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The commentator T. Greer, who incidentally has a wonderful blog of his own, writes in response to my Charlie Hebdo post:

“And because of the critical import of IQ to virtually all aspects of human behavior, it explains a whole host of other domains – crime, unemployment, etc. – in which Muslim immigrants continue to underperform.”

Things are more complicated than this.

They sure are.

Today I have been reading through the data in the 2010 UNODC report on global crime and have been a bit surprised with what I’ve found. SS Africa is of course a pretty violent, crime ridden place. But the Near East isn’t. Rape, robbery, murders — on everything but kidnappings M.E. countries are safer than Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia, and in some measures, China (!). Folks in the Middle East might be clannish, but they are not unusually violent.

There are some caveats here.

For instance, international rape statistics are all but useless. If you took them at face value, as a woman you would be terrified at stepping outside the door in Sweden, while not having a second thought about doing so in Pakistan.

Needless to say, that is not how things work. For a rape to happen, you need four male witnesses in Pakistan, and just one dissatisfied woman in Sweden.

The only crime statistics that are really are more or less consistent throughout the world, with the exception perhaps of some undercounting in the most Third World places, are homicides. Below is a map of the murder rate per 100,000 people as of the latest data.

Source: Wikipedia.

Source: Wikipedia.

The Middle East in general has higher criminality than both Western Europe and East Asia, including China. (Note that the homicide rate of the UK, France, and China is at exactly 1.0/100,000, just marginally missing out on the map’s lightest color). But it is not any higher than Eastern Europe’s, and very much substantially lower than Latin America’s

But lets say the stats are correct. Where does that leave us? Why do global IQ levels correlate poorly with global crime rates, violence, and terrorism?

Well, I wouldn’t say that the correlation is exactly bad. Sub-Saharan Africa is right about where we would expect it to be. Latin America is somewhat more violent than what we would expect from its IQ, and the Middle East less. At first glance, this is a real issue, because they are otherwise, at least superficially, similar (broadly similar average IQs and levels of economic development, high religiosity, high machismo). Meanwhile, by far the lowest violence countries – those in Western Europe and East Asia – are also those with the highest average measured IQs. The US is a substantial outlier, more violent that it “should” be. But once we adjust for its specific demographic characteristics – after all, your typical American suburbia with “good schools” are no more dangerous than any European or East Asian city – the puzzle resolves itself.

Source: The Bell Curve (Charles Murray and Richard Hernnstein).

Source: The Bell Curve (Charles Murray and Richard Hernnstein).

And as Charles Murray showed, IQ is a very good predictor of criminality rates amongst US whites. Why does it work less well for the world at large? Mostly because the world at large is a great deal less homogenous, and as such several other major factors, or “multipliers,” come into play. I think there are three really big ones.

Agriculture: Agriculture was generally associated with the appearance of centralized states, which gradually usurped a monopoly on violence. There is a tenfold decrease in homicide rates between hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists (an anthropological fact recently popularized by Steven Pinker). And another tenfold decrease between early agriculturalists and advanced agriculturalists, as happened in Early Modern Europe and probably considerably earlier in China. The very first civilizations sprang up in what is now the Near East and Egypt, and through shackles, stones and scimitars, they’ve been weeding out the more individually psychopathic elements of their population for a very, very long time. These selective pressures had considerably less time to run in Africa and Latin America, before they were extinguished more or less altogether by human rights interventions (fun fact: Venezuela was the world’s first country to abolish capital punishment).

Alcohol: Crime rates were notoriously high among heavy-drinking Irish immigrants in the 19th century US, but over time they gradually sobered up and converged with the European average. Russia, and eastern Slavs in general, are a huge homicide outlier relative to the Caucasoid average. This is overwhelmingly a function of the region’s alcoholism epidemic, in particular of vodka binge drinking, which began to soar in the 1960s, peaked in the 1990s, and only began to sustainably retreat in the past decade. One estimate (Nemtsov 2003) showed that alcohol was involved in some 72% of Russian homicides. Your typical Russian homicide isn’t getting shot in the streets by some young punk, but a bunch of middle-aged dudes hacking each other to death in their vodka-soaked apartments (just read through scandalous magazine The Exile’s archived “death porn” columns from the 2000s and you’ll get the idea). Remove that, and Russia’s homicide rates become almost European. The most alcoholized Western European country is Finland, whose homicide rates are twice to two-and-a-half times as high as that of Sweden, Denmark, or Norway (all of which have far more Third World immigrants), and the same as Greece (which is far more macho, in contrast to the Finns’ more depressive, placid personalities, and is up to 0.5SD lower in IQ). Alcoholism is endemic in peoples who made the transition to modernity, or at least its accoutrements, without the interval of agriculture. Greenland has a very high homicide rate. So, too, do the northernmost Canadian provinces. In Russia, of the ten oblasts with the highest homicide rates, four are majority populated by indigenous peoples (including the top three), while another three have very substantial indigenous minorities.

Blue = boobs, red = butts. Source: Pornhub.

Blue = boobs, red = butts. Source: Pornhub.

Alphas: Latin Americans are known for their machismo. So are Africans and Arabs. The men have an acutely developed sense of jealosy, displaying an aggressively possessive attitude to women rarely seen nowadays in the West, and both the men and womenfolk respect traditional masculinity. Those who do not are despised, and are called “faggots” without the slightest trace of irony. They prefer butts over boobs, a macho/alpha/r-strategy vs. wimpy/beta/K-strategy Rorschach test if there ever one. You can see it on the roads, and you can see it in the nightclubs. That said, I would wager that as it relates to individual violence, there is a very big difference between the machismo of Latin Americans and Africans, and the machismo of Arabs. It all comes down to family types. Both Africa and Latin America are characterized by exogamous family types, while the Arabs are highly endogamous. The former is characterized by intensive competition for mates, with women enjoying a large degree of social and sexual freedom – which translates to hypergamy in practice – so there is a large payoff to being all rough and badass. In contrast, in most of the Muslim world and virtually all of the Arab world, by the logic of the endogamous community family and its institution of cousin marriage, many men already have a partner “pre-arranged,” and if not, there is not much they can do about it anyway, no matter how hard they posture. They have to act much more respectable because marriages are arranged through families.

One obvious factor I left out is the prevalence of guns. Though I am pro-gun myself, I think it is very likely that in net terms, they do increase homicide rates – after all, killing someone with a pistol is much easier than with a knife – although they might well reduce other crimes such as burglaries. But the overall effect appears to be much smaller than that of IQ, agriculture, alcohol, and alphas.

So, to return to T. Greer’s comment:

There are other factors — sociological or genetic — that need to be part of this discussion. IQ doesn’t take us the whole way.

Add in (limited historical exposure to) agriculture, (vulnerability to) alcohol, and (unrestrained) alpha males as multipliers.

Higher IQ is invariably better than low IQ. All of the high IQ regions (>100) have low homicide rates.

While Arabs are more macho than Westerners, they are restrained by their traditional family system. Islam prohibits alcohol, and the peoples of the Middle East have a longer history of agriculture than any other.

If you’re affected by just one of those three factors, you’re still basically fine.For instance, Finland is substantially more alcoholized – if to nowhere near as big an extent as Russia or Ukraine, let alone Greenlanders and Yakuts – than either the US or the rest of Western Europe. But its homicide rate is only very modestly higher than what it “should be” going just from its average IQ.

But when you start getting affected by two or more of these factors, things start getting hairy fast.

How would this theory logically pan out in various regions?

Africa: Short history of agriculture, too many alphas, low IQs. The traditional family system, which is polygamistic, just accentuates the problem, as female hypergamy and hence intense male competition is unleashed in full. Result – Very high homicide rates.

Latin America: Short history of agriculture, too many alphas, mediocre IQs. In some Latin American cities, as a man, you are as likely to die a violent death as you’d have had as a member of a constantly warring hunter-gatherer band in the Paleolithic. Result – Very high homicide rates.

Middle East: Very long history of agriculture, mediocre IQs. The Islam they currently practice bans alcohol entirely, and pretty successfully at that. While they are macho, this personality factor is neutralized by their family system (it is worth noting that Turkey and Iran, where the family system isn’t as rigidly endogamous as among the Arabs, also happen to have generally higher homicide rates despite being richer and more developed). That leaves just the low IQs. Thus, their homicide rates are substantially higher than the most civilized parts of the world, i.e. Western Europe or East Asia, but no higher than in Eastern Europe, and much lower than in Africa or Latin America.

Eastern Slavs: Respectable IQs similar to Mediterranean Europeans, as are machismo levels, but significantly less exposure to agriculture. And a lot more alcohol. So as expected, homicide rates amongst South Slavs, e.g. Serbs and West Slavs, e.g. Poles are now pretty low – almost as low as in Western Europe proper (though against that you have to adjust for them having far fewer Third World immigrants). The East Slavs and Balto-Finnish groups, however, are still in the grip of a strong if receding alcohol epidemic, so their homicide rates are considerably inflated, if to nowhere near African or Latin American levels. Even in Russia itself, homicide rates amongst ethnic Russians veer higher as you go north, where Slavic Russians admixed with Balto-Finns. The Balto-Finns were the last major European ethnic group to adopt agriculture. (While the alcohol epidemic as of today is less severity in Estonia or Latvia than in Russia, to say nothing of Finland, that is a function of their greater socio-economic progress).

Indigenous northern peoples: IQs aren’t bad, but short history of agriculture, plus alcohol. They aren’t near as macho as the above groups; children would have needed much more paternal investment to survive in the frozen north, hence too much male competition would have been an evolutionary dead end. But their alcohol epidemics tend to be so vast in scope that it really needs to be observed to be appreciated.

19th century frontier Americans: Had extremely high homicide rates. In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker gives homicide rate figures of 50/100,000 for Abilene, Kansas, 100/100,000 for Dodge City (no wonder you want to get the hell out of it), 229/100,000 in Fort Griffin, Texas, and 1,500/100,000 (sic) in Wichita. Back then, apart from being a bit less intelligent than today (Flynn Effect), Americans were also far more alcoholic. This is little known now, but back then, the US was known as the “Alcoholic Republic,” with alcohol consumption per capita being roughly twice what it is today despite much lower incomes. The frontier towns would not only have been more alcoholized than average, but were also extremely macho, explained in theory by the high male-to-female ratio, and immemorialized by the lingering cultural legacy of the Colts and cowboys of the Wild West.

 
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One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.

russian-cross

But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”

russian-hexagon

This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

(1) More than anything else, Russia’s demographic crisis during the past two decades has been advanced as a quintessential element of its decline. Phrases such as the aforementioned “Russian cross”, the “demographic death spiral”, and “”the dying bear” proliferated in respectable journals and books. Until a few years ago, some entirely serious demographic projections had Russia’s population falling to as low as 130 million by 2015. This “deathbed demography” imagery was in turn exploited by many journalists to implicit condemn the rottenness of the Russian state in general and Putin in particular. Will they now rush to trumpet Russia’s demographic recovery, which was only possible through directed state intervention to improve the population’s health, cut down on the alcohol epidemic, and provide generous benefits for families with second children? For some reason I suspect the amount of ink that will be spilt on this will be but a tiny, minuscule fraction of that used to herald Russia’s demographic apocalypse. They will predictably move on to other failures and inadequacies – both real or perceived.

(2) For many years there has existed the notion among some demographers that once a society’s total fertility falls to a “lowest-low” level, there can be no return. It was theorized that the social values of childlessness and small families would spread, and that the resultant rapid aging would make it impossible for young families to have many children anyway. Russia’s total fertility rate fell to a record low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999, but rose above 1.30 in 2006, reached 1.61 in 2011, and rose further to an estimated 1.70 in 2012. It is thus so far the biggest and most important exception to this “lowest-low fertility trap hypothesis.” In reality, what was actually happening was that many Russian women were postponing the formation of families – a process common to most nations that reach a certain level of development. This in turn laid the foundations for the mini-baby boom that were are now seeing.

(3) There was likewise widespread pessimism that Russia’s life expectancy would ever significantly improve for the better. In the best case, it was assumed it would creep upwards, reaching 70 years or so in another few decades. However, the experience of other regions with Russia’s mortality profile, such as North Karelia in the 1980′s or the Baltic states in the 2000′s – very high death rates among middle aged men who drank too much – suggested that rapid improvements are possible with the right mix of policy interventions. This has happened. Russia’s life expectancy in 2012 was about 71 years, still nothing to write home about; however, it was higher than it ever was in the USSR, where it reached a peak of 70.0 years at the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in 1987, and equal to Estonia’s in 2002, Hungary’s in 1998, and Finland’s in 1973. If it were now to follow in Estonia’s mortality trajectory – and this is not an unreasonable supposition, considering Russia is now passing the tough anti-alcohol and anti-smoking taxes and regulations typical of developed countries – it would be on track to reach a life expectancy of 75 years by 2020 (Putin’s goal of 2018 is however probably too optimistic).

russia-deaths-from-external-causes

In particular, it should be noted that the worst types of deaths – those from external causes – have been cut down the most radically. Though they only account for a small proportion of total deaths, they tend to happen at earlier ages and thus have a significant impact on the workforce and overall life expectancy out of proportion to their actual prevalence. A calculation from 2005 showed that the effect of a 40% decline in deaths from external causes would be as good as a 20% decline in deaths from all circulatory diseases at extending male life expectancy. This has been achieved; as of 2012 it was at 125/100,000, down from an average of about 250/100,000 during the “demographic crisis” period but still far, far short of the 40/100,000 rates more typical of developed countries with no alcoholism epidemics. But as I’ve said before and will say again, while Russia’s “hypermortality” crisis isn’t anywhere near as severe as it once was, it is nothing to write home about; a great deal remains to be done. But the trend-lines are pointing firmly down, and the economic crisis of 2009 had zero effect on the underlying processes. This is extremely encouraging, as it implies that Russia has now become a “normal country” in which improvements in health and mortality steadily advance regardless of economic fluctuations.

I have anticipated many of these developments, and indeed, ventured forth with projections of my own. Here are some predictions made on the basis of my research and analysis from 2008:

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest. CHECK.
  2. Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest. CHECK.
  3. Russia’s total life expectancy will exceed 68 years by 2010 and reach 75 years by 2020. Looks increasingly LIKELY.

There is no need for false modesty. I put my neck on the line and came out best against most of the established expert opinion.

But this is no time to rest on laurels and reminsce on past glories. The 2010 Census is out. Demographic data up till 2012 is available. It’s been a long four years since I wrote that model. It is high time to update it. I’ve been planning to do that for my book anyway, but now that I think about it, why not publish a paper at the same time? I have long been a fan of open access anyway, especially as regards academia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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In my previous demography post, I argued that for all intents and purposes, Russia’s “demographic crisis” can be reasonably argued to have ended. Population growth is now consistently positive since 2009, and as of last year, the country’s natural decrease was a mere 131,000. This is a massive improvement over the 500,000-1,000,000 annual natural decrease seen in 1993-2006.

The latest figures continue to beat all expectations (even my relatively optimistic ones) in the first three months of this year. The crude birth rate has risen by 6.5% over the same period last year, implying a c.8% rise in the total fertility rate (slightly higher since the ratio of women of childbearing age is now falling). Projecting it for the rest of the year – a risky assumption, granted, but this is back of the envelope stuff anyway – would give a TFR of about 1.73 for 2012 (from c.1.60 in 2011). This would make it broadly comparable to the Netherlands (1.79), Iran (1.70), Canada (1.67), and Estonia (1.62); below the US, France, the UK, and Scandinavia (1.8-2.0); and above Germany, the Med, Japan, South Korea, Poland, China, and the Christian ex-USSR (1.2-1.5). It is time to stop thinking of Russia as a low-fertility country; it is firmly in the middle of the pack among industrialized countries. It is particularly noteworthy that whereas Russia is frequently described as the sick man of the BRIC’s (in demographic terms), it is now probably closer to Brazil (1.86) than it is to China (c.1.4-1.5).

The numbers of deaths fell by 3.3%, and this is a trend that is likely to persist as excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco are raised at a more rapid pace now that the elections are done with. As a result, the natural population loss in the first quarter this year is now only 35,000 relative to 79,000 last year. There is now a distinct chance that natural population growth will actually be positive this year – linearly extrapolating from this quarter (which is of course an unreliable method, but whatever) would give 1,793,828*1.065 births and 1,925,036*0.967 deaths = 1,920,426 – 1,861,509 = c.60k increase – although I’d still give it less than even odds. As graphs are worth many words…

January and February were both record-breaking months for post-Soviet births, continuing on from record birth numbers in August-September and November-December in 2011.

Monthly deaths have also set new records this year for both January and March, following on from remarkable improvements throughout 2011 as a whole – when new records were the rule rather than the exception.

As you can see above, Russia’s natural population growth was essentially stable for the second half of 2011. If current trends continue, there may be significant natural population increase in the second half of 2012.

For more of these graphs stretching to 2002, see the old post by Sergey Slobodyan on this blog: Russia’s Demographic Resilience II.

Needless to say, overall population growth is absolutely certain, because of immigration (which increased to 320,000 last year).

Above is a long time graph of births and deaths by months from 2006 to today. A linear extrapolation (very crude) will see the two cross sometime in mid-2012.

Here is a graph of population natural increase. The pattern again is clear; it has virtually edged up to zero.

The structure of deaths is also moving in a highly encouraging direction, with improvements in “deaths from vices” (suicide, homicide, alcohol poisoning) being the most notable. That is good because these deaths accrue to younger people, so the positive impact on life expectancy (not to mention their especially tragic nature) is particularly strong. In the first three months, deaths from alcohol poisoning fell by 23% (so they are now as low as during the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcoholism campaign), homicides fell by 10%, and suicides fell by 5% (and are now lower than they’ve ever been since at least 1970). The only downside was a 3% increase in deaths from transport accidents, but this is presumably a function of more vehicle ownership given the improvements in other areas.

A potentially serious development, but one that isn’t, is an increase in the infant mortality rate from 7.1/1000 to 8.4/1000 in the first three months of this year relative to the same period last year. That is because this year Russia switched to the WHO definition of infant mortality as the share of life births, as opposed to the old system that excluded very premature babies for the first 7 days of their lives from the statistics. The old system underestimated the infant mortality rate by 22%-25%, so an 18% increase now is actually a modest improvement in real terms.

Some conclusions and predictions to round off the post.

  • Russia should no longer be considered a low-fertility country (by industrialized world standards), though it is still a high-mortality one.
  • This year, 2012, will see further improvements, with life expectancy rising to about 71.0-71.5 (barring a repeat of 2010′s monster heatwave or other environmental cataclysm); TFR rising to around 1.70; close to zero natural population growth (though probably still slightly negative, maybe -50,000); and substantial overall population growth once immigration is accounted for.
  • The Western media will continue shrieking about the Dying Bear and variations thereof.
(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Sometimes a single picture is worth a thousand words. This is one.

Though Russia remains a highly dangerous country by developed country standards, it has improved immeasurably in the past decade. Fewer Russians today die from alcohol poisonings, homicides, suicides, and even – despite a near doubling of car ownership rates – transport accidents that they did in the 1990′s to early 2000′s. Indeed, most of these “non-natural deaths” indicators are back to the levels of the late 1980′s, coinciding with Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign.

The importance of this decline shouldn’t be understated. Though they only account for a small proportion of total deaths, they tend to happen at earlier ages and thus have a significant impact on the workforce and overall life expectancy. Furthermore, the fact that the pace of improvements actually speeded up during the crisis indicates that Russia is becoming a “normal country” in the sense that health improvement trends have decoupled from economic fluctuations.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Following on from my last post in which I revealed the neoliberal, anti-Russian inclinations of Dmitry Medvedev (pictured left, sporting his new Hitler mustache), let us know consider another question – what to make of his much vaunted liberalism, his humaneness, his consciousness? The Western media as with their liberal Russian running dogs have traditionally presented DAM as the polar opposite of the evil statist Putin, who we are told worships the authoritarian values of the KGB and seeks to turn Russia into a neo-Soviet Union. Now look at the following comments.

1. “Talking of mandatory treatment – one can talk about anything. But mandatory treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction is ultimately worse for ourselves. We have to convince that person, encourage an internal motivation, and understanding of the necessity to conquer these ills. It is important that that person doesn’t feel himself alone, so that he understands and feels that if he fell into this trap, he should feel that he hasn’t been abandoned, that he isn’t alone, that his family and friends, relatives, parents won’t abandon him to the winds, nor will his school, his work collective, wherever he may be studying or working, the state won’t abandon him.”

2. “Concerning testing schoolchildren for drugs, I would be satisfied with any manner in which it is carried out. Practically continuous testing. A situation should be created where not testing becomes inconvenient for the schools… Drugs influence the demographic situation and destroy our nation’s gene pool, people’s health… Everyone, be they young or old, getting a job, should have to think that even if he consumes drugs even just once it will be discovered, and this will stop him from further drugs consumption… I think this idea should be developed. I instruct the Minister of Education* to look at this in the sense of updating the policy documents of state and private universities… The popularization of drugs consumption is simply a crime, not only legally but morally. I am simply shocked by the degree of this popularization on certain Internet information portals.”

