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Nothing illustrates China’s meteoric rise as some well chosen numbers.

By the end of the 1990s, China had come to dominate the mainstays of geopolitical power in the 20th century – coal and steel production. As a consequence, it leapt to the top of the Compositive Index of National Capability, which uses military expenditure, military personnel, energy consumption, iron and steel production, urban population, and total population as a proxy of national power. Still, one could legitimately argue that all of these factors are hardly relevant today. While Germany’s fourfold preponderance in steel production over Russia may have been a critical number in 1914, China’s eightfold advantage in steel production over the US by 2014 is all but meaningless in any relevant comparison of national power. The world has moved on.

By the end of the 2000s, like Victorian Britain in the mid-19th century, China became the workshop of the world, overtaking the US in both manufacturing and coming very close to it in terms of PPP-adjusted GDP. As a consequence, this was when China also overtook the US on a wide range of consumer welfare and ecological impact indicators, such as exports, CO2 emissions, Internet users, energy consumption, car sales, car production, and number of patents issued. Still, its presence in the hi-tech sector was still pretty modest, and innovation was low. This was not yet an economy that could furnish first-class armaments, or inspire far off peoples to carry out color revolutions in its name.

But as of this year, China is hurtling past yet another set of inflection points – the hi-tech component of its economy, roughly comparable to any of the major European Powers a mere decade ago, is now about to converge and then hurtle past that of the US by the end of the 2010s (even if in per capita terms it remains considerably behind, like South Korea 20 years ago).

This process can be proxied by three indicators: Number of scientific articles published, operational stock of industrial robots, and number of supercomputers.

Science Articles

The SJR maintains a database of scientific publications by country and subject for the past 20 years.

In 1996, China published a mere 29,000 papers, well behind Japan, the UK, Germany, and France (50,000-90,000) not to mention the US with 333,000. As of 2015, however, China had surged to 416,000 published papers, still modestly behind the US with its 567,000 papers but far ahead of everyone else.

science-plagiarism-map Now to be sure, Chinese papers are still considerably less cited than those of the developed world. And yes, this reflects the fact that, on average, the quality of Chinese scientific output remains inferior – less innovative, more derivative – than that of the US. This extends to outright plagiarism; the negative stereotypes about Chinese academia are somewhat borne out by a study that showed that 7-8% of Chinese articles on arXiv.org were flagged for text overlaps, compared to less than 4% for the US and the UK.

Nonetheless, in the “hard”/STEM spheres that arguably matter more for technological progress – and which have much less in the way of a replicability crisis – China is already ahead of the US in terms of total publications: 34,000 to 28,000 in mathematics; 67,000 to 52,000 in physics and astronomy; 63,000 to 36,000 in chemistry; 120,000 to 67,000 in engineering; 49,000 to 41,000 in computer science. The only major spheres here in which the US remains considerably ahead are the more biologically orientated sciences, such as: 196,000 to 69,000 in medicine, 83,000 to 59,000 in biochemistry/genetics, 23,000 to 7,000 in neuroscience, and 18,000 to 14,000 in pharmacology. Otherwise, the US retains clear dominance only in the the softer spheres of social science and the arts: 54,000 to 7,000 in the social sciences, 10,000 to 2,000 in economics, 23,000 to 2,000 in psychology, and 27,000 to 2,000 in the arts and humanities. In one subcomponent that is arguably outright negative value added, that of Gender Studies, the US published 1,456 documents to China’s 23.

The overall trends cannot be denied – Chinese scientific output is rapidly approaching American levels and will probably outright overtake, at least in absolute numbers, by around 2020.

Robots

Until recently, the general consensus was that automation would be an issue mainly for developed countries with high labor costs. China, then still seen as a country of boundless, cheap, and disciplined if unskilled labor, was not expected to be deeply affected by those developments (except perhaps to the extent that it would be challenged by renewed competition with First World manufacturing “reshoring” back to the American rustbelts).

