On my currently ignored Kindle (I’ve refound the joys of the university library – an incredibly rich resource I’m lucky enough to have access to) is a book on my “to-read” list: How Civilisations Die (and How Islam is Dying, Too) by David P Goldman.  I will read it and give you a book review about it sometime soon. In lieu of that, I found (and read!) an article by the same author about Iran’s foreign policy and how it is analogous in some ways to Germany in 1938.  Now, I don’t necessarily share the author’s pessimism, but that could be me not wanting to share it rather than based upon any rational calculation.  Even if you don’t agree with all of Goldman’s analysis, the general picture he paints is grim.

“Dying civilizations are the most dangerous, and Iran is dying. Its total fertility rate probably stands at just 1.6 children per female, the same level as Western Europe, a catastrophic decline from 7 children per female in the early 1980s. Iran’s present youth bulge will turn into an elderly dependent problem worse than Europe’s in the next generation and the country will collapse. That is why war is likely, if not entirely inevitable.”

Due to this collapse in fertility rate, there will be in a generation in Iran two elderly dependents for every three workers.  At the moment, there are 7 elderly dependents for every 93 workers today. As Goldman states, this decline is “virtually irreversible” and is a “death sentence for a poor country”. 

This fertility decline has not gone unnoticed, the United States Institute of Peace wrote in April 2013 that:

“Iran’s low fertility rate has produced a rapidly aging population, according to a new U.N. report. The rate has declined from 2.2 births per woman in 2000 to 1.6 in 2012. This has pushed the median age of Iranians to 27.1 years in 2010, up from 20.8 years in 2000. The median age could reach 40 years by 2030, according to the U.N. Population Division. An elderly and dependent population may heavily tax Iran’s public health infrastructure and social security network.”

The conclusion that Goldman draws is that Iran’s leaders are panicking and this makes them as dangerous as Hitler to the Jewish people:

“Iran’s theocracy displays the same apocalyptic panic about its demographic future that Hitler expressed about the supposed decline of the so-called Aryan race. Unlike Hitler, whose racial paranoia ran wild, Iran’s presentiment of national death is well founded on the facts. That is not to understate Iran’s paranoia. In 2013 Iran’s vice president alleged that Jews ran the international drug trade. In a June 2013 Facebook post earlier this year Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei  wrote, “U.S. President is being elected [sic] only from two parties while Zionist regime is controlling everything from behind the scenes.” That captions a cartoon showing fat men with moneybags for heads under a Star of David.  Iranian officials routinely threaten to “annihilate the Zionist regime.”

What is different is that while Germany ‘s decline wasn’t inevitable, Iran’s decline is almost irreversible and Iran’s leaders know this:

“Its universities have competent demographers who helped frame the first studies of Iran’s fertility decline, and its leaders have inveighed for years against the failure of Iranian women to bear children. Persian-language websites warn of the tidal wave of elderly dependents who will swamp Iran’s economy.”

Goldman then explains why this will result in Iranian aggression against Israel. I’m not so concerned about this here, although it is interesting to read.  He concludes that:

“Israel thus faces a new Hitler and the threat of a new Holocaust. There is no way to portray the situation in a less alarming light.”

While the conclusion might be a little sanguinary, it certainly makes sense that the demographic decline in countries affects their outlook and foreign relations. Let us hope that Iran’s demographic collapse (the steepest in world history) is not a factor in a Middle Eastern conflict.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...