One of these statements belongs to a Dostoevskian appreciation of humanity’s universal brotherhood and respect for true liberal values. The other belongs to the world of the Soviet Union, of modern-day GULAG’s (such as the US prison-industrial complex) locking up 1% of their citizenry, of moral hysteria and populist threats against things like the Internet or night clubs which the speaker doesn’t understand. Dear reader, care to guess which statement is whose?

Putin is the nuanced humanitarianism. And it is, of course, the Medvedev Abomination which has moralistic authoritarianism oozing out of every one of its slimey pores.

All those ideas go against the growing consensus of global researchers on the drug problem. They are also deeply illiberal and socially unjust, values which DAM pretends to champion. Just what is he smoking???

For Medvedev is the type of “liberal” who believes dropping bombs can bring democracy. He is the type of person who wants to lock up poor people – say, drug users, or homeless people who steal $100 – while letting billionaire crooks go free; granted Medvedev hasn’t outright admitted to wanting to pardon Khodorkovsky, but his language on the matter – one of “neutral” legalese mumbo jumbo that no normal person cares about – as well as calls for MBK’s pardons from his circles (by their friends shall ye know them) reveal his true standing for what it is – a stooge of finance capital.

In other words, he is a neoliberal Stalinist.

If Medvedev gets a second term in the Presidency, then Russia will evidently not be long for this world. That is why Russians have to take their country back. Get him out of the Kremlin, or burn him out!!!

* The Education Minister Andrei Fursenko (as is Putin, is against mandatory drugs testing in schools. Thankfully not everyone there is insane like Medvedev.

PS. In the latest news, Medvedev embarks on his latest campaign to destroy the Russian defense industry.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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The two dunces.

The two dunces.

During the past two years, Russian “dissident” liberals Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov have produced a frankly maniacal quantity of so-called “Independent Expert Reports” (there are now seven of them) that purport to debunk the “persistent myths imposed by official [Kremlin] propaganda”. The authors say that their latest exegesis, melodramatically entitled “Putin. The Results. 10 Years” and at 48 pages one of their shorter works, will have a print run of one million copies and will be distributed throughout Russia’s regions. This latest iteration of Nemtsov’s anti-Putin screed differs little in substance from the first, which was pilloried by Sean Guillory in Nemtsov’s White Paper: Bombshell or Dud?

Though Sean castigated the “dynamic duo” for their middle-class chauvinism, neoliberal elitism and poverty of proposed solutions, even he was far too kind in granting them the benefit of the doubt on their “litany of statistics, examples, and facts” showing that Russia had been brought to the brink of collapse by Putin (of course Russia was pushed well past that brink under Yeltsin, when Nemtsov reached his political apogee; but I digress). Now I hadn’t previously read any of Nemtsov and Co.’s earlier scribblings, but their introduction to this latest report raised my suspicions. Apparently, one myth peddled by Kremlin propagandists is that under Putin, Russians began to “give birth more and die less”. Of course, anyone with the slightest familiarity with Russian demography knows this is either a howler or a mendacious lie. If these guys can’t be relied on to get simple facts right, facts which can be looked up on the Internet within seconds, what basis is there to trust them on anything else they have to say? So I decided to sneak a peek at Nemtsov’s chapter on Russia’s demography… and discovered a truly epic mountain of red herrings, statistical manipulation and outright lies worthy of a Brezhnev-era Goskomstat apparatchik.

Nemtsov’s Bomb Defused

The chapter in question is entitled “A Dying Country”… not only is it a kitschy trope, but one that is no longer really valid as Russia saw positive population growth in 2009. But whatever. The choice of title fades into irrelevance in comparison with what comes next.

1. According to the Gospel of Vlad and Boris, one of the main tenets of the “Putinist mythology” concerns Russia’s recent demographic progress, in stark contrast to the “1990′s national extinction”. The authors then invite us to look at the “facts”, which apparently look something like the graph below.

[My translation of Nemtsov's graph (the "Yeltsin" and "Putin" insertions were my own, but otherwise it is unchanged). Click to enlarge.]

Where to start? First, the giant elephant in the room that our democracy crusaders “forgot” to mention was that immigration into the Russian Federation was far higher in the 1990′s than it was during the Putin period. From 1992-1999, Russia received a one-off 3.6mn influx of net migrants, the vast majority of them ethnic Russians repatriating from the other former Soviet republics. During the 2000-2009 period, Russia received just 1.5mn net migrants. This single factor of declining net immigration would account for almost two thirds, or 2.1mn out of 3.4mn, of the “extra” population decline under Putin.

Second, drawing any conclusions just from a straightforward calculation of Russia’s average yearly population decline under Yeltsin and Putin is an exercise in complete absurdity, given that Yeltsin’s early years were influenced by the (relatively) low Soviet mortality rates and high fertility rates, while Putin’s were influenced by the (relatively) high mortality rates and “lowest-low” fertility rates of the Yeltsin legacy. A more nuanced analysis would:

  • Identify defining trends instead of using blanket averages: a transition to fullblown “hyper-mortality” by 1994, a series of peaks and dips under a Yeltsin and early Putin administration that couldn’t care less for the nation’s demography, and concrete improvements after 2005 when the state began to take these issues seriously.
  • Take into account Russia’s aging population (which places upwards pressure on mortality rates over time), and hence use a statistic that is independent of the population age structure: life expectancy, which at 69 years in 2009 was higher than at any time during the Yeltsin period, when it fell from 68 years in 1992 to 65 years by 2000.

Third, note that the vertical axis Nemtsov uses stretches from just 140mn to 150mn people, giving the impression (to the passing eye) that Russia’s population completely collapsed under Putin and most likely continues to retreat into oblivion (whereas a year by year graph would show population decline flattening out during the past 2 years). This is of course done on purpose to elicit a negative emotional reaction.

2. The next paragraph discusses “hyper-mortality” – the fact that Russia’s mortality rates are abnormally high for an industrialized country at peace. This is a major problem I have written about at length, though since it has been metastasizing since as far back as the mid-1960′s what it has to do with Putin must remain a mystery. Yet even here Nemtsov can’t refrain from “embellishing” an already depressing picture. He does this by citing Russia’s mortality and fertility statistics from the CIA, whose demographic stats on Russia paint a bleaker picture than those produced by Rosstat, the Russian statistical agency.

Let me explain. As a rule, only national statistics services have the manpower and regulatory resources to compile comprehensive demographic (economic, etc) statistics on their own countries. The stats you see from international institutions like the World Health Organization are mostly drawn and aggregated from them. Same goes for the CIA on demography, except that since it rarely brings its figures into “sync” with updated ones produced by the national statistics agencies, most of its demographic data is the result of inhouse projections of what the demographic situation might be given a set of increasingly obsolete past assumptions instead of current measures. Hence, whereas Nemtsov claims that Russia has a birth rate of 11/1000 and a death rate of 15/1000 based on July 2009 CIA figures, the real numbers for that year were a birth rate of 12.4/1000 and a death rate of 14.2/1000. Ultimately, this is a fairly minor point, but it does illustrate how Nemtsov is very selective about the data he uses (he has no problems with citing Rosstat on numerous other occasions).

3. The authors begin showing their reactionary colors when they come to dissing Russia’s rising natality. Granted, not quite as in your face as in their first Report, but the ass is still showing. This section is worth translating in full.

Excessively rapid fertility growth in a non-affluent country, especially amongst the lumpenized segment of the population (which are receiving pro-natality stimuli thanks to Putinist measures such as “maternal capital”[20]), could lead to negative consequences: a reduction in the standard of living, poor caretaking of the newborn, and high rates of illness amongst them.

In April 2008, the Health Minister Tatyana Golikova was forced to admit that this [fertility] increase was accompanied by an increase in infant mortality in 48 regions of the country.

[20] For “maternal capital” of 250,000 rubles [AK: today equivalent to $8,000], based on average housing costs it would have only been possible to buy 4-5 square meters of living space.

They’re really getting desperate, firing at every possible angle in the hope of hitting Putin, aren’t they?

First, forget the negative long-term consequences of the continuation of “lowest-low” fertility (seen up until 2006, hovering at 1.3 children per woman). Is Nemtsov really disconnected and foolish enough to believe that Russians will rally to his holier than thou middle-class chauvinism? Especially considering that most Russians have paternalistic views of government, believing that it should help the poorest members of society? Considering that many Russians complain that they want two children but can only afford one?

Second, the authors transparently try to give the (false) impression that Russia’s recent fertility spurt was accompanied by rising infant mortality through very selective quoting of Golikova. Was that really the case? Not at all. Data on infant deaths per 1,000 live births: in 1990 – 17.4; 2000 – 15.3; 2006 – 10.2; 2007 – 9.4; 2008 – 8.5; 2009 – 8.2; 2010 – still falling

4. Then we come to a rather banal history of Russia’s hypermortality with a generous serving of anti-Putin spin. I’ve translated a typical segment below and filled in what Nemtsov wants you to think on reading it.

The rise in Russia’s mortality began way back with Brezhnev, during the 1970′s [AK: actually from the mid-1960's but whatever], and continued up until the mid-1990′s [AK: hence Yeltsin and the reformers can't be blamed for any of this... according to the Gospel of Vlad and Boris]. In 1995, however, Russia’s mortality began to fall and in 1998 retreated below 2 million deaths per year [AK: 1) by "below 2 million deaths", he means 1.99 million deaths - not kidding!, 2) the inconvenient truth that death rates began to soar again in 1999 during the last year of the Yeltsin Presidency - in the aftermath of the 1998 financial crisis, which was enabled by the incessant stealing within Yeltsin's inner circle (and happening to coincide with Nemtsov being Deputy Prime Minister!) - naturally goes unsaid].

But under Putin, the tendency towards a rise in mortality rates acquired a new strength, and reached a new peak of 2.37mn deaths in 2003 [AK: this at a time when Putin was still surrounded by Yeltsin's "Family" cronies and occupied with consolidating a half-disintegrated state]. Lowering deaths back below 2 million still hasn’t been achieved [AK: but this is harder now that it was in 1998, since the Russian population in 2009 is now considerably older than it was back then!].

Look, if you really want to, it is just as easy to spin this the other way. Here’s an alternate narrative. The USSR was a healthy nation. Soviet mortality rates strongly increased under Gorbachev, thanks to the anti-alcohol campaign and the birthmark on his bald head (year: 1989, LE: 70 years). Then Yeltsin and his cabal of traitors undermined and collapsed the Soviet Union, resulting in a massive fall in life expectancy (year: 2003, LE: 65 years). However, heroic Putin rescued long-suffering Holy Rus’ from the Judeo-Dollar yoke in 2003 by attacking Khodorkovsky. Now everything is getting better because Putin kicks ass (year: 2010, LE: 70 years).

[Russia's life expectancy - closely tied *not* to politicians, "shock therapy", etc, but to alcohol affordability and consumption rates. In fact, perhaps one of the main healthcare achievements of the Putin era is that the correlation between (relatively) cheaper booze and higher mortality rates may have broken. Source: Rosstat data.]

Does the above sound kind of ridiculous? Not really any more so than Nemtsov’s narrative. His screed is the mirror image of what a fawning Kremlin sycophant would write.

5. Nemtsov proclaims in gloomy tones that Russia has a very high number of deaths from external causes, murders, suicides, alcohol poisoning, etc, the aim presumably being to present Putin as a bad ruler based on the ills of his kingdom. But what he doesn’t mention is that in recent years Russia’s mortality from “vices” (alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicide) has fallen back down to late Soviet levels and is now well below the peaks around 1994 and 2002-3.

[The drop in deaths from alcohol poisoning is probably the most encouraging indicator, because excessive alcohol consumption accounts for around a third of all Russian deaths (in the broad sense) and drives trends in homicides, accidents and suicides (in particular). Source: Rosstat.]

6. Nemtsov goes on to make another startling claim (to anyone remotely familiar with the situation on the ground).

Low quality healthcare remains a big problem [AK: certainly], and Putin didn’t manage to do anything about this during ten prosperous years [AK: wtf?]… Russia spends just 5.3% of its GDP on healthcare, like Morocco or Ecuador, in contrast to 9-11% in many countries of Western Europe.

Many, many people would disagree with him. E.g. the guys at The Lancet, a respected British medical journal.

A vigorous anti-alcohol campaign, new road safety measures, and a programme of health awareness workshops for teenagers are among the positive signs 6 months after the Kremlin introduced a new 12-year health-care blueprint which identified the “formation of health as a priority in the social and spiritual values of Russian society” as a key task.

Even Nemtsov’s fellow liberal reformer Yegor Gaidar (as translated by Mark Adomanis):

In 2009, despite the economic crisis, expenditures on healthcare from the Federal budget grew 25% in nominal terms from 231.4 billion rubles to 289.5 billion rubles. Expenditures from the budgets of the subjects of the Russian Federation remained practically at the previous level: 518.7 billion rubles against 520.1 billion in 2008. Taking into account investments to obligatory medical insurance of the working population, state financing of healthcare grew in 2009 by 5.6% (2.9% in real terms) having reached 1.06 trillion rubles. This differentiates the situation in 2009 from the crisis in 1998* when state expenditures on healthcare and spending by the population on medicines and medical services all declined.

At the beginning of 2009 the government made a decision to continue the realization of the national project “Health” until 2012. The project’s financing still comes out of funds of the federal budget as well as off-budget funds: the Federal fund of obligatory medical insurance and the Fund of social insurance. Despite the economic crisis and the significant reduction in government income, expenditures on the national project not only weren’t subject to reduction, but grew by 20.2% in comparison with 2008. This attests to the real priority of this project in the government’s budget policy.

*But Kathryn Stoner-Weiss told me that Yeltsin defended Russians’ welfare better than Putin!!

7. Then a big sprinkling of statistics and anecdotes about trends in consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs, and smoking. For once in this chapter I think Nemtsov makes a valid point about the Russian government’s overly cosy relations with the alcohol and cigarette lobbies, which have prevented or delayed the passage of needed legislation. Nonetheless, even here Nemtsov’s point is (politically) wrecked by the class hatred that he just can’t keep bottled in. Sean’s summary of Nemtsov’s position still applies:

The poor “drink more” and the wealthy live the “high life.” In contrast, the middle class is the archetype of healthy and productive living. “Moderate use of alcohol and a healthy lifestyle in general,” they write, “is the way of the middle class.”

Now there might well be research showing that this is the case, as Nemtsov claims. (He doesn’t provide a link or citation). But it certainly isn’t the kind of language that is going to get anything more than 5% of Russians fired up with puritanical bourgeois fervor.

Furthermore, Nemtsov’s comparison of Russia’s 30,000 annual drug-related deaths to its (lower) losses during ten years of war in Afghanistan will surely be viewed as offensive and asinine by most Russians. There is a fundamental difference between the two in that people (by and large) make the choice to become drug addicts, whereas Soviet conscripts had little to no choice about being sent to the graveyard of empires. Incidentally, one of the reasons for the increased flow of heroin into Russia in recent years that Nemtsov decries so much is the US inability or unwillingness to control the growth of opium production in Afghanistan**… (But don’t forget that in the Russian liberal universe America is always right and if it isn’t then suck on it).

8. Nemtsov miscomprehends the French Paradox, saying that the reason the French lead long lives despite a high alcohol consumption rate is because they drink fine wines. (The real paradox has to do with their low rates of heart disease and high rates of saturated fats consumption)*. However, he is correct in his (one-line) suggestion, a rather obvious one, that incomes have to improve if Russians are to afford more expensive drinks.

His suggestion for cutting smoking rates? “It is necessary to implement the successful experience of the US and Western European countries that was accumulated over decades”. You don’t say, Sherlock?! While it is valid to say that Russia’s progress on this front has been on the slow side, it is not fair to imply, like Nemtsov does, that nothing is being done.

9. Now Nemtsov talks about depopulation and labor force decline without trying to distinguish between them.

Population decline has a long-term character. In the last few years and in the near future Russia will lose one million people of working age annually due to the high mortality rates and natural population aging. The loss of one million workers is equivalent to a fall in GDP of 1.5%, and a loss of revenues to the budget, which will lead to problems with paying for pensions and as a result to social stresses. Therefore, chronic depopulation threatens economic development and puts into question the future territorial integrity of the country.

First, Russia’s population has already returned to growth (or more accurately “stabilization”) in 2009, thanks to rising fertility and life expectancy. Second, declines in the working population are now inevitable, but Nemtsov curiously neglects to mention that this was made inevitable by the fertility collapse of the early 1990′s during the Yeltsin period! Nonetheless, he need not worry too much. According to the Rosstat medium scenario, the labor force will fall from 62% of the total population now… to a truly apocalyptic rather unremarkable 55% by 2030.

Furthermore, Nemtsov’s mixing of depopulation and labor force decline is particularly disingenuous because each counteracts the other. If Russia’s population falls, this means it will have failed to raise its life expectancy or fertility rate, and hence its labor force will be higher as a percentage of the population. Paradoxically, if Russia sustainably stabilizes its population by improving people’s health and getting them to have more children, its labor force will shrink much faster as a share of the population for the very reason that this population will have more children and pensioners! (To illustrate this, the labor force in 2030 is at 57% of the population in Rosstat’s low scenario and at 54% in its high scenario).

10. Finally Nemtsov talks the talk about migration.

Instead of [pursuing an effective immigration policy], in 2002 the Putin regime passed repressive [AK: sic!] immigration legislation, which increased illegal immigration while reducing the flow of law-abiding and hard-working citizens into the country. In the 1990′s near 8 million Russophones arrived into Russia from the post-Soviet republics [AK: just to clarify, this is *not* net immigration; during the period, many Russians also left Russia]. With Putin’s arrival this process came to an abrupt halt.

The sudden reduction in the numbers of immigrants became the main cause of the plummeting Russian population during the Putin years relative to the 1990′s.

Look, while I’m not a huge fan of said 2002 law, calling it “repressive” is well beyond the pale – especially for any politician the least concerned about his popularity! It is also interesting to note that Nemtsov puts this section on immigration at the end of the demography chapter, well away the graphs showing population decline under Yeltsin and Putin. One can only assume that Russians wouldn’t be so moved by Russia’s almost-stable population under Yeltsin had they known that it was only being sustained by an unsustainable inflow of ethnic Russians repatriating from the Near Abroad!

[Would an honest observer interpret the above graph as a "sudden reduction in the numbers of immigrants" under Putin? Source: from Rosstat. Click to enlarge.]

Which brings us to a much bigger misrepresentation by Nemtsov. He essentially claims that thanks to Putin’s mismanagement of migration policy (the 2002 law is cited), ethnic Russian immigration came to a halt. Yet as we can see from the graph above, Russia received by far the biggest numbers of migrants during the early to mid-1990′s. By 2000, most ethnic Russians who would ever immigrate back to Russia from the Near Abroad had already done so. This process was always due to come an end, regardless of who was President, and had already mostly petered out by the late 1990′s. (The new uptick in immigration from 2006 mostly consists of Central Asian, Caucasian, and Ukrainian Gastarbeiter drawn to Russia’s rising affluence).

Conclusions

This chapter “A Dying Country” constituted about 20% of Nemtsov’s paper by word count, so it is a valid gauge by which to judge the rest of it. Now demography is a pretty easy subject, especially when it comes to checking up on straightforward factual claims. For this post I didn’t need much else other than Rosstat, Wikipedia, and my sick googling skills. ;) In contrast, making accurate statements on the economy, an entity that can be measured and interpreted in any number of ways, is much harder. And assessing levels of corruption is an order of magnitude harder still, since it relates to the quantity of that economy that people take so many pains to hide away from view. So if one finds so much blatant ignorance or deceit in a big chunk of work dealing with demography – practically on every paragraph – chances are the overall opus isn’t worth anyone’s time.

The pattern of simplification and misrepresentation appears to be repeated throughout the entire paper. For instance, take Nemtsov’s graph of the structure of Russian exports in the chapter on the economy, which shows the share of hydrocarbons exports soaring from 44.9% in 1999 to 69.6% in 2009, while hi-tech exports fell from 10.9% to 4.9% during the same period. But only a hack like Nemtsov would say that this proves that Russia under Putin became more resource dependent “than ever before in its history”. For a start consider that the price of oil rose from $16.56 in 1999 to $91.48 in 2008! If there is a sixfold increase in oil prices over a decade, then its share of total exports was practically bound to increase too, barring Russia blowing up all its pipelines! (Besides, that would be “energy imperialism”). But even all this neglects a more fundamental fact: while Russian exports remain dominated by resources because they constitute its comparative advantage, Russia’s domestic economy has, in real terms, become substantially more productive, more services-centered and less extraction-heavy since the late 1990′s (in relative terms).

Now a defender of this Report may accuse me of missing its entire point – isn’t Nemtsov politicking against equally nefarious Kremlin propaganda? Isn’t it perfectly normal and acceptable for politicians to play fast and loose with the facts? While this may normally be an argument, this is not the case here. First, Nemtsov and Milov portray themselves as paragons of accountability and integrity (as opposed to the kleptocratic Kremlin regime) – if they want to demand their bed they have to lie in it too. Second, these ass-clowns entitle their work an “Independent Expert Report” for crying out loud! I am approaching Nemtsov’s writings on his own terms – as an analytical work. It is on its own analytical merit that it either stands or falls under the weight of its lies and contradictions.

