Monday, December 19, 2016

Nature's Amy MaxMen on the achievements of Gapminder's Hans Rosling


In January 2011 and June 2013, I linked to two videos by Swedish statistician and popularizer Hans Rosling demonstrating different demographic trends. Today, via 3 Quarks Daily, I came across Amy Maxmen's excellent long-format article on Rosling and his accomplishments, "Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind about the world". It does a great job of explaining just what Rosling, and his Gapminder Foundatin, are trying to achieve, and why.

Back in Sweden, Rosling continued to teach global health, moving to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in 1996. But he came to realize that neither his students nor his colleagues grasped extreme poverty. They pictured the poor as almost everyone in the ‘developing world’: an arbitrarily defined territory that includes nations as economically diverse as Sierra Leone, Argentina, China and Afghanistan. They thought it was all large family sizes and low life expectancies: only the poorest and most conflict-ridden countries served as their reference point. “They just make it about us and them; the West and the rest,” Rosling says. How could anyone hope to solve problems if they didn’t understand the different challenges faced, for example, by Congolese subsistence farmers far from paved roads and Brazilian street vendors in urban favelas? “Scientists want to do good, but the problem is that they don’t understand the world,” Rosling says.

Ola, his son, offered to help explain the world with graphics, and built his father software that animated data compiled by the UN and the World Bank. Visual aids in hand, the elder Rosling began to script the provocative presentations that have made him famous. In one, a graph shows the distribution of incomes in 1975 — a camel’s back, with rich countries and poor countries forming two humps. Then he presses ‘go’ and China, India, Latin America and the Middle East drift forward over time. Africa moves ahead too, but not nearly as much as the others. Rosling says, “The camel dies and we have a dromedary world with one hump only!” He adds, “The per cent in poverty has decreased — still it’s appalling that so many remain in extreme poverty.”

Rosling’s online presentations grew popular, and the investment bank Goldman Sachs invited him to speak at client events. His message seemed to support advice from the firm’s chief economist, Jim O’Neill. In 2001, O’Neill had coined the acronym BRIC for the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, often considered part of the developing world. He warned that financial experts ignored these rising powers at their peril. “I used to tease my colleagues who thought in a traditional framework,” O’Neill says. “Why are we talking about China as the developing world? Based on the rate of economic growth, China creates another Greece every three months; another UK every two years.”

Rosling welcomed the new audience. “They request my lectures because they want to know the world as it is,” he says. The private sector needs to understand the economic and political conditions of current and potential markets. “To me it was horrific to realize that business leaders had a more fact-based world view than activists and university professors.”

[. . .]

Rosling’s charm appeals to those frustrated by the persistence of myths about the world. Looming large is an idea popularized by Paul Ehrlich, an entomologist at Stanford University in California, who warned in 1968 that the world was heading towards mass starvation owing to overpopulation. Melinda Gates says that after a drink or two, people often tell her that they think the Gates Foundation may be contributing to overpopulation and environmental collapse by saving children’s lives with interventions such as vaccines. She is thrilled when Rosling smoothly uses data to show how the reverse is true: as rates of child survival have increased over time, family size has shrunk. She has joined him as a speaker at several high-level events. “I’ve watched people have this ‘aha’ moment when Hans speaks,” she says. “He breaks these myths in such a gentle way. I adore him.”


Here's another clip, a video taken last year where Rosling explains the reality of a strong convergence of Mexico with the United States.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

"Census still vulnerable to political meddling, says former chief"


Canadian newsmagazine MacLean's hosts Jordan Press' Canadian Press article "Census still vulnerable to political meddling, says former chief". Wayne Smith warns that the Canadian census is still vulnerable to political interference, even with new legislation.

The federal government’s bid to protect Statistics Canada from political interference has a significant oversight that exposes the census to the possibility of government meddling, says Canada’s former chief statistician.

Wayne Smith, who resigned abruptly from the agency in September, said newly introduced legislation doesn’t change the parts of the Statistics Act that give cabinet control over the content of the questionnaire.

That leaves the census – used by governments to plan infrastructure and services – vulnerable to the sorts of changes the Conservatives imposed in 2011 by turning the long-form census into a voluntary survey, Smith said.

“That’s a major flaw in this bill,” he said. “The government brought this bill in because of the census, but it’s failing to deal with the census.”

Smith described the bill as a first step towards broadening the agency’s authority over how information on all types of subjects is collected, analyzed and disseminated, shifting that authority away from the minister.


Freedom, including access to public data both accurate and meaningful, is a constant struggle now, as it always has been.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Globe and Mail on the Syrian refugee population in Canada


In The Globe and Mail, journalist Joe Friesen's data-driven analysis "Syrian exodus to Canada: One year later, a look at who the refugees are and where they went" takes a look at how the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees resettled Canada are doing.

The initial surge of arrivals was fuelled primarily by privately sponsored refugees whose applications were already in the pipeline under the previous Conservative government. Many of them have family ties in Canada and their first year is subsidized by their sponsor group. In Quebec, where roughly half of Syrian-Canadians were believed to reside, about 80 per cent of Syrian arrivals were privately sponsored. By contras, in Saskatchewan, only a very few have been privately sponsored and the overwhelming majority are government sponsored. In the first years after arrival, privately sponsored refugees, who often have advantageous family networks and higher levels of education, tend to fare better economically, studies have shown. Government-sponsored refugees are typically selected based on humanitarian need, which will often present social and educational challenges and they tend to take longer to establish themselves.

Ontario and Quebec, Canada’s two largest provinces, took in the largest number of refugees. Alberta, where there are established networks of private sponsorship groups, including large organizations run by Catholic groups in Calgary and Edmonton, surged ahead of its larger neighbour British Columbia to take third spot. New Brunswick took in refugees at a rate far higher than its share of population, exceeding the numbers seen in more populous provinces such as Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, Canada’s three largest cities, are always magnets for immigrants, so it’s no surprise that they would see the largest influx of Syrian refugees. All three have Syrian-Canadian residents who will have helped drive sponsorships. They also have effective refugee-sponsorship organizations, such as churches and secular groups, that provide an infrastructure for the new arrivals. On a per-capita basis, it was the mid-size Canadian cities that saw the greatest proportional impact of the Syrian refugee movement. Trois-Rivières, a Quebec city of 135,000 people, had the highest per-capita rate of arrivals. Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said there is a large and well-organized Armenian-Syrian community in Quebec that has contributed to sponsoring and settling a sizable number of the new arrivals. London, Ont., a city with a sizable Muslim community, welcomed the fourth-highest total, proportionally.


Friesen goes into more detail. There are some problems which may hinder the refugees' integration into Canada, with shortfalls in education and sometimes a lack of fluency in either official language.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A brief note on the demographic prospects of Cuba


Over at my blog this evening, I posted an article reflecting on the evidence for substantial economic decline in Cuba under Castro, not only decline relative to its peers (southern and central Europe, high-income Latin America) but even, at times, of absolute decline. A country that had severe problems of inequality went on to acquire worse problems. Of all the economies in the world to be transformed into autarkic socialist states, Cuba’s highly-export dependent economy may have been among the least suited. Blogger and economist Noel Maurer has pointed to one study suggesting that Cuba's potential GDP per capita may well have been halved.

On my RSS feed this weekend, I came across Tyler Cowen's pessimistic forecast for post-Castro Cuba's economic future.

One way to approach Cuba’s economic fate is to consider the Caribbean region as a whole. For the most part, it has seen mediocre results since the financial crisis of 2008. Economic problems have plagued Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti and Barbados, with only Jamaica seeing a real turnaround.

The core problems of the region include high debt, weak commodity prices, lack of economies of scale and an inability to upgrade tourist facilities to compete with the U.S., Mexico and further-flung locales. Cuba cannot service its foreign debt, and losing most of its support from Venezuela has been a massive fiscal problem.

Perhaps the country most like Cuba in the Caribbean, in terms of history, heritage and ethnic composition, is the Dominican Republic. Currently, it has a nominal gross domestic product of somewhat over $6,000 per capita, depending which source you prefer. That’s far from the bottom tier of developing economies, but it’s hardly a shining star. And Cuba will take a long time to attract a comparable level of multinational investment, or to develop its tourist facilities to a comparable level of sophistication. Well-functioning electricity and air conditioning cannot be taken for granted in Cuba, especially after the major decline in energy supplies from Venezuela.

[. . .]

If you are wondering, the World Bank measures Cuban GDP at over $6,000 per capita, but that is based on a planned economy and an unrealistic exchange rate. In reality, Cuba probably is richer than Nicaragua, where GDP per capital is approximately $2,000, but we don’t know by how much. Cuba does have relatively high levels of health care and education, but we’ve learned from post-Soviet reform experiences that it is easy for a nation to lose those advantages. There are already shortages of many basic health care items, including medical technology and antibiotics.

