 2001, many entirely of their own initiative, not by way of any state plan. This “human factor” has done as much as any government action to shape China’s image in Africa and condition its tics to the continent. By the timeI met Hao, in early 2011, merchants in Malawi, Namibia, Senegal, and Tanzania were protesting the influx of Chinese traders. In the gold-producing regions of southern Ghana, government officials were expelling Chinese wildcat miners. And in Zambia, where recent Chinese arrivals had established themselves in almost every lucrative sector of the economy, their presence had become a contentious issue in national elections.

As we left the capital, we passed the new national stadium, nearing completion by Chinese work crews at the edge of town. Built to support the country’s bid to host the 2013 continent-wide Africa Cup of Nations, it was a showcase gift from the Chinese government,intended as a statement of generosity and solidarity. China has become an avid practitioner of this kind of prestige-project diplomacy. I asked Hao whether a $65 million stadium was the best sort of gift for Mozambique, one of the ten poorest countries in the world.

“Chinese government projects in Mozambique have all failed,” he said. “That’s because the Chinese ganbu [bureaucrats] don’t know how to communicate on the same level with the blacks.” He shook his head and wagged a stubby index finger excitedly.

I asked him about his early days in the country. A prior attempt to do business overseas,in Dubai, had gone bad. Chinese agricultural experts there who had been on African aid missions planted a very powerful idea in his mind: Go to Africa, where you can acquire good land cheaply. He had flown to Maputo alone, and no one had greeted him at the airport. “I didn’t understand a fucking word thatwas being said to me.” On his own, he made his way into town and found a flophouse. Making little headway—he spoke neither Portuguese nor English—he soon gave in to the temptation to call up some fellow Chinese he had found online while still in China.

Post-colonial migration to Africa is not a new phenomenon. Even immediately after decolonization, large French communities grew in the politically stable and closely France-linked Côte d'Ivoire and Gabon, as did British immigration to South Africa. Elsewhere in Africa, Ghana came to host a relatively large community of African-Americans, attracted to Ghana by that country's early self-positioning as a home for the African diaspora.

More recently, European immigration to Africa has grown sharply, propelled by hard times in southern Europe as much as by African prosperity. Portuguese migration to oil-rich Angola and even Mozambique exploded after the beginning of the Great Recession. Most recently, there has even been migration south across the Strait of Gibraltar, from a recession-prone Spain to a Morocco that is at least experiencing some growth.

Morocco may seem like a strange preference for a Spaniard. With its GDP one-sixth of Spain’s and an unemployment rate estimated at 30 percent, “Morocco is in a deeper crisis than Spain,” says Mehdi Lahlou, an economics professor at Morocco’s National Institute for Statistics and Applied Economics. Still, Mr. Lahlou says it makes sense that Spaniards would consider moving to Morocco for work.

Spaniards do not need a visa to enter Morocco for a stay of up to three months, and only need to step on Spanish soil – which includes Spanish enclaves in Morocco, such as Ceuta and Melilla – to renew their stay. (Moroccans, on the other hand, must receive a visa to legally enter Spain.)

Plus, with the euro to Moroccan dirham exchange rate currently at 10 to 1, Lahlou says Spaniards who work for European companies in Morocco or come with savings from home can “live like kings” in the country. These advantages, he says, allow Spaniards to easily move back and forth between continents looking for work wherever it may arise.

Moving to Morocco was his best opportunity for employment, according to Martinez. But it has come at a price.

Martinez’s family has lived in Galicia, a region of northwest Spain, for generations. Rubbing his thumb on the heel of his hand, Martinez says Galicia is like a stain on the skin. “Moriña,” he said, a Galician word that means an intense longing for one's homeland. No matter where you go in the world you will always be Galician, says Martinez.

Though Tangier is only eight miles away from Spain, Morocco is “a world away,” says Martinez. From the call to prayer projected over loudspeakers five times per day to the disapproval of alcohol consumption, Martinez says Morocco feels very different from Spain.