But what about its impact as a political statement? Nemtsov’s only natural constituency, as evidenced by his classist rhetoric, is “the urban, semi-intellectual, semi-politically engaged class” who now make up around 25% of the Russian population. A not inconsiderable potential base, true, but they more than most in Russian society owe their allegiance to Putin; it was under his system that they made – or made off with – their wealth. No amount of one-sided paens to the glory Yeltsin years delivered by Nemtsov is going to change that. And although Nemtsov does make some faux populist overtures, they are hardly going to win him any supporters from amongst the lumpen-proletariat whom he wants to breed out into extinction! (Assuming they even bother reading the 12,000 words of what is really a very dull paper). No, the Gospel of Vlad and Boris is only going to be treated as such by the 50,000 odd signers of the Putin Must Go petition, at least in Russia. As for abroad…

In an interesting twist to the story – and ironically what made me aware of Nemtsov’s report in the first place – Russian police confiscated 100,000 of the one million copies of the Report and sent them to the MVD’s “extremism” department for analysis. Coming as it does on the eve of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where “Medvedev is set to hobnob with businessmen from around the world”, Nemtsov and Milov could not have hoped for a better source of publicity. Tinpot dictatorship here we come! Once again, the idiotic zeal of Russian officialdom elicits outraged editorials in the Western (and Russian) press, snickers from the suave and sophisticated, and delivers further confirmation of Russia’s impending slide into totalitarianism to the typical Westerner.

Not to mention endless frustration for people like myself. I am even coming to think that the deaf Russian state might just deserve its blind liberals.

* Though I do agree with Nemtsov that getting Russians to switch from samogon to vodka to wine or beer is a good strategy as far as these things go. Me from two years back: ;)

Convert wine production into a strategic industry and massively fund its expansion. Try to remake Russia into a wine-drinking nation. Aim to turn vodka into an exclusively export industry.

** That said, I’m very skeptical about the (self-interested?) arguments, or alarmism, of Russia’s anti-narcotics department. To test if this is a major, rapidly-spreading drug epidemic, it is logical to look at death rates for the most-affected demographic groups. Say, 20-25 year old males, among whom death rates are low and mostly due to external causes and poisonings.

Take the death rate for 25 year old males in Russia, a demographic group that would be one of the most exposed to drug abuse (Nemtsov cites the average age of death of Russia’s druggies as being 28). In 2000, i.e. before the Afghanistan campaign, it was 0.0060, and it stayed above 0.0050 until 2007 when it fell to 0.0047, and in 2008 fell further to 0.0041. These improvements, one would think, would have been exceedingly unlikely had there been a big jump in Russian heroin consumption.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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paul-goble Mark Adomanis, who recently burst into the Russia-watching blogosphere like a fluffy pink grenade, has a series on “Who is the world’s worst Russia analyst”? (So far Stephen Blank and Leon Aron are in the running). Personally, I think that Ed Lucas would “win” hands down. However, since he’s already been exposed and discredited on this blog, – and I don’t have the time or will to flog dead horses – let’s instead take a closer look at Paul Goble, the oft-cited “Eurasia expert” whose output seems to consist entirely of recycling stories from marginal Russian commentators about the country’s imminent demographic apocalypse, breakup along ethnic lines, and takeover by Muslims. If one fine day some random Tatar blogger on LiveJournal decides to restore the Qasim Khanate, we’ll certainly hear about it on his blog… and guess what, we do!

Sure, he might be a fact-challenged Russophobe propagandist who worked for the CIA, Radio Liberty, and “democracy-promoting” NGO’s. Yes, he has extensive professional links to the Baltic nations and Azerbaijan. True, he is essentially an agent of a latter-day Promethean Project, the interwar Polish strategy to preempt the reemergence of a Eurasian empire by stirring up ethnic separatism in the Soviet space, a project now pursued by Washington and its proxies. That is all understandable and commendable – he serves US geopolitical aims, and geopolitics is profoundly amoral, so what’s the problem? Why am I writing a hit piece on Paul Goble? Simple. The utter hypocrisy and double standards I encountered in his Jan 2010 ‘No Ordinary Year’ for Azerbaijan article, in which the guy who incessantly condemns Russia’s human rights, takes to advising Western countries to refrain from reprimanding authoritarian Azerbaijan because the “level of anger about such criticism is so great” that it could lead to a “rebalancing of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy away from the West”. Or translated from quackademic neocon-speak into English, “They might be bastards – though nowhere near as bastardly as the Russians, I mean they even pay me my salary!, – but they are our bastards!”

Ali Novruzov, an Azeri human rights blogger, condemns this duplicity, characterizing Goble’s viewpoint as: “Don’t criticize Azerbaijan, no matter how many Emins and Adnans are beaten and jailed, how many grams of heroin are found in shoes of Eynulla Fatullayev, how many villages like Benaniyar is ransacked by government militia and its residents detained en mass, shut up you, Amnesty International and State Department, otherwise Azerbaijan will get angry, turn away from you and befriend Russia”.

He certainly has reason to be concerned. Even Freedom House, a “democracy measuring” organization that gives freedom cookies for being friendly with the US (bonus points if you have oil) and takes them away for being “anti-Western”, rates Azerbaijan as “unfree”, on the same level as despised Russia. Given that Azerbaijan hits the Full House in that it is 1) relatively pro-Western, 2) oil-rich, and 3) nestled in a crucial geopolitical region, there is cause to suspect that it would perform a lot worse on any objective analysis of political freedoms. We don’t even have to suspect this, we can just head over to Polity IV, – a vast research project that attempts to quantify levels of democratization in different countries since World War 2 – and observe that Azerbaijan scored -7 in 2008, on a scale from -10 to 10. This makes it a formal “autocracy”, the same as China (-6) or Iran (-7), – and far worse than its neighbors Russia (5), Armenia (5) or Georgia (6). No wonder, since unlike in Russia there is not even the simulacrum of political competition, and the Presidency is passed down along hereditary lines.

However, as alluded to at the beginning, hypocrisy, double standards, and Western chauvinism aren’t Goble’s only talents – they’re just the ones that roused my ire enough to write this piece. The fact of the matter is that article after article, Goble demonstrates the most fact-challenged, non-sequiturial, inane claptrap – and manages to get himself cited and listened to by major institutions which determine Western policy towards the region. Debunking his drivel is thus in any case long overdue.

1. Let’s start with this article (October 2008) on how the financial crisis was supposed to “compound” Russia’s demographic decline. It conveniently illustrates Goble’s OM – seek out the most sensational (and wrong) opinions in the Russian language media and reproduce them in his articles. By adding his label/name to them, they become citable to the rest of the Cold Warrior clique and even some respectable institutions that are ignorant of Goble’s incompetence and bias.

The financial crisis in the Russian Federation has pushed up the already high rates of mortality from heart and circulatory diseases there to third world levels, according to medical experts.

This sentence is wrong on so many levels. First, in Third World countries, mortality from heart/circulatory diseases is typically LOWER than in industrialized nations (since there are few older people and the population continues dying from infectious diseases, particularly amongst younger ages). Second, Russia has had one of the world’s highest levels of mortality from heart/circulatory diseases SINCE AT LEAST the 1980’s – it is NOT a recent development, as implied by Goble! Third, how the financial crisis figured into this I have absolutely no idea, since it only began to affect most Russians in October (the same month Goble’s article was written), and at which time the latest Russian demographic statistics only covered AUGUST 2008!

Yevgeny Chazov, one of Russia’s senior specialists on heart disease, told a Duma hearing that as a result of the difficult psycho-social circumstances and stresses from instability in the country, 1.3 million people – 56 percent of the total number of deaths there – now die from heart disease.

As has been the case FOR THE PAST 60 YEARS – i.e., a pattern of mortality heavily tilted towards heart disease – ever since the epidemiological revolution from 1930-50. And instability has been a feature of Russian life for the PAST 20 YEARS. Chazov was misquoted, or is a dummy; Goble, in any case, is certainly a dummy.

But if many speakers blamed the financial crisis or personal behavioral choices like smoking or alcohol consumption, one, Aleksandr Baranov, the vice president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, was prepared to blame the Russian government. Medical science knows how to lower mortality, he said, but we haven received an order from the powers that be.

There is a lot of investment in newly-equipped hospitals and clinics since 2007, and positive results are already showing. The current situation is far better than under Yeltsin or the early Putin years, when healthcare and social spending in general were cut and neglected, back when Russia’s robber barons wallowed in their ill-begotten billions with Western connivance. Baranov either lives under a rock, or wants to score rhetorical points. The financial crisis is irrelevant. Excessive alcohol consumption is what causes 1/3 of all Russia’s deaths. Reducing it is should be by far the #1 priority of any harm reduction strategy for Russia, and the “powers that be” have indeed recognized this and launched an anti-alcohol campaign. Nor surprisingly, Goble fails to mention any of this.

Finally, and most importantly, REAL LIFE HAS PROVED GOBLE TOTALLY, 200% WRONG. Contrary to the vision of demographic doom he peddled, deaths from cardio-vascular disease fell by 4.6% in 2009. Furthermore, RUSSIA SAW ITS FIRST POPULATION INCREASE IN 15 YEARS! And Goble’s predictable response to his utter failure at prediction?… “Russia’s Population Stabilization Only Temporary“.

2. Now let’s move on to the more general theme of Goble’s thesis on Russia – as an imperialistic country in rapid decline (demographic, cultural, etc), afflicted by an imminent, sub-Saharan scale AIDS epidemic, it will break up along its ethnic faultlines (Tatars, Bashkirs, Finno-Ugric peoples, Caucasians) and become majority Muslim by 2050. For instance, see a 2006 briefing he gave to Radio Liberty, which they summarized thus:

But Russia’s Muslims are bucking that trend. The fertility rate for Tatars living in Moscow, for example, is six children per woman, Goble said, while the Chechen and Ingush communities are averaging 10 children per woman. And hundreds of thousands of Muslims from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have been flocking to Russia in search of work. Since 1989, Russia’s Muslim population has increased by 40 percent to about 25 million. By 2015, Muslims will make up a majority of Russia’s conscript army, and by 2020 a fifth of the population. “If nothing changes, in 30 years people of Muslim descent will definitely outnumber ethnic Russians,” Goble said.

Goble’s comments to RFERL made their way into the wider commentariat in 2006-07, such as this article in SFGate, Daniel Pipes, and certain plain demented Russophobe bloggers.

Unfortunately for Russophobes, Islamophobes, and Islamists alike (quite an adorable grouping, isn’t it?!), Goble’s projections are complete twaddle. In 2005, the year before Goble started spouting off about Russia’s Islamification, the homeland of Russia’s Tatars, Tatarstan (1.26), had a LOWER total fertility rate than the Russian average (1.29)! Where did Goble get the figure of 6 women per children amongst Tatar women in Moscow? Stormfront Russia?!

Likewise, the figure of 10 children per women amongst Muscovite Ingush and Chechen women is risible and should be laughed off by anyone with the smallest knowledge of demographic history. Not only did Ingushetia (1.56) and Chechnya (2.91) themselves have far lower figures in 2005, a total fertility rate of 10 children per woman HASN’T BEEN OBSERVED IN PRACTICALLY ANY COMMUNITY, EVER!! (Even in PRE-INDUSTRIAL times, the fertility rate typically flunctuated between 4-8 children per woman, depending on factors like urbanization and food affordability. The idea that it could be 10, or anyone near that number, in a modern metropolis, is ludicrous in the extreme).

As for the Muslim-takeover-by-2050ish claim, this is the usual bogus fallacy of linear extrapolation of the worst-case trends with total, cavalier disregard for positive trends (e.g., the convergence of ethnic Russian and Muslim fertility rates) and current day facts (e.g., that ethnic Russians still make up nearly 80% of the population, WHEREAS ONLY 4-6% OF THE POPULATION CONSIDER THEMSELVES TO BE MUSLIMS in opinion polls; that the fertility rates of the biggest Muslim ethnicities, Tatars and Bashkirs, is little different from the national average; and that Russia’s Muslims are far less religious than their counterparts in the Middle East and Western Europe alike).

In fact, sometimes I wonder if Goble really works for the CIA/Azerbaijan, or Russian Slavophile nationalists. He is certainly willing to cite the propaganda of the latter when it suits his purposes.

3. Now what about the imminent AIDS apocalypse, that will further decimate the ranks of Russia’s vodka-swilling, impotent hordes, making them too sick and too few to prevent Russia from disintegrating “into as many as 30 pieces by the middle of this century” (March 2009)? In his ominous-sounding article February 2009 article Russia’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic Enters New and More Dangerous Phase, Goble wrote:

In his briefing yesterday, Onishchenko did not provide much context for the numbers he reported. But in an interview with “Nauka i zhizn’,” Boris Denisov, a demographer at Moscow State University, suggested that figures like those Onishchenko provides are more disturbing than the public health chief in fact suggested (www.nkj.ru/archive/articles/15097/). …

The Moscow State researcher pointed to three aspects of the situation which suggest Russia has reached the tipping point regarding HIV/AIDS and that the epidemic is likely to result in an increasingly large number of deaths, something that will have a serious impact on the over-all demographic picture of that country.

First and foremost, 63 percent of the new cases in the Russian Federation last year were the result of sexual contact rather than intravenous drug use, a pattern that means the disease has now passed into the general population where it may spread more slowly but could potentially touch far more people and where an increasing share of its victims will be women.

This Eurasia “expert” can’t even copy from his Russian sources correctly. If you look at the source Goble cites, what Denisov actually said was that 63% of new FEMALE infections came from sexual contact in 2007, whereas 34% of OVERALL new infections came from heterosexual contact. If he’s so wrong on such basic facts, why should we have to listen to anything he says on Russia’s AIDS problem?

4. And it goes on and on. One of his most amusing/ridiculous articles was about how Putin was starving his miserable subjects (December 2009):

After seeing an improvement in caloric consumption since the 1990s, Russians are again consuming an average of only 2550 calories a day, an amount comparable to the amount provided by the diet given German POWs in Soviet camps at the end of 1941 and one that casts a shadow on that country’s demographic future. …

“According to the estimates of international experts,” the Russian leader said in striking language, “if the population goes hungry for two or more generations, a situation that in fact is quite characteristic for a large group of countries, then processes of physiological and intellectual degradation at the genetic level arise.”

What a load of claptrap even by Goble’s dismal standards. First, the recommended caloric intake for not very active adult men is around 2500 and around 2000 for adult women. Averaging it and taking into account children and the elderly, and the optimal for a nation where most people do office jobs is around 2100-2200 calories. In this respect Russia is far better off at its quoted 2550 calories, than the US is at 3700.

This is not to deny that there are problems. During crisis-wracked 2009, some 10% of Russians had difficulty buying food – slightly up from 9% in 2008, but massively down from the glorious prosperity of 1998-99, when some 36% of Russians could barely afford this privilege. (Incidentally, in the “free” Ukraine of 2009, the hungry indigent made up 35% of the population – i.e., the same as Russia ten years ago!).

But it gets worse. I simply have no words to describe the sheer inanity of the comparison between 2009 Russia and 1941 German POW’s. Really – how the fuck can he even take himself seriously after writing shit like this? Unless he means to say that during the 1990′s, when Russia’s economic policies were directed by a neoliberal cabal from Washington and many people really did go hungry, Yeltsin’s government treated Russians worse than Stalin treated soldiers who were fighting a war of extermination against Russians. So is Goble also a crypto-Stalinist, or just an asinine idiot?

(Not that Medvedev is the sharpest tool in the box either, if he actually spewed that insane drivel about genetic degradation. Since most of humanity has spent 99.9%+ of its entire history at near-subsistence levels of food consumption, why the hell isn’t everyone intellectually degraded like Goble or Medvedev?)

And the same shit goes on and on, Goble’s never-ending Groundhog Den’. All of Russia’s negatives are made apocalyptic, all its positives made into negatives.

Two examples of the latter. Take his befuddling assertion that the “Russian Federation will be more profoundly and negatively affected by global warming over the next 40 years than will any other country”. Come again? Sure the melting of Siberian permafrost might collapse a few buildings and fuck up some gas pipelines, but ALL serious analyses of global warming suggest that Russia will suffer FAR LESS than almost all other nations in a warmer world, and may even make big bank under moderate warming as its agriculture expands into Siberia, new energy and mineral deposits become accessible, and the Arctic becomes the world’s major trade region.

Second example. Medvedev declared a need for modernization and more accountability, and guess what – Russia is therefore a failing, decrepit state about to embark on perestroika 2.0! Ok, if you want (superficial) historical comparisons for Putvedev’s Russia, you could justify making it with Stolypin’s reforms, with Peter the Great’s “revolution from above”, even with the “Great Break” of 1929 if you’re feeling really bold and unafraid of being accused of reducing everything in Russian politics to Stalin. But the late 1980′s = today = WTF? Back then, the Soviet state truly was in a profound state of “imperial overstretch”, its citizens were disillusioned, and its mounting fiscal obligations were outrunning the resources and foreign currency at its disposal. Today’s Russia is a confident, rising Power, its elites are united, and a firm and consistent majority of Russians uphold the Putin system of illiberal statism (and if anything the main complaint you will hear from them is not that there is too much illiberality and statism, but too little!). Given such a tectonic shift in the very foundations of the Russian state during the past two decades, such vapid analogizing is superficial in the extreme, and indicative of an ideological decrepitude amongst the neocons that is every bit as profound as the one which afflicted the late Soviet Union.

So what is Goble’s game? He seems to be genuine in his bizarre beliefs – for instance, in an interview shortly after the 2008 South Ossetia War, he stated that Russia’s “illegal” violation of Georgia’s borders is “not in the interest of continued existence of the Russian Federation”, which will lead to “a more authoritarian and hence a more unstable and poor Russia in the future”. (Of course, how letting regional upstarts like Saakashvili rip off chunks from Russia’s southern underbelly would HELP the continued existence of the Russian Federation is not at all clear). Nonetheless, this kind of analysis seems highly favored by the lowest common denominator in the Russia-watching world – Paul Goble is, at least according to the number of tags assigned to him (“43 topics” at the time of this article’s writing), is the most popular outside authority at the infamous hate blog La Russophobe. He is also highly regarded at his former place of employment, the corrupt Radio Liberty.

Why? All these institutions are, in some way, and whether they realize it or not, pursuing a script first written in 1918 Poland – the Promethean Project to break up Russia and forever forestall its reemergence. What few of them realize is that 1) they are utterly ineffectual in this endeavor, and 2) their overt Russophobia, and close association with Russia’s “liberal” West-worshiping ass-lickers, ACTUALLY REINFORCES THE VERY SIEGE MENTALITY that the Kremlin shares with ordinary Russians. In other words, the lies and double standards espoused by people like Goble strengthen the very same “retrogressive” tendencies in Russia that they profess to loathe.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This post tries to debunk some popular, but misguided, views on demographic trends in today’s Russia. These consist of the perception that Russia is in a demographic “death spiral” that dooms it to national decline (Biden, Eberstadt, NIC, CIA, Stratfor, etc). Some extreme pessimists even predict that ethnic Russians – ravaged by AIDS, infertility and alcoholism – will die out as an ethnicity, displaced by Islamist hordes and Chinese settlers (Steyn, Collard).

The Myth of Russia’s Demographic Apocalypse

Think again. While it is true that Russia’s current demographic situation is nothing to write home about, most of the demographic trends that matter are highly positive – and there is compelling evidence that Russia can still return to a healthy, longterm pattern of sustainable population replacement.

1

MYTH: Russia is losing 750,000 of its population per year and will become depopulated within decades.

REALITY: In 1992, for the first time since the Great Patriotic War, deaths exceeded births in Russia, forming the so-called “Russian Cross”. Since then the population fell from 149mn to 142mn souls. However, the rate of depopulation has slowed massively in recent years.

As of 2008, there were 362,000 more deaths than births in Russia, down from 847,000 in 2005. Furthermore, adding in migration would give a total population loss of just 105,000 people in 2008, equivalent to -0.07% of the population, which is a massive improvement from the 721,000 fall in 2005. The situation continued improving in 2009, despite the economic crisis, with Russia seeing positive natural increase in August and September for the first time in 15 years.

[Source: Rosstat; analyzed & published by Sergey Slobodyan @ Da Russophile].

Though this is still far from demographic salubrity, the situation today more resembles the stagnation seen in Central Europe than the catastrophic collapse of athe transition era, and the trends remain positive. As such, pessimistic predictions of imminent demographic apocalypse are becoming increasingly untenable.

2

MYTH: Granted, Russia’s crude birth rates have risen in recent years. But this was all due to the big size of the 1980′s female cohort, which reached childbearing age in the 2000′s; since the 1990′s cohort is about 40% smaller, birth rates will tumble again.

[Source: Rosstat; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

REALITY: From 1999-2007, only 37% of the increase in the crude birth rate was due to an increase in the size of the childbearing age segment of the population (only 10% in 2007 itself). The rest came from an increase in the total fertility rate (TFR), the average number of children a woman can be expected to have over a lifetime, irrespective of the structure of the age pyramid.

Speaking of which, Russia’s TFR has risen from a nadir of 1.16 children per women in 1999, to 1.49 children in 2008 (and thus also breaking the “lowest-low” fertility hypothesis that states that no society has ever recovered from a fertility collapse to below 1.30 children). The figures for 2009 will almost certainly show a TFR above 1.50.

