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The Demographic Myths of Our Self-Centered Age

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The term demographic-economic paradox refers to the inverse relationship between economic progress and birth rates. Education and wealth go up at the cost of birth rates. This has been observed in almost all developed and developing nations. Although countries like China and India have government-sponsored programs to restrict their populations, unbiased population metrics from the Western countries and industrialized Asian nations like Japan and South Korea confirm this.

In my economics and civics classes in high school, India's population growth rates were partly attributed to the farming community's labour-intensive trade, in which more children (especially male) meant more farmhands and therefore more revenue. As agriculture declined as a percentage of the GDP, and agricultural income for farming families began to be artificially kept low in India due to the presence of Government intermediaries and established "fair prices," besides the low per capita land holding that has been established, more children began to translate into more cost and much less revenue. India was one of the first countries to encourage family planning. This came to an undesirable extreme in the seventies when Sanjay Gandhi forcefully sterilized, some say up to a million people, in an attempt to control population growth. For an economy growing at a snail's pace of 2 to 3 percent a year from a poor base, more population simply meant fewer resources per capita and therefore a diminished standard of living. After Gandhi's forced sterilization program met with outraged protests and a change of government took place, the family planning program has been far more benign, playing the role of an advisor and encourager.

China has been another aggressive implementer of family planning, imposing stiff penalties on couples who had more than one child. Many have written about social problems and future economic problems that this has posed or will pose. Other measures like prohibition of gender determination have led to fewer female child abortions lately, but the gender imbalance in both these countries remains sharp.

The US has no such government program but has experienced the decline in birth rates that all industrialized countries have. Unlike some other countries, like Sweden and Norway, which experience declining population growth rates, the US has kept up a rate of over 2 percent due to better population replacement rates internally, as well as through immigration. Even so, the US has an aging population which will be supported by the younger citizens in the years to come. This is especially clear in the case of the Social Security funds which are now being propped up by payments made by those still working to cover the retirees. In 20 years there will be a small section of the population (younger taxpayers) supporting a larger group of aged retirees, meaning there will be insufficient funds in Social Security. This is expected to lead to need-based rationing and/or provisioning of funds, as well as a cut in the percentage of per capita allowance of these funds.

India has a rapid GDP growth rate, as high as 7.5 percent in the recessionary 2009-10 years. China too, has not skipped a beat in its blistering growth. However the economic effects of a smaller percentage of younger population are expected to show up in 30 years. This will mean fewer resources to deploy in critical manufacturing and services for export in which these countries have specialized, less availability of specialized labour to meet the growth rates needed to continue growth, a skewed distribution of labour in several fields and of course, the dangers of a gender imbalance.  At present the danger of a small cohort of young people supporting the aged does not seem imminent, as the percentage of younger people is quite high in these countries. One-fifth of the total world population under 20 years of age is in India. As they enter the labour force the opportunities and resources are bound to be stretched, but the market that they represent as consumers in an expanding economy will be sizable.

About Wayfaring Stranger

  • roger nowosielski

    Ruvy, you should know my style by now. And no, I’ve never been Dale Carnegie’s subscriber. Always, I hit and run.

    I still think that Vijai has great potential. But before he realized it, he’s got to get rid first of the baggage, his baggage. So excuse me for having to be blunt – that’s where I come in.

    I’m sorry if none of yous have any balls, but somebody’s to do it. And since none presented a challenge, let it be me.

  • roger nowosielski

    No problem, Ruvy.

    I was just going to add, I am not here to be liked. I have to call it how I see it.

    And you’re no different, of that I’m certain.

  • roger nowosielski


    Your presumed interest in what you have dubbed as “pragmatic questions” being the predominant ones is something to be examined/

    Don’t forget now that even the most practical advice that comes from the Talmud and all rabbinical writings are distillations of a principle.

    It’s the principle – the idea of a thing – that informs all we ought to do and not to do/

    It’s precisely in this respect that I find Vijai’s thinking and elaborate extrapolation singularly deficient.