Migration isn't simply a matter of people moving from poor countries to rich countries. It bears noting that migration in fact involves individuals who move from one area of the world to another in pursuit of opportunities. There's absolutely no reason why a stable Africa might not offer people with useful skills or experience more lucrative opportunities than in their homelands. Does Africa has a skills deficit? There may be plenty of people living around the world who would have these skills. Back in 2012, Hein de Haas wrote about what this migration, a reversal of the direction of migration we're used to, means.

This portrayal of "Africa = misery" is misleading in the first place, and goes back straight to colonial times, when Europeans fabricated stereotypes about African "backwardness", tribalism, chaos and poverty as a justification for their "civilizing" colonial mission.

Although violence and poverty have frequently occurred in several places and regions, other parts of Africa have been relatively prosperous and peaceful, and have in fact attracted migrants.

What many people ignore on top of that, is that some African economies are growing fast, and can nowadays offer better opportunities to skilled, entrepreneurial Europeans than the stagnating economies of Southern and European Europe. In addition, many African economies have been sheltered from the worst effects of the Global Economic Crisis because their banking sectors are less liberalized and therefore better protected.

It is impossible to predict what the future holds. Of course, if European economies pick up again, it is likely that emigration will fall and immigration increases again - Although it remains a question to what extent and when economic recovery occurs, as the current crisis seems to be a protracted one, and may last for many more years. It would also be dangerous to exaggerate African growth and to deny that many Africans continue to live in conditions of extreme poverty insecurity. And it would also be naive to think that Africans will stop migrating themselves.

However, it is important to go beyond colonial stereotypes of Africa as a continent of misery and to stop thinking that the whole world wants to come to Europe. In fact, this hardly concealing the idea the Europeans are superior.

Monday, January 12, 2015

On China becoming a country of immigrants

A South China Morning Post article, Jenni Marsh's "Afro-Chinese marriages boom in Guangzhou: but will it be 'til death do us part'?", published last year caught my attention. This article on the substantial African immigrant community in Guangzhou described how this community, and its descendants, were becoming embedded in the city. Ultimately stemming from the human connections made by China with West African countries during China's Maoist era of internationalism, economic migration has created a large and growing community.

"Chocolate City" OR "Little Africa", as it has been dubbed by the Chinese press, is a district of Guangzhou that is home to between 20,000 and 200,000, mostly male, African migrants (calculations vary wildly due to the itinerant nature of many traders and the thousands who overstay their visas).

Africans began pouring into China after the collapse of the Asian Tigers in 1997 prompted them to abandon outposts in Thailand and Indonesia. By exporting cheap Chinese goods back home, traders made a killing, and word spread fast. Guangzhou became a promised land.

It is easy to believe that every African nation is represented here, with the Nigerian, Malian and Guinean communities the most populous. But Little Africa is a misnomer; in the bustling 7km stretch from Sanyuanli to Baiyun, in northern Guangzhou, myriad ethnicities co-exist.

Uygurs serve freshly baked Xinjiang bread to Angolan women balancing shopping on their heads while Somalis in flowing Muslim robes haggle over mobile phones before exchanging currency with Malians in leather jackets, who buy lunch from Turks sizzling tilapia on street grills, and then order beer from the Korean waitress in the Africa Bar. Tucked away above a shop-lined trading corridor, the bar serves food that reminds Africans of home - egusi soup, jollof rice, fried chicken.

Whereas Chungking Mansions conceals Hong Kong's low-end trading community, in dilapidated Dengfeng village - Little Africa's central thoroughfare - the merchants, supplied by Chinese wholesalers, are highly visible. And it's in this melee of trade where most Afro-Chinese romances blossom.

I would also recommend this Al Jazeera photo essay.

I've blogged here before about immigration into China. In August 2010 I touched upon Russian immigration into China, as people migrated from the Russian Far East to a relatively more prosperous and dynamic Chinese northeast. In a 2011 post on Taiwan, I mentioned in passing the settlement of large numbers of Taiwanese in the Shanghai area. (I recommend one 2009 paper by Yen-Fen Tseng and another by Ping Lin looking at the phenomenon of Taiwanese migration to the Chinese mainland.) In passing while writing on Korea, I've mentioned here and here that many desperate North Korean female refugees have married Chinese farmers. Southeast Asian women seem to be following suit in southwestern China.