This was, until recently, a logical enough viewpoint. Traditionally, the world’s operational stock of industrial robots was concentrated in the most advanced manufacturing economies, with the highest per capita rates seen in Japan (which accounted for a third to half of all industrial robots during the 1980s and 1990s), Germany and the Germanic lands, Northern Italy, and more recently, South Korea. In contrast, until the early 2000s, the publicly available databases generally didn’t even bother to estimate the numbers of industrial robots in Chinese factories so small and insignificant were their numbers.

But from the late 2000s, the robotization of Chinese industry began to explode.

industrial-robots-by-country

China went from having 32,000 industrial robots in 2008 (~Spain), to 189,000 by 2014 (~Germany) and approximately 263,000 robots by 2015, which puts it ahead of the 259,000 robots in all of North America and just behind Japan’s 297,000. It is therefore safe to assume that China took first place this year. By 2018, China is projected to have 614,000 industrial robots, equal to that of Japan and North America combined.

It is also worth noting that China dominates the global machine tool production industry, having overtaken the two leading countries in that sphere – Germany and Japan – around 2010. As of 2014, China accounted for 30% of the world’s yearly production of machine tools. This is of special interest not only because of this industry’s inherent technological sophistication, but also because of its strategic importance as the only part of the industrial economy that actually reproduces itself and makes everything else possible.

Supercomputers

A third excellent proxy for a country’s technological sophistication is its stock of supercomputers, which enable detailed simulations of phenomena as disparate as global climate, protein folding, and nuclear weapons reliability.

China emerged on the supercomputing scene in force during the early 2010s, when it became the world’s (distant) second to the US. However, within the space of the past year, it has surged ahead. According to the June 2016 list of the world’s top 500 supercomputers, China is now marginally ahead of the US in terms of total number of systems, with 168 top systems relative to America’s 165, and well ahead in terms of performance share, with 211 petaflops total to America’s 173 petaflops.

top500-supercomputers-country-share

China also hosts the world’s most powerful single supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight, which is nearly three times as powerful as the world’s second best (also Chinese) and five times as powerful as the top US supercomputer. Remarkably, it is based entirely on Chinese processors, the US having banned the export of Intel chips used in previous Chinese supercomputers for national security reasons in 2015. Evidently, this has had negligible effects on Chinese technological progress, because China has no dearth of native human capital and a state-backed program to reduce reliance on foreign technologies.

***

Forget the war against terror, forget the Syrian conflict, forget Ukraine – when historians look back on this period, they will identify China’s emergence as a technologically capable continental economy (soon to far overtake the US in absolute size) that is less and less reliant on the West for its technological convergence is by far the most important geopolitical trend of the century.

As this process unfolds, China is likely to start being more assertive on the international stage. We are already seeing this in the South China Sea, and its recent aquisition of its first foreign military base in Djibouti and plans to multiply its (as yet meager) power projection capabilities by building over 1,000 heavy strategic aircraft – that’s far more than what the US and Russia have combined. (Note that my standing projection is for China to overtake the US in total military power by 2030 and in naval power by around 2040).

It will also come to assume a much bigger presence in science, culture, and soft power generally, though this will take some time to recognize given the long lag times between invention and recognition.

Its also worth emphasizing that this technological emergence is quite specific to China, not to the BRICS in general. South Africa is basically an affirmative action BRIC and not worth mentioning further, while Brazil is the country of the future – and always will be, as per De Gaulle’s witticism. Despite strong recent economic growth, India’s presence in all the aforementioned spheres – published papers, supercomputers, industrial robot stock – is comparable to that of a typical middle-sized European country, its huge population being nullified by underdevelopment and an average national IQ in the low 80s.

As for Russia, while general economic output has recovered and exceeded Soviet era levels, its scientific and technological superstructure remains depressed: Russia’s share of global science papers as of 2015 is now 1.9% of the world’s total relative to 7.6% in 1986 (a drop made all the more remarkable by the USSR’s absence of a “publish or perish” scientific culture); its respectable Soviet-era stock of ~60,000 industrial robots has now almost entirely depreciated without getting replaced; and the quantity of Russian supercomputers in the top 500 in any given year has stabilized at around 5-10 since the late 2000s (i.e., comparable to Sweden). This is a consequence of the post-Soviet degradation of Russia’s human capital, especially its more elite elements, due to the 1990s brain drain; the ultimately lackadaisical approach to industrial and technological policy under Putin; and the intrinsic limitations of a ~97 average national IQ (in comparison, China, Germany, Japan, and the advanced parts of the US and Italy are in the low 100s).

