Dr Rudolf G. Adam is a distinguished German diplomat, writer and intel guy. He recently penned an excellent article, “Looming demographic shifts in the 21st century” which deserves special attention. He focuses on something often overlooked: the fusion of demography and geopolitics.
Historically, population correlates with geopolitical clout. More people mean a larger economy, flourishing markets, and stronger military, leading to international engagement. While it might take time for a populous country to accrue such clout (China), the process has been repeated time and again.
But will this happen for the fast-growing emerging nations in sub-Saharan Africa? Domestic conditions can make a huge difference. Dr Adam:
A large population that is well-fed and well-qualified is a precondition for economic, political and military power. However, if population growth exceeds economic growth; if educational opportunities fall short of demand; and if agricultural lands get overcrowded and fragmented, continued population growth can lead to instability, unrest and impoverishment. Such developments could provoke violent conflicts over scarce resources, which in turn could tempt foreign powers to meddle and secure strategic assets for themselves.
That is the sub-Saharan conundrum that could preclude the region taking center stage in world affairs. Inveterate tribalism and endemic violence stymie development. African up-and-comers seek opportunity abroad. The resultant brain drain doesn’t help. Sub-Saharan Africa remains critically dependent on foreign investment and technology. That will not change anytime soon.
Hard to believe, but in 1950 Europe had twice as many people as all of Africa. Now Africa is projected to have ten times the population of Europe by 2100.
Decline of the West
In the late 1800s Europe made up 12 percent of the global population. The US was growing by leaps and bounds. “Western Christendom” reigned supreme. Since the Industrial Revolution the West’s dynamic economies had improved living conditions and large families propelled migration, vastly expanding Western civilization.
The 18th and 19th centuries were the glory days of Western expansion. In 1900, Westerners, then defined as the world’s European-descended peoples – aka Caucasians or Whites – were almost 30 percent of world population, and the West held political dominion over most of the globe.
Today Whites are about 12 percent of the global population and are decreasing in number. Most Western countries are multiracial. The US will be majority non-White by 2030. The character and culture of a society inevitably changes in harmony with its racial and ethnic composition. The collective West is now the world’s melting pot. The daunting challenge is that too much diversity erodes social cohesion.
The West today is essentially the American Empire, which is on the wane, with diminishing global influence. While signs of this are everywhere evident, recent developments have laid bare Western vulnerability.
Changing world order
On February 24, 2022, the geopolitical world permanently changed. Russian troops invaded Ukraine, intervening in the bloody conflict that had been raging since 2014. The knee-jerk response of US/NATO was to impose onerous economic sanctions against Russia. They flopped. But they did effectively expel Russia (considered only marginally Western by some) from the West. Fifty years ago this would have devastated the country in short order. Not today.
The sanctions were a grievous miscalculation because the West no longer controls the world economy. Global population shifts have altered world power dynamics.
Today most of the world’s industrial capacity is outside the West and not controlled by Western interests. China is the world’s largest economy by far in purchasing power parity. That will be the case until at least 2050.
Sanctions led Russia to look East. The seizure of Russian dollar-denominated assets terrified developing nations, resonating throughout the Global South as neocolonialism. Weaponizing the world’s dominant reserve currency has not gone down well, especially in Asia, the world’s industrial center of gravity. The situation today is that Asia’s rise is at America’s expense.
‘Give me your tired, your poor…’
The most massive migrations in history are underway with no end in sight. Third world youth are going west, taking advantage of globalism’s open borders and open markets. For the US this meant cheap labor coming in, well-paying jobs going out. It doesn’t matter who gets hurt. Mammon über alles. The produce-and-consume mentality has subordinated family life to second fiddle.
Recall (per Dickens) Ebenezer Scrooge’s misanthropic view of the poor: “If they would rather die, they’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”In the late 20th century, Asia had a “surplus population.” This spelled opportunity for multinational business. Profit-by-any-means-necessary meant that shareholder value trumped the welfare of American workers. Asia had hordes of impoverished working-age folks. Cheap labor! Old Scrooge had no idea of poor people’s utility.
Soon enough Ross Perot’s predicted “giant sucking sound” of living-wage jobs leaving the US became reality. Most of those jobs went to Asia. Today the consumer markets of Asia far surpass those of the US.
Nothing lasts forever
In 2000, every Chinese retiree was supported by seven workers. Today it is only 2.5. While China is on track for solid economic performance until 2050, what then? Their population is dropping, and the government is working full throttle to spur fertility. Ageing societies grapple with rising pension and healthcare expenses. With fewer children, vital social networks (extended family and community) wither.
Major Western countries are becoming thoroughly hybrid polities riven by cultural wars and diminishing standards of living. Russia is currently united by the war; but with Western sanctions and a rising Muslim population, they tilt to Asia. Fast-developing India, which has endemic caste and religious tensions, recorded below-replacement fertility for the first time last year.
It is demographic transformation that has enabled the new multipolar world. Dr Adam:
Demographic change is like a tectonic shift: movement builds up imperceptibly, and then it triggers a devastating earthquake. The 21st century promises to be violent and full of upheavals.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.