China has the potential to become a major destination for immigrants. China has become a global economic power, with interests and relationships worldwide, connections that can be capitalized upon by migrants if there are niches. With a China that is become increasingly rich, especially compared to much of the Third World, with an increasingly low birth rate and a soon-to-shrink working-age population, there are niches. These niches might well attract large numbers of migrants from relatively poorer countries, but they might also attract migrants from relatively richer countries. I mentioned Russia and Taiwan above, while South Koreans are also noteworthy. Looking to the experiences to date from Taiwan and Hong Kong with international migration, I would suggest that Southeast Asia might well become a source of migrants. Will the Philippines become a major source country? What of Thailand and Vietnam? What about an African continent that China is building more ties with? Et cetera.

What will the overall impact be on China's population dynamics? I honestly can't say. With on the order of 1.4 billion people living in China, it would take huge numbers of migrants--tens, if not hundreds of millions, of people--to create change on a large scale. Then again, change on smaller scale, on the level of a province or a metropolis, is also possible. It's arguably already starting to happen. Will this impact the international migration choices of Southeast Asians, if a migrant-accepting China is next door? Is China at all ready for this prospect?

How will the Chinese people and state react to these changes? Any number of outcomes is possible. It will be a privilege to see what will happen in the coming decades.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reflecting on migration in China through Taiwan and Hong Kong

International migration is increasingly a fact of life in Chinese East Asia. We can see this most clearly by looking at Taiwan and Hong Kong, two polities which not only are--at the very least--autonomous from the government of the People's Republic but which, by virtue of their high levels of economic and human development, representing the end goal that much of urban China seems within reach of attaining.

Ji-Ping Lin's January 2012 overview essay at the Migration Policy Institute noted how Taiwan was increasingly seeing substantial international labour mobility, not only across the Taiwan Straits with China but with Southeast Asia. Increasingly strong Taiwanese ties with Southeast Asian economies, demands for particular kinds of labour, along with the common East Asian theme of Southeast Asian women migrating to richer countries to pursue marriage with locals, have led to the migration of hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians to Taiwan, particularly of Vietnamese, Filipinos and Indonesians. As the Taiwanese population rapidly ages while access to the Chinese labour market remains problematic given issues of Taiwanese identity, it would not seem like a good idea to bet against the arugment that Taiwan in coming decades will be increasingly multicultural.

The similar sort of thing appears to be happening in Hong Kong. New immigrants to Hong Kong from mainland China are politically quite controversial, not least because of the alleged propensity of many female migrants to move to Hong Kong with the intent of giving birth to children with Hong Kong residency rights. The position of Filipinos and Indonesians, collectively numbering a quarter-million people and working particularly as domestic labourers, is also noteworthy. Hong Kong is more integrated with China than Taiwan because Hong Kong is in fact part of China, but even this autonomous Chinese city sees substantial migration from both Chinese and non-Chinese sources.

Why does this non-Chinese immigration even occur, when there are so many potential migrants from China? Particularly in the case of Taiwan, restrictions on Chinese immigration have much to do with concerns over national identity and the question of how much integration with China is desirable. Even if these restrictions were not in place, I would also suggest that some amount of international migration would be inevitable. Leaving aside issues like China's hukou system which limits migration to urban areas, Taiwan and Hong Kong are highly international polities. They have abundant and deep ties with non-Chinese regions, perhaps most noticeably for migration purposes with Southeast Asian countries, but not only with these. (One childhood acquaintance from Canada, I've recently learned, now works at an animation studio in Taipei.) How would Taiwan and Hong Kong trade with these non-Chinese countries and populations, invest in these territories, even engage in cultural exchanges with these people, without having some of these people have an interest in immigrating to these areas? Already, the proportions are starting to be noticeable.