    Consequently, I called him on this, nothing less and nothing more. Everything over and above, you’re free to blame on my in-your-face style. And of that, I plea guilty.

  • Vijai

    Roger, As you are so magnanimous in helping me realize my true potential, could you do this? I had resolved not to respond to you but I like your argument that behind every Rabbinical instruction there is a philosophy. And yes, behind my pragmatic suggestions there is a worldview- I was hoping that you may be able to grasp it from my article. But anyway… could you do this:

    Please list the querstions you want answered crisple and clearly without accusation, for instance ‘Do ends justify the means’, as in does a little exploitation justify the greater good, etc..

    I will do my best to answer them. I can’t help the kind of guy I am- this is the way I answer questions. I just cannot understand or respond to hysterical rants.

  • Vijai

    Ruvy- I will get back to you on your question

  • roger nowosielski

    To tell the truth, Vijai, I haven’t read your article yet – at least not thoroughly.

    I will therefore. Meanwhile, let me applaud you for transcending beyond the personal, Both of us know that it’s not productive in the long run. And if I have been abrasive in my past communications – and I’m certain I have – please forgive me.

    The only excuse I have to offer, you’re a formidable opponent, not a flunkie.

    With the later, I could afford the maximum of latitude. With you, I could not. Which is the reason why I pressed you beyond the point of propriety perhaps. Anyway, it’s water under the bridge, I reckon.

    So let’s move on to bigger and greater things.

    I am game.

  • Cindy

    (pretends to be reading a newspaper)

    Ah, it’s alright now. Good. :-)

  • Ruvy

    Nu Roger? (See comments #154 & #156) A little diplomacy doesn’t hurt, does it?

    As to the Talmud. Don’t go there. The Talmud, all six Orders of it, is based upon phrases taken from the Torah, phrase after phrase, and each phrase is analyzed by a number of scholars commenting on them. This analysis, comprises the equivalents of opinions set down by judges of the Sanhedrin, because the scholars who set down these opinions were members of the Sanhedrin who had fled Jerusalem to Yavne in 70 C.E. Therefore, they are law. This is especially true for the Talmud Yerushalmí, which is what was comprised at Yavne and various places in the Land of Israel. After Hillel II was murdered by the Roman savages, the members of the Sanhedrin who could, fled to Babylon and reconvened there, compiling, over time, the Talmud Bavlí, which deals with coping with life in exile.

    ONLY AFTER the compilation of these two Talmuds, do you get learned commentaries that approach Jewish law with a philosophical bent.

    Finally, my interest in pragmatic questions reflects my own bent – pragmatic solutions keep enterprises going, they get budgets approved, etc., etc. Philosophical wrangling, by contrast, gets you nothing but discord. There is a basic principle in Jewish philosophy – ein qémaH, ein toráh no flour, no Torah. In other words, without sustenance, there is no learning. So, the first order of business is providing sustenance (according to the rules of the Torah, of course!), in order to further Torah study and understanding of G-d’s will.

  • Vijai

    Okay, Roger. I’ll wait for you to finish reading the article. I see that you are now subsribing to the ‘How to win Jews and influence Indians’ school of thought.

    Hey Ruvy: I’m not sure what would constitute extra returns for a resident genius- I’m just thinking that a genius may find it tough to remain in the kibbutz framework given that her skills are in constant demand.

  • roger nowosielski

    Funny, Vijai

    But you’re definitely wrong on the first count, not with Ruvy as the prime specimen.

    As to the second, perhaps coming to shared understanding would be more accurate way of putting it.

    I’m not all that certain, besides, to what extent your thinking is representative of Indian thought. Is it?

  • Ruvy


    to what extent your thinking is representative of Indian thought. Is it?

    Come on, Roger. There are 1.1 billion Indians living in India, plus untold millions living overseas, like Vijai. Dharma, the dominant faith in India, has at least six variants to it, two of which are atheistic in conception. In addition, it has two big spin-off religions, Jainism and Buddhism, which represent whole universes of philosophical thought in themselves. Then there are the Muslims (the largest number of Muslims in the world live in the countries that comprise India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – only after this, do you get Indonesia; Arabs are about 15% of the world Muslim population). I haven’t even mentioned the 70 odd million Christians who live in India either. With such a varied population, would expect any one person to be “representative” of Indian thought?