This is not to say that the coming reduction in the fertility contribution of the 1980′s “youth bulge” will not exert a growing downwards pressure on Russian birth rates in the next two decades. However, a growing TFR will be able to partially, or even fully, counteract these adverse trends.

3

MYTH: The recent rise in fertility is small and fragile, based on the temporary effects of new maternity benefits and pro-natality propaganda. It will shatter as soon as the first economic crisis interrupts Russia’s petro-fueled swagger.

REALITY: It is true that Russia’s current TFR, at 1.5 children per woman, is well below the 2.1 needed for long-term population stability. That said, there are compelling reasons to believe that we seeing an incipient fertility reversal in Russia.

First, fertility expectations today are little different from those of the late Soviet era when the TFR was near replacement level. According to numerous surveys since the early 1990’s, Russians consistently say they want to have an average of 2.5 children. This is broadly similar to respondents from the British Isles, France and Scandinavia, who have relatively healthy TFR’s of around 1.7-2.1. This suggests Russia’s post-Soviet fertility collapse was caused by “transition shock” rather than a “values realignment” to middle-European norms, where people only want 1.7-1.8 children.

Second, a major problem with the TFR is that it ignores the effects of birth timing. A more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (ABS), which gives the mean order of all newborn children. If in one fine year all women in a previously childless country decide to give birth for some reason, the TFR will soar to an absurdly high level but the ABS will equal exactly one.

[Source: Demoscope; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

In Russia the ABS remained steady at 1.6 children per woman from 1992-2006, little changed from the 1.8 of Soviet times, even though the TFR plummeted well below this number. This indicates that many women were postponing children until they settled into careers and improved their material wellbeing – a hypothesis attested to by the rising age of mothers at childbirth since 1993. As such, it is not unreasonable to expect a compensatory fertility boom in the 2010′s.

[Source: Demoscope; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

Though this may be a false positive if many women remain childless, the 2002 Census indicated that only 6-7% of women did not have any children by the end of their reproductive years. This indicates that childlessness is not in vogue and worries about widespread abortion-induced sterility are overblown.

Third, a new, confident conservatism has recently taken hold in Russian society. After two decades of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 consistently more Russians began to believe the nation was moving in a positive than in a negative direction. The state began to reconstruct an ideological basis for belief in Russia’s future, which included the aforementioned maternal benefits and pro-natality campaigns – and contrary to pessimist assertions, the examples of France and Sweden indicate that such efforts tend to be successful at incubating longterm improvements in TFR. Can it really be the case that the genesis of Russia’s rediscovery of belief in itself, and of consistent improvements in its demography, were a matter of mere coincidence?

Fourth, the cohort now entering the workforce will probably enjoy greater job opportunities and higher wages because of the imminent shrinking of Russia’s labor force. This may provide incentives to marry earlier and have more children, which would compensate for this cohort’s smaller size. Nor are they likely to be subjected to taxes high enough to discourage family formation; relative to continental Europe, Russia is still a younger nation and can be expected to enjoy high energy revenues in the post-peak oil age.

Finally, the economic crisis has come and gone – and in stark contrast to popular predictions of a renewed fertility collapse and higher deaths from alcoholism (which I challenged in the face of heavy opposition), Russia saw its first two months of natural population growth for the last 15 years in August and September 2009. So the notion that Russia’s demographic recovery is built on quicksand has been objectively refuted.

4

MYTH: Russia’s main demographic problem is not the fertility rate, but a dismally low life expectancy, especially for middle-aged men.

REALITY: It is true that Russia’s life expectancy is exceptionally bad by industrialized-world standards. Death rates for middle-aged men today are, amazingly, no different from those of late Tsarism – a phenomenon Nicholas Eberstadt termed “hypermortality”. This tragic development is almost entirely attributable to the extreme prevalence of binge drinking of hard spirits, which accounts for 32% of Russia’s aggregate mortality (compared to 1-4% in West European nations)

However, not all demographic indicators are created equal. High mortality rates only have a direct impact on the replacement-level TFR when significant numbers of women die before or during childbearing age, as in Third World countries. Russia’s infant mortality rate of 8.5 / 1000 in 2008 is close to developed-country levels and not statistically significant. Though tragic and unnecessary, its “hypermortality” crisis mainly affects older men and as such has negligible direct effects on fertility.

That said, mortality rates must be curbed if Russia is to avoid significant population decline in the coming decades. Contrary to prevailing opinion, plans to raise life expectancy to 75 years by 2020 or 2025 are feasible if approached seriously. From 1970-1995 in Finnish Karelia, better healthcare and lifestyle reforms reduced incidences of heart disease, Russia’s main cause of death, by over 70%. Considering the sheer size of the gap between Russia and the advanced industrial world, even modest improvements will have a big impact.

These modest improvements are now coming about. Russia is now installing new equipment in oncology centers, aims to increase access to hi-tech medical services from 25% to 80% by 2012, and is becoming more serious about implementing anti-smoking, anti-alcohol and safety measures. In 2008, Russia’s life expectancy, as well as deaths from accidents (including alcohol poisoning, violence, and suicide), have improved past the (pre-transition) levels of 1992 – and the recovery continues into 2009.

5

MYTH: There is an unrivaled panoply of social ills in Russia, such as sky-high rates of abortion, alcoholism and accidents. These will induce Russians to disinvest in the future, which will result in low economic growth and a perpetuation of its death spiral into oblivion.

REALITY: Quite apart from this being a “mystical” explanation for national decline, and hence unscientific, this assertion is not backed up by the historical record. All these social ills first manifested themselves in the USSR from around 1965 (accompanied by sky-rocketing male mortality rates), yet nonetheless, that did not preclude Russia from maintaining a near replacement level TFR until the Soviet Union’s dissolution – and ultimately, that is all that matters for maintaining longterm population stability.

The Russian abortion rate was nearly twice as high during the Soviet period relative to today, but today’s prevalent fears of widespread infertility as a byproduct somehow never materialized – the 2002 Census indicated that only 6-7% of women did not have any children by the end of their reproductive years. Today, abortions continue on their longterm decline, even in the aftermath of the late-2008 economic crisis (and despite the hysterical predictions to the contrary).

[Source: Demoscope; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

Similarly, excessive alcohol consumption – the major cause of “hypermortality” amongst middle-aged Russian men – set in long before the post-Soviet demographic collapse. (Observe how closely Russia’s historical mortality trends correlate to Nemtsov’s estimates of alcohol consumption in the graph below). Yet as mentioned above, high middle-aged male mortality rates have no direct impact on fertility rates. Furthermore, since there is no major discrepancy between the numbers of men and women until the age of 40, women have no physical problem in finding mates (though it is true that high mortality and alcoholism amongst males has a suppressing effect on new couple formation, the late Soviet experience suggests that it does not altogether preclude a healthy TFR).

[Source: Rosstat, V. Treml & A. Nemtsov; note that the official Goskomstat (Rosstat) figures ought to be discarded because they do not account for moonshine, which may constitute as much as half of Russia's alcohol consumption].

The demographer Eberstadt asserts that Russia’s high mortality rates preclude human capital formation through education because men facing elevated mortality risks (supposedly) discount its future value; consequently, this dims the prospects for longterm economic growth. This hypothesis doesn’t stand up to the evidence. The late Soviet Union had one of the world’s highest tertiary enrollment rates, and more than 70% of today’s Russians get a higher education. This should not be surprising due to human psychological factors – “deaths from heart disease and accidents only happen to other people”; and besides, even if a Russian man assumes he’ll die in his 50′s or 60′s, he’d still rather live comfortably, avoid the military draft, etc, than sweep the streets. So this argument is flawed on many, many levels.

It is true that poor health lowers economic productivity. However, one should note the caveats that 1) hypermortality disproportionately effects poorer, lower-educated people, 2) in the post-agrarian society, the main driver of productivity improvements is education – not health, and 3) there is a silver lining in that by curbing aging, a low life expectancy also relieves pressure on pensions. Finally, drunkenness by itself cannot check the growth of a vital civilization – after all, America was known as the Alcoholic Republic during the early 19th century.

6

MYTH: The ruling elite’s criminal neglect of Russia’s growing AIDS crisis will soon result in hundreds of thousands of annual deaths, further accelerating its demographic collapse.

REALITY: Institutions like the World Bank were predicting hundreds of thousands of deaths by 2010, yet the death toll for 2008 was only 12,800. Further, the percentage of pregnant women testing HIV positive plateaued in 2002, suggesting the epidemic remains essentially contained among injecting drug users.

[Source: 2008 Russian AIDS Progress Report].

The problem with the “doomer” models used to predict apocalypse (Eberstadt, NIC, Ruhl et al, etc) is that their projections of imminent mass deaths from AIDS unrealistically assume heterosexual, sub-Saharan Africa transmission patterns, which is unbacked by sociological analysis or surveillance data. A more rigorous model by the Knowledge for Action in HIV/AIDS in Russia research program predicts a peak HIV prevalence rate of under 1% of the total Russian population by around 2020. Thus far, it correlates with reality.

Finally, following a period of real neglect of the problem until 2005, the Russian state has since ramped up spending on AIDS to an annual 0.5bn $. One can no longer speak of official negligence.

7

MYTH: Faster-breeding Muslims will constitute the majority of the Russian Federation’s citizens by 2050, placing the dwindling Orthodox Russians under a brutal dhimmitude.

REALITY: Ethnic Russians still make up nearly 80% of the population, whereas only 4-6% of the population consider themselves to be Muslim in opinion polls. The fertility rates of the biggest Muslim ethnicities, Tatars and Bashkirs, is little different from the national average.

Even the Caucasian Muslim republics experienced a drastic fertility transition in the last twenty years, as a result of which the only one to still have an above-replacement level TFR is Chechnya. However, Chechnya’s 1.2mn people constitute less than 1% of the Russian total.

So the fact of the matter is that Russian Muslims simply do not have the demographic base to become anywhere near the Federation’s majority ethnicity in the foreseeable future.

[Source: Rosstat; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

Furthermore, the main reason some people fear – or relish – the prospect of an Islamic Russia is because they associate Russian Muslims with their less progressive co-religionists in the Middle East. In reality, vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Russia. The vast majority of Muslim Russians are loyal citizens, having made their peace with the imperial Russian state long ago; imminent dhimmitude is a myth, the product of fevered imaginations.

8

MYTH: The Chinese are taking over the depopulating Russian Far East by a stealth demographic invasion; tempted by Siberian Lebensraum and vast mineral riches, they will eventually seize it outright from a weakening Russia.

REALITY: There are no more than 0.4-0.5mn Chinese in Russia (and probably a good deal less). The vast majority of them are temporary workers and seasonal traders who have no long-term plans of settling in Russia. Even though the Russia Far East depopulated much faster than the rest of Russia after the Soviet collapse, at more than 6mn today, Russian citizens remain ethnically dominant.

Furthermore, the average Manchurian has no objective desire to migrate to Siberia and squat illegally in a pre-industrial farm in a God-forsaken corner of the taiga. Alarmism on this issue is a trifecta of ignorance, Russophobia, and Sinophobia (the “Yellow Peril”).

Though the possibility that Malthusian pressures will eventually force China into aggressive expansionism cannot be discounted, it would be suicidal to intrude on Russia because of its vast nuclear arsenal.

9

MYTH: But all the demographic models indicate that Russia is going to depopulate rapidly!

REALITY: Not all of them. I give an alternate range of scenarios that see Russia’s population change from today’s 142mn, to 139mn-154mn by 2025, and 119mn-168mn (medium – 157mn) souls by 2050.

In the “Medium” scenario, life expectancy reaches 74 years by 2025 (today’s Poland) and 81 years in 2050 (today’s Canada); the TFR rises from 1.4 children per woman in 2006 to 2.0 by 2015, before gently descending to 1.7 from 2025 to 2050; and there is an annual influx of 300,000 net migrants. (These assumptions are plausible, based on a realistic knowledge of the current situation (see above), and a modest amount of confidence in Russia’s spiritual regeneration and capability to sustain economic modernization). The resulting population dynamics are reproduced below.

scen21

[Source: Anatoly Karlin @ Da Russophile].

But even assuming Russia’s TFR gets stuck at 1.5 children per woman in 2010 – i.e. slightly lower than its level today, while retaining the aforementioned mortality and migration trajectories, the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.

On the basis of this model, I made several falsifiable predictions back in July 2008, whose fulfillment will confirm its validity (or not). The three most important predictions are the following:

  • Russia’s population will start growing again by 2010.
  • Natural population increase will resume by 2013.
  • Total life expectancy will exceed 70 years by 2012.

My results are somewhat similar to Rosstat forecasts which see the population growing to 134mn-145mn (medium – 140mn) by 2025. Furthermore, both of them are, at least thus far, more in line with reality than the older “doomer” models, which by and large failed to predict the recent demographic improvements.

10

MYTH: Okay then, the vast majority of models by respectable institutions – i.e., not those of Kremlin mouthpieces like Rosstat or yourself – project that Russia’s population is going to plummet to 100mn or so people by 2050.

REALITY: First, appeal to authority & association fallacy. Second, you can check the reliability of my model because my source code is open and accessible for all, which is more than you can say for many of these “respectable institutions” [edit 2012: No longer, because of this; but I am going to do a new version soon anyway]. Third, the problem with the aforementioned “doomer” models is that they are all essentially based on linearly extrapolating Russia’s post-Soviet fertility and mortality situation into the far future, assuming negligible improvements or even a deterioration (as in the models including the imminent, but fortunately non-existent, African-style AIDS epidemic).

It is my belief that Russia’s demographic “doomers” ignore the importance of the post-Soviet resilience of Russia’s fertility expectations, the evidence that Russia’s post-Soviet demographic collapse was just an aberration caused by its wrenching transition to a new socio-political system, and the newly-emerging sociological trends that are returning Russia’s to its past-and-future Empire – trends that are restoring Russians’ faith in the future, reinforcing social conservatism, and creating the conditions, with the Kremlin’s active support, for a major demographic reversal out of the post-Soviet abyss.

I would be the first to admit that this interpretation of Russian society may be incorrect, and consequently so are my “optimistic” demographic projections. Feel free to disagree with my interpretation, but do note that 1) I accurately called the economic crisis as a non-event in relation to Russia’s demography and 2) made falsifiable, near-term predictions about Russia’s future demography, which few other crystal-ball gazers care to do.

Speaking of crystal balls, I would like to end this by noting that pretty much all demographic projections beyond 20 years into the future – the approximate time needed for a new cohort to reach reproductive age – are near-useless in practical terms. Any simplistic extrapolation will eventually founder on the discontinuities inevitably produced by complex human systems: for a past example, compare 20th century French and German demographic history; regarding the future, note the profoundly disruptive potential of two strong concurrent trends – limits to growth, and technological singularity – either of which could so radically transform human life in the 21st century, as to render modern demographic analysis meaningless as a scientific tool.

Russia Demography Sources

Here are some key resources for understanding Russia’s demography:

Demography Articles @ Da Rissp[ho;e

Finally, a list of articles on Russian demography published at Da Russophile.

  • The Russian Cross Reversed? – initial thoughts on Russia’s fertility.
  • Out of the Death Spiral – an indepth look at its mortality crisis and prospects for improvement.
  • Faces of the Future – my model of Russia’s demographic prospects to 2050, which I argue are not anywhere near as dire as commonly portrayed by the alarmists. This is because the “pessimistic” models that forecast a decline to around 100mn by that date make questionable assumptions about continuing low fertility and high mortality patterns.
  • Myth of Russian AIDS Apocalypse – prognoses of an AIDS mortality crisis are unwarranted because they rely on unsubstantiated assumptions that the epidemic would be essentially heterosexual in nature and follow trends observed in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Myth of the Yellow Peril – demolishes the myth that Chinese settlers are taking over the Russian Far East.
  • Rite of Spring: Russia Fertility Trends – most comprehensive versions of my demographic work to date, in which I argue Russia’s population will slowly increase or stagnate in the coming decades instead of plummeting as in most scenarios.Counter-intuitive and deeply contextualizing” – Thomas P.M. Barnett.
  • Russia’s Demographic Resilience – I predict the economic crisis will not have a major effect on Russian demography, especially in the longer term.
  • Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography – in this summary of Rite of Spring, I note that Russian fertility expectations, average birth sequence figures and rising social confidence preclude a catastrophic fall in population over the next decades.
  • Russia’s Demographic Resilience II – this guest post by Sergei Slobodyan notes that contrary to the doomsayers, Russia’s demography continued improving in 2009 despite the economic crisis, with the population experiencing its first natural growth in August for the past 15 years.
  • Russia’s “Abortion Apocalypse”: А был ли мальчик? – a second guest post by Sergei Slobodyan unravels the media hysteria over a (non-existent) wave of crisis-induced abortions.
(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This is a succinct summary of my views on Russian demography, written about 2 months ago.

Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography
By Anatoly Karlin

In 1992, for the first time since the Great Patriotic War, deaths exceeded births, forming the so-called “Russian Cross”. Since then the population fell from 149mn to 142mn souls. Ravaged by AIDS, infertility and alcoholism, Russians are doomed to die out and be replaced by hordes of Islamist fanatics in the west and Chinese settlers in the east.

Or so one could conclude from reading many of the popular stories about Russian demography today. The total fertility rate (TFR), the average number of children a woman is expected to have, was 1.4 in 2007, well below the 2.1 needed for long-term population stability. Though current Russian birth rates per 1000 women are not exceptionally low, they will plummet once the 1980′s youth bulge leaves childbearing age after 2015.

Meanwhile, Russia’s life expectancy is exceptionally bad by industrialized-world standards. Death rates for middle-aged men today are, amazingly, no different from those of late Tsarism – a phenomenon Nicholas Eberstadt termed “hypermortality”. This tragic development is almost entirely attributable to the extreme prevalence of binge drinking of hard spirits.

No wonder then that the recent UN report on Russian demography forecasts its population will fall by 10mn-20mn people by 2025. Set against these gloomy trends, the projections made by the Russian government (145mn) and state statistical service Rosstat (137-150mn) for the same year seem laughably pollyannaish.

However, things aren’t as bad through the looking glass. First, fertility expectations today are little different from those of the late Soviet era, when the TFR was still relatively healthy. According to numerous surveys since the early 1990′s, Russians consistently say they want to have an average of 2.5 children. This is broadly similar to respondents from the British Isles, France and Scandinavia, who have relatively good TFR’s of around 1.7-2.1. This suggests Russia’s post-Soviet fertility collapse was caused by “transition shock” rather than a “values realignment” to middle-European norms, where people only want 1.7-1.8 children.

Second, a major problem with the TFR is that it ignores the effects of birth timing. A more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (ABS), which gives the mean order of all newborn children. If in one fine year all women in a previously childless country decide to give birth for some reason, the TFR will soar to an absurdly high level but the ABS will equal exactly one.

In Russia the ABS remained steady at 1.6 children per woman from 1992-2006, little changed from Soviet times, even though the TFR plummeted well below this number. This indicates that many women were postponing children until they settled into careers and improved their material wellbeing – a hypothesis attested to by the rising age of mothers at childbirth since 1993.

Though this may be a false positive if many women remain childless, the 2002 Census indicated that only 6-7% of women did not have any children by the end of their reproductive years. This indicates that childlessness is not in vogue and worries about widespread sterility are overblown.

Third, a new confident conservatism has recently taken hold in Russian society. After two decades of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 consistently more Russians began to believe the nation was moving in a positive than in a negative direction. It is likely no coincidence that it the TFR began to consistently rise just then – from 1.3 in 2006 to about 1.5 in 2008, though generous new child benefits helped.

Many pessimists see this as empty petro-fueled swagger, prone to derailment by the first economic crisis. Yet marriage rates continued soaring in early 2009, mortality fell by 5% in Jan-Feb 2009 in comparison to the same period last year, and national morale remains high – notwithstanding the severity of the recent economic contraction.

High mortality rates only have a direct impact on replacement-level TFR when significant numbers of women die before or during childbearing age, as in Third World countries. Russia’s infant mortality rate of 8.5 / 1000 in 2008 is close to developed-country levels and not statistically significant. Though tragic and unnecessary, its “hypermortality” crisis mainly affects older men and as such has negligible direct effects on fertility.

However, mortality rates must be curbed if Russia is to avoid severe population decline in coming decades. Contrary to prevailing opinion, plans to raise life expectancy to 75 years by 2020 or 2025 are feasible if approached seriously. From 1970-1995 in Finnish Karelia, better healthcare and lifestyle reforms reduced incidences of heart disease, Russia’s main cause of death, by over 70%. Considering the sheer size of the gap between Russia and the advanced industrial world, even modest improvements will have a big impact.

And speaking of which, Russia is now installing new equipment in oncology centers, aims to increase access to hi-tech medical services from 25% to 80% by 2012 and is implementing anti-smoking and anti-alcohol measures. Deaths from alcohol poisoning and violence, as well as overall life expectancy, recently improved to the pre-transition levels of 1992.

The percentage of pregnant women testing HIV positive plateaued in 2002, suggesting the epidemic remains contained among injecting drug users. Models projecting imminent mass deaths from AIDS unrealistically assume heterosexual, sub-Saharan Africa transmission patterns, which is unbacked by sociological analysis or surveillance data.