My final point for the night is this. To what extent must the experiences of Taiwan and Hong Kong, globally renowned and economically successful, must differ from (for instance) Shanghai and the wider Pearl River conurbation? In an era where China again has the largest economy in the world, where many urban areas of China are already receiving very large numbers of migrants domestically, where shortages of labour are foreseeable given demographic change, and where China is building up all manner of ties with the entire planet, is there any reason not to suspect that globalized and successful China will not also become a notable destination for large numbers of immigrants?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On how China and Asia show how demographics alone is not destiny

Back on the night of the 4th of October, I joined thousands of Torontonians in wandering the streets late at night, looking at some of the works of art put out for public display in the all-night art festival of Nuit Blanche. One of the works I found most evocative was an installation mounted by Montréal-based artist Maria Ezcurra, draped on an alleyway on Spadina Alley in Toronto's oldest oldest Chinatown. The installation's title? Made in China.

Made in China, Maria Ezcurra, at Nuit Blanche #madeinchina #toronto @sbnuitblancheTO #mariaezcurra

The installation is composed of clothes labeled “Made in China,” donated by the community and set in a Chinatown alleyway. This collaborative piece functions as a façade filling an empty space between two buildings, creating in this way both a physical and a symbolic connection among cultures.

The work is about connections between Eastern and Western societies, between old customs and current trends, between globalization and tradition. It is about how we see and understand ourselves from other views, and vice versa. But mostly, it is about trying to build a bridge in which we are all represented, as a society as much as individuals.

Made in China is an anthropology of our shared present. Clothing in this project is perceived as an effective artistic medium for knowing and learning in new ways about ourselves in relation to others, thus symbolically connecting individual knowledge with culturally produced ideas.

Made in China, Maria Ezcurra, at @sbnuitblancheTO #toronto #nuitblanche #madeinchina #mariaezcurra

Two months later the news came out that once again, China now had the world's largest economy, at least measured by purchasing power power and in aggregate. China, as Joseph Stiglitz noted in Vanity Fair, is sufficiently large and sufficiently rich to be #1 again, and a major force in the world.

China is also facing the prspect of rapid population aging. Feng Wang 2012 analysis for the China Economic Quarterly, "Racing Towards the Precipice". Between a shift to low levels of fertility and rapid increases in life expectancy, China's working-age population can be expected to start contracting just as its population of potential retirees is growing. Multiple sources predict the working-age population will peak in just a couple of years. This sort of rapid aging could impose very serious costs on China. Ultimately, it could lead to China not completing its economic convergence towards the high-income societies of the world.

Will this necessarily mean that societies with more advantageous age structured, especially neighbouring ones, will profit? That potential certainly does exist, for instance in Southeast Asia. This International Business Times article sets the tone of that argument.

Home to 600 million people and located next to the growth engines of China and India, countries comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economies face the challenge of creating enough jobs to absorb their domestic growing labor forces and building infrastructure to boost productivity, according to an HSBC economist.

“We believe the future, at least from a demographic and natural resource perspective, belongs to ASEAN,” HSBC economist Trinh Nguyen said in a research note. “But whether this will be realized will be dependent on the will of the countries’ leaders.”

Although seen as the new frontier for growth, these Southeast Asian countries still performed below their potential, averaging just 5 percent growth in the past decade. The region attracted $111.4 billion in foreign investment last year -- almost equal to China’s $121.1 billion. But Nguyen thinks ASEAN countries can and should do better.

In the coming decades, ASEAN nations will have more prime-age adults (age 25-54) than ever before, and their dependency ratio (the proportion of the young and aged to working age adults) will drop significantly, freeing up resources for other investment opportunities, according to HSBC. Economic behavior varies at different stages of life -- while the young require investment in education and health, and the aged require health care and pensions, prime-age working adults supply labor and savings.

Emphasis should be placed on "potential." William Pesek's Bloomberg View commentary from last month, "When Even $7 Trillion Isn't Enough", notes that despite generally more advantageous age structured Southeast Asian countries aren't necessarily in the position to benefit.