Cuba's demographic issues, including sustained sub-replacement fertility and substantial emigration, will not aid in the economic transformation of the country. If anything, they may make things more difficult, as Cubans who can leave for destinations where they think they can prosper. Might the Donald Trump presidency inadvertently aid Cuba, I wonder, by making Cuban immigration to the United States more difficult? Or would even that be enough to make things less difficult for Cuba? In a time where skilled labour is increasingly at a premium, Cubans may have their pick of destinations? For more, see this blog's past posts about Cuba's particular issues. I have to say that our pessimistic arguments seem to have good ones.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

What demographic issues do you think matter right now?

Are there particular trends you are interested in? Are there particular regions you would like to read about? Would analyses of the present here, try to predict the future, aim for a better understanding of the past? Would you like to be the one doing the analyzing? Discuss, please.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A brief observation on the 2016 US presidential election


I've been following the aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections in the United States over at my blog with no small amount of concern. I acknowledge, in the interest of openness, that I would have personally preferred an election victory by Clinton over Trump, rooted in my belief that she would be better equipped to handle issues--including demographic ones--better than Trump. Still, it is quite noteworthy that, as I noted last week, statistical projections were wrong in predicting the outcome of the vote. William H. Frey did a good job of outlining just what happened.

Among votes counted at this time, exit poll show Republican Trump bested Democrat Clinton by a net of 6,414,252 votes among voters over age 45. As for voters under age 45, Clinton received a net of 6,679,191 votes more than Trump.

Although this national young/old split is fairly even, older voters made deciding numeric differences in Trump’s favor for consequential swing states, especially in the Rust Belt. This differs from the two previous presidential elections when the younger voters gave Barack Obama his wins.

The Democratic leaning young adult vote is now driven by racial minorities who made up 37 percent of voters under age 30 in the 2016 election. In contrast, whites constituted 78 percent of the voters over age 45 and 87 percent of those over age 65. On Nov. 8, whites in these age groups showed the strongest support for Donald Trump in almost every swing state that he won.

The educational profile of these older whites is notable—65 percent are not college graduates. These so called “non college whites” were the major engine for Trump’s surge with high turnout and strong voting preferences. Non college whites comprised 37 percent of all voters and favored Trump over Clinton by more than 2 to 1.

Whites, especially older whites, were responsible for reversing past Democratic expansion in the Sun Belt states of Florida and North Carolina, as well as for capturing previously Democratic leaning northern states: Iowa, Michigan Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.


I very much recommend an article by Harry Enten at Five Thirty Eight, "‘Demographics Aren’t Destiny’ And Four Other Things This Election Taught Me". Demographics, as you would expect from the article's title, are clearly not everything.

The country is getting more diverse. That’s indisputable. But some analysts had argued that increasing racial and ethnic diversity meant that Democrats would have a durable, structural advantage in presidential elections. That was never true, and the results in 2016 show why. Trump was able to win, in large part, because he won over a lot of northern white voters without a college degree — in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, for example. Many of these voters had cast ballots for Obama twice. Trump’s more populist message likely helped him outperform recent GOP nominees with these voters.

Political parties, in other words, are dynamic — their coalitions change. Some people, including me, were surprised that it was Trump who was able to attract these voters to the GOP. But no one should have been surprised that the country’s growing diversity didn’t guarantee Democratic victory. Only two years ago, in the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans were able to win big nationally among an electorate that was just as diverse as it was in 2008, when Democrats scored a blowout victory. A lot of Democrats dismissed that win as merely a product of a whiter, older midterm electorate. They shouldn’t have.

And, no, Democrats won’t be safe even as the electorate becomes more diverse. Republicans could do even better with white voters. In some Southern states, for instance, GOP candidates win close to 90 percent of white voters. Who’s to say that won’t happen in the Midwest? Alternatively, Republicans could improve their standing with nonwhite voters. In heavily Latino Texas, for instance, Republicans have long done better with Latino voters than Republicans have done nationally.


For the reasons Enten gives, Ruy Teixeira's argument in Vox that this is a last gasp of the white majority is unconvincing. As CNN exit polls show, Hillary Clinton was strongest in demographics--the young, and African-Americans and Latinos--which have had relatively poor turnout. (I won't get into issues of voter suppression, not that these help, at all.) Francis Wilkinson's Bloomberg View article "Demography Slays the Democrats", is perfectly correct in noting that simply waiting for demographic change to create a permanent Democratic Party majority is not enough. It will have to do politics better.

For better and worse, Democrats are stuck with the core they nurtured: nonwhites and liberal, college-educated whites. It's not clear how they build on that base at the moment; instead they will have to rally it.

Fear is already coursing through those constituencies. Racial minorities and liberal women are terrified of Trump and the ugly culture he has unleashed. Gays and lesbians fear his running mate. They all fear the Supreme Court that Republicans have held in reserve for Trump, like a corner table at a favorite restaurant.

Demographics turned out to be an insufficient offense. Democrats will have to do better than wait for the hands of the clock to reward them with millions of new voters. They will have to embrace direct democracy; representative democracy appears to be a closed door.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"Trump's Win Isn't the Death of Data--It Was Flawed All Along"


I'm going to react at greater length and in greater detail to the surprise outcome of the American presidential election. In the meantime, I'd like to point readers to Cade Metz's Wired article "Trump's Win Isn't the Death of Data--It Was Flawed All Along". It raises a lot of interesting questions about statistics collection generally, not just political polling.

The lesson of Trump’s victory is not that data is dead. The lesson is that data is flawed. It has always been flawed—and always will be.

Before Donald Trump won the presidency on Tuesday night, everyone from Nate Silver to The New York Times to CNN predicted a Trump loss—and by sizable margins. “The tools that we would normally use to help us assess what happened failed,” Trump campaign reporter Maggie Haberman said in the Times. As Haberman explained, this happened on both sides of the political divide.

Appearing on MSNBC, Republican strategist Mike Murphy told America that his crystal ball had shattered. “Tonight, data died,” he said.

But this wasn’t so much a failure of the data as it was a failure of the people using the data. It’s a failure of the willingness to believe too blindly in data, not to see it for how flawed it really is. “This is a case study in limits of data science and statistics,” says Anthony Goldbloom, a data scientist who once worked for Australia’s Department of Treasury and now runs a Kaggle, a company dedicated to grooming data scientists. “Statistics and data science gets more credit than it deserves when it’s correct—and more blame than it deserves when it’s incorrect.”

With presidential elections, these limits are myriad. The biggest problem is that so little data exists. The United States only elects a president once every four years, and that’s enough time for the world to change significantly. In the process, data models can easily lose their way. In the months before the election, pollsters can ask people about their intentions, but this is harder than it ever was as Americans move away from old-fashioned landline phones towards cell phones, where laws limit such calls. “We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we have a lot of data,” says Dan Zigmond, who helps oversee data science at Facebook and previously handled data science for YouTube and Google Maps. “But the truth is that there’s just not a lot to build on. There are very small sample sizes, and in some ways, each of these elections is unique.”

Saturday, October 22, 2016

On the idea that the human life expectancy is limited to 115 years


The theme of longevity is one that Demography Matters has touched upon in the past. I've written about two interesting case studies, in February 2010 about the Abkhaz of the Caucasus and their mythic longevity, and then in June 2014 about the factors behind the extended life expectancy of the inhabitants of the Greek Aegean island of Icaria. I've also written about broader trends, in December 2014 noting the remarkable global trends which have seen global life expectancy rise substantially. The news, announced earlier this month, that built-in biological failings might limit the human life expectancy to 115 years or so, definitely caught my attention. The study--available here--was outlined by Linda Geddes at Nature.

To investigate, Jan Vijg, a geneticist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and his colleagues turned to the Human Mortality Database, which spans 38 countries and is jointly run by US and German demographers. They reasoned that if there’s no upper limit on lifespan, then the biggest increase in survival should be experienced by ever-older age groups as the years pass and medicine improves. Instead, they found that the age with the greatest improvement in survival got steadily higher since the early twentieth century, but then started to plateau at about 99 in 1980. (The age has since increased by a very small amount).

The researchers went on to look at the International Database on Longevity, which focuses on the oldest people and is run by an international team. They found that the maximum reported age of death — the age of the oldest person to die in a given year — in France, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom (the countries with the largest numbers of supercentenarians) increased rapidly between the 1970s and early 1990s but plateaued in the mid-1990s at 114.9 years. The researchers observed the same trend when they considered the second, third, fourth and fifth oldest person who died in a given year — and a similar peak age of 115 years old when they tracked the maximum annual age of death using another database run by the international Gerontology Research Group, which validates supercentenarian claims.