    Are you representative of Polish thought? Or of American thought?

  • roger nowosielski

    Ruvy, read between the lines, won’t you?

  • Vijai

    Hi Roger:

    With a large popoulation like in India or China nothing is as it seems. Although I’m Christian most Indians are “cultural Hindus”. I was born, raised, educated in India, worked there, was married there and spent most of my life there before moving out and finally settling in the US. I’m at least partly representative of Indian thought.

    Besides, as Ruvy put it, Hinduism has many variants to it, some of which are pretty divergent from others. The atheistic strain he mentioned is one. Another fact is that although an apparently inclusivistic religion, there are sects within this worldview that adhere strictly to deities and are exclusive in their worship.

    I would add that Indian culture is changing and this has been very rapid in the past 20 years. But this is true for every country. You wouldn’t think of Ruvy as a type of Samuel, wearing an ephod and serving in the temple, would you?

    My faith didn’t originate in India, but it also highly contextualized to India.

  • roger nowosielski

    Thank you both for the lecture, but I was only picking up on your earlier remark about Indian school of thought, Vijai.

    Actually, it’s way too early for me for serious conversation. I would have thought either of you would have a sense of humor enough to see through the satire, especially you, Vijai, since you originated it. Or perhaps you were dead-serious.


  • Vijai

    How to win wannabe-Indians and influence pretend-Indians

  • roger nowosielski

    That’s more like it!

  • Baronius

    This entire thread is based on a misinterpretation. In an article about the relationship between population growth and economic growth, Vijai made some observations about how wealth spreads in a society. He noted something that impressed me: that the exploited are often more fortunate than the abandoned. This isn’t an endorsement of exploitation, nor is it the core of the article. Roger and Cindy are particularly concerned about exploitation, and a misunderstanding developed.

    Healthy economic development brings the most benefit to the most people. The infusion of wealth into a desperately poor area can take place through only a very few channels. Looking at third-world countries, the lifespan goes up and the rate of infant death goes down as wealth increases, and those are good things. We should at least be able to agree on that, and maybe have a new starting point.

  • roger nowosielski

    Quite right, Baronius.

    But then again, the statement to the effect that “perhaps the evil of any economic system is not so much that it exploits the people it employs, but that it leaves out the people it deems unnecessary” isn’t exactly immune from conflicting interpretations. I can’t argue with its rhetorical impact, but rhetorics aside, it could definitely be cleaned-up.

    I am aware, of course, of the context Vijai provided, in particular the statement immediately proceeding it. But think, you didn’t help matters much either by taking that statement out of context and running with it.

    Naturally, the notion of exploitation as the indispensable element of capitalist expansion and third-world development – whether a justifiable thesis or not – became the point of focus.

    The rest is history.

  • Clavos

    Remarkable how Roger can see his way clear to pontificating endlessly (and patronizing) an author without having even read the man’s article.

    Even more remarkable how, when called to task for his uninformed, sloppy thinking, he resorts to ad hominem attacks to defend himself

  • roger nowosielski

    Provocative, yes. Uninformed and sloppy, that’s for you to say and for me dismiss.

    As to pontificating and patronizing and condescending, I plea guilty as charged.

  • roger nowosielski

    Just admit it, Clavos, buddy. You’re not as versatile as I am and it bugs you.

    You just can’t walk a tightrope, can you?

  • Clavos

    Just admit it, Clavos, buddy. You’re not as versatile as I am and it bugs you.

    I’m not, and have no desire to be, your buddy, Roger.

    Regarding your “versatility” vis-a-vis mine: I guess you’re right Roger, I’ve never found myself in a position in which I needed to acquire a CDL. Rather I’ve (very conventionally on my part, I admit) simply kept myself gainfully and fruitfully employed since I was 16.