For all the handwringing over rising labor costs on the mainland, China's annual output per manufacturing worker remains a staggering 15 times greater than Vietnam's ($57,100 versus $3,800), four times Indonesia's and more than three times that of Filipinos. Bottom line: Higher wages may not drive as many foreign manufacturers out of China and into Southeast Asia as some have predicted. Why relocate southward only to get less for your money?

Given all the hype about regional integration next year, those numbers should be sobering. On Jan. 1, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will take its most dramatic step yet toward creating a Europe-like common market for 600 million people. McKinsey reckons that a better-integrated Asean could generate as much as $615 billion in fresh economic value annually by 2030. But it will take many years and considerable political will to unify 10 disparate economies that often compete more than they cooperate, and the progress won't necessarily be linear.

Infrastructure is, of course, vitally important to making Southeast Asia more efficient. As Tonby points out, Asean would be well served by "overcoming some of the fragmentation that has prevented companies, technologies, and services from achieving scale in the past."

But human development -- including aggressive investment in education, training and healthcare -- could be even more critical. Take Indonesia. Southeast Asia's biggest economy often touts its demographic dividend -- 26 percent of its 250 million people are under 15 -- but that's a strength only if Jakarta gives them the tools to compete. "We often brag about how much cheaper we are in terms of labor vis-a-vis that of China and vis-a-vis other parts of the world, but we tend to overlook the fact that we're not as marginally productive as China," says Gita Wirjawan, Indonesia's former trade minister. "We've got to do something about building the soft infrastructure for the purpose of creating a much more marginally productive society."

The same is true in Thailand -- where an inefficient and underfunded education system continues to hold down productivity -- as well as Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere. Even as they map out new highways and railroad tracks, Asean governments need to increase investment in education exponentially. As of 2012, for example, Indonesia was spending 3.6 percent of gross domestic product on education, while Malaysia spends 5.9 percent and Thailand 7.6 percent. Those ratios need to be closer to 20 percent in the years ahead.

Going something further afield, Dhiraj Nayyar's "Making 'Make in India' Work", also for Bloomberg View, makes the argument that things are even worse in China's trans-Himalayan neighbour.

Consider land. A new land-acquisition law, passed in the dying months of the previous government in 2013, makes buying farmland on which to build factories tremendously complicated and expensive; by law, companies have to pay four times the market price in rural areas. There's simply no free market for land in India.

On labor, India should have a cost advantage over China, whose labor-intensive goods now flood the Indian market. Chinese wages have risen rapidly over three decades of double-digit growth. India’s haven’t, and almost half the population is still engaged in unproductive agriculture. Yet tough labor laws mean that the opportunity costs of hiring workers remain cripplingly high. While the government has started a debate on reforming those laws, few changes are evident yet.

Unreliable and expensive power supplies hamper all of India's businesses. Indian governments have long subsidized agriculture and regular consumers by charging higher rates to industry. China and other emerging nations have followed the opposite strategy. India need not reverse course completely, but it needs at least to even out prices for everyone while boosting overall supply.

The issue of expensive capital is one that should particularly exercise Rajan. He knows that India’s closed financial system artificially raises the cost of capital. He's stuck with a tight monetary policy for the moment because of high inflation. But compared to the rest of the world, Indian interest rates tend to be too high even when monetary policy is more accommodative. There's also plenty more room for India to open up its financial system, even if it remains wary of the kind of cowboy capitalism that led to the 2008 crash.

As numerous sources note--for instance, the OECD report "Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India 2014: Beyond the Middle-Income Trap" (PDF format)--moving beyond the middle-income stage countries need to innovate to move ahead. Simply having large numbers of workers will not guarantee economic growth if other elements of economic policy aren't sufficiently adept. China, notwithstanding its documented problems and likely prospects, has so far been making a better job of its particular age structure than its neighbours have. Will they catch up? (Will China slow down even further?) All that remains to be seen.