Vijg’s team concludes that there is a natural limit to human lifespan of about 115 years old. There will still be occasional outliers like Calment, but he calculates that the probability of a person exceeding 125 in any given year is less than 1 in 10,000.

The limit is surprising, says Vijg, given that the world’s population is increasing — supplying an ever-increasing pool of people who could live longer — and that nutrition and general health have improved. “If anything you would have expected more Jeanne Calments in recent years, but there aren’t."

But not everyone agrees with his team's interpretation. The age experiencing the greatest increase in survival may have plateaued in many countries, says James Vaupel, founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany. But it has not yet plateaued in some that are particularly relevant to this research, namely Japan, which has the world’s highest life expectancy — 83.7 years for those born in 2015, nor in France or Italy, which have large populations and high life expectancies.

Vijg’s paper includes “one-sided conclusions”, says Vaupel. But Vijg argues that the increase in the survival age in even these three countries has significantly slowed down in recent years and so seems to be trending towards no increase.




This report garnered a lot of attention from the mainstream media, The Guardian, NPR, and The Atlantic providing some insightful commentary. The Atlantic notes the arguments that frailties inherent in the human organism make it unlikely that this ceiling will be raised, not without unforeseen technological advances.

The ceiling is probably hardwired into our biology. As we grow older, we slowly accumulate damage to our DNA and other molecules, which turns the intricate machinery of our cells into a creaky, dysfunctional mess. In most cases, that decline leads to diseases of old age, like cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s. But if people live past their 80s or 90s, their odds of getting such illnesses actually start to fall—perhaps because they have protective genes. Supercentenarians don’t tend to die of major diseases—Jeanne Calment died of natural causes—and many of them are physically independent even at the end of their lives. But they still die, “simply because too many of their bodily functions fail,” says Vijg. “They can no longer continue to live.”

[. . . I]f early development and childhood experiences are so important to our future health, it’s notable that today’s centenarians were born in the 1900s. It might be that longevity records “haven’t yet seen the impact of the improved sanitation, healthcare, vaccinations, and hygiene advances that took place in the 1930s and later,” says Holly Brown-Borg from the University of North Dakota. Or perhaps, “our poor diets and lack of exercise have countered those gains.”

That’s unlikely to matter much, says Vijg. “Once you survive your childhood, you’re really more likely to survive over long periods of time. And there have been enormous advances in keeping older people alive much longer. We’ve continued to make progress in medical care and safety standards, and there are more and more people. You can’t explain the fact that there aren’t older people that Jeanne Clement except to say that we’ve hit a ceiling.”

We have pushed that ceiling upward for laboratory animals, like worms, flies, and rodents. But these creatures were specifically bred by scientists to grow fast and reproduce rapidly. Many of the techniques for extending their lives, from drugs to calorie restriction, probably work by simply slowing their artificially inflated growth.

Similar tricks might increase our healthspan, and raise our average life expectancy. But Vijg believes that the most we can hope for is to be very healthy for around 115 years, after which our bodies will just collapse.

“There’s no question that we have postponed aging,” adds Judith Campisi, from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. “But to engineer an increase in maximum lifespan, we’ll probably have to modify so many genes that it won’t be possible within our lifespan—or even our grandchildren’s lifespan.”


Even granting the arguments of Campisi and others that--assuming this limit does exist--this limit of 115 years cannot be breached in the foreseeable future, there's still much that can be done. Most obviously, in no country does the average life expectancy actually reach 115 years, or come close to it. Moreover, as noted by many of the people interviewed, there is still much that can be conceivably done to make the human process easier. Biomedical interventions into the aging process and specific diseases aside, I noted in my treatments of the Abkhaz and the Icarians specific things that can be done--inclusive social structures, for instance, and relatively healthy diets--that can do much to extend not only longevity but healthy lifespans. The commentary at Forbes, concentrating on the specific case of Japan, provides stil another example. In a generation's time--perhaps even in my generation--decline and death may end up being postponed and not so nearly drawn out.

The consequences of any scenario involving extended longevity are notably significant. A worst-case scenario might involve an extension of human life expectancy towards supercentenarian territory without a corresponding increase in a person's active and healthy lifespans. The financial costs of supporting these people for additional decades would be extreme, to say nothing of the human cost to specific individuals who might well not relish added years of suffering. The Greek mythological figure of Tithonus, who suffered the tragic consequences of being granted immortality but not eternal youth, comes to mind. Conversely, a scenario where longevity and health are extended could have very positive consequences.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

On the new official xenophobia in the United Kingdom


Brexit is something that I've been paying attention to this year. In March, I pointed out that the limited free movement with other Commonwealth countries that some Brexit proponents was offering. (The curious fact that this free movement would be only with rich and white countries is something I noted in passing.) In June, meanwhile, I noted the losses that the United Kingdom would suffer and linked to Zakc Beauchamps' Vox piece noting that, to the considerable extent that migration concerns did impact Brexit, they were at best exaggerated and at worst inaccurate.

Yesterday, my Facebook feed was filled by reactions to an astonishing Financial Times report. I had hoped the reports of Amber Rudd's statements about forcing companies to disclose their foreign workforces were inaccurate, but, alas, no. The Guardian, for one, confirmed this.

Theresa May’s government is facing a growing backlash over a proposal to force companies to disclose how many foreign workers they employ, with business leaders describing it as divisive and damaging.

The proposal was revealed by Amber Rudd, the home secretary, at the Conservative party conference on Tuesday as a key plank of a government drive to reduce net migration and encourage businesses to hire British staff.

However, senior figures in the business world warned the plan would be a “complete anathema” to responsible employers and would damage the UK economy because foreign workers were hired to fill gaps in skills that British staff could not provide. One chief executive of a FTSE 100 company, whose workforce includes thousands of EU citizens, said it was “bizarre”.

The proposals, which are subject to consultation, have also been questioned from within the Conservative party. Lord Finkelstein, the Tory peer, told the BBC it was a “misstep”, while Tory MP Neil Carmichael, chairman of the House of Commons education select committee, said the policy was “unsettling” and would “drive people, business and compassion out of British society and should not be pursued any further”.

[. . .]

Rudd was forced to defend the proposals on Wednesday, insisting they were not xenophobic and that she had been careful about the language used. The home secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that some companies were “getting away” with not training British workers and “we should be able to have a conversation about what skills we want to have in the UK”.


That, as the Independent reported, this proposal is apparently quite popular with the general British public is another point.

It seems clear that the United Kingdom is heading for a hard Brexit, regardless of the poor economic rationale for this. It also seems clear that this will hit Britain's immigrant populations and ethnic minorities badly. In the case of the relatively recent European Union migrants from Poland and elsewhere, this might even trigger return migrations, to their homelands or elsewhere. I'm reminded of how France's Polish immigrant community first began to grow sharply in the 1920s following the displacement of ethnic Polish workers from the German Ruhr. Will Germany end up the main beneficiary of post-2004 Polish migrants, as I speculated it might have had 2004 gone differently?

The biggest lesson to take from Brexit is this: Whatever else it was about, Brexit was not about opening up the UK to the wider world. This is made clear by the aftermath, still unfolding. If the British government is to adopt a policy of naming and shaming companies which employ foreign workers, with even Irish migrants possibly coming under the aegis of these regulations, it's laughable to say that the United Kingdom is going to globalize.

Maria Farrell's mournful post at Crooked Timber, recapitulating Stefan Zweig's mourning for the open borders of pre-First World War Europe, is entirely appropriate. These losses are terribly sad, and so avoidable if only Britain had more leaders who cared about their country's future.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

On the growth and the aging of Canada's population


CBC was one of the several news sources to announce earlier this week that Canada's population has grown to surpass the 36 million mark.

A record number of immigrants and refugees arriving on Canadian shores helped push Canada's official population over 36 million as of July 1, Statistics Canada says.

The data agency says there were 437,815 more people living in Canada than there were on the same day a year earlier, bringing the official population to 36,286,425.

In absolute terms, that's the biggest annual surge since 1988. In percentage terms, the population grew by 1.2 per cent.

The "increase is one of the largest increases since the baby boom in the 1950s," BMO economist Doug Porter said, "although this recent increase is driven more by immigration."

Indeed, the numbers show that some 320,932 immigrants arrived in Canada between the two Canada Days. More than 30,000 Syrian refugees are included in that figure, as they are classified as permanent residents by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

"The country had not received such a large number of immigrants in a single annual period since the early 1910s, during the settlement of Western Canada," Statistics Canada said in a release.


The relevant tables are here.

As Bloomberg noted in a recent article, this growth is not nearly enough, not to rejuvenate Canada's working-age cohorts and not to drive economic growth to hoped-for levels.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz gave a blunt speech last week, saying that five decades of expansion powered by the Baby Boom generation is ending, and Canada's potential economic growth has slowed to 1.5 percent. That pace is almost a full percentage point below the average gain in gross domestic product over the last 35 years.