Fears of Islamization ignore the unremarkable birth rates among Tatars, the largest Muslim ethnic group, and the 1990′s fertility transitions in the Caucasus. The idea that no more than 250,000 seasonal Chinese traders and laborers in the Far East pose a demographic threat is risible.

After 2020, Russia will start experiencing severe demographic pressure due to a smaller youth cohort and population aging. It must use the next decade wisely to build the foundations for recovery through increased fertility, mortality reduction and continued immigration. Despite temporary setbacks, Russia retains solid prospects for growth – a well-educated people, an extensive industrial infrastructure, growing centers of innovation and big hydrocarbon reserves. If things go right, large-scale population decline is still avoidable.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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After its long pre-modern stint as Europe’s most populated nation, France started transitioning to lower birth rates from the Napoleonic era, about a century in advance of the rest of Europe. On the eve of the First World War, its stagnant population made a stark contrast to German youth and virility. Considering the disparity in absolute numbers, 40mn French to 67mn Germans, it is not surprising that its General Staff looked with trepidation across the border and conscripted more men for longer periods than the Deutsches Reichsheer. And although France prevailed in the Great War, as was said of the Persians after Thermopylae, “any more such victories and they will be ruined”. Its morale collapsed upon invasion in 1940, leaving it to be occupied by the Nazis – thus apparently evidencing popular contemporaneous views of them as an effete race doomed to fail against Teutonic might.

Yet Germany too underwent a fertility transition after World War One, falling to replacement-level rates at around the time of the 1923 Weimar hyperinflation. For all their pro-natality efforts and anti-feminist zeal, the Nazis cardinally failed to pull Germany out of its demographic rut. The post-war baby boom crashed after 1970, and since then deaths consistently outnumbered births in Germany. Today France’s growing population of 62mn souls already has more children than Germany, whom it will overtake by around 2050, according to UN projections based on current trends. But unlike France in 1914, Germany needn’t worry too much about this. It is economically, politically and culturally intertwined with its erstwhile enemy and at least for now, the prospect of another European civil war is in the realm of fantasy.

The moral of this story? First, demography is an inherently difficult thing to predict – especially its key component, fertility, which depends on a myriad of economic, social and cultural factors whose relations to each other are still little-understood. Second, though demography is a powerful trend it is frequently superseded by social, political and technological developments. Third, and consequently, the deterministic concept that “demography is destiny”, relying as it does by necessity on the fallacy of linear extrapolation, is of very limited utility in forecasting the fates of nations.

An objective and in-depth look at Russian fertility trends shows that forecasts of Russia’s impending demographic doom, in which the Crescent replaces the Cross on its national gerb and ethnic centrifugal forces tear apart its Federation, are completely unrealistic. Though rhetorical hyperbole dismisses it as a dying nation with “European birth rates and African death rates”, the reality is that it is already fast recovering from the extended transition shock of the post-Soviet collapse. Instead, it is likely that the next few decades will see stagnant or slow population growth as Russian fertility patterns converge to that of France or Canada, with any shortfalls between births and deaths filled in by immigration; and after 2030, the world system faces a series of discontinuities that rend apart any predictive enterprise.

A Crude Demographic History of Russia

The annual rate of population growth can be derived from the birth rate, the death rate and net migration, which are usually measured in cases per 1000 people. Subtracting the death rate from the birth rate gives the rate of natural increase, which is shown below for Russia from 1959-2008.

The rate of natural increase was closely correlated with overall population growth in Soviet times, since migration either way was small then. As social and economic problems multiplied in the late 1980′s, the birth rate contracted and the death rate soared, intersecting each other around 1992 and forming the so-called “Russian Cross”. Though the population hit its peak of 149mn in 1992 and the rate of natural increase fell to -0.5% annually, the population fell at a relatively low rate until 1998 because of a large influx of ethnic Russians from the newly independent Near Abroad.

Afterwards the collapse accelerated after fertility tumbled further and immigration began to dry up in the wake of the financial crash, but the situation began to improve again from 2006 due to rising births, falling deaths and increased immigration. In 2008, the death rate stood at 14.7 / 1000, the birth rate at 12.1 / 1000 and net migration at 1.7 / 1000, giving a rate of natural increase of -2.6 / 1000 and overall population growth of -0.9 / 1000. Russia’s population almost stabilized in the last two years.

A Fertile Demographic History of Russia

Let us now look in more at the fertility side of Russian demographics in more detail. The graph below shows Russia’s total fertility rate (TFR) from 1925-2006.

The TFR is calculated by creating an imaginary woman who passes through her reproductive life subject to all the age-specific fertility rates for ages 15-49 that were recorded for a given population in a given year within one year, and calculating the number of children she would be expected to have. As such, it is a much more meaningful measure than crude birth rates, which depend on the particular structure of a society’s population pyramid. The replacement fertility rate is the figure at which long-term population growth tends to zero, absent increasing life expectancy and migration. In most developed societies this is around 2.1 because slightly more boys than girls are born.

Although Russia was at the forefront of the demographic transition in the 1950’s and 1960’s, unlike most Western European countries its TFR remained stable and edged upwards in the wake of the new maternal benefits and social guarantees of the 1980’s, peaking at 2.23 in 1987. It collapsed in the face of the socio-economic tsunamis of the 1990’s, reaching a nadir of 1.17 in 1999, albeit there has been an incipient recovery since the new millennium. A booming economy, state sponsored pro-natality propaganda campaign and a 2007 law that ‘expanded maternity leave benefits and payments, and granted mothers educational and other vouchers worth $10,650 for a second child and any thereafter’, contributed to a rise in the TFR to 1.41 in 2007 and approximately 1.50 in 2008. This is higher than the average for the European Union and the post-Soviet baby boom is already getting noticed by media outlets in the West.

A Female Demographic History of Russia

An even more meaningful measure is the net female reproduction coefficient (NFRC). It takes into account two things that the TFR doesn’t, at least not explicitly – a) the male-female ratio at birth and b) the female death rate, pre- and during childbearing age. Although the replacement level TFR is usually quoted as being 2.1, as mentioned above it varies in practice. Although that is indeed the case in most modern industrial countries, in underdeveloped and/or traditional societies with high female mortality rates in early years and/or high male to female ratios, the TFR needs to be as high as 2.5, 3.0 or more for generation reproduction. This is because a lot of females die before they can give birth to more girls. Although China has a nominally respectable TFR of 1.7-1.8, it is effectively considerably lower due to societal preference for males and the resulting skewed demographic profile.

The net female reproduction coefficient explicitly takes the two factors above into account – any value greater than 1 ensures long-term population growth, while a value of less than 1 implies impending decline. In the graph below you can see a graph of Russia’s NFRC from 1960 to 2005.

Today all the world’s major industrial nations are not producing enough girls to maintain their current population levels in the long-term. The US as a whole just about makes an exception, although only thanks to the help of highly fertile Hispanics. In Russia, the NFRC increased since 2005 to 0.67, which puts it above most east-central European countries but still significantly below France, Scandinavia and the Anglosphere.

One more thing can be gleaned from the graph above. Russia’s combination of high middle-age mortality rates, one of the earliest demographic transitions and post-Soviet fertility postponement meant that absolute demographic decline set in as early as the 1990′s, whereas the likes of Germany and Japan have only began sliding into them fairly recently. In Germany’s case, since the country has been in a deep sub-replacement rut since 1970 (i.e. for more than a generation), this is a truly deep and perhaps intractable problem, whereas a big Russian population decline can still theoretically be avoided. As it stands, however, the natural rate of population decline for Russia’s population, with a NFRC of 0.67, is 1.5% when it reaches equilibrium. Any improvements must come from increasing the TFR, as its infant mortality rate of 8.9/1000 in 2007 is already statistically negligible and changing the sex ratio in favor of more girls is unrealistic.

Now that we have a basic understanding of longterm Russian demographic trends, it is time to examine some common arguments of Russia’s demographic doomers.

The Argument from Reduced Cohorts

In demographic discussions on Russia, whenever someone points to the revival of births rates during the late Putin Presidency, a pessimist will interject that it is just the result of many women born during the 1980′s mini-baby boom coming of childbearing age – the so-called “echo effect”. Yet although from 1999-2007 the crude number of births increased by 33% from 1,214,700 to 1,610,100, only 37% of that increase was due to an increase in the size of the childbearing age segment of the population. The other 63% is due to the rise in the TFR, which is independent of the population’s age structure by definition. In 2007, these two figures widened to 10% and 90%, respectively. So the common doomer argument that recent increases in the birth rate are exclusively down to the current youth bulge is at best only a third valid for Putin’s whole term, and almost totally false for the past two years.

They do however make a valid point when they warningly point to Russia’s pine tree-shaped population pyramid, the demographic legacy of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). As you can see in the 2006 diagram below, there are currently about 40% fewer females in the 0-15 years age range, than there are in the 15-30 year age range.

The transition shock, coupled with the echoes of war, means that the number of women in the 20-29 age range is going to peak by 2013, and then go into rapid decline. To avoid an intensified resumption of population decline after that period, Russia will have to lower its mortality rates, increase immigration and raise the average age at childbirth.

The Effect of a Rising Average Age of Childbirth

Speaking of which, that has already been happening since 1993 as couples begin marrying later and postponing children, albeit the average age of Russian women at birth is still significantly smaller than in Western Europe.

In the 1960’s, when people expected to have many children, the average age at birth was around 27-28; but as fertility fell and a bigger percentage of births became firstborns, this figure declined. It rose slightly in the 1980’s (mini baby-boom) and collapsed until 1993, when it began rising again. From 2000, fertility growth was concentrated amongst women over 25 and decreased amongst those between 20 and 25. The share of newborns accruing to women younger than 25 years fell from 61% in 1993 to 41% in 2007, while the structure of age-specific fertility coefficients changed in a cardinal way.

This means that as Russian women converge to European fertility schedules in the years ahead, the big 1980’s generation will have more children in their 30’s than any previous post-Stalin cohort. The sharp fall-off expected in birth rates will thus be to a certain extent modulated, depending on the speed of the above transition.

Fertility Expectations Today are Little Different from the Soviet Era

One problem with total fertility rates is that they overestimate the effects of timing of births. An even more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (средняя очередность рождения, henceforth ABS), which gives for any one year the mean order of all newborn children (for instance, if women in a previously entirely childless country all decided to give birth in a given year for some reason, the TFR would leap up to a very high level but the ABS would equal exactly one). Looking at these different fertility patterns, it emerges that in the 1980’s, Soviet fertility was not as high as implied by the TFR – nor was the 1990’s collapse as apocalyptic as some would have it. Or in other words, many women gave birth in the 1980’s because of the social benefits of perestroika and many postponed birth in the 1990’s because of the transition shock. The effect on deeper generational fertility patterns was much more modest – a drop of just 0.2 children.

From above we can also see that 2007 was a seminal year not only for its respectable rise in the TFR, but because for the first time since the post-Soviet stagnation the ABS begun to appreciably rise again, increasing from 1.59 in 2006 to 1.66 in 2007. This was due to the increase in second-, third- and higher order births – firstborns as a percentage of all new children declined from 60% (where they had been since 1993), to 55%. This is partly linked to the aforementioned rise in the average age of childbirth.

The Argument from Convergence to European Fertility Patterns

Many better-informed pessimists, though they know about the recent up-tick in the TFR, nonetheless insist that it is a one-off improvement exclusively due to the recent pro-natality campaign. They believe it just brought forward in time births that would have occurred anyway and that this effect will fade away in a few more years. The respected demographer Nicholas Eberstadt falls into this camp, writing:

The other side of the equation is the fertility level, and Russian fertility is very low these days, although it has crept up over the past five or six years. But it is still down 30-40 percent below the replacement level. Is it feasible to think that Russian fertility will rise to replacement level over the next decade or so? Well if Russian fertility does rise up to replacement level, if it does rise by 50 percent from its current levels, this would be because of change in desired fertility on the part of parents in the Russian Federation. So far I don’t think we’ve seen any big signs of a big demand for more children. Rather, what we seem to be observing is that Russia is becoming part of the rest of Europe with respect to ideas about ideal family size. In the rest of Europe, fertility levels are very far below the replacement level. There are a few exceptions like France’s, which are close to replacement levels, but for the most part, European norms on fertility are one or at most two children as the ideal family size. What drives births in modern, relatively affluent societies, more than any other factor, are parental desires about how many children to have. Unless there is a transformation of Russian attitudes about children, its going to be hard for any kind of program of birth incentives or birth schemes to convince Russian parents to have more children then they see as the ideal.

Unfortunately, Eberstadt is wrong, or at best over-simplifies the situation. First, according to most surveys the vast majority of Russians say that they desire to have two or three children. The mean is around 2.5 children. This is barely down from the 2.7 children desired in 1990, when the first such survey to my knowledge was conducted under the auspices of the World Values Survey. Less than 10% would be content with an only child, albeit many were forced to do with just that during the post-Soviet hyper-depression.

This is further backed by a 2005 Rosstat study, Family and Fertility. The average desired amount of children, within favorable economic and social conditions, was 2.24, 2.40 and 1.99 for women, men and 15-17 year old teenagers respectively in Tver oblast, 2.26, 2.63 and 2.15 in Nizhnij Novgorod and 2.33, 2.56 and 2.11 in Marij El. On the other hand, the amount of children people are prepared to have in the present circumstances is substantially lower. Amongst women, men and teenagers, it is: 1.75, 1.87 and 1.72 in Tver Oblast; 1.60, 1.78 and 1.97 in Nizhnij Novgorod; 1.83, 2.05 and 1.92 in Marij El. The birth rate in these regions in 2005 was 9.3, 8.9 and 10.5 / 1000 people respectively, which is similar to the Russian average of 10.2. As such, it’s possible to construct the following table. Figures in italics are estimates based on crude, but in my opinion justified, linear extrapolation from the other data in the table.

Russian Demographics – Fertility Patterns
Real BR Real Fertility Planned Fertility
Desired Fertility
Tver Oblast 9.3 1.18 1.78 2.21
Nizhnij Novgorod 8.9 1.13 1.78 2.35
Marij El 10.5 1.33 1.93 2.33
Russian Federation 10.2 1.29 1.95 2.44

Extended to Russia as a whole, it implies that the planned fertility is around 1.9-2.0 and the the desired fertility is 2.4-2.5 children. There is a gap of 0.65 children between real fertility and planned fertility, and a further 0.5 child gap between planned fertility and desired fertility. This is roughly in line with surveys in other countries.

Second, it ignores the fact that there is a great deal of diversity in European fertility patterns. It can be roughly subdivided into the following regions: the West (France and the British Isles), the Med (Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal), Germania (Germany and Austria), Visegrad (Poland and its east-central European neighbors) and Scandinavia. The West and Scandinavia tend to have reasonably healthy TFR’s, ranging from 1.7 to 2.1, and on average desire to have 2.4-2.6 children. The Med and Visegrad countries have 1.3-1.4 children and desire 2.0-2.2 children. Although Germania has a TFR of 1.4, its desired number of children is the lowest in the region at 1.7-1.8. So on average although Europeans want about 2.1-2.3 children, their particular circumstances – frequently speculated to be excessive social obligations, high unemployment and perhaps subconscious forebodings of overpopulation – limit their fertility to a EU average of 1.4. In general, the greater the disparity between real fertility and desired fertility, the greater the perception that they have too few children and presumably, the greater the desire to close the “potential gap”.

Belief in the Future Returns to Russia, Crisis Notwithstanding

Considering that Russia’s desired fertility is around 2.5, this means that in the presence of good conditions, its “natural” TFR can be expected be lie somewhere between 1.7 and 2.1 children. It is true that the phenomenally rapid jump in the TFR from 1.3 in 2006 to about 1.5 in 2008 was helped by the pro-natality campaign, but there are deeper factors at work. According to the Levada Center for sociological research, there were a number of positive discontinuities in Russia life from 2006 on.

After a long period of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 more people began to believe Russia was moving in a positive than in a negative direction, and from early 2008 more people felt confident in tomorrow than not. Though positing dependencies between such semi-intangible variables and concrete demographic trends is risky, I do not think it is a coincidence that solid improvements in the TFR only began from 2006. Anyone closely observing Russia in the past few years will have noticed a new confident conservatism in Russian society, albeit many pessimists interpret it as mere petro-fueled swagger, about to be brought back down to earth by the unfolding economic crisis.

Perhaps. Yet marriage rates, perhaps as good an indicator as any of social confidence, surged from a nadir of 6.2 / 1000 people in 2000, to 7.5 / 1000 in 2005 and 8.9 / 1000 in 2007, and continued increasing in Jan-Feb of this year. Mortality rates also continued their swift descent, after taking a rest in 2008 from the impressive improvements from 2005-2007, when life expectancy rose from 65.3 to 67.5 years.

Furthermore, the post-Soviet collapse was an unprecedented hyper-depression, surpassed only by the Civil War in its social costs. Though on paper recovery from the 1998 crisis was rapid, newly severe budget discipline undercut social spending that left many classes and regions destitute for years. It is telling that in the first six months of the 1998 recession, the proportion of people who could hardly afford even food rose from 29% to 40% of the population; in stark contrast, in the five months since the Russian economy began collapsing in October, this figure rose from 9%…to just 10%.

This is notwithstanding that the rate of decline from Q4 2008 to Q1 2009 was even sharper than during H2 1998. However this time round, both state and society have much bigger surpluses to fall back on during the lean times. As such, the probability that the crisis will have a significant longterm effect on Russian fertility is extremely low. Russia retains strong foundations for growth – an educated populace, an extensive industrial infrastructure, growing centers of innovation and extensive hydrocarbon reserves in a post-peak oil era. Sooner or later rapid growth will resume, ushering in the material conditions for the rite of spring to blossom into demographic summer.

Not All Demographic Indicators are Created Equal

Many commentators believe that Russia’s excessively high mortality rates preclude a demographic recovery – an example of this line of reasoning appears in Rising Ambitions, Sinking Population by Nicholas Eberstadt. It is certainly true that Russia’s life expectancy is exceptionally low by industrialized-world standards and that death rates for middle-aged men today are, amazingly, no different from those of late Tsarism. This development is almost entirely attributable to the extreme prevalance of binge drinking of hard spirits. Yet their conclusions don’t follow the arguments.

This has little direct effect on fertility – the main burden of hyper-mortality falls amongst men, who as a rule don’t reproduce except in very rare circumstances. Female death rates, although much larger relative to their Western counterparts, are statistically insignificant prior to and during their childbearing years. The infant mortality rate of 8.5 / 1000 for 2008 is already close to developed-world standards of 3-7 / 1000. There is no major discrepancy between the numbers of men and women until the age of 40, so no problem with finding mates.

Excessive mortality also disproportionately affects poorer, badly-educated people – life expectancy for college grads actually increased from Soviet times. Eberstad asserts that high mortality rates precludes human capital formation through education and hence dim prospects for high rates of future economic growth and consequently perpetuating low fertility. This doesn’t stand up to evidence or common sense.

Today, more than 70% of Russians get a higher education and they perform well in standardized international tests on math and science. deaths from heart disease and accidents only happen to other people. The reasons why should be obvious – most folks don’t refer to the society around them, calculate their life expectancy and make cost-benefit analyses on whether or not to improve their human capital. They just see their friends go to college and join in to avoid the draft and avoid jobs like cleaning garbage.

It is true that poor health lowers productivity, although by curbing aging it also partially relieves pressure on pensions. Yet it cannot check the growth of a vital civilization – America was known as the Alcoholic Republic in the great early days of its founding. The drinking problem was already very bad in the late Soviet Union, but that did not preclude it from maintaining near replacement level demographics until its dissolution. In my own simulations of Russia’s demographic future, even small changes in the TFR have bigger long-term impacts than major changes in mortality trajectories.

Finally, some analysts believe Russia is going to experience an AIDS mortality crisis sometime in the next few years. As I noted in The Myth of the Russian AIDS Apocalypse, the models used by Eberstadt and other prophets of doom are critically flawed, because according to the international research program Knowledge for Action in HIV/AIDS in Russia, they assume that “the epidemic would be essentially heterosexual in nature and follow trends observed in sub-Saharan Africa”, which is “not borne out by current surveillance data from Russia” – or indeed by the slightest acquaintance with comparative development and sociology.

Russia’s medieval working-age male mortality profile blights lives, but has only a minor effect on long-term demographic development, and as such should be treated as a pressing public health problem instead of the demographic land-mine it is more commonly portrayed as.

The Myth of Dhimmitude

Alarmist analysts like Daniel Pipes and Paul Goble, Islamic fundamentalists and certain plain demented Russophobe bloggers raise the specter of Russia’s transformation into a majority Muslim nation within the next 50 years. As is usually the case with such sensationalist claims, closer examination clears up the clutter. If you read Russian, take a look at Will Russia become Muslim?, otherwise…

First, the share of ethnic Russians declined from 81.5% of the population of the RSFSR, to 79.8% of the population of the Russian Federation – a time of low Russian birth rates and rapid Muslim expansion. Even a crude linear extrapolation of these rates forward, ignoring demographic transitions and aging, gives a figure of 68.7% ethnic Russians in 2050.

Second, even this is a pointless exercise, of course, as a quick look at current regional TFR proves. The two biggest ethnic Muslim groups, the Tatars (3.8% of the population) and the Bashkirs (1.2%) transitioned to sub-replacement fertility rates at about the same time as ethnic Russians. Today, Tatarstan has a TFR of 1.4 and Bashkortostan has a TFR of 1.6, which is not significantly different from that of majority Russian regions.