    So no, I’m not as “versatile” as you. I can’t drive a truck…

  • John Wilson

    Well then, Malthus must be wrong. Or irrelevant. He simply doesn’t apply to human societies. Maybe his theory works for ants or bees. Is there some a priori reason for thinking Malthus is right?

  • Vijai

    JW, please explain your questions. Noone is defending Mulathus or anyone else; and the article is about something entirely different, but if you feel strongly about Malthus, why don’t you clarify it with some more information? The demographic economic paradox is a technical term that is commonly in use.

  • Vijai

    Roger seems to be in good company as far as reading the article is concerned. Maybe I should write shorter ones.

  • roger nowosielski

    That’s a rather low blow, Clavos, I’d say, not because I take it as such – as a matter of fact, I’m proud of the fact, CDL license and all that – but because you intended it to be so.

    You’re kind of showing your hand, aren’t you?

    And just in case you didn’t get it, the buddy reference was just a vernacular. No overture of any kind was intended.

  • STM

    Clav writes: “So no, I’m not as “versatile” as you. I can’t drive a truck …”

    Lol. Classic stuff.

    G’day Vijai. Interesting article. If there are people commenting on it here who haven’t read it in its entirety, that’s only because their attention spans prevent them from paying more than 20 seconds’ attention to any views but their own :)

    Now, on to important stuff: How do you get to watch the cricket in the US, BTW. Do they show it on cable over there now??

    Sachin Tendulkar has just smashed 200 in a limited-overs match against the Jaapies in the ODI in Gwalior, if you didn’t know – the first male player to do so.

    I hope I’m not being presumptuous
    in regard to cricket here, as I have only met one Indian who didn’t like it and he was actually a Fijian who thought lying down in the shade was infinitely better than standing around in the sun.

    I also believe in change through sport … an abstract concept, perhaps, but a goodie.

  • Clavos

    That’s a rather low blow, Clavos…You’re kind of showing your hand, aren’t you?

    Of course I am, Roger. I’m an open book — no dissimulation here.

    And just in case you didn’t get it, the buddy reference was just a vernacular.

    Oh, I got it alright. I didn’t care for your presumption…

  • roger nowosielski

    That wasn’t even a presumption, Clavos.
    To tell the truth, it was a dig, and you knew it, and you didn’t like it.

    Too bad.

  • Vijai

    Hi STM, you can get in on ESPN, though it is usually a premium subscription, not the regular channel. I haven’t got it, though many friends have. If it was presumption on your part, you presumed well! I grew up p[laying cricket and played a disastrous 2 seasons at a local cricket club in the US, but it hasn’t cured me of the habit.

    Good to hear from you. Where are you from? Yup, heard about Sachin’s record from Facebook friends first, then the news, and you!

  • STM

    Vijai: “Where are you from?”

    That sunbaked island continent to the south and east of India … the other arch-rivals in green and gold :)

    Glad you can get to to watch it mate! One of the things I found a bit difficult with regard to being in the US was that I couldn’t watch my favourite sports – cricket and rugby – on TV. Baseball’s not nearly half the fun of cricket, and beside, I don’t understand it.

    I chose to live in Oz instead, despite being offered a job in America, because the lifestyle is better and the opportunities are much the same.

    It’s a bit more laidback than America, too, which is probably why most Aussies prefer home to anywhere else.

    Cheers. Keep contributing to BC. It’s good fun.

  • Clavos

    To tell the truth, it was a dig, and you knew it, and you didn’t like it.

    Don’t flatter yourself, Roger.

  • STM

    Mate, I take it Rog ain’t on your Chrissie card list.

  • roger nowosielski

    Well, tell me then how you like it and I might oblige.

    PS: You can always email me if it’s too embarrassing to say it in public.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    STM -

    Cricket – probably the single biggest reason that those from the Commonwealth do better in school than Americans. Why? Because it’s so doggone complicated that I still haven’t figured it out!

    C++? No problem! Calculus? Sorta-kinda, but I still passed! Running a steam power plant? No problem!