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Automation, China, Technology 
HBD, Hive Minds, and H+
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Today is the publication date of Hive Mind, a book by economist Garett Jones on the intimate relationship between average national IQs and national success, first and foremost in the field of economics.

I do intend to read and review it ASAP, but first some preliminary comments.

This is a topic I have been writing about since I started blogging in 2008 (and indeed well before I came across Steve Sailer or even HBD) and as it so happens, I have long been intending to write a similar sort of book myself – tentatively titled Apollo’s Ascent – but one that focuses more on the historical aspect of the relationship between psychometrics and development:

My basic thesis is that the rate of technological progress, as well as its geographical pattern, is highly dependent on the absolute numbers of literate high IQ people.

To make use of the intense interest that will inevitably flare up around these topics in the next few days – not to mention that rather more self-interested reason of confirming originality on the off chance that any of Garett Jones’ ideas happen to substantively overlap with mine – I have decided to informally lay out the theoretical basis for Apollo’s Ascent right now.

1. Nous

Assume that the intellectual output of an average IQ (=100, S.D.=15) young adult Briton in the year 2000 – as good an encapsulation of the “Greenwich mean” of intelligence as any – is equivalent to one nous (1 ν).

This can be used to calculate the aggregate mindpower (M) in a country.

Since sufficiently differing degrees of intelligence can translate into qualitative differences – for instance, no amount of 55 IQ people will be able to solve a calculus problem – we also need to be able to denote mindpower that is above some threshold of intelligence. So in this post, the aggregate mindpower of a country that is above 130 will be written as M(+2.0), i.e. that aggregate mindpower that is two standard deviations above the Greenwich mean.

2. Intelligence and Industrial Economies

There is a wealth of evidence implying an exponential relationship between average IQ and income and wealth in the United States.

human-capital-and-gdp-per-capita-world

Click to enlarge.

There is likewise a wealth of evidence – from Lynn, Rindermann, La Griffe du Lion, your humble servant, etc. – that shows an exponential relationship between levels of average national IQ and GDP per capita (PPP adjusted). When you throw out countries with a legacy of Communism and the ruinous central planning they practiced (China, the Ex-USSR and Eastern Europe, etc), and countries benefitting disproportionately from a resource windfall (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc), there is an amazing R2=0.84 correlation between performance in the PISA international standardized student tests and GDP (PPP) per capita. (In sociology, anything about R2=0.3 is a good result).

The reasons for this might be the case are quite intuitive. At the most basic level, intelligent people can get things done better and more quickly. In sufficiently dull societies, certain things can’t get done at all. To loosely borrow an example from Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms, assume a relatively simple widget that requires ten manufacturing steps that have to be done just right to make it commercially viable. Say an 85 IQ laborer has a failure rate of 5% for any one step, while a 100 IQ laborer has a failure rate of 1%. This does not sound like that big or cardinal of a difference. But repeated ten times, some 40% of the duller worker’s production ends up being a dud, compared to only 10% of the brighter worker’s. Consequently, one is competitive on the global markets, whereas the other is not (if labor costs are equal; hence, of course, they are not).

Now imagine said widget is an automobile, with hundreds of thousands of components. Or an aircraft carrier, or a spaceship. Or a complex surgery operation.

More technical way of looking at this: Consider the GDP equation, Y = A * K^α * L^(1-α), in which K is capital, L is labour, α is a constant that usually equals about 0.3, and A is total factor productivity. It follows that the only way to grow per capita output in the longterm is to raise productivity. Productivity in turn is a function of technology and how effectively it is utilized and that in turn depends critically on things like human capital. Without an adequate IQ base, you cannot accumulate much in the way of human capital.

There are at least two further ways in which brighter societies improve their relative fortunes over and above what might merely be implied by their mere productivity advantage at any technological level.

robot-density

Source: Swiss Miss.