For Canada, at least, business leaders should now count themselves lucky to earn a "pretty good return'' of 4 percent like some companies in Asia, he said. Young people must think about working longer and saving more to fund the retirement their parents had, and governments must make tougher decisions on tax, trade and immigration policy in the hopes of salvaging marginal gains in future income growth, Poloz said.

``Those folks have been entering retirement for the past few years, and potential economic growth has been slowing as a direct result,'' Poloz said last week in Quebec City. ``We cannot just sit back and wait for these slow-moving forces to reverse.''

The biggest gain in the population over the past 12 months has been the 55 years and older set, which rose almost six times more than the so-called prime age population aged 25 to 54.

It's a trend mirrored in most industrialized nations such as Japan, where the central bank is struggling against deflation and anemic growth. Central banks around the world have set near-zero or negative interest rates aiming to regenerate inflation. Slow global growth hurts Canada's trade-dependent economy by curbing exports of crude oil, machinery and minerals.

The fading job market means the Bank of Canada's 0.5 percent policy interest rate won't need to rise as soon or as much in past economic recoveries to keep inflation in check. The so-called neutral rate that keeps the economy in balance could be as low as 0.75 percent now from as high as 5.5 percent before the global financial crisis, Poloz said.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Andrew Coyne in the National Post on the highly contingent successes of liberalism in Canada


I write from a Canadian perspective. Sometimes, it's important to remember that mine, too, is a pespective consequent to any number of highly contingent events. Andrew Coyne's recent article in the National Post "Canada’s openness a product of our history, geography more than a particular Liberal trait", is worth reading in full. He's entirely right to point out, of course, that the relative success of liberal themes in Canada is highly contingent on any number of factors. (Canada has no prospects for any substantial unauthorized cross-border migration, for instance.)

If Canadians are in a less belligerent mood than our American and European cousins, it may be because we have not endured anything like the series of calamities they have. In contrast to the United States, median incomes in Canada have grown steadily for most of the past 20 years; inequality, whether measured from the top or the bottom, is nothing like as bad. Our housing market did not collapse, nor did our banking sector.

We have no experience with terrorism on anything like the scale of recent attacks in the United States or Europe, let alone 9/11. Neither has immigration presented the kinds of challenges here that it has elsewhere. We have no counterpart to the 12 million illegal immigrants that are the source of so much controversy in the U.S. And while the 25,000 Syrian refugees we have admitted in the past year far exceed the American intake, it is a tiny fraction of the numbers that have arrived on Europe’s shores and borders. (People in other countries talk admiringly of the Canadian “points” system, but 3,000 miles of ocean and a cold climate are probably a more effective means of selection.)

And yet, even with all these advantages, we have had our brushes with nativism. It has become conventional wisdom that the Harper government lost the last election over it, but if you look at the polls two things jump out: the success of the anti-niqab campaign, especially in Quebec; and that Conservative support rose in the four weeks after the Syrian refugee crisis forced its way into the campaign. It was, not coincidentally, the Conservatives who, of the three parties, took the most cautious line on the crisis.

It is probably true that they overplayed their hand in the end: Canadians do not like to have their nativism rubbed in their faces. But if the Parti Québécois made the same mistake — the ban on religious wear in the civil service was also initially popular — it should not be forgotten that the McGuinty government in Ontario owed its re-election in 2007 to a similar calculated appeal to public fears. (We do not know how Kellie Leitch’s iteration will play out, but so far the polls are with her.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On the physical constraints to the independence of Statistics Canada


Before this weekend, the biggest news relating to Statistics Canada had to do with the very high response rate to the 2016 census just concluded, 98.4% of those surveyed nation-wide responding. The news Friday that chief statistician Wayne Smith had resigned in protest caught many people off guard.

Canada's chief statistician has resigned in protest over what he says is the federal governments' failure to protect Statistics Canada's independence.

Wayne Smith says the government's decision to create Shared Services Canada and centralize all information technology services across government has compromised Statistics Canada's ability to fulfil its mandate.

"I have made the best effort I can to have this situation remediated, but to no effect," Smith said in a note to the National Statistical Council, which advises him. "I cannot lend my support to government initiatives that will purport to protect the independence of Statistics Canada when, in fact, that independence has never been more compromised,"

"I do not wish to preside over the decline of what is still, but cannot remain in these circumstances, a world-leading statistical office."

[. . .]

Shared Services was created by the previous government to centralize and standardize information technology across the federal government in a bid to save money. It has struggled to meet expectations with several agencies, including the RCMP and the Canadian Forces, which have complained of data centre crashes, red tape, bad customer service and unpaid bills.

Smith said he had issued a warning that ever since Statistics Canada began relying on Shared Services for its IT, the research department had begun losing control of the information it collects from Canadians through operations such as the long-form census.

In the note, Smith argued that Shared Services holds "an effective veto over many of Statistics Canada's decisions concerning the collection, processing, storage, analysis and dissemination of official statistics through denial or constructive denial of essential services."

"Statistics Canada is increasingly hobbled in the delivery of its programs through disruptive, ineffective, slow and unaffordable supply of physical informatics services by Shared Services Canada," he added.


(Smith's full statement is available here.)

I said "many people" above because reports about the failures of Shared Services have appeared periodically in the past year. On the 30th of January, for instance, the Ottawa Citizen published James Bagnall's article "Circuit overload: Why Shared Services Canada is struggling" looking at the problems of the service.

Shared Services is responsible for collapsing 63 federal email programs into a single system, consolidating nearly 500 data centres into seven and streamlining the government’s telecommunications. By 2020, if all goes well, the government will have invested more than $1 billion to modernize a ramshackle electronic infrastructure that is currently vulnerable to hackers and costly to run.

If it works, taxpayers can expect to save at least $60 million annually to run federal websites and online services. But on Shared Services’ present course, it may take years more than planned to complete this multi-faceted project – at a cost that can only be guessed at now.

It’s not going smoothly. Government workers are no longer surprised to receive notices that begin with the telltale line: “We have been advised by Shared Services Canada …” What usually follows is an explanation of which systems aren’t working at that particular time, with an estimate of when they’ll be restored.

Sometimes it’s an email issue. Earlier this week, for instance, employees at one of the smaller departments were informed that their emails were getting through to the public but not to government colleagues.

Other times, data centres are to blame. The failure of a power distribution unit two months ago at the government’s data centre along Aviation Parkway triggered an emergency shutdown at multiple government websites for days.


Briefly put, technological issues have combined with a far too broad a mandate to create a technological impasse. This July, CBC carried the relevant federal minister's CBC promises to make Shared Services work, perhaps ironically at the same time that it also reported on Statistics Canada's complaints that Shared Services was not meeting its needs for the 2016 census. After his resignation, Smith was interviewed by the CBC at length about the problems Statistics Canada encountered.

The Liberal government has inherited a Conservative technological initiative in government that is not working well at all in Shared Services, much as it has with the Phoenix payroll service for federal government employees. As with Phoenix, it has not made obvious signs of moving beyond this. The only conclusion to be drawn from this is the obvious: The institutional constraints to the independence of Statistics Canada that I have written about here in the past are not the only sorts of constraints. There are material constraints, too. As yet, there are no signs that these latter will be removed.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

On the ongoing depopulation of Cape Breton


The other day on my personal blog, I linked to a CBC News report describing how a Cape Breton store and bakery, desperate for workers, was offering free land to people who would move to that Nova Scotian island and work for them.

A family-run business is trying a unique approach to recruit people to live and work year-round in rural Cape Breton by offering two free acres of land to people who are willing to relocate.

Farmer's Daughter is a general store and bakery in Whycocomagh, N.S., which has a population of about 800. Sisters Sandee MacLean and Heather Coulombe took over the business earlier this year from their dairy farmer parents, who started it nearly 25 years ago.

MacLean told CBC News that the store has great employees — but it needs more of them to expand their operations.

"We have big ideas about what we'd like to do," she said.

The business would like to increase the number of year-round employees from 12 to at least 15, but hasn't gotten much response to traditional "help wanted" ads. Many young people have left the community to work in places like Halifax or Alberta.


This story has gotten quite a lot of attention nationally. I would be entirely justified, alas, in suspecting that any bump in migration will be as minor as that which occurred this February when the Cape Breton If Donald Trump Wins website briefly went viral. This humour website did get quite a lot of attention, and apparently did result in at least some inquiries. By this July, though, it seems as if the only migrants the website attracted were temporary ones, in the form of tourists.

A three-ringed binder, tucked into the corner of a small visitor information centre in Nova Scotia, may contain the proof of what many Cape Bretoners have suspected — that more Americans are descending on the island this year.