This sort of thing shouldn't need to be emphasized. Look, for instance, at central Europe, where despite advantageous geography and high levels of human development bad policy kept central Europe from catching up with northwestern Europe in the fashion of southern Europe, and where now population aging may mean central Europe might never completely catch up. Demographics, alone, is not destiny. There are things that can be done to make the most of it; there are things that can be done to do otherwise. Simple statistics, by themselves and without interpretation, do not necessarily mean that much.

Friday, January 09, 2015

On systematically overestimating population sizes

Back in May 2011, I wrote a post looking at how Egyptian Copts and American Muslims overestimate their numbers. Certain high estimates commonly given by organizations are unrealistically high, requiring unusual and improbable conditions to be true. Egyptian Coptic birth rates would need to be uncommonly low if there were to be many more Egyptian Copts than registered in multiple surveys and censuses, for instance, while American Muslims would need to be uncommonly disconnected not only from the telephone but from the American state. I suggested that, for these groups, overestimating the size of their groups might provide a certain sense of comfort, a belief that they are not such small minorities as all that.

What about when the situation is slightly different, when people outside a particular group provide overestimates of that group's size? This was a topic touched upon in Ipsos MORI's October 2014 survey "Perceptions are not reality: Things the world gets wrong". The below slideshow does note the extent to which this occurs.

In The Guardian's Datablog, Alberto Nardelli and George Arnett processed the data at length. My attention was caught by the overestimates provided for Muslim populations.

I do not know where these figures come from. The tendency towards countries with larger Muslim populations providing larger overestimates befuddles me. Where do these figures come from?

The Guardian's quote of pollster Bobby Duffy gets to the problematic import of these misbeliefs. How can politicians and others effectively counter incorrect beliefs, especially when they have the potential to lead to unpleasantness. (Eurabia might well seem more plausible if you think France is already 31% Muslim, I grant you. But why would you believe it?)

The real peril of these misperceptions is how politicians and policymakers react. Do they try to challenge people and correct their view of reality or do they take them as a signal of concern, the result of a more emotional reaction and design policy around them?

Clearly the ideal is to do a bit of both – politicians shouldn’t misread these misperceptions as people simply needing to be re-educated and then their views will change – but they also need to avoid policy responses that just reinforce unfounded fears.

Thoughts? I'm honestly confused as to how these overestimates come about. Answering this question would go no small way towards dealing with the consequences of these incorrect beliefs.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Houellebecq is as wrong today as he was yesterday

When I wrote last night about Houellebecq and Submission, just like the rest of the world I had no idea what would happen today in Paris, with the massacre in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. I was as surprised anyone to find out the subject of the cover of the most recent issue of that satirical magazine, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

Houellebecq's novel is just as fundamentally incorrect about the world and French realities today as it was yesterday. As noted by Leonid Bershidskiy at Bloomberg View, Submission labours under a mass of prejudices and improbabilities. It just doesn't work in describing any kind of plausible scenario.

Meanwhile, I would also like to point people to Juan Cole's essay "Sharpening Contradictions: Why al-Qaeda attacked Satirists in Paris". Cole's observation that the people responsible likely want to start broader conflict where there need be none is quite probable.

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

This tactic is similar to the one used by Stalinists in the early 20th century. Decades ago I read an account by the philosopher Karl Popper of how he flirted with Marxism for about 6 months in 1919 when he was auditing classes at the University of Vienna. He left the group in disgust when he discovered that they were attempting to use false flag operations to provoke militant confrontations. In one of them police killed 8 socialist youth at Hörlgasse on 15 June 1919. For the unscrupulous among Bolsheviks–who would later be Stalinists– the fact that most students and workers don’t want to overthrow the business class is inconvenient, and so it seemed desirable to some of them to “sharpen the contradictions” between labor and capital.

The operatives who carried out this attack exhibit signs of professional training. They spoke unaccented French, and so certainly know that they are playing into the hands of Marine LePen and the Islamophobic French Right wing. They may have been French, but they appear to have been battle hardened. This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram). Ironically, there are reports that one of the two policemen they killed was a Muslim.