Even the current rapid population growth seen in the Caucasian Muslim republics conceals a major demographic transition during the 1990′s. Although a huge youth bulge contributes to current high birth rates, it should be noted that all the Caucasian republics now have sub-replacement fertility rates, with the sole exception of Chechnya where the TFR was 3.1 in 2007. Incidentally, I suspect it is no coincidence that it is Chechnya which also had by far the bloodiest recent history – when you have just one son to lose instead of several, it is that much harder to send him off in the service of violent separatism or radical Islam.

Third, the reason some people fear or relish the idea of an Islamic Russia is because they associate Russian Muslims with their less socially developed counterparts in the Middle East. Actually, vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Russia. Tatars, who make up more than a third of Russia’s Muslim population, are almost as secular to Islam as ethnic Russians are to Christian Orthodoxy. Even amongst the Chechens Wahabbism never truly took root, despite the best efforts of Arab mujahideen. As Fedia Kriukov put it, “the whole idea of Muslim takeover is predicated on one giant falsification — the substitution of the term “Muslim” for the term “representative of a traditionally Muslim ethnicity”…Absolutely nothing would change in the country if Tatars became the majority, however unlikely that situation is.”

Finally, one of the staples of alarmist, pessimistic and/or Russophobic (not to mention Sinophobic) commentary on Russian demography is a reworking of the yellow peril thesis. In their fevered imaginations, the Chinese supposedly swim across the Amur River in their millions, establishing village communes in the taiga and breeding prolifically so as to displace ethnic Russians and revert Khabarovsk and Vladivostok back to their rightful Qing Dynasty-era names, Boli and Haisanwei. I comprehensively refuted this fantasy in a previous post on Russia Blog, The Myth of the Yellow Peril.

Arguments from Linear Extrapolation Discount Future Discontinuities

Based on the following analysis, it is clear that Russia’s demographic crisis is nowhere near as great as commonly portrayed even in informed commentary on the subject, which too frequently uses flawed analogies and unwarranted linear extrapolations. As I argue in Faces of the Future, all predictions of a fall in Russia’s population to 100mn or less by 2050 are not borne out by current fertility and sociological developments. I give an alternate range of scenarios that see Russia’s population change to 139mn-150mn by 2025, and 119mn-167mn (medium – 150mn) souls by 2050. My results are more or less in line with Rosstat forecasts which see the population growing to 129mn-150mn (medium – 137mn) by 2025, albeit they diverge from more common models based on pessimistic assumptions on future fertility. I highly recommend checking it out – my Medium Scenario is reproduced below.

Ultimately, history will be the judge on whether this forecast fares any better than its peers. I suspect it will be epic fail all around – especially after 2025. This is because by then much more powerful trends in resource depletion, climate change and technological growth will be coming into play. The end of cheap hydrocarbon based energy threatens an end to global economic growth and collapse into the Olduvai Gorge. Numerous positive feedback mechanisms such as methane clathrate releases and saturation of traditional carbon sinks will intensify global warming. We will be reaching limits to growth on multiple fronts and industrial civilization will be in peril. As one of the few countries to benefit from global warming, Russia may become host to hundreds of millions of climate refugees.

On the other hand there will be great technological advances, including the rise of nano-manufacturing, ultra high-bandwidth full-immersion virtual reality networks and perhaps recursively self-improving strong AI. Major demographic discontinuities could include the development of an artificial womb (and baby factories?) and indefinite lifespan or actuarial escape velocity. However, bioengineered viruses or malevolent AI could also conceivably destroy the human race. Much as the rise of agriculture made hunter-gathering obsolete as a way of life, and just as industrial civilization remade the world in its own image, the dematerialization associated with a technological singularity will rend traditional human demography moot.

Perhaps neither of this will happen and things will continue much as they did before, but many serious futurists believe that major discontinuities will occur – there are simply too many exponential runways and pitfalls. Yet there is one thing I am certain on – the significance of demography will decline, just as it has since the days of mass conscription armies. Superpowers in the future will count their strength in oil barrels and supercomputers, not men.

This article is reprinted at Russia Blog. It also generated a long discussion over at Streetwise Professor.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Though hard to imagine, the Washington Post – or Pravda on the Potomac, as Eugene Ivanov quite rightly labels it – surpassed even its own sordid standards for Russia coverage, in the form of the latest op-ed from George F. Will in Potemkin Country. Time to go grenade fishing again, I guess.

America’s “progressive” president has some peculiarly retro policies. Domestically, his reactionary liberalism is exemplified by his policy of No Auto Company Left Behind, with its intimated hope that depopulated Detroit, where cattle could graze, can somehow return to something like the 1950s. Abroad, he seems to yearn for the 1970s, when the Soviet Union was rampant and coping with it supposedly depended on arms control.

I suppose turning the US into a deindustrialized failed empire and possibly post-nuclear wasteland is a great idea. Maybe not.

Actually, what was needed was not the chimera of arms control but Ronald Reagan’s renewal of the arms race that helped break the Soviet regime. The stately minuet of arms negotiations helped sustain U.S. public support for the parallel weapons spending.

The Soviet Union broke because of the internal failures of its planned economy and stymied social and national aspirations. He is right that the arms race helped tip it over, but so did many other factors such as rising social obligations, collapsing oil prices and technological stagnation. However, with the US budget deficit soaring into banana republic territory of 10%+ of GDP, conceivably for years to come, now is no time to start a new arms race – not unless George F. Will is a traitor who wants to see the US go the way of the USSR.

Significant arms agreements are generally impossible until they are unimportant. Significant agreements are those that substantially alter an adversarial dynamic between rival powers. But arms agreements never do. During the Cold War, for example, arms negotiations were another arena of great-power competition rather than an amelioration of that competition.

Since both the US and the USSR accumulated more than enough nuclear weapons to guarantee destruction of each other in a full exchange by the 1970′s, there was no point to further expansion – might as well use the resources for other purposes. Another aim was to strike up a rapport to create trust and lower the chances of an accidental nuclear war, which ever since the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) era has been a much greater risk than a planned Armageddon. No agreements on conventional forces were signed during the Cold War that I know of, and they entailed much greater expenditure than nukes.

The Soviet Union was a Third World nation with First World missiles. It had, as Russia still has, an essentially hunter-gatherer economy, based on extraction industries — oil, gas, minerals, furs. Other than vodka, for what manufactured good would you look to Russia? Caviar? It is extracted from the fish that manufacture it.

The smarmy attitude aside, the reason Russia exports few manufactured goods is that its comparative economic advantage lies in exporting hydrocarbons, which appreciates the ruble and makes its manufactured goods unattractive; currently, its industrial base is focused on import substitution, i.e. manufacturing in Russia what is currently imported. Nonetheless, it is the world’s joint-first (with the US) exporter of military hardware and is currently introducing products like the Sukhoi SuperJet which enjoy high chances of international success.

Today, in a world bristling with new threats, the president suggests addressing an old one — Russia’s nuclear arsenal. It remains potentially dangerous, particularly if a portion of it falls into nonstate hands. But what is the future of the backward and backsliding kleptocratic thugocracy that is Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

Props for “kleptocratic thugocracy” – a great new addition to the Russophobe rhetorical arsenal, though granted much less dangerous than Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Even in the 1990′s the fear of loose nukes from the Soviet Union was a largely phantom one, and now it’s just ridiculous.

Putin — ignore the human Potemkin village (Dmitry Medvedev) who currently occupies the presidential office — must be amazed and amused that America’s president wants to treat Russia as a great power. Obama should instead study pertinent demographic trends.

Nicholas Eberstadt’s essay “Drunken Nation” in the current World Affairs quarterly notes that Russia is experiencing “a relentless, unremitting, and perhaps unstoppable depopulation.” Previous episodes of depopulation — 1917-23, 1933-34, 1941-46 — were the results of civil war, Stalin’s war on the “kulaks” and collectivization of agriculture, and World War II, respectively. But today’s depopulation is occurring in normal — for Russia — social and political circumstances. Normal conditions include a subreplacement fertility rate, sharply declining enrollment rates for primary school pupils, perhaps more than 7 percent of children abandoned by their parents to orphanages or government care or life as “street children.” Furthermore, “mind-numbing, stupefying binge drinking of hard spirits” — including poisonously impure home brews — “is an accepted norm in Russia and greatly increases the danger of fatal injury through falls, traffic accidents, violent confrontations, homicide, suicide, and so on.” Male life expectancy is lower under Putin than it was a half-century ago under Khrushchev.

I refuted Eberstadt and demonstrated the bankruptcy of most current “thinking” on Russian demographic trends multiple times in this blog. First, low working-age male life expectancy is tragic but not crippling – it has no direct effect on fertility, disproportionately affects poorer, badly-educated people and partially relieves pressure on pensions. It may lower productivity, but cannot check the growth of a vital civilization – America was known as the Alcoholic Republic in the great early days of its founding.

Second, he ignores that the total fertility rate has been steadily creeping up from 1.3 children per woman in 2006, to around 1.5 as of 2008 – and there is plenty of evidence this is a sustainable trend. Similarly, no mention is made of the mortality decline from 2005 and of its ambitious health plans to 2020.

Third, Russia’s net primary school enrollment stands at 90.9%, compared with 91.6% in the US and similar figures in most eastern European nations like Lithuania (89.4%) or the Czech Republic (92.5%). That the likes of Bolivia (94.9%) and Indonesia (95.5%) claim to have significantly better numbers than any of these obviously far-better educated nations should give us an insight into the usefulness of this indicator as a gauge of human capital.

Martin Walker of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, writing in the Wilson Quarterly (“The World’s New Numbers”), notes that Russia’s declining fertility is magnified by “a phenomenon so extreme that it has given rise to an ominous new term — hypermortality.” Because of rampant HIV/AIDS, extreme drug-resistant tuberculosis, alcoholism and the deteriorating health-care system, a U.N. report says “mortality in Russia is three to five times higher for men and twice as high for women” as in other countries at a comparable stage of development. The report, Walker says, “predicts that within little more than a decade the working-age population will be shrinking by up to 1 million people annually.” Be that as it may, “Russia is suffering a demographic decline on a scale that is normally associated with the effects of a major war.”

The main concern Walker cites in The World’s New Numbers is that it would be hard to maintain economic growth in a country “whose young male work force looks set to decrease by ­half”, and as such voices a familiar argument that Russia does not belong in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) quartet of key emerging markets. Yet according to the World Bank, the proportion of the population aged 65+ will increase from 12% to 18% in Russia by 2025, and the latter figure is actually equal to Estonia’s percentage today! – whose current problems are certainly not centered around entitlements spending.

As Walker himself agrees in his article, this is “more of a labor-market challenge than a demographic crisis”. My own dependency ratio projections are far from cataclysmic. The notion of a Russian AIDS Apocalypse is a myth, because according to the international research program Knowledge for Action in HIV/AIDS in Russia, all the pessimistic models assume “the epidemic would be essentially heterosexual in nature and follow trends observed in sub-Saharan Africa”, which is “not borne out by current surveillance data from Russia” or indeed basic common sense.

According to projections by the United Nations Population Division, Russia’s population, which was around 143 million four years ago, might be as high as 136 million or as low as 121 million in 2025, and as low as 115 million in 2030.

Yet another fallacy of linear extrapolation, of which some folks never tire. In 1914, France had a population of 40mn to Germany’s 65mn, had much lower fertility rates and its General Staff looked with trepidation at the future. Today, it has a population of 61mn and is one of the few European countries with replacement-level fertility levels, whereas Germany has a population of 82m which is projected to fall to 70mn by 2050.

Marx envisioned the “withering away” of the state under mature communism. Instead, Eberstadt writes, the world may be witnessing the withering away of Russia, where Marxism was supposed to be the future that works. Russia, he writes, “has pioneered a unique new profile of mass debilitation and foreshortened life previously unknown in all of human history.”

“History,” he concludes, “offers no examples of a society that has demonstrated sustained material advance in the face of long-term population decline.” Demography is not by itself destiny, but it is more real than an arms control “process” that merely expresses the liberal hope of taming the world by wrapping it snugly in parchment.

Not only is this article profoundly ignorant and bigoted, but it also very poorly written – I’ve pretty much lost track of what George F. Will is supposed to be arguing about. Oh yeah, the arms control thing. Then again, you can’t expect much in the way of reason and logic from a global warming denier.

As for myself, I’m just happy I spent less time writing this up than my Kasparov the Bolshevik article. A popular Russian proverb has it that a fool can ask more questions than ten wise men could answer, so no wonder this is a favored strategy of Russophobes everywhere, as pointed out by Patrick Armstrong. Now if only somebody could invent the computer AI version of a grenade-launcher…

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
With increasing signs of economic collapse, military overstretch and political problems, is the US doomed to go the way of the late USSR?
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Inspired in no small part by the political charade over the bail-outs and boondoggles that plague the TV screens and electronic ether, I’ve compiled a top 10 list of ways in which the US increasingly resembles the collapsing Soviet Union for your information / despair / entertainment / Schadenfreude / ridicule / etc.

A list of how Russians screwed up and Americans are repeating their mistakes step by step. A list that may provoke much needed debate and change that we can really believe in.

10

An alcohol epidemic from the 1960′s on that kept Russian life expectancy flat ever since.

Dietary catastrophe resulting in historically unprecedented obesity and diabetes rates.

9

Hated and feared for human rights violations, invasion of Afghanistan and Communist rhetoric, and its socialist model discredited.

Hated and feared for use of torture, invasion of Iraq and post-Cold War triumphalist arrogance, and its neoliberal model discredited.

8

Military overstretch, economic distortion and disaster in Afghanistan.

Imperial overstretch, runaway military budget and return to the “graveyard of empires”.

7

Wasteful investments into infrastructure, bloated bureaucracy and inefficient industry.

Decaying infrastructure, misplaced investments into suburbia, bloated financial system and hallowing out of industry.

6

Collapse in morality, bloated bureaucracy and soaring corruption.

Regulatory capture, bloated special interests and legalistic mafia.

5

Suppression of statistics and silencing of dissent.

Manipulation of statistics and ignores dissent.

4

Dependence on foreign credit from debts and oil sales.

Dependence on foreign credit from debts, “dark matter” and the $’s status as global currency reserve.

3

Young reformer takes power and talks of glasnost and perestroika while avoiding real reform.

Young “outsider” wins the elections and talk of change and hope…

2

Ethnic nationalism and separatist tendencies.

Tax revolts and state rights.

1

More and more people began to predict Soviet collapse in the late 1980′s.

More and more people are beginning to predict an American collapse now…


10) The first disturbing similarity is the rapidly deteriorating health of the population. From the 1960′s, an alcohol epidemic began to sweep Russia as binging graduated from something done on holidays to a monthly and then a weekly affair. The drinking epidemic spread to women and younger people, and intensified amongst middle-aged men. Once subjected to the cheap alcohol and social dislocations of the post-Soviet world, an already stagnating average life expectancy plummeted.

As late as 1990, not a single state in the Union had an obesity rate of greater than 15% of the adult population; today, not a single state (with the marginal exception of Colorado) has an obesity rate of less than 20%. The national obesity rate soared to 34%. The percentage of American adults suffering from diabetes is now 11%, and another 26% have impaired glucose tolerance. Although improvements in US life expectancy haven’t stalled, change has been slower than in most other developed countries and even then was mostly accounted for by improved medical technology, and successes in reducing tobacco smoking and overconsumption of animal fats. An economic collapse now would trim the vastly expensive healthcare system and almost certainly result in a mortality spike – especially considering that the baby boomers are now nearing retirement age.

Both the Russian and American epidemics affect poor, middle-aged people the most; a difference is that the alcohol epidemic affected men more than women, whereas in the US obesity is slightly more prevalent amongst women than men. Vodka sales made good profits for the state (via taxes) during the Soviet period and good profits for private distilleries in the post-Soviet period; the American diet makes good profits for fast food outlets and the parasitic “food processing” companies that degrade good corn into corn syrup. Perhaps the most poignant comparison is in the kinds of TV adverts that dominate the airwaves in both countries. In Russia after 9pm, every third commercial suddenly becomes about some or another kind of beer (that’s an improvement over the 1990′s, when they ran all day); in the US, day or night, every third commercial praises the virtues of some kind of meretricious fat-soaked starchy thing.

9) Throughout the early Cold War, the USSR was a source of inspiration to leftist Western intellectuals and Third World countries looking to throw off the imperialist yoke and modernize quickly. But by the early 1980′s, pressure was being applied to the Soviet Union on account of its violations of the human rights treaties it was a signitary to. Central planning remained an alien ideology to all Western societies, increasingly so as its failures became clearer. It was condemned for its invasion of Afghanistan (in reality, an intervention at the request of its new socialist government to defend them from Islamists).

The United States gained a great moral victory from the collapse of the USSR (despite it being a result of internal dynamics) and enjoyed it during the 1990′s. However, this came to an end after 2001 due to the hypocritical and immoral way it went about waging the Orwellian-sounding “war on terror”. Preemptive war on made-up pretenses, extraordinary renditions of terrorist suspects and the neocons’ incessant freedom-rhetoric was something the world by and large couldn’t square together. This resulted in its poor showing in international approval ratings and its repeated “victories” in the “world’s greatest threats to peace” category with Iran, Israel and North Korea as regular runner-ups and after party company. Although the fairness of such characterizations can be disputed, they are ultimately immaterial since it is perceptions that matter – not right or wrong, however defined.

The central planning model of the USSR was fully discredited by the 1980′s; neoliberalism is similarly on en route to the ashcan of history.

8) The USSR was spending about 25% of its GDP on the military by the 1980′s. Not only did this squeeze consumption and contribute to stagnant real incomes from around the mid 1970′s, it divested resources from investment into renewing the capital stock, civilian R&D and improvement of human capital via education and healthcare. However, official figures were ridiculously low – around 2.5% or so of GDP – due to statistical fudging and giving purely military enterprises funny names like the Chelyabinsk Tractor and Machine Building Factory (invented example).

The US maintains unrivaled power projection capabilities, a global network of 700 military bases and the world’s most technologically advanced military force – but it comes at a steep price. While the official military budget for FY2008 is around 520bn $, to this must be added the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (170bn $), interest on past military expenditures (170bn $), nuclear weapons (30bn $), veterans (70bn $), “homeland defense” (70bn $) and other spending on their lavish healthcare and education entitlements, military foreign aid and “black projects”. (And btw, the figures for interest, nukes and veterans are from 2005). Therefore, it is probably entirely reasonable to double the entire military budget to better appreciate its true magnitude – i.e., quite possibly close to 10% of GDP. Add in the distortions – military production has the smallest multiplier effect on the economy (machine building has the biggest), and its claim on skilled workers (something like half of R&D outlays in the US are for military applications), and you get a superpower severely hobbled by its arms’ burden.

This is not a good situation, but not critical either. Yes, it ties down a big chunk of the economy in unproductive pursuits and contributes to the institutional corruption and runaway spending that is typical of military-industrial complexes. I happen to consider that most of the procurement programs currently being pursued are useless, from unproven missile defense to the overhyped F-35 (just build a few hundred much superior F-22′s instead) to the shiny new surface warships and aircraft carriers that are of dubious value in our era of advanced cruise missiles, UAV’s and supercavitating torpedos. (But this for another post). Most poignantly, Obama is now preparing to withdraw from Iraq (where stability is not yet assured, and which is far more strategically important) to free up troops for Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires…and ignoring Soviet veterans’ warnings of what might await them. And the economy is nowhere near as dominated by the priorities of the Armed Forces as was the case in the USSR. Nonetheless, huge military spending and foreign adventures do not necessarily lead to collapse – by themselves. However, the other economic and confidence problems now facing the US now make that a realistic possibility.

7) The Soviet Union invested vast resources into industrial development. However, they were frequently inefficient, wasteful and of questionable quality; and in any case were being severely undercut by the arms burden by the 1980′s.

Although the US built up a world class public infrastructure prior to the 1980′s, since then investments in this area have dropped off. The roads in California are frequently cracked and potholed – vastly inferior to what one might find in Germany, and not much better than in Russia. One quarter of bridges are structurally deficient, in most cities the water pipeline system is a century old and the electrical grid befits a Third World country.

Even worse is that much of the “infrastructure” that was built up in the past few decades consisted of lavish homes in sururbia requiring massive inputs of cheap energy to function normally. When oil is at 10$, spending an hour driving to work is monetarily (if not spiritually) sustainable; as we pass the oil peak and other resources (almost certainly) fail to make good the gap in time, this will change as petrol soars in price, even assuming it will remain available on the open market. Due to the “psychology of preveious investments” (see James Kunstler’s work) it is unlikely Americans will summon the will to scale down its suburbia before the laws of economics and geology force them into it.

Soviet industry was inefficient and was destroyed when subjected to market forces. American industry has already been hallowed out; high productivity growth masks a huge decline in quantity and complexity of its “industrial ecosystem”. US vehicle production fell from 13.0mn to 10.8mn from 2000 to 2007, held up only by the (doomed in the long-term) SUV market which is the only sector in which the Big Three made any profits. (During the same period, Germany increased production from 5.5mn to 6.2mn and Japan from 10.1mn to 11.6mn). Its machine tool building industry has for all intents and purposes collapsed. The only marginally healthy manufacturing industries left are in aerospace and defense. This is going to have very bad consequences when inflows of cheap credit from abroad can no longer sustain the US consumption boom; the manufacturing sector that could potentially have led to a quick revival simply no longer exists.