And locals say Donald Trump is the reason.

All day, tourists flow in and out of the one-room visitor information centre in the village of Baddeck, asking for advice on what to see and how to make the most of nearby attractions. A glance at a visitors' book — marked "Where are you from?" in block capital letters — reveals various American locations: Connecticut, Florida, New York City.

[. . .]

Room nights sold across the province rose by three per cent compared to the first half of 2015, but Cape Breton saw a boom of 16 per cent.

There was also a 12 per cent increase of visitors to Nova Scotia from the United States, while visitation from overseas declined seven per cent.

Although there are clearly many American tourists, it's harder to come by Americans who are actually following the website's advice and immigrating.


Back in January 2015, I looked into the phenomenon of out-migration from Atlantic Canada, the easternmost region of Canada and one that has consistently failed to share in the relative prosperity of other provinces. This out-migration does not occur at the same rate throughout. In the province of Nova Scotia, for instance, the capital city of Halifax has continued to experience some growth close to the Canadian average. At the other end is Cape Breton Island, a mountainous island in the northeast of the province famed as the last stronghold of Canadian Gaelic language and culture and as a land with a sadly dysfunctional industrial economy. Once, before the world wars, coal mining helped sustain a cosmopolitan industrial working class, living in the cities and towns which now constitute the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. But now, the mines are shut and nothing has replaced them. With no local economic motor and not nearly enough subsidies and income transfers coming from outside, the population of the entire island has been collapsing for decades, as the incipient natural decrease of the island's population is accelerated by emigration.

Nova Scotia's Finance and Treasury Board has noted the scale of this collapse. Rural Nova Scotia--Nova Scotia outside of Halifax, even--has been in steep decline for some time.



Cape Breton has done much worse than the average. Chris Shannon's widely shared 2014 Cape Breton Post article looks at the scale, and the inevitability, of this.

Fifteen-year-old Taylor O’Brien says the lure of more opportunities in the West has her thinking a move to Alberta is in her future after she completes Grade 9 at Bridgeport school in Glace Bay this June.

She says the plan is to move to Fox Creek, Alta., a town in the heart of that province’s oil industry. Her father lives there and O’Brien says she wants to move in July, in time to get settled and begin high school there in the fall.

“I really thought it through. I want to move,” she says.

“I’m too used to being stuck around here. It gets old after a while … seeing the same places. I see the Mayflower Mall like 10 times a week. I just want to explore.”

Sydney resident Thérèse Begg, 32, along with her spouse, intend to leave Cape Breton in the next couple of years for either Ontario or British Columbia.

It’s due to a lack of nightlife in the downtown and the small number of quality restaurants, she says.

Despite making a decent living as a baker and her partner being a machinist, Begg says it’s the lifestyle that’s driving them away from her hometown.

“There’s no variety of anything to do. Everybody goes to the hockey game, go to Tim Hortons, and they go to the movies. And that’s pretty much all there is to do,” says Begg, who grew up in Sydney but lived in Halifax for 10 years before returning in 2010.


The statistical trends in 2014 were grim. They have not changed at all.

CBRM’s economic development manager John Whalley says he’s more concerned about the rate of decline, which isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

“It’s actually accelerating,” he says.

“Cape Breton Island, in terms of rate, saw the biggest decline of any region in the country, according to this (Statistics Canada) data, and CBRM, obviously, constitutes a big part of that.”

In 2012-13, the figures show the CBRM lost 931 people to interprovincial migration to other parts of Canada, and a further 301 people moved to other areas of Nova Scotia (known as intraprovincial migration).

The other municipalities in Cape Breton are worse off with declines in population from the 2006 to 2011 census years at 4.6 per cent for Richmond County, 5.7 per cent for Inverness County, and 6.3 per cent for Victoria County.

Whalley says long-range projections from consulting firm Stantec estimate the CBRM’s population in 2031 would be approximately 78,000.

The island’s population is estimated to shrink to 102,000 from its current size of 134,535 people.


My Prince Edward Island, in marked contrast, is projected to experience relatively strong growth over that timeframe, having surpassed the declining population of Cape Breton just a few years ago.

All I can do is note this trend, rooted in the very deep-seated issues described. Cape Breton is beautiful--its natives agree, its visitors agree--but relatively few of these people actually want to live here. It's difficult to see how this could change, barring something completely unexpected and--frankly--unimaginable. At most, the ongoing slowdown in Alberta might slow down emigration, for a time. (Or, perhaps more plausibly, it might redirect it.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#CensusFail, or, how #Census2016 is not as big a hit in Australia as in Canada


I've learned that the Australian census, recently concluded, has been the subject of as much controversy as in Canada in recent years. The big difference is that, whereas Canada's census controversies were contrived by the then-ruling Conservative Party government, Australia's worries are more deeply rooted.

Bloomberg's Michael Heath authored the article "Census Boycott Gathers Momentum Amid Australia Privacy Concerns".

A backlash against Australia’s national census is gathering momentum with lawmakers joining calls to boycott Tuesday’s population count amid concern data gathered will be used to build wide-ranging profiles of individuals and violate their right to privacy.

Nick Xenophon, who leads a minority party in parliament, is refusing to provide his name to the compulsory census and thus won’t be able to submit a completed document, risking a fine of A$180 ($138) a day. Other lawmakers , including Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, have also threatened to withhold their names.

Fearing a widespread boycott that could compromise data that’s essential for public service provision, the government has sought to downplay the concerns.

“Privacy matters,” Xenophon told reporters. The Australian Bureau of Statistics “has failed to make a compelling case on why names must be provided and stored for four years. All names will be turned into a code that ultimately can be used to identify you.”

The crux of the debate is over a “statistical linkage key” that will be created for an individual from the name submitted on their census form. Names will also be kept for four years rather than being destroyed after 18 months, as is the current practice.

Privacy advocates say that, irrespective of names being destroyed, the linkage keys will allow answers to future questions to be linked to census responses, enabling the government to compile a profile of a person.


Edward Johnson, also writing for Bloomberg, produced "Census Crash Spurs Australia Security Fears in Blow to Turnbull".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government is facing its first big test since scraping back into office last month, after an apparent overseas attack crashed Australia’s online census and threatened to derail the survey.

The five-yearly census, which is used to underpin economic planning and public service provision, was shut down late yesterday after four so-called denial of service attacks, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The failure is embarrassing for the government, which has defended the integrity of the survey amid calls for a boycott over privacy concerns.

The statistics bureau shut down the site out of an “abundance of caution” to ensure the data already submitted by some 2 million Australians couldn’t be compromised, Treasurer Scott Morrison said Wednesday at a news conference with Turnbull. He joined the prime minister in urging Australians to complete the survey once the site was restored, saying it was “critical to support economic planning.”

This year’s census had already been mired in controversy as lawmakers joined calls to boycott the population count amid concern data gathered could be used to build wide-ranging profiles of individuals and violate their privacy. The debacle is an unwelcome distraction for Turnbull, who was returned to office with a wafer-thin majority of just one seat after the July 2 election -- a result that has eroded confidence in his leadership.

“The sense of trust and goodwill toward the census has been tarnished,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a politics lecturer at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. There’s a risk that people will “have greater reservations now about completing the survey” and the data garnered will be incomplete, he said.


I have seen Australian friends actively complaining on social networking sites about their problems filing their electronic returns.

Do any readers know more about this? If you are Australian, can you explain your perspective? I'm quite curious, and I'm sure our other readers are, too.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

On the Jedi phenomenon and the Australian census


Via io9, I learned of a Brisbane Times article dealing with the Jedi phenomenon in the Australian census. Funny as the idea of claiming the faith of the Jedi Knights of Star Wars fame might be, it messes with census data.

The Jedi phenomenon began in 2001 when an email campaign mistakenly claimed the government would have to recognise it as an official religion if 8000 people selected it in the census.

Now [HKlie] Sturgess, president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, is leading a campaign for people not to treat the census as a joke.

This is because if people fill in the "other" box in the religion section of the census with an answer such as Jedi they are counted as "not defined" rather than "no religion".

Ms Sturgess said this skews the census results by making Australia appear more religious than it is.

"People shouldn't waste their answer," she said.

"Answering the religion question thoughtfully and honestly matters because it benefits all Australians when decisions on how to spend taxpayer dollars are made on sound data that accurately reflects modern-day Australia."


This little incident says a lot about the problem with modern statistics. I will elaborate in the next few days. In the meantime, be amused with this.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Four article links on the aftermath of the 2016 Canada census


What, might readers of Demography Matters ask, has become of the Canadian census? Four article illustrate the contours surrounding this issue.

Last week in The Globe and Mail, Tavia Grant's article "Census response rate is 98 per cent, early calculations show" featured.

Canadians really were, it seems, enthusiastic about the census.