    Cricket? Um…just wondering, do you have remedial cricket courses there for those just arrived from America?

  • roger nowosielski

    Actually, a very sensible article, Wayfarer.

    Sorry for having given you such a hard time. Thank Mr. Baronius for pulling a sentence out of context, for it was that I was mainly responding to. See, Baronius has a propensity for picking out what suits his soul, omitting parts he’s somewhat uncomfortable with. I should have known better and overlooked his one-sided iteration. It’s my mistake I didn’t.

    (By way of explanation, I’m usually very selective about what I read – simply a matter of allocating one’s resources – but your article was not effort wasted.)

    I like your ending in particular:

    “The direction of capital into future opportunities is the spirit of free enterprise, but it takes visionaries to initiate this into populations deemed the refuse of the earth. Perhaps the failing of capitalism is that it has failed to recognize the ability of people to emancipate themselves and therefore stayed its hand in investing into their future.”

    Whether I believe in “the spirit of free enterprise” is neither here nor there. Perhaps under ideal conditions I might – and I stress the word “ideal” because it takes special people to make something special and worthwhile what in the hands of most becomes corrupt and degenerates into a scourge.

    But if your point is that capitalism has failed, and is failing, for not looking beyond itself, for not being the engine of spreading the wealth and emancipation to all peoples and nations (so as to include even “the refuse”), if your appeal is for vision and visionaries, for the possibility of the system recapturing its spirit and turn itself from its evil and self-serving ways, then I am in total agreement with you.

  • Vijai

    “…total agreement with you. ” Indeed. I thought might agree- a good lesson for us both.

  • Vijai


    The rules get complicated when you start playing but the basic idea is to hit the ball and accumuate runs, except you run between 2 bases and not around 4. There are rules for pitching (bowling), covering the base (wicket) with your body so as not to get out, etc. But the rules become clearer once you start playing or watching.

    It’s not as complicated a football (gridiron) is- nowadays there are simpler versions of the game which are less cluttered with tules and more attuned to the fullcontact-type sports, thanks mainly to STM’S countrymen who believe that if a pitcher (bowler) cannot get the batsman out, the next best thing is to take him out by well aimed fast balls on his certain body parts. When these balls come at 100 mph as said countrymen are wont to do, the batsman needs to defend not only his wicket but his life.

    Hope this clarifies.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Vijai -

    It’s clear as mud!

    It’s like I said – there’s some kind of mental block for Americans to understand this precursor to our much-beloved national game.

    There are a handful of things that I’m determined to understand before I die. One’s calculus. Another’s stocks and options. The third – and most incomprehensible – is cricket. Wish me luck!

  • STM

    Nah, simple game … Vijair is absolutely spot on Glenn.

    It’s just about two teams, one using the bat and one using the ball and fielding, until it’s their turn to have a bat.

    An accumulation of runs, running between two bases (wickets), or hitting them beyound the boundary (fair over the boundary, six runs, over the boundary along the ground, four runs).

    And as Vijair says, hurling a small, hard, wooden ball at 100mph at a batsman.

    That started happening in the 1930s and we’ve never looked back. It certainly ups the ante on the excitement factor – and separates the men from the boys.

    That’s the basics … the nuances are a bit more complicated, but armed with the knowledge above, a Yank could watch it and understand it (one American bloke we had here said he was going to the cricket, and asked what he should take. Some wag suggested: “A book, mate”.)

    We love our oval-ball full contact sports down here (no pads!) but cricket is still the national game. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that everything in India and Australia is kind of weighed up against cricket and its importance to life, love and meaning of the universe. I kid you not – the most important job in Australia is not that of Prime Minister but captain of the Australian cricket team.

    On the score of unflinching batsmen with balls of steel facing down rock-hard 100mph missiles, it’s possibly why Aussies like Indians … the bastards can really bat, and they don’t take a backward step.

    The aforementioned Sachin Tendulkar being a classic example, although he’s certainly not alone, eith now or historically.

    And now they can bowl too …

  • STM

    Sorry Vijai, slip of the keyboard on the name.