6) Whatever the faults of the USSR in its early years, there was genuine enthusiasm for building socialism relatively untainted by corruption. This began to change rapidly for the worse from the 1970′s. The elites became exclusively concerned with their own power and wellbeing, ultimately leading to the “insider buyout” that probably best describes what happened in its dying days. The size of the bureaucracy exploded and its effectiveness plummeted. A small change for the better under Gorbachev in the mid to late 1980′s led to catastrophic collapse, endemic corruption under Yeltsin, and some improvements under Putin from a very low base. Blatant self-enrichment of the elite at society’s expense became an accepted norm.

How does this translate to the US?

Collapse in ethics, quoting Buiter in Fiscal expansions in submerging markets:

… Financial regulation and supervision was weak to non-existent, encouraging credit and asset price booms and bubbles. Corporate governance, especially but not only in the banking sector, became increasingly subservient to the interests of the CEOs and the other top managers. There was a steady erosion in business ethics and moral standards in commerce and trade. Regulatory capture and corruption, from petty corruption to grand corruption to state capture, became common place. Truth-telling and trust became increasingly scarce commodities in politics and in business life. The choice between telling the truth (the whole truth and nothing but the truth) and telling a deliberate lie or half-truth became a tactical option. Combined with increasing myopia, this meant that even reputational considerations no longer acted as a constraint on deliberate deception and the use of lies as a policy instrument. As part of this widespread erosion of social capital, both citizens and markets lost faith in the ability of governments to commit themselves to any future course of action that was not validated, at each future point in time, as the most opportunistic course of action at that future point in time – what macroeconomists call time-consistent policies and game theorists call ’subgame-perfect’ strategies.

Under bloated special interests, I put the bloated financial services industry, the legalistic mafia, the healthcare industry and the prison-industrial complex. Finance as a share of GDP doubled in the last 30 years, transforming it from a service industry to a rent-seeking one. The proliferation of lawyers amidst amidst burgeoning legalism in society is another example of a self-serving mafia feeding on the blood of the citizenry, as are the “justice” systems and prisons that have gone together with them (the US has an incarceration rate that is unprecedented amongst anything but totalitarian societies). Finally there’s the healthcare industry, perversely regulated in such a way as to make it far less efficient than if it were nationalized or completely private and delivering one of the worst results for the buck in the world – and like a metastasizing cancer, it’s share of GDP has also exploded in the past few decades.

5) Since the 1970′s real wages for workers in the Soviet Union ceased growing, pressed down by the demands of the military-industrial complex. When statistics began to show that the average life expectancy was stagnating and infant mortality rising, they ceased publishing them.

Real median income in the US slowly increased from 35,000$ in 1967 to 46,000$ in 2005; however, the rate of increase slowed and for the first time in modern history it didn’t exceed the level reached at the peak prior to the last recession in 2000-2001 during the growth years of the Bush Presidency. In reality however the situation is even worse because since the time of Reagan the definition of inflation used by the government was being continuously reworked to make the figures appear better than they otherwise would have been, using substitutions and hedonics to spruce up the figures (i.e. adjusting for consumers switching to other products when similar products become expensive, and trying to put values on quality improvements). If the BEA (Bureau of Economic Analysis) continued using its old measuring standards, then a) the economy would have been in stagnation during the 1990′s and recession in the 2000′s, b) inflation would have been steadily increasing to a peak of nearly 14% in 2007 and c) median incomes would have been in steep decline. According to this thesis, then, the only reason the US avoided a big fall in living standards was due to the massive expansion in credit…which brings us to the next point.

4) The Soviet Union grew rapidly in the 1950′s and 1960′s because it was easy to move plenty of rural farmhands into relatively low-skilled industrial jobs. However as labor stocks became limited and focus shifted towards improving technology and productivity, GDP growth slowed and eventually stagnated. Collapse was delayed by the onset of high oil prices, which allowed the USSR to more easily import food products, machinery and technologies. When that collapsed in the mid-1980′s, the state was forced to run up huge debts to maintain mounting entitlement obligations, an overgrown military and bail out its East European satellites. Corruption and hidden inflation overtook the state and broke it.

According to Willem Buiter writing in Can the American economy afford a Keynesian stimulus?, America is a nation in fundamental disequilibrium. It can finance its continuous double deficits by giving its foreign investors an atrocious rate of return. In prior times, they accepted this because of America’s status as the largest economy, sole superpower and global financial center. This was presumed to reduce risk, so investors traded profits for security. From 2000-2004, it is estimated that the US exported some 559bn $ of this “dark matter“, or some 5% of its GDP at the time (the UK was second with 234bn $, or a stunning 15% of GDP). It also draws immense strength from the $’s role as the global reserve currency, for instance by allowing it to comfortably buy oil at $-denominated prices even when the currency is weak.

Due to its imperial overstretch, moribund financial system and frozen credit markets prepped up only by the federal government means that American alpha is almost certainly going to disappear in the next few years. The US fiscal deficit is going to be more than 12% of GDP in 2009 and will remain in the red for at least the next few years. Once global flight to quality ceases, the US will experience difficulties borrowing due foreign f ear of American reluctance to commit to servicing their external obligations without inflation. The interest rates on them are going to be punitive and so a greater amount of resources will have to go towards servicing the debt, thus triggering a potential debt crisis. Buiter predicts a global dump of US dollar assets including Treasury bonds within the next two to five years as investors lose faith in the ability of the US Federal government to generate the primary surpluses required to service its debt without selling much of it to the Fed on a permanent basis, or that the nation as a whole will be able to generate the primary surpluses to service the negative net foreign investment position without the benefit of “American alpha”.

In conclusion, the only reason the US can afford to have both guns and butter is that the outside world is willing to provide it with cheap credit. This will no longer be the case as soon as global panic subsides, and the US will face the real possibility of a debt-and-currency crisis which it will have to inflate its way out of (on which they seem to be making a good start). The 2010′s will see plummeting global oil extraction and sky-high prices. If the $ were to collapse, the imports of oil that fuel the economy will plummet and may lead to a post-Soviet-scale drop in GDP (unless the US uses its military clout to lock in Iraqi and Saudi production – however, given its fiscal problems, questions about political unity and rhetorical commitment to human rights, that would be hard to achieve).

America can take consolation in one thing, however – the collapse in Britain, which is three times as reliant on “dark matter”; which is a much bigger energy importer relative to production; whose industry is in a far more decayed state; and where real breakup is far more likely because of ethnic tensions, will be much worse.

3) When Mikhail Gorbachev (the youngest member of the Politburo) came to power he talked of increasing transparency (glasnost) and restructuring (perestroika). Yet the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it starts to reform. In reality the Soviet system was already very probably unsalvageable by then, partly because even the leader himself continued to be a part of the system, beholden to dominant interests (in the Soviet case, to the military-industrial complex, the nomenklatura and workers) and steeped in delusions of grandeur. Even as he attempted to liberalize and solve many interlocking social and economic problems at once, social entitlements were increased, new weapons systems ordered and foreign borrowing increased. Half-measures and reckless credit giveouts to save the system led to massive waste, insider plunder and the start of the disintegration of the economy by the late 1980′s.

The similarities with Obama are striking. Obama is one of the youngest Presidential candidates ever, and talks of hope and change. He comes after the zastoi, deterioration in political and civil liberties and reckless foreign military adventures of Bush II. Like Gorby, he is immensely popular throughout the world. He plans on expanding healthcare and other social entitlements, burdening the economy with farcical green schemes* and is intent on rescuing the troubled financial system by massive infusions of credit, with no regard for the future inflationary consequences. His advisors are the same clique of insiders under previous administrations, especially the Clinton one. He is beholden to the financiers and industrial lobbying groups that fund him and the middle classes that are the bedrock of American political power (as were Soviet workers), which are now being whittled down by the collapse in credit and repossessions. Major cuts in funding for the the Armed Forces and sustainable retreat are simply not envisioned. *As anyone who reads this blog nows, I consider global warming one of the greatest challenges faced by civilization. The problem is that schemes to fund “clean coal” or implement carbon trading are too little, too late, too costly and too unreliable.

Obama is steeped in the Pax Americana mindset (just as Gorbachev was steeped in scientific socialism), which is complacent and rests on its laurels; and as such the possibility of collapse simply cannot seriously enter his mind or considerations. Therefore the truly revolutionary reform that is needed to preserve the current system is unlikely to be contemplated, if its even possible.

2) As economic and political difficulties mounted in the USSR, they were further reinforced by disintegration on ethnic lines, diverting administrative and economic resources away from what should have been more pressing matters.

Recently New Hampshire formally requested a casus foedoris with the other states of the union separately from the federal government in a RESOLUTION affirming States’ rights based on Jeffersonian principles.

That this State does therefore call on its co-States for an expression of their sentiments on acts not authorized by the federal compact. And it doubts not that their sense will be so announced as to prove their attachment unaltered to limited government, whether general or particular. And that the rights and liberties of their co-States will be exposed to no dangers by remaining embarked in a common bottom with their own. That they will concur with this State in considering acts as so palpably against the Constitution as to amount to an undisguised declaration that that compact is not meant to be the measure of the powers of the General Government, but that it will proceed in the exercise over these States, of all powers whatsoever: that they will view this as seizing the rights of the States, and consolidating them in the hands of the General Government, with a power assumed to bind the States, not merely as the cases made federal, (casus foederis,) but in all cases whatsoever, by laws made, not with their consent, but by others against their consent: that this would be to surrender the form of government we have chosen, and live under one deriving its powers from its own will, and not from our authority; and that the co-States, recurring to their natural right in cases not made federal, will concur in declaring these acts void, and of no force, and will each take measures of its own for providing that neither these acts, nor any others of the General Government not plainly and intentionally authorized by the Constitution, shall be exercised within their respective territories; and

That the said committee be authorized to communicate by writing or personal conferences, at any times or places whatever, with any person or person who may be appointed by any one or more co-States to correspond or confer with them; and that they lay their proceedings before the next session of the General Court; and

That any Act by the Congress of the United States, Executive Order of the President of the United States of America or Judicial Order by the Judicatories of the United States of America which assumes a power not delegated to the government of United States of America by the Constitution for the United States of America and which serves to diminish the liberty of the any of the several States or their citizens shall constitute a nullification of the Constitution for the United States of America by the government of the United States of America. Acts which would cause such a nullification include, but are not limited to:

I. Establishing martial law or a state of emergency within one of the States comprising the United States of America without the consent of the legislature of that State.

II. Requiring involuntary servitude, or governmental service other than a draft during a declared war, or pursuant to, or as an alternative to, incarceration after due process of law.

III. Requiring involuntary servitude or governmental service of persons under the age of 18 other than pursuant to, or as an alternative to, incarceration after due process of law.

IV. Surrendering any power delegated or not delegated to any corporation or foreign government.

V. Any act regarding religion; further limitations on freedom of political speech; or further limitations on freedom of the press.

VI. Further infringements on the right to keep and bear arms including prohibitions of type or quantity of arms or ammunition; and

That should any such act of Congress become law or Executive Order or Judicial Order be put into force, all powers previously delegated to the United States of America by the Constitution for the United States shall revert to the several States individually. Any future government of the United States of America shall require ratification of three quarters of the States seeking to form a government of the United States of America and shall not be binding upon any State not seeking to form such a government; and

That copies of this resolution be transmitted by the house clerk to the President of the United States, each member of the United States Congress, and the presiding officers of each State’s legislature.

New Hamphshire isn’t isolated. States rights bills are being pushed in nine states this year and almost half the states’ legislatures have plans to pass similar resolutions. While most are addressed to Congress or the President to back off from further violating state’s rights, New Hampshire is appealing for solidarity from other states to develop a casus feodoris / alliance to develop a counter-weight to the federal government in case it increases interference in state matters or moves towards authoritarianism to manage the consequences of the economic crisis. The incidence of tax revolts are growing.

This is all still very far from the situation in the USSR, where after all half the population wasn’t even Russia whereas the US is a nationally homogeneous nation. Nonetheless, the trends are ominous. There is no visible horizon to the end of the economic crisis, and even as late as 1989 no Soviet republic except the Baltics wanted out.

1) Economist Willem Buiter believes there will be a global dumping of $ assets within two to five years. Financial advisor James West writing in SeekingAlpha believes a US debt default and dollar collapse are “altogether likely”. Russia fund investor Eric Kraus has been lamenting the unsustainability of American disbalances for years and predicted the US will fall into a debt trap last November. The economist Nouriel Roubini, one of the few to have foreseen this crisis, predicts this recession will be far longer and deeper than any other post-war recession. Even the Economist mentioned the possibility of a US debt-and-currency crisis in one of its recent issues.

Dmitri Orlov explicitly compares the US to the USSR, and concludes that the collapse will be worse, at least in social terms, in the former. The Russian economist Mikhail Khazin predicts a 25-40% drop in American GDP. Future and trends analyst Gerard Celente, who succesfully predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, now foresees an unprecendented fall in US economic output, tax rebellions and food riots. Russian professor Igor Panarin sees disintegration and civil war as soon as this year.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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As we covered in the previous instalment, Demographics I: The Russian Cross Reversed?, fertility rates are not abnormally low by European standards and are likely to rise further in the future. The same cannot be said of mortality rates – a ‘quiet crisis‘ that has been a ‘catastrophe of historic proportions’.

Take life expectancy. As of 2007, the average age of death in Russia was 65.9 years. This is way below First World levels (United States – 78.0; EU – 78.7; Japan – 82.0) and even many developing country standards (Mexico – 75.6; China – 72.9; Egypt – 71.6; India – 68.6). Note: this figure was actually 67.7 years in 2007 (the CIA relies on its own projections to estimate demographic data), but the general point stands.

Even compared to other post-Soviet countries, Russia’s mortality stats are far from impressive – as you can see from the graphs in that link, total life expectancy, male life expectancy and death rates for both sexes all hovered near the worst levels. Nor is so-called healthy life expectancy anything to write home about (in 2002, it stood at 53 years and 64 years for men and women respectively, compared with 55/64 for Ukraine, 63/68 in Poland and 67/71 in the US).

Russia’s infant mortality rate, at 10.8 / 1000 people in 2008, is respectable compared to countries of roughly similar income levels (Mexico – 19.0; Latvia – 9.0; Poland – 6.9) and far better than most developing countries. Nor is Russia’s female life expectancy all that bad compared with the typical Asian or Latin American country. The same cannot be said of male life expectancy. According to CIA estimates, in 2008 it stands at a meagre 59.2 years – the US (75.3), Poland (71.4), India (66.9), Ukraine (62.2) and even Bangladesh (63.2) score higher, while Russia’s neighbors in this area are the likes of Madagascar (60.6) and Ghana (58.7). The main reason is amazingly high mortality rates for middle-aged Russian men, which by Rosstat calculations are somewhat higher today than they were in 1897.

Age specific mortality rates / 1000
Left: men; right: women.

As you can see from the graph above, by far the biggest change between 1897 and 2005 occured in a massive reduction in infant mortality, from 233 / 1000 to just 12.5, as well as in children and teens. This was in large part due to basic and fairly cheap to implement advances in vaccinations and basic obstetrics (the latter of which has practically eliminated maternal mortality as a major cause of death amongst women). Female mortality has improved all around, although not to the same extent as in European countries. Yet male mortality has remained stagnant, comparable to old Tsarist and modern African levels.

This is best illustrated by a measure called “Probability of dying (per 1 000 population) between 15 and 60 years”. For Russian women in 2005, this was 17% – not much worse than, say, Egypt. Yet almost half of Russian men, at 47%, died before reaching retirement age. This compared with 9% in Japan, 14% in Finland and the US, 16% in China, 21% in Poland, 28-33% in the Baltic countries and 40% in the Ukraine. In fact, it was worse than in many African countries, e.g. Ghana (36%) and Ethiopia (41%). The only states to have the dubious distinction of beating Russia in this sphere were those with mass AIDS epidemics, like South Africa (60%) and Botswana (76%).

Eberstadt’s Russia: Too Sick to Matter? is as relevant to mortality today as when it was written in 1999. To quote it in extenso:

For every subsidiary age group from 15 to 65, death rates for Russian men today are frighteningly high. Youth may be the prime of life — but Russian men in their late teens and early 20s currently suffer higher death rates than American men 20 years their senior.13 For their part, Russian men in their 40s and 50s are dying at a pace that may never have been witnessed during peacetime in a society distinguished by urbanization and mass education. Death rates for men in their late 40s and early 50s, for example, are over three times higher today in Russia than in Mexico. To approximate the current mortality schedule for Russian middle-aged men, one has to look to India — the India, that is, of the early 1970s, rather than the much healthier India that we know today.14

It is beyond doubt that Russia’s healthcare system has improved in the last one hundred years, and despite its flaws, it is light-years ahead of countries like Ethipia or India, as measured by infant mortality rates, health spending per capita or immunization rates. So how come mortality, especially amongst middle-aged men, is so astoundingly high? To answer the question, it is instructive to look at the historical trends.

Russia life expectancy 1890-2000
Note how overall improvements in life expectancy for men were exclusively
due to the removal of childhood illnesses as a major cause of death.

In 1897, life expectancy in the Russian Empire was extremely low (31 years for males, 33 for females), lagging behind Western Europe and the US by around 15 years. The 1920′s and the period from 1945 to 1965 saw the introduction of mass elementary healthcare, raising life expectancy to 64 years for men and 72 years for women. Since then, the latter has stagnated while the latter went into slow but steady decline, in constrast to First World nations where life expectancy continued rising (see graphs below).

Life expectancy in Russia and other countries 1950-2000
Note how Russia trailed Japan up until 1965.

From the first graph on my Demographics I post, we can see that from the mid-1960′s mortality in Russia embarked on its merciless upwards trajectory (thus reflecting life expectancy trends). Notice how despite the dips (late 1980′s, late 1990′s, 2007?) and troughs (early 1990′s, early 2000′s), it follows a remarkably straight line. Rapid improvements, in which Russia followed Japan’s trajectory, stalled in the mid 1960′s and have been in stagnation ever since. (The Soviet Slavic and Baltic states followed a similar pattern, e.g. see stats and discussion on Ukrainian historical mortality here).

As of 2006, the vast majority of Russians died from cardio-vascular diseases (CVD’s) and injuries/violence. Some 8.6 / 1000 Russians passed away due to CVD’s, which is more than the America’s entire death rate (8.3 / 1000). In contrast, 2.8 / 1000 of Americans died from CVD’s. Russia’s deaths from external causes (DEC’s) were 2.0 / 1000, about four times higher than in the US. Of these, 23 / 100,000 were from alcohol poisoning, 30 / 100,000 from suicide and 20 / 100,000 from murder. On the other hand, cancers did not kill a significantly higher amount of people than in the West, while deaths from infectitious diseases are quantitavely insignificant. So it is clear than any solution of the mortality crisis will have to focus on reducing deaths from CVD’s and injuries / violence.

Historically, it can be seen below that deaths from diseases of the circulatory system have almost doubled since 1970. Forty years ago about an equal percentage of people died from circulatory diseases in both Russia and Europe (although even then, we should point out that this was not a good indicator, since Russians were substantially younger than Europeans then); today, they are separated by a factor of 4, as can be seen in the graph below. Deaths from injuries / violence have followed roughly similar trends.

1970-80 linear projection is mine by Rosstat data

Finally, life expectancy and mortality rates vary by geographical region and socio-economic factors. Siberia, the Far East and the North fare worse in relation to the Volga and the South – in particular, regions like Daghestan and Ingushetia with burgeoning populations of young Muslims were completely immune to the soaring post-1965 mortality rates in Russia proper. In Russia proper, the poor report worse health than the rich (see p.68) and rising mortality has mostly affected those who are poorly-educated (‘The well-documented mortality increases seen in Russia after 1990 have predominantly affected less-educated men and women, whereas the mortality of persons with university education has improved, resulting in a sharp increase in educational-level mortality differentials’).

Having outlined the situation, we can now ask ourselves several questions.

Why have Russia’s mortality rates, especially amongst less well-educated ethnic Russian men, soared since 1965 in such stark contrast to trends in the First World?

Веселие Руси есть пити [The joy of Russia is to drink]. – attr. Vladimir the Great, 988 AD, upon rejecting Islam as Russia’s future religion.

At its core, the mortality crisis is an alcohol crisis. Russia has had a long and rich relationship with alcohol from the times of Kievan Rus. From the earliest days excessive drinking was remarked upon in foreign travellers’ accounts. Ownership or regulation of vodka production has been a major source of state revenue since Ivan IV created a chain of taverns in all major cities through to the USSR, when in the 1970′s receipts from alcohol constituted a third of government revenue. Furthermore, Russian drinking is characterized by the zapoi, long binge sessions involving hard spirits. Nonetheless, until the country became industrialized, excessive regular drinking was circumscribed both by limited incomes (in the 17th century, a keg (12 liters) of bread wine was estimated to cost as much as one and a half or two cows) as well as traditionalist mores and folk wisdom.