We can have a clash of civilizations if we want to. Let us not want this.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A few thoughts on the Eurabia of Houellebecq

I've a certain fondness for Michel Houellebecq. I read his The Elementary Particles, the North American translation of his 1998 Les Particules élementaires when I was younger and perhaps more impressionable. The stylish bleakness of his worldview appealed to me. This evening, a Bloomberg article appeared on my RSS feed noting the controversy over the author's newest book.

“Submission,” a book by Michel Houellebecq released today, is sparking controversy with a fictional France of the future led by an Islamic party and a Muslim president who bans women from the workplace.

In his sixth novel, the award-winning French author plays on fears that western societies are being inundated by the influence of Islam, a worry that this month drew thousands in anti-Islamist protests in Germany. In the novel, Houellebecq has the imaginary “Muslim Fraternity” party winning a presidential election in France against the nationalist, anti-immigration National Front.

“A pathetic and provocative farce,” is how Liberation characterized the book in a Jan. 4 review that scathingly said the novelist is “showing signs of waning writing skills.” Political analyst Franz-Olivier Giesbert in newspaper Le Parisien yesterday was kinder, calling it a “smart satire,” adding that “it’s a writers’ book, not a political one.”

National Front’s leader Marine Le Pen, who appears in the 320-page novel, said on France Info radio on Jan. 5 that “it’s fiction that could become reality one day.” On the same day, President Francois Hollande said on France Inter radio he would read the book “because it’s sparking a debate,” while warning that France has always had “century after century, this inclination toward decay, decline and compulsive pessimism.”

[. . .]

Houellebecq’s book is set in France in 2022. It has the fictional Muslim Fraternity’s chief, Mohammed Ben Abbes, beating Le Pen, with Socialists, centrists, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party rallying behind him to block the National Front.

Ben Abbes goes on to ban women in the workplace, advocates polygamy, pushes Islamic schools on the masses and imposes a conservative and religious vision of society. The French widely accept the new environment, hence the book’s title.

Submission has gotten quite a lot of reaction in France; Les Inrockuptibles has a broad selection. Libération's article on the book, referenced in the above Bloomberg article, is here. Anglophones might be interested in The Independent's article, perhaps still more in Houellebecq's English-language translated interview in The Paris Review with Sylvain Bourmeau

Where did you get the idea for a presidential election, in 2022, that came down to Marine Le Pen and the leader of a Muslim party?

Well, Marine Le Pen strikes me as a realistic candidate for 2022—even for 2017 … The Muslim party is more … That’s the heart of the matter, really. I tried to put myself in the place of a Muslim, and I realized that, in reality, they are in a totally schizophrenic situation. Because overall Muslims aren’t interested in economic issues, their big issues are what we nowadays call societal issues. On these issues, obviously, they are very far from the left and even further from the Green Party. Just think of gay marriage and you’ll see what I mean, but the same is true across the board. And one doesn’t really see why they’d vote for the right, much less for the extreme right, which utterly rejects them. So if a Muslim wants to vote, what’s he supposed to do? The truth is, he’s in an impossible situation. He has no representation whatsoever. It would be wrong to say that this religion has no political consequences—it does. So does Catholicism, for that matter, even if the Catholics have been more or less marginalized. For those reasons, it seems to me, a Muslim party makes a lot of sense.

But to imagine that such a party might find itself poised to win a presidential election seven years from now …

I agree, it’s not very realistic. For two reasons, actually. First—and this is the most difficult thing to imagine—the Muslims would have to succeed in getting along with each other. That would take someone extremely intelligent and with an extraordinary political talent, qualities that I give to my character Ben Abbes. But an extreme talent is, by definition, an unusual occurrence. But supposing he existed, the party could take off, but it would take longer than seven years. If we look at the way the Muslim Brotherhood has done it, we see regional networks, charities, cultural centers, prayer centers, vacation centers, health care, something not unlike what the Communist Party did. If you ask me, in a country where poverty will continue to spread, this party could attract a lot more than just “average” Muslims, if I can put it that way, because really there is no longer such a thing as an “average” Muslim since we now have people converting who are not at all of North African origin … But such a process would take several decades. The sensationalism of the media plays a negative role, really. For example, they loved the story of the guy living in a little village in Normandy, as French as he could be, not even from a broken home, who converted and went off to wage jihad in Syria. But we can reasonably assume that for every guy like that there are several dozen who convert and don’t go off to wage jihad in Syria, who don’t do anything of the kind. After all, one doesn’t wage jihad for the fun of it, that sort of thing only interests people who are strongly motivated by doing violence, which is to say, necessarily a minority.