First, capital gets drawn to more productive countries, until the point at which its marginal productivity equalizes with that of less productive countries, with their MUCH LOWER levels of capital intensity. First World economies like Germany, Japan, and the US are extremely capital intensive. It is probably not an accident that Japan, Korea, and Taiwan – some of the very brightest countries on international IQ comparisons – also have by far the world’s highest concentrations of industrial robots per worker (and China is fast catching up). Since economic output is a function not only of pure productivity but also of capital (though subject to diminishing returns) this provides a big further boost to rich countries above the levels implied by their raw productivity. And as the age of automation approaches, these trends will only intensify.

Second, countries with higher IQs also tend to be better governed, and to effectively provide social amenities such as adequate nutrition and education to their populations. Not only does it further raise their national IQs, but it also means that it is easier to make longterm investments there and to use their existing human capital to its full potential.

All this implies that different levels of intelligence have varying economic values on the global market. At this stage I am not so much interested in establishing it with exactitude as illustrating the general pattern, which goes something like this:

  • Average IQ = 70 – Per capita GDP of ~$4,000 in the more optimally governed countries of this class, such as Ghana (note however that many countries in this class are not yet fully done with their Malthusian transitions, which will depress their per capita output somewhat – see below).
  • Average IQ = 85 – Per capita GDP of ~$16,000 in the more optimally governed countries of this class, such as Brazil.
  • Average IQ = 100 Per capita GDP of ~45,000 in the more optimally governed countries of this class, or approximately the level of core EU/US/Japan.
  • Average IQ = 107 – Per capita GDP of potentially $80,000, as in Singapore (and it doesn’t seem to have even finished growing rapidly yet). Similar figures for elite/financial EU cities (e.g. Frankfurt, Milan) and US cities (e.g. San Francisco, Seattle, Boston).
  • Average IQ = 115 – Largely a theoretical construct, but that might be the sort of average IQ you’d get in, say, Inner London – the center of the global investment banking industry. The GDP per capita there is a cool $152,000.

Countries with bigger than normal “smart fractions” (the US, India, Israel) tend to have a bigger GDP per capita than what could be assumed from just from their average national IQ. This stands to reason because a group of people equally split between 85 IQers and 115 IQers will have higher cognitive potential than a room composed of an equivalent number of 100 IQers. Countries with high average IQs but smaller than normal S.D.’s, such as Finland, have a slightly smaller GDP per capita that what you might expect just from average national IQs.

These numbers add up, so a reasonable relationship equilibrium GDP (assuming no big shocks, good policies, etc) and the structure and size of national IQ would be:

Equilibrium GDP of a country exponent (IQ) * the IQ distribution (usually a bell curve shaped Gaussian) * population size * the technological level

Which can be simplified to:

Y ≈ c*M*T

… where M is aggregate mindpower (see above), T is the technology level, and c is a constant denoting the general regulatory/business climate (close to 1 in many well run capitalist states, <0.5 under central planning, etc).

To what extent if any would this model apply to pre-industrial economies?

3. Intelligence and Malthusian Economies

sfd

Source: A Farewell to Alms

Very little. The problem with Malthusian economies is that, as per the old man himself, population increases geometrically while crop yields increase linearly; before long, the increasing population eats up all the surpluses and reaches a sordid equilibrium in which births equal deaths (since there were a lot of births, that means a lot of deaths).

Under such conditions, even though technology might grow slowly from century to century, it is generally expressed not in increasing per capita consumption, but in rising population densities. And over centennial timescales, the effects of this (meager) technological growth can be easily swamped by changes in social structure, biome productivity, and climatic fluctuations (e.g. 17th C France = pre Black Death France in terms of population, because it was Little Ice Age vs. Medieval Warm Period), or unexpected improvements in agricultural productivity e.g. from the importation of new crops (e.g. the coming of sweet potatoes to China which enabled it to double its population over the previous record even though it was in outright social regress for a substantial fraction of this time).

All this makes tallying the rate of technological advance based on population density highly problematic. Therefore it has to be measured primarily in terms of eminent figures, inventions, and great works.

sdfds

Distribution of significant figures across time and place. Source: Human Accomplishment.