Perhaps it was the beginning of the breakdown in social morale that had become endemic by the 1980′s. Perhaps it was linked to a tipping point in the level of development (half of Russians were living in cities by the 1950′s). Perhaps it was the after-effects of Red Army soldiers who had been given daily 100ml vodka rations during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), became alcoholics and started dying in ever increasing numbers 20 years later. In any case, mortality rates began to increase dramatically since 1965, reaching epidemic proportions by the 1980′s. To quote Alcohol in Russia by Martin McKee in extenso:

Potentially more reliable figures have been generated outside the USSR by, for example, surveys of emigrants, especially to Israel, although these are problematic as there is evidence that Soviet Jews drank rather less than their Slavic neighbours. Nonetheless, one of the most rigorous studies, although again likely to be an underestimate because it did not include that large volume of alcohol now known to be stolen each year, suggests that consumption more than doubled between 1955 and 1979 to 15.2 litres per person (Treml, 1975). This figure is higher than that recorded for any OECD country (France was highest at 12.7 litres in 1990, although most other countries were in the range 5–9 litres), where data are largely derived from validated surveys of consumption (World Drink Trends, 1992). Also note that Russians tend to binge on hard spirits, while the French consume red wine in frequent moderate doses. Of course, this figure relates to the entire USSR and, for religious and other reasons, there are marked regional variations so levels in the Russian heartland are likely to have been much higher. Other studies of emigré families suggested that alcohol consumption accounted for 15–20% of disposable household incomes. Studies by dissidents and others supported the impression that alcohol consumption was increasing at alarming levels, suggesting, for example, that alcohol accounted for 15% of total retail trade (Krasikov, 1981).

Under Gorbachev, official statistics on a wide variety of topics slowly reappeared, although it was still not possible to undertake or publish research on topics such as alcoholism and social breakdown (Korolenko et al., 1994). The available data included figures on official production of absolute alcohol equivalent which was reported to have increased from 2.2 litres per capita in 1940 to 7.2 in 1985, a rather greater increase than had been assumed in the earlier estimates by Western observers.

However, the level of consumption is only one part of the picture. It is also important to know whether the frequency of drinking and the social context within which it takes place are different from those in other countries. Here, the information is even more fragmentary. Various reports suggest that, by the 1980s, the age at which people began to drink had fallen, that increasing numbers of women and children were heavy drinkers, and in some cities the average consumption among working adults was a bottle of vodka each day (White, 1996).

This pattern is reflected in the extensive evidence, reviewed by White (1996), from newspapers and from local surveys that alcohol consumption was becoming a major social problem. This included reports from a chemical plant that 3.5% of the workforce were confirmed alcoholics, 2.2% showed early signs of addiction, and a further 18.8% were alcohol ‘abusers’, with only 1.4% abstainers. Between 75% and 90% of absences from work were attributed to alcohol. It was suggested that loss of productivity associated with alcohol was the main reason for the failure to achieve the Soviet Union’s 5-year plan in the early 1980s, with estimates that the loss of productiv-ity due to alcohol was up to 20%. There were many letters to newspapers complaining of a lack of government action to tackle excessive consumption.

Refer to the male life expectancy chart above. Notice the slight uptick around 1982, and the much larger improvement from 1985-89? It is not a coincidence. In 1982 ‘action was initiated under Andropov and Chernenko under the general heading of reducing anti-social behaviour’, and three years later a wide range of specific action against alcohol abuse was undertaken – the banning of drinking at workplaces, banning sales before 2pm and in trains and restricting sales to off-licenses and over 21′s. Vodka production was cut and alcohol was banned at official functions (interestingly enough, today, there is noise but no action). Alas, initial successes were undermined by black market moonshine (read: more dangerous) production, while the new climate of perestroika decreased the risks of minor lawbreaking. The project was abandoned in 1988. From 1990 to 1994, the price of alcohol in relation to food fell by a factor of more than 3.
Predictably enough, alcohol consumption soared. Life expectancy plummeted.

Alcohol consumption estimates in litres per year
Look at the mortality trends of the first graph here and notice the remarkable
correlation between alcohol consumption and mortality rates.

Furthermore, we noted in this post that mortality rates were 1) geographically not uniform (lowest in the South and Volga) and were worst amongst 2) less well-educated 3) men. Guess what?

Nine per cent of men and 35% of women reported not drinking alcohol at all. Only 10% of men and 2% of women reported drinking several times per week, but 31% of men and 3% of women would drink at least 25 cl of vodka at one go at least once a month, and 3) 11% of men and 1% of women would drink at least 50 cl of vodka in one session at least once per month. There were large geographical differences, 1) with lowest rates of heavy drinking in the Volga and Caucasus regions and highest in the Urals….Unemployment was strongly associated with heavy drinking.

According to a NOBUS survey in 2003 (see pg.68), more than 50% amongst the poorest quintile of Russians consumed hard alcohol daily, compared with little more than 10% of the richest quintile. Since the poor tend to be less well educated, that’s 2) met.

Since 2002, alcohol consumption has remained extremely high. In 2006, it was an ‘estimated 15.2 litres of pure alcohol per capita each year for over-15s’ (no difference from 2002). Another study found that 44% of male deaths and 20% of female deaths can be attributed to alcohol in those aged 25 to 54, including 72% of homicides, 42% of suicides and 23% of CVD’s – in total, 32% of aggregate mortality, compared with 1-4% in all sampled West European countries. Even in Finland, well known as a nation of hard drinkers, the figure was just 4%.

On the other hand, there have been some positive developments, especially since 2005. The mortality rate fell from 16.1 / 1000 to 14.7 / 1000 by 2007. Death rates from CVD’s fell from 9.1%% to 8.3%% and death from external caused tumbled from 2.2 / 1000 to 1.8 / 1000. Perhaps most crucially, deaths from alcohol poisonings halved, while homicides fell by 30%.

What could have accounted for this? Recent times have seen a rise in national morale, documented here. Burgeoning economic growth has seen real incomes nearly triple in the last eight years and the poverty rate halved. The population, or at least its more connected members, has become more exposed to information on healthy lifestyles. During Putin’s second term, there have been more social investments, like the National Priority Projects (one of which is health), and this trend looks set to intensify under Medvedev. Finally, as we’ve noticed here, younger people are turning to beer – ‘beer consumption has risen from 20 litres per person a year to nearly 80 litres’. Considering that total alcohol consumption under Putin has remained about constant, this means that vodka’s 70% share of Russia’s alcohol consumption in 2001 must have fallen since.

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that alcohol is by far the biggest contributor to Russia’s mortality crisis. On the other hand, Russia, and more particularly working Russian men, pursue lifestyles that are practically optimized for ending them. In 2004, 61% of Russian men (and 15% of women) smoked – one of the highest rates in the world and little changed from Soviet times. (Mass smoking began during and immediately after the Second World War, while mortality began to rise 20 years later). Men smoked an average of 16 cigarettes per day. The Russian diet is ‘characterized by a diet high in animal fat and salt, and low in fruits and vegetables’ and many Russians suffer from high blood pressure and excessive blood cholesterol levels. Most Russians lead a sedentary lifestyle – ‘from 2000 to 2002, 73-81% of surveyed men and 73-86% of women aged 25-64 reported having low-levels of physical activity (CINDI 2004)’. Finally, the healthcare system suffers from a legacy of underfunding (real public health expenditure only overtook late Soviet figures in 2007) and inefficiency.

The general population is aware of the problems. Putin is not too impressed either, as he made clear in his state of the nation address in 2005.

I am deeply convinced that the success of our policy in all spheres of life is closely linked to the solution of our most acute demographic problems. We cannot reconcile ourselves to the fact that the life expectancy of Russian women is nearly 10 years and of men nearly 16 years shorter than in Western Europe. Many of the current mortality factors can be remedied, and without particular expense. In Russia nearly 100 people a day die in road accidents. The reasons are well known. And we should implement a whole range of measures to overcome this dreadful situation.

I would like to dwell on another subject which is difficult for our society – the consequences of alcoholism and drug addiction. Every year in Russia, about 40,000 people die from alcohol poisoning alone, caused first of all by alcohol substitutes. Mainly they are young men, breadwinners. However, this problem cannot be resolved through prohibition. Our work must result in the young generation recognizing the need for a healthy lifestyle and physical exercise. Each young person
must realize that a healthy lifestyle means success, his or her personal success.

Which is why the state has set itself the task of stopping negative natural population growth by 2011 and raising life expectancy to 75 by 2020. The billion dollar question is: will they succeed?

How and to what extent can Russia solve its mortality crisis?

The pessimistic demographers are skeptical of Russia’s ability to solve the mortality crisis any time soon. For instance, according to Eberstadt, achieving rapid improvements in mortality from CVD’s is unrealistic:

With heart disease, in a real sense, today’s “bills” cover “debts” accumulated over long periods in the past. For this reason, trends in deaths from heart disease in any country can never turn on a dime. Even with sensible, well-funded medical policies and wholesale popular embrace of a more “heart-healthy” lifestyle — none of which conditions obtain in today’s Russia — the control and reduction of CVD death rates tends to be a relatively gradual affair.

Furthermore, Russia suffers from ‘negative mometum’ in mortality. Working age life expectancy has been decreasing for forty years straight. In a sense, young Russians today are much ‘older’ than their peers of the same age a generation ago. Two assumptions are made. Firstly, as today’s young people are less healthy than their equivalents forty years back (who are now dying at already very high rates), this implies that when they reach their forties, fifties and sixties, their mortality will be even higher. Secondly, the population continues to get older, as the post-war boomers reach pension age. This creates the conditions for a demographic double wammy that, everything else remaining equal, will further depress life expectancy and massively inflate mortality levels even further. An example of these simplistic trend extrapolation can be seen in this model, according to which male life expectancy will fall to as low as 49 years by 2050. This is what we’d call a Stagnation scenario.

If this ‘debt model’ of national health is correct, and if societal attitudes remain stuck in the past, then Russia should indeed reconcile itself to continuing increases in the death rate and accelerating population decline. Fortunately, there is evidence that the first of the above assumptions is flawed.

Generational mortality for men 1981-2006
Indicates mortality levels for each age group for a given year. Lowest line
correspondsto the 40-44 age group, second lowest to the 45-49 age group in 2006, etc.
Colors track out a particular generation’s demographic history,
e.g. pink is the generation who were 60-64 years old as of 2006.

Take a look the above graph. Firstly, notice how mortality amongst all age groups rise and fall with each other. This implies that that in Russia, the factors leading to high mortality affect all age groups about equally. (If it hadn’t – if for example heavy drinking had only been increasing in the younger generations – then the lines above would have overlapped, or at least gotten closer together, as the younger generations started dying more relatively to the older). This puts into question Eberstadt’s whole ticking time-bomb thesis.

But more importantly, notice how mortality amongst all age groups declined from 2001 to 2006. Let us also note that this period came before the health National Priority Project. Nor did alcohol consumption decline, as we noted (although young people started drinking more beer – but we’re talking about middle-aged people here, and the fall in mortality amongst those in their sixties was if anything greater than in other age groups). There was a small drop in cigarette smoking rates, but benefits from that come with at least a few years’ lag. Yet a tipping point seems to have come at around 2005. Remember the 47% male “probability of dying” rates from 15-60 years in 2005? Well, according to Rosstat, in 2006 they fell to 43%, and fell further in 2007 (judging from the fact male life expectancy increased from 58.9 in 2005 to 60.4 in 2006 and 61.5 in 2007).

There is, however, a factor which explains flunctuations in Russia’s life expectancy much better than any other theory. That is the ratio of alcohol to food prices, as shown below. Notice how all price spikes and dips were associated with troughts and crests in life expectancy, especially pronounced amongst men.

Alcohol / food price ratios and life expectancy

Which takes us to the next part of the discussion. What is the government doing to promote healthy lifestyles, and what should it do?

For that, it is sufficient to look at a typical issue of the bi-weekly Russian demographic journal Demoscope Russia section – plans to raise pensions from 30-35% to 60-65% of wages, general increase in welfare, raising the alcohol-buying age to 21 and banning alcohol and tobacco adverts on transport. Increasing numbers of patients are getting access to hi-tech medical care. Even La Russophobe noticed these efforts, which must mean Russia is doing something right. In other words, all the things done in the West since the 1970′s and which the USSR tried to do in the 1980′s but gave up on.

In 1990, “probability of dying” rates for Russian and Estonian men were similar (32% and 30%, respectively), and both soared by 1995 (47% and 40%, respectively). In the next ten years, however, Estonia’s figure plummeted to 28%, while Russia in 2005 remained at 47%, falling only slightly in the interval. As we’ve noted, however, by 2007 this figure was probably already below 40%. Contrary to Eberstadt’s protestations to the contrary, rapid improvements in mortality stats are possible, and at no great expense if the ‘population-based and high-risk prevention strategies’ recommended here are pursued. The example of Karelia in Finland is illustrative:

The North Karelia Project in Finland shows that major changes in mortality from NCDs can be achieved through dietary changes, increased physical activity, and reduced smoking, serum cholesterol, and blood pressure. Coronary heart disease(CHD) in adults aged 65 years and less fell by about 73 percent between 1970 and 1995. In a recent 10-year period, mortality from coronary heart disease declined by about 8 percent a year. Mortality from lung cancer declined more than 70 percent, mostly due to consistent declines in the proportion of men who smoked (from 52 percent in 1972 to 31 percent in 1997). Data on the risk factors from ischemic heart disease and mortality in Finland suggest that the changes in the main coronary risk factors (serum cholesterol concentration, blood pressure, and smoking) can explain most of the decline in mortality from that disease.

As a result of targeting important high-risk factors for NCDs, all causes of mortality in North Karelia declined by about 45 percent during 1970–95. In the 1980s, these favorable changes began to develop all over Finland, improving life expectancy by 7 years for men and 6 for women. The largest decline in age-specific mortality was reaped by the 35- to 44-year-olds: men in this age group saw an 87 percent decline in mortality from CHD between 1971 and 1995. Men 35–64 saw age-adjusted mortality rates decline from about 700 per 100,000 populationin 1971 to about 110 per 100,000 in 2001. This rate for all of Finland among men in the same age group was about 470 per 100,000 and fell 75 percent. These improvements in life expectancy are correlated with significant declines in the amount of saturated fats consumed, coming mainly from milk products and fatty meat (saturated fatconsumption dropped from about 50 gr/day in 1972 to about 15 gr/day in 1992) and significant reductions in blood cholesterol levels (from about 7mmol/L in 1972 to about 5.6 mmol/L in 1997).

…Data from North Karelia reveal that results from preventionefforts may appear in years rather thandecade—improvements occur some 2-7 years after the elimination of the exposure to a risk factor, and that they are beneficial even for people in older age groups.

This suggests that if the trends explained above continue and people continue jumping up income classes, health improvements are sustainable. There’s a handy chart below showing the effects of decreasing different types of mortality on life expectancy.

Even if the only Improvements were a 40% drop in deaths from circulatory diseases and external causes, average life expectancy in Russia would rise to a respectable 72 years (in line with what happened in Estonia, where life expectancy grew from 67.8 years in 1995 to 73.0 years in 2005). On the one hand, Karelia was just one region; on the other, today’s medical technology is much more advanced than even a decade ago. As such, I think the idea of raising life expectancy to 75 years by 2020 is fulfillable, and that is not even taking into account the emerging technologies of life extension – which should be zealously pursued for both its financial (acturial escape velocity) and more tangible everyday benefits (like being able to live as long as you want).

Talking of which, we now move on to the fun bit – the Transformation scenario. This is an event or series of events which would induce a demographic paradigm shift. In the previous post, we’ve identified the artificial womb as a revolutionary concept for supply-side demographics, which will make the ‘birth rate’ independent of sociological factors. What would be revolutionary for the demographic depreciation rate (death rates)? Continuous and exponential growth in life expectancy. How could that be achieved?

Well, to an extent that is the case already.

Life Expectancy in England & Wales, both sexes, 1541-1998
Life expectancy at birth of male landowners in England between 1200 and 1450 AD,
so not strictly comparable with later, more detailed stats.

As you can see, from a historical perspective life expectancy before the Industrial Revolution was essentially stagnant. There were macro-trends associated with pressure on the earth’s carrying capacity, which drove down life expectancy in the 1200′s and 1550-1750, as well as sudden dips due to chaotic factors (the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century, fluctuations from 1500-1800 due to random climate changes impacting on food production), but on the whole it stayed flat. However, around 1750, there was a turning point, coinciding in time with the Agricultural Revolution. The 19th century saw considerable improvement, while in the 20th century it shot upwards.

Granted, the 1900-1960 growth spurt was mainly due to massive reductions in infant mortality rather than adult longevity increases per se. On the other hand, the former stopped playing a substantial role by 1960, and improvements in life expectancy occured mainly through the lowering of adult mortality rates. Since then, the sum of Western lifestyle and healthcare changes decreased adult mortality and pushed life expectancy up. (In the USSR, as we’ve noticed, healthcare remained stagnant and lifestyles worsened, so life expectancy sloped down).

However, now Russia has rejoined the mainstream of world development and as we’ve pointed out here and here, rapid economic convergence with the First World is likely. In the latter, life expectancy has been rising by around 0.3% per annum since 1970. Serious interest and research is already under way, such as the Methuselah Mouse Prize and Aubrey de Grey’s work on strategies for engineered negligible senescence (SENS).

The seven sisters that Dr de Grey wishes to slaughter with SENS are cell loss, apoptosis-resistance (the tendency of cells to refuse to die when they are supposed to), gene mutations in the cell nucleus, gene mutations in the mitochondria (the cell’s power-packs), the accumulation of junk inside cells, the accumulation of junk outside cells and the accumulation of inappropriate chemical links in the material that supports cells.

For more information, read the above Economist article, the wiki entry and a related collection of articles. Unfortunately, however, these technologies are not going to be making a truly revolutionary impact demographically any sooner than in about three decades (10 years to perfect them in animal experiments; another 10 to conduct the necessary human experiments; the final 10 to bring them into mass usage).

Nonetheless, the potential already exists today to radically prolong life expectancy.

Improvements in lowering rates of mortality attributable to alcohol to decent levels will reduce them by maybe 25%. Lowering tobacco usage to normal Western levels of 20-25% and environmental measures could reduce it by another 10%, while better healthcare could account for another 20%. This would lower Russia’s mortality rate from 14.7 / 100,000 to 8.9 / 100,000, which is comparable to the US (a country whose median age is about the same as Russia’s).

The Myth of Economic Collapse due to Ageing Population

According to a Stagnation (extrapolation of today’s fertility and age-specific mortality trends, which sees Russia’s population falling by 12% to 2025), the proportion of population aged 65+ will increase from 12% to 18% – but the latter figure is actually equal to Estonia’s percentage today, whose main problems today are purely macroeconomic (big CA deficit) rather than entitlements. The World Bank’s 15th Russian Economy Report itself admits this:

But growing older does not have to mean growing slower. Aging is not a stop sign for growth – if Russia enacts policy reforms that sustain productivity growth. Changes in labor markets are not immutably determined by demographic legacies. Productivity improvements are the core predictor of growth, so measures to improve labor productivity would swamp any “quantity” effects of a smaller labor force. In fact, in recent years, growth decomposition exercises show that in Russia labor productivity growth has been the single greatest contributor to increases in per capita income.

Considering that the gap between (high) human capital and (low) GDP per capita is so great in Russia, productivity growth should continue to be buoyant for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, considering that in the future older Russians will be both healthier and more educated, an ageing workforce could be counteracted by increased labor participation of the older cohorts in the economy.

Is Russia facing an AIDS Catastrophe?

According to Eberstadt’s ‘Intermediate Epidemic’ scenario in The Future of AIDS, there will be a cumulative total of 13mn AIDS cases in Russia by 2025, 9mn would have died and life expectancy will be down to just 63 years. Other media have also homed in on the apocalyptic dimensions of Russia’s AIDS crisis.

According to government figures, the number of new cases peaked in 2001 at 87,000, but has since stabilized at around 40,000-50,000 per year from 2003 on. As of 2007, there were 402,000 cumulative AIDS cases. However, although Russia’s AIDS epidemic was at first concentrated amongst injecting drug users (IDU’s), ‘HIV-infection is starting to spread more intensively heterosexually’. The share of women diagnosed with HIV every year increased from 20% in 2001, to 38% in 2004 and 44% in 2006. However, other assessments of the share of Russia’s HIV prevalence are usually about three times higher than official figures. HIV prevalence among pregnant women in Russia was 0.3% in 2004 and 0.4% in 2005 and 2006.

But there are good points too. Since 2006, the federal government has started spending huge amounts on the problem. Syphilis and hepatitis B have fallen sharply from their respective 1997 and 1999 peaks. The incidence of tuberculosis peaked in 2001 at around 95 / 100,000, although the fall hasn’t been as dramatic (82 / 100,000 in 2007). According to official sources, AIDS monitoring coverage in Russia consists of 20% of the population, including all the high-risk groups, so perhaps official figures aren’t such big underestimates after all.

The reality is that I simply don’t know enough about this to make a judgement either way, but then again, it is not even known why AIDS exploded in sub-Saharan Africa but remained contained everywhere else. If readers can point to more concrete information on this topic (AIDS in Russia) it would be much appreciated.

Now for Demographics III – Face of the Future

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.