I'm inclined to agree with Laurent Joffrin, a literary critic quoted in 20 Minutes who calls Submission the work that marks the return of the far right and its theses to literary prominence in France. The whole idea of a Muslim takeover is ridiculous. As I noted way back in 2004 when I took time from grad school to write my "France, its Muslims, and the Future", and as--for instance--the Pew Research Group noted in 2011 with its projection that Muslims of all background would amount to a tenth of the French population circa 2010, the numbers just aren't there. Presuming, as Houellebecq does in his scenario, that somehow this disparate and divided religious minority would become a unified bloc capable of taking over a much larger country, assumes a view of human behaviour that is simply not credible. This should be no surprsie: as an Economist article on Muslims in Marseille in May 2014 noted, Muslims in that French city at least are assimilating, moving beyond the left to vote for the parties they like, including the French right. Houellebecq would seem to know very little indeed about what is actually going on indeed, and in so doing is narrowing the forum for rational discussion of matters of immigration and cultural change and assimilation that much more. Submission does little good, save perhaps Houellebecq himself and his publisher with their succès de scandal.

I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post that I had found the bleakness of Houellebecq's worldwide appealing when I was younger. I wonder what I would find on re-reading. Would this turn out to be merely adolescent angst?

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Yekaterina Schulmann on the problems of pop futurologists in Russia (and elsewhere)

Paul Goble of Window on Eurasia, a noteworthy blog touching on Eurasian affairs, recently linked to and summarized an essay by Yekaterina Schulmann in Russia's Vedomosti about the problems with many of the predictions made by Russians predicting the future.

I found this article vert broadly relevant. The twelve kinds of errors identified by Schulman, rooted in deep misunderstandings of the way societies and their institutions actually work, actually are quite relevant in avoiding the creation of all kinds of ill-founded scenarios, and in creating the sorts of scenarios which actually are plausible. Yes, this works in scenarios of demographic scenarios as well. I would hope that I myself, and my fellow bloggers here, have avoided making the sorts of errors Schulmann identified, and at the very least we've been careful to explain why certain parallels and arguments make sense.

Below, I quote from the first five summaries included Goble's neat summary of Schulmann's article.

Personification. There is a widespread tendency to elevate the role of personality in history, with statements of the kind “if there wasn’t Citizen X, there wouldn’t be a Russia.” But that is nonsense: “a personality can disappear, and a regime survive – or the opposite can happen.”

Historical Parallels. Pace Marx, Schulmann says, “history does not repeat itself either as a tragedy or as a farce.” The reason is simple: there is such a large number of historical facts that each event is a product of a different combination than its predecessor. There may be similarities but there are no identities, whatever commentators say.

Geographic Cretinism. Geographic determinism follows from the previous point, with this difference: for those who promote this idea, “geography is fate” and time and all other factors are irrelevant. Such people can’t explain why some regimes a world away from each other are the same or why some regimes so close together – like the two Koreas – are so different.

Vulgar Materialism. A subspecies of geographic determinism is resource determinism, a view that holds that the economic resources of a state define all its possibilities, a view that ignores that different countries with similar resources behave in completely different ways.

Vulgar Idealism. Those who fall into this trap, into the belief that ideas once announced eventually take physical shape forget that the authorities “exist not in a Platonic universe” where ideas are the only factors but in one where all kinds of things affect decisions and outcomes.

Read the rest, at Window on Eurasia and at Vedomosti, enjoy, and think.

Happy New Year!