Statistics Canada is still calculating exact response rates, but it says early indications are that the overall response rate is 98 per cent – and about 96 per cent for the long-form census. That is higher than long-form response rates in the previous two censuses, the agency says.

“Early indications are positive,” Marc Hamel, director-general of the census program, said in an interview.

These numbers could shift up or down as results from early enumeration of Northern communities, late filers and First Nations reserves are added in, he said. “The range of error is not very high … it’s likely to move, but we’re talking most likely, at most, one percentage point.”

[. . .]

The sample size for the long-form census was increased to one in four households this year from one in five in 2006. The combination of high response rates this year and a bigger sample size will yield “incredibly precise data,” chief statistician Wayne Smith said.


Grant also had another article in The Globe and Mail, "Statistics Canada's tech issues hampering its mandate: chief".

Statistics Canada’s technological troubles have become so acute that its chief statistician says they are hampering the agency’s ability to carry out its mandate – and he places the blame squarely on one source: Shared Services Canada, the department now running the agency’s informatics infrastructure.

Statscan’s website has for months been beset by crashes, delays and outages, most notably on July 8, when its main website was down for more than seven hours on the day of the release of the labour force survey.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail at his Ottawa office, chief statistician Wayne Smith said that that outage – along with a long list of other information technology troubles – relates to problems with Shared Services.

“It’s had a significant impact on our operations,” Mr. Smith said. “Our service to the public has suffered, clearly, in ways that we would rather not have happened. Some of our relationships have suffered. … There’s a frustration among our clients.”

Canada’s statistical agency is tasked with producing quality data and analysis about the country on everything from oil exports to jobless rates, food prices and health outcomes. That mandate, Mr. Smith said, is at risk as tech glitches – stemming partly from a lack of maintenance at its data centre – have caused delayed releases, lost time in conducting quality assurance and higher costs.


The CBC carried Jordan Press' Canadian Press article "StatsCan looking for powers to make all surveys mandatory, compel data from companies".

Statistics Canada is privately floating the idea of new powers that would make all of its surveys mandatory by default and force certain companies to hand over requested data, such as credit card transactions and Internet search records.

Currently, the agency can ask for any information held by governments and businesses, but officials have long found it hard to get information like point-of-sale transactions that could give a more detailed and accurate picture of household spending.

The agency's proposal would compel governments and companies to hand over information, and levy fines to discourage "unreasonable impositions" that "restrict or prevent the flow of information for statistical purposes."

Corporate fines would depend on a company's size and the length of any delays. The changes would also do away with the threat of jail time for anyone who refuses to fill out a mandatory survey, such as the long-form census.

The recommendations, contained in a discussion paper Statistics Canada provided to The Canadian Press, would enshrine in law the agency's independence in deciding what data it needs and how to collect it.


In the National Post, John Robson's "When statisticians corrupt" counsels against this extension.

Lord Acton famously warned that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even, it turns out, Statistics Canada.

Now you laugh. But my colleague Kevin Libin just wrote about how Canada’s statistical agency, giddy with success in having the mandatory long-form census restored, now wants all sorts of power to compel you to reveal your intimate secrets or lack of same.

I don’t want to be seen mocking statisticians as good at math but without the personality to be accountants. Especially not now. But it is hard to imagine a less menacing bunch than the geeks at Statistics Canada, whom I have always found obliging when seeking data on deadline. They wield spreadsheets in cubicles, not pistols in dank secret police HQ basements. Yet there they are, demanding the power to compel compliance, avoid scrutiny, even run their own computers to avoid depending on their wretched colleagues for tech support.

‘Twas ever thus in the executive branch. We know best (as Libin notes, Statistics Canada has elevated itself from a good number cruncher to “a key institution in the democratic process”) and should be freed from petty restraints on our capacity to act for the greater good. But why?

Well, in Acton’s and my vision of the political problem, we need the state and it needs extensive powers to protect our freedom. But anyone to whom we grant extensive powers is liable to intrude on our freedom because, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”


That is where Canada is right now.

Monday, June 27, 2016

"Brexit was fueled by irrational xenophobia, not real economic grievances"


Vox's Zack Beauchamp has a great extended article, "Brexit was fueled by irrational xenophobia, not real economic grievances", that takes a look at how migration concerns helped create a pro-Brexit majority. Critically, as far as he can prove, these seem not to have been based on actual issues, but rather on perceptions.



The surge [of immigrants] was a result (in part but not in whole) of EU rules allowing citizens of of EU countries to move and work freely in any other EU member country.

Pro-Leave campaigners, and sympathetic observers in the media, argued that this produced a reasonable skepticism of immigration’s effect on the economy — and Brexit was the result.

"The force that turned Britain away from the European Union was the greatest mass migration since perhaps the Anglo-Saxon invasion," Atlantic editor David Frum writes. "Migration stresses schools, hospitals, and above all, housing."

Yet there’s a problem with that theory: British hostility to immigrants long proceeds the recent spate of mass immigration.

Take a look at this chart, from University of Oxford’s Scott Blinder. Blinder put together historical data on one polling question — the percent of Brits saying there were too many immigrants in their country. It turns people believed this for decades before mass migration even began[.]

A worthwhile read, if a depressing one.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Some demographic perspectives on Brexit and the future United Kingdom


I've been spending today taking in the fact that the vote in the British referendum on European Union membership went in favour of the Leave camp. There's certainly going to be repercussions in Canada, with Torontoist noting the impact on Toronto-based businesses of British instability, the Toronto Star observing that the United Kingdom has become a less attractive platform for European business, and the CBC observing that British departure jeopardizes a Canadian-European Union free trade agreement that has taken seven years to bring to the point of completion. (Brexit proponents hoping for a quick deal should take note.)

The first important thing that needs to be said about Brexit, at least from a perspective relative to population, is that the desire of Brexit proponents to somehow come up with a new relationship with the European Union that will keep the single EU market as before while keeping out EU migrants looks impossible. The freedom of movement of workers is one of the foundational "four freedoms" of post-war European integration, one of the elements of this internal single market, and it's very difficult for me to imagine a circumstance in which a seceding member-state would be allowed to pick and choose what elements of its old membership it could keep. What would be the incentive for any polity to give that prerogative to a seceding member-state? The proposals of Québécois and Scottish sovereigntists for continued integration with their parent states, on the terms of the separatist entities and only in the areas they wanted (only, I would add, in the areas that people were unsure the separatists could handle like monetary policy) come to mind.

Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein do belong to the European Economic Area, often mentioned, but they have no ability to pick and choose. Switzerland is not a formal member of the EEA but it comes quite close, with a tailored package of treaties which provides it with access to the single market. Switzerland's decision two years ago to limit free migration following a 2014 immigration referendum has triggered a continuing crisis with the European Union still far from being solved. Britain's negotiating partners in the European Union may well be willing to accept EEA membership, but I would be surprised if free movement of people would be sacrificed. Yet if that did not happen, how can a post-Brexit government drawing its support substantially from anti-immigrant sentiment accept such a deal? There will be economic shocks ahead.

It can't be doubted that immigration, perhaps most recently the Middle Eastern refugee crisis but also post-2004 immigration from central Europe, helped trigger Brexit, as noted by Migration Information.

The topic of migration has been central to the referendum debate. For an astonishing nine consecutive months, voters have identified immigration as among the most important issues facing Britain (based on Ipsos MORI polling). In April, 47 percent rated immigration as the most pressing concern; just half that number identified the economy as the most important issue. However, when asked specifically about their vote on Europe, respondents cite the economy as their primary consideration, with migration a close second.

The public debate on migration has encompassed several dimensions, including whether being part of the European Union enhances or decreases security; what the United Kingdom’s response should be on accepting refugees for resettlement and providing additional funds to help resolve the refugee crisis; and above all what migration flows will look like in the future and whether restrictions on migration are compatible with Brexit (and the resultantly-necessary new EU trade deal). The underlying theme is to what degree and at what cost the national government can control and restrict migration by leaving the European Union.

Not surprisingly after the Paris and Brussels attacks, both sides share a general concern over terrorism and security related to migration. Remain campaigners claim improved intelligence sharing between EU countries will increase security, while Leave proponents argue that the United Kingdom’s greater ability to prevent movement once outside the European Union and increased border security will reduce threats.

With EU Member States having received more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants in 2015, both sides contend the crisis will dramatically influence voting decisions. The United Kingdom has played a highly limited role in the refugee crisis thus far (refusing for example to take part in the EU scheme to relocate 160,000 refugees across Member States). Coupled with relatively low numbers of spontaneous arrivals of refugees and the absence thus far of a terrorist attack on UK soil, suggestions that terrorism and Europe’s refugee crisis will decide the referendum appear exaggerated.

