Friday, February 25, 2011

X Marks The Spot: Demographics and the Middle East

I think William Pesek has this pegged just right (excerpt):

Sex Ratio Does Magic in China Amid Egypt Effect: William Pesek

Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- The world abhors China’s one-child policy. Officials in Beijing must be quietly toasting its very existence as the Middle East burns.

A common thread linking events in Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere is big populations of disaffected youth. They’re angry about greed, corruption, the rich-poor divide and unaccountable leaders. Many Chinese harbor similar gripes, yet demographics works in the Communist Party’s favor.

Had China not instituted population control in 1979, there would be tens of millions more underemployed and aggrieved young men milling about in China’s cities. Just the type to foment revolution -- a Tiananmen Square 2.0. Only, they were never born. Turns out, the policy is a boon for Chinese regime control.

The longer-term implications are far less advantageous. China’s working-age population will start shrinking in 2020, denting growth. For now, though, demographics is a key reason China isn’t Egypt. It also could mean slower yuan gains amid fear that less growth will fan unrest…

He has a very valid point – lots of unemployed, badly educated young men make for high crime rates, a vulnerability to extremism, and social instability. Couple that with unrepresentative authoritarian regimes, poor public institutions, a narrow base of economic activity, and the possibilities for social mobilisation that the internet offers, and you have a recipe for violent change.

China’s still vulnerable despite the one-child policy, because of selective abortions and a cultural preference for boys. But it’s no where near the kind of massive sex and age imbalances that appear in the Middle East.

The Middle East and North Africa are notorious for having patchy statistics, even on their populations, but try following these links:

  1. China
  2. Western Asia (overall)
  3. Algeria
  4. Egypt
  5. Jordan
  6. Libya
  7. Occupied Palestine
  8. Qatar
  9. Saudi Arabia
  10. Syria
  11. Tunisia
  12. United Arab Emirates
  13. Yemen

See what I mean? The sex imbalance in the UAE is frightening, but this is mostly from expatriates and other immigrants attracted by the Emirates’ high growth rates and economic opportunities. For the other countries, sex imbalances are milder, but youth ratios are higher – in some cases like Libya and Egypt, there’s a “bulge” in the critical 20-30 age cohorts.

I won’t say that the demographics explain all that has happened in the past few weeks – but they are the foundation on which every other factor stands.

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