Public opinion on future migration flows and restrictions currently matter more to voters. The most passionate Leave supporters (representing around one-quarter of the UK public) are very strongly correlated with the most anti-immigrant UK voters. Voters strongly attached to an “English” (as opposed to a “British”) identity—a disproportionately Conservative-leaning group crucial to the outcome—favor leaving the European Union. Furthermore, anxieties over migration extend beyond this group, with two-thirds of the public favoring migration restrictions.


I'll quote at length from the introduction to Open Europe's April 2016 study "Where next? A liberal, free-market guide to Brexit". Migration, the authors suggest, is not likely to fall even in the case of Brexit.

Immigration

a) While there would be political pressure to reduce immigration following Brexit, there are several reasons why we believe headline net immigration is unlikely to reduce much:

The business case for maintaining a flexible supply of labour. The evidence suggests that, with a record high employment rate, the UK’s labour market is already tightening;

the political and economic challenge of finding policy alternatives to relieve pressure on the public finances caused by ageing demographics, where immigration can help smoothen the path to fiscal sustainability;

the effects of globalisation on migration flows, which the UK is not alone in experiencing;

and the likelihood of some constraints on UK immigration policy under a new arrangement with the EU.

b) Nevertheless, free from EU rules on free movement, the UK would likely pursue a selective policy more geared towards attracting skilled migration, which could be more politically acceptable.

c) Open Europe would recommend a system seeking to emulate the points-based systems of Canada and Australia. The system could be weighted strongly towards those with a job offer, but also offer a route for skilled migrants seeking work. Such a system could give priority to UK industries and employers suffering skills shortages but also allow a flexible supply of skilled workers to enter the UK labour force subject to a cap which could be varied depending on economic circumstances. However, there is likely to be a continued need for migrant labour to fill low-skilled jobs. Therefore, the UK would also need a mechanism to fill low-skilled jobs or meet labour shortages where employers have recently relied on EU migrants.

d) However, there is likely to be a trade-off between the depth of any new economic agreement with the EU and the extent to which the UK will have to accept EU free movement. The evidence from the precedents of Norway and Switzerland suggest that the deeper the agreement, the more likely the UK will need to accept free movement. This might mean building in preferential treatment for EU citizens in the UK’s new points system, which would give EU nationals priority over non-EU nationals, or it could create a separate temporary migration scheme for migrants from the EU.

e) The UK is far from alone in its migration experience in terms of developed economies. Between 2000 and 2015 the UK received 3.7 migrants for every thousand people, which puts it just above the average but below countries such as Canada, Australia, Norway and Switzerland. If the UK had experienced the same level of immigration as Canada or Australia there would have been an additional 3 million or 4.4 million migrants respectively coming to the UK over the past decade – though of course the UK is a more crowded country.


A points system, as The Independent has argued, might well lead to more immigrant admissions. I've observed here, at least as far back at 2012, that British anti-immigrant sentiment is general. Whether European Union, Commonwealth, or other, immigrants just aren't welcome.

A post-Brexit United Kingdom will become less attractive for migrants. It may, between hostile policies and a worsening economy, become much less attractive. I feel justified in discounting scenarios where Britain will become more attractive, more open to immigrants. If the resulting shortfalls in labour last, this may well lower the United Kingdom's long-term potential for economic growth. What a waste of potential!

Who knows? If things get bad enough, we might even see emigration on a substantial scale. CBC reported that the number of Britons googling how to move to Canada after the referendum results has sparked sharply. I would not at all bet against seeing here in Toronto a wave of British immigrants not at all unlike the Irish immigrants who came just a few years ago.

(For further reading, I recommend the Brexit site of the Migration Observatory.)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

On the Toronto AIDS Memorial and the impact of HIV antiretrovirals in the mid-1990s


I was in the area and it seemed apropos after the Orlando shooting, so I went off to visit Toronto's AIDS Memorial, in Church and Wellesley's Barbara Hall Park, before I went to work Monday afternoon. It is simple enough, pillars almost two metres high each with six inscribed metal plates of the names of the dead, organized chronologically by the year of their death, in a peaceful garden. It is a solemn place, but lovely for all that.

I've visited the memorial before. I even shared a picture of it last year, looking at the memorial pillars from the outside as framed by the roses. I had not taken a picture of the memorial from the inside, the pillars with the plaques of inscribed names--so many names--arcing away into the distance.

Impact of HIV antiretrovirals, 1996-1998 #toronto #churchandwellesley #barbarahallpark #aidsmemorial #hiv #aids #antiretroviraltherapy


There is actually quite a lot of information you could surmise about the epidemic from the information on the plates. In the first years of the 1980s the plates are almost empty, one being more than enough for a year's dead. Later, they spill over into multiple plates. Still later, around 1990, the plates shift to a smaller type, as the surging numbers of people infected when HIV began its explosive spread in the early 1980s progressed to AIDS.

In the mid-1990s, the impact of effective antiretroviral therapy, much more effective than the easily blunted AZT monotherapy, becomes evident. It is on the 1996-1998 pillar this is most visible. The year 1995 took up most of the previous pillar, but 1996 took up a mere half, 1997 two plates, and 1998 only one. Later plates and later years revert to the low density of names of the mid-1980s, this time with the smaller font. (The 1999 and 2000 plates on the next pillar are visible to the left. Later years' plates have fewer names still, reverting to the early 1980s, as HIV infection becomes manageable.)

Anti-retrovirals worked. They continue to work, and in ways that might not have been imagined by the originators of modern anti-retroviral therapy, treating and even preventing HIV infection. Toronto's AIDS Memorial, and like memorials in other cities around the world, serve as effective partial records both of a terrible medical/human tragedy and how, if too late, this tragedy began to be ended. It's still too far away from ending in some parts of the world, but there is hope. What better testimony is there to this than the pillars of the AIDS Memorial which remain unscarred by plaques?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

"Theo Moudakis: Census time"


Yesterday's Toronto Star editorial cartoon by Theo Moudakis was one that I thought would appeal to readers.



That is all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On #census2016 in Canada


The return of the long-form census has become a trending hashtag on Twitter, #Census2016. It was more than that: As both the CBC and the Huffington Post noted, when the census collection period began on the 2nd of May, it became a major pop-culture trend in Canada. So many people responded that the official census website was briefly knocked down.

Me, I decided to be fashionably late.

Census selfie #toronto #me #selfie #canada #census #census2016


One in four Canadian households, selected at random, received 36-page long-form questionnaire known as the National Household Survey. I, unfortunately, did not, instead clicking through ten short questions. Still, it got done. I could have received it, after all.

Instructions #canada #census #census2016


Starting #cabada #census #census2016


The whole episode has been reassuring for fans of good data. Shannon Proudfoot's MacLean's article "The census is back with a swagger" took an extended look at how the census matters, and how it became so important.

This week, the furious preparations of the agency over the last several months come to fruition: May 10 is census day, when Canadians raise their hands to be counted. The voluntary National Household Survey that replaced the long-form census in 2011 ended up being neither the pointless disaster its staunchest critics had envisioned, nor the perfectly useful replacement its proponents predicted. It had serious limitations that caused 1,100 small communities to vanish off the statistical map; it produced a few weird findings that simply didn’t look right; and it made looking for change over time all but impossible. It did, however, offer a serviceable snapshot of the country. Now that StatsCan is returning to a mandatory long-form census—and in a hurry—the question is what will become of the evolving national portrait that underpins everything from people’s bus routes and commuter highways to their children’s schools and where they can grab groceries on their way home from work.

What was once the driest and most esoteric of citizen duties—the statistical backbone of the country that, frankly, most people were oblivious to—became an unlikely flashpoint in 2010. That July, then-prime minister Stephen Harper axed the mandatory long-form census, arguing it was inappropriate to compel citizens to answer questions about their education, work, ethnicity and housing, among other topics. Critics of the move—they were nearly unanimous among those who use census data, including researchers, municipal planners and community organizations—insisted that a mandatory census was the only way to get an accurate picture of who Canadians are and what they need.

Ultimately, 68 per cent of households responded to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS)—far short of the 94 per cent that completed the long-form census in 2006, but better than the 50 per cent response rate StatsCan projected in some of its testing. The agency’s analysts did everything they could to verify and shore up the information they had. In the end, they released the data they believed was solid, but anything below a certain quality threshold—a highly technical measure that amounts to overall non-response combined with “item non-response,” or individual questions people skipped—was simply not released. “We were very transparent in saying that at the small community level, we cannot do the same level of validation,” says Hamel. That meant that 1,100 small towns and specks on the map, representing three per cent of the Canadian population, became statistical ghost towns, except for the basic information collected on the short-form census. If you wanted to know what the 1,400 residents of Shellbrook, Sask., do for work, how much education they have or their ethnic backgrounds, you’d hit a dead end.

But even with all the quality control StatsCan conducted, there were a few odd glitches that spoke to the problems with using a voluntary survey to obtain a full portrait of your country. The NHS, for example, found that between 2006 and 2011, the largest proportion of Canada’s new immigrants came from the Philippines, followed by China. But a tiny numbered footnote attached to that observation warns that it doesn’t square with immigration records, which showed that in fact the largest slice of newcomers came from China. Presumably, a significant number of new Chinese arrivals either didn’t fill out the NHS or didn’t identify their recent country of origin.

However, the biggest problem with the 2011 survey is simply that it’s different. StatsCan told users flatly that the NHS results were useful for comparing different regions of the country at a single moment in time, but they shouldn’t be measured against 2006 or earlier census results, because the methodology had changed so fundamentally. And comparing data over time is “the most important single thing” for researchers, says Michael Veall, a professor of economics at McMaster University. Veall is quick to note that the NHS turned out better than he expected it would when he testified at a parliamentary committee hearing on the issue in 2010, but it still has serious limitations. “Statistical information is interesting when there’s a surprise, right?” he says. “So you find more people are doing this or more people are doing that. The trouble when we went from 2006 to 2011 [is] every time we see a surprise, we have to say, ‘Oh, is that because something really happened, or is that because there’s a problem with the data?’ ”


I'm glad it's back. I'm very glad that I'm not the only one. Hopefully next time I'll have a chance to fill in the long-form census.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

On speculating about the effects of German labour market restrictions in 2004


In February 2013, in noting the arguments of Jonathan Last about migration, I noted that policy on migration--in sending countries and in receiving countries--was important in directing flows. The example I used was that of post-2004 Polish migration to the United Kingdom.

Consider the movement of Poles to Germany. Large-scale Polish migration west dates back to the beginning of the Ostflucht, the migration of Germans and Poles from what was once eastern Germany to points west, in around 1850. By the time Poland regained its independence in 1919, hundreds of thousands of Poles lived in Germany, mainly in the Ruhr area and Berlin. Leaving aside the exceptional circumstances of the post-Second World War deportations of Germans from east of the Oder-Neisse line, Polish migration to (West) Germany continued under Communism, as hundreds of thousands of people with German connections--ethnic Germans, members of Germanized Slavic populations, and Polish family members--emigrated for ethnic and economic reasons. In the decade of the 1980s, up to 1.3 million Poles left the country, the largest share heading for Germany. Large-scale Polish migration to Germany has a long history.

And yet, in the past decade, by far the biggest migration of Poles within the European Union was directed not to neighbouring Germany but to a United Kingdom that traditionally hasn't been a destination. Most Polish migration to Germany, it seems, is likely to be circular migration; Germany missed out on a wave of immigrants who would have helped the country's demographics significantly. Why? Germany chose to keep its labour markets closed for seven years after Poland's European Union admission in 2004, while the United Kingdom did not, the results being (among other things) that Polish is the second language of England.

This was a huge surge. In their November 2014 discussion paper "Polish Emigration to the UK after 2004; Why Did So Many Come?" (PDF format), Marek Okolski and John Salt noted that the Polish migration post-2004 dramatically reversed a trend one half-century old of decline.

A Polish presence in the UK population existed before 2004 which helped to create networks and contacts between the diaspora and those back home. The 1951 UK census recorded 152 000 people born in Poland, a hangover from the Second World War after which many preferred to relocate to or stay in the UK rather than return home. By 1981 the number had shrunk to 88 000 and although unrest and Martial Law in Poland continued a trickle of new migrants into the UK, the inevitable ageing of the post-war group took its toll so that by 2001 the number had fallen to 58 000. The next decade, however, saw an increase in the number of Polish born in the UK to 676,000 in 2011.

The authors conclude that this surge had much to do with a perfect storm of coincidence, of transformations in Poland and the United Kingdom alike aided by a new transnationalism.

Let us begin with the “right people”. The concept of “right people” embraces the surplus (reinforced by the “boom” of young labour market entrants/higher school graduates) and structural mismatches of labour in Poland, post-communist anomy (migration as one viable strategies to overcome that, similar to migration as a response to social disorder accompanying rapid urbanization, as described by Thomas and Znaniecki), high educational and cultural competence/maturity (including widespread knowledge of the English language) and awareness of freedoms and entitlements stemming from “European citizenship”. Furthermore, at least since 1939 Poles had been generally favourably regarded by the British.

The “right place” was the UK labour market, although it was not immediately apparent at the time. The economy was growing rapidly but there was a reluctance among domestic workers to undertake many of the jobs available at the wage rates on offer. Migrant workers willing to work for minimum (or less) wages allowed employers to avoid capital investment that would have increased productivity in, for example, food processing. In service provision, such as hospitality, migrants provided flexibility in working practices that reduced costs. Furthermore, the UK’s flexible labour market made it easy for those Poles with skills and initiative to engage in upward occupational mobility and encouraged them to stay. In addition, public attitudes towards the inflow of people from new EU member states were generally favourable. Coincidental with this was the “compression” of the physical distance between Poland and the UK through a rapid development of non-costly and effective transport, communication and information facilities between the two countries. This made it possible to achieve the high levels of flexibility required by both employers and migrants.

Finally, by the “right circumstances” we mean the juncture of Poland’s accession to the EU with the decision taken by the UK government to grant immediate access to the British labour market. That other countries did not follow suit meant the lack of any strong competition from other receiving countries.


Plausibly, similar factors may have operated in connection to immigration from the Baltic States, specifically of Lithuanians and Latvians. (Estonians seem not to have been nearly so likely to emigrate, at least not to the United Kingdom.

Germany eventually did open its labour markets to migrants from the new European Union member-states, but the effect was limited.

Germany had 580,000 A8 nationals at the end of 2009, including 419,000 Poles (the UK had 550,000 Poles at the end of 2009). In Germany, almost a third of women from A8 countries are employed in health and caring professions, while a third of A8 male migrants in Germany are employed in manufacturing and construction.

The consensus estimate is that another 140,000 A8 nationals a year may now move to Germany, doubling the stock of A8 nationals in Germany to 1.3 million by 2020, this despite the fact that wages have risen in Eastern Europe over the past decade. Average wages of E5 an hour in Poland are expected to reduce incentives to migrate to Germany, where many A8 nationals earn E8 to E10 an hour. However, German unions expressed fears that more A8 migrants may slow wage increases.


Okolski and Salt point out that, overall, Polish migrants to Germany tended to be older and have lower levels of human capital than Polish migrants to the United Kingdom, limiting their potential contributions. In their January 2013 paper "10 Years After: EU Enlargement, Closed Borders, and Migration to Germany" (PDF format), Benjamin Elsner and Klaus F. Zimmermann conclude that Germany missed out by opting to limit access to its labour markets.

The extent to which immigration affects wages and employment depends on the degree of substitutability between migrants and natives. The more substitutable migrants and natives are, the stronger is the effect. Recent studies by D'Amuri et al. (2010) and Brücker & Jahn (2011) have shown that Germans and immigrants with the same education and work experience are indeed imperfect substitutes. Hence, immigration should only have a moderate effect on wages and employment of natives. Based on this line of argumentation, and in view of the many young and well-educated migrants that went to the UK and not to Germany, we conclude that Germany missed a chance by not opening up its borders in 2004. The fear of the German government that thousands of low-skilled workers would emigrate from the NMS turned out not to be true. Instead, EU8 migrants were actually better-educated than the average native. As shown in previous work by Brenke et al. (2009), immigrants from the EU8 countries mostly competed with previous immigrants and not with natives. For Germany as a whole, the costs of the restrictions exceeded the benefits by far.

Imagine, if you would, that Germany had joined the United Kingdom in 2004 in giving migrants from the new European Union member-states central and eastern Europe. It's certainly imaginable that Germany would have shared in the surge, perhaps even that given its long history as a destination for migrants from Poland and points beyond it would have stayed ahead of the United Kingdom as a destination. Plausibly, this new altered immigration flow would have provided a net benefit for Germany, while still providing some (if fewer) benefits for a United Kingdom that was not such a natural destination. Everyone would have benefited economically.

Another consequence might have been weaker support for Euroskepticism in the United Kingdom. For a variety of reasons which I don't quite understand, this post-2004 migration to the United Kingdom has been exceptionally politically controversial, to the point of strongly accentuating Euroskepticism and even support for Britain's exit from the European Union. There was going to be a surge of migration from the poorer European Union member-states to the richer ones, but if it was not so overwhelmingly focused on a single (if large) state as a destination, would it have had less of an effect? I wonder if this thinking has anything to do with current European Union policy, for instance in trying to avoid the concentration of refugees in a particular member-state and to spread them out.