The social scientist Charles Murray in Human Accomplishment has suggested a plausible and objective way of doing it, based on tallying the eminence of historical figures in culture and the sciences as measured by their prevalence in big reference works. Societies that are at any one time intensively pushing the technological frontiers outwards are likely to be generating plenty of “Great People,” to borrow a term from the Civilization strategy games.

To what extent does the model used for economic success apply to technology?

4. Intelligence and Technology Before 1800

A narrow intellectual elite is responsible for 99%+ of new scientific discoveries. This implies that unlike the case with an economy at large, where peasants and truck drivers make real contributions, you need to have a certain (high) threshold level of IQ to materially contribute to technological and scientific progress today.

The Anne Roe study of very eminent scientists in 1952 – almost Nobel worthy, but not quite – found that they averaged a verbal IQ of 166, a spatial IQ of 137, and a math IQ of 154. Adjusted modestly down – because the Flynn Effect has only had a very modest impact on non-rule dependent domains like verbal IQ – and you get an average verbal IQ of maybe 160 (in Greenwich terms). These were the sorts of elite people pushing progress in science 50 years ago.

To really understand 1950s era math and physics, I guesstimate that you would need an IQ of ~130+, i.e. your typical STEM grad student or Ivy League undergrad. This suggests that there is a 2 S.D. difference between the typical intellectual level needed to master something as opposed to making fundamental new discoveries in it.

Moreover, progress becomes steadily harder over time; disciplines splinter (see the disappearance of polymath “Renaissance men”), and eventually, discoveries become increasingly unattainable to sole individuals (see the steady growth in numbers of paper coauthors and shared Nobel Prizes in the 20th century). In other words, these IQ discovery thresholds are themselves a function of the technological level. To make progress up the tech tree, you need to first climb up there.

An extreme example today would be the work 0f Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki. At least Grigory Perelman’s proof of the Poincare Conjecture was eventually confirmed by other mathematicians after a lag of several years. But Mochizuki is so far ahead of everyone else in his particular field of Inter-universal Teichmüller theory that nobody any longer quite knows whether he is a universal genius or a lunatic.

In math, I would guesstimate roughly the following set of thresholds:

Mastery Discovery
Intuit Pythagoras Theorem (Ancient Egypt) 90 120
Prove Pythagoras Theorem (Early Ancient Greece) 100 130
Renaissance Math (~1550) 110 140
Differential Calculus (~1650+) 120 150
Mid-20th Century Math (1950s) 130 160
Prove Poincare Conjecture (2003) 140 170
Inter-universal Teichmüller theory (?) 150 180

This all suggests that countries which attain new records in aggregate elite mindpower relative to their predecessors can very quickly generate vast reams of new scientific discoveries and technological achievements.

Moreover, this elite mindpower has to be literate. Because a human brain can only store so much information, societies without literacy are unable to move forwards much beyond Neolithic levels, their IQ levels regardless.

As such, a tentative equation for estimating a historical society’s capacity to generate scientific and technological growth would look something like this:

Technological growth c * M(>threshold IQ for new discovery) * literacy rate

or:

ΔT c * M(>discovery-threshold) * l

in which only that part of the aggregate mindpower that is above the threshold is considered; c is a constant that illustrates a society’s propensity for generating technological growth in the first place and can encompass social and cultural factors, such as no big wars, no totalitarian regimes, creativity, etc. as well as technological increases that can have a (generally marginal) effect on scientific productivity, like reading glasses in Renaissance Italy (well covered by David Landes), and the Internet in recent decades; and the literacy rate l is an estimate of the percentage of the cognitive elites that are literate (it can be expected to generally be a function of the overall literacy rate and to always be much higher).

Is it possible to estimate historical M and literacy with any degree of rigor?

dfgdf

Source: Gregory Clark.

I think so. In regards to literacy, this is an extensive area of research, with some good estimates for Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire (see Ancient Literacy by William Harris) and much better estimates for Europe after 1500 based on techniques like age heaping and book production records.

One critical consideration is that not all writing systems are equally suited for the spread of functional literacy. For instance, China was historically one of the most schooled societies, but its literacy tended to be domain specific, the classic example being “fish literacy” – a fishmonger’s son who knew the characters for different fish, but had no hope of adeptly employing his very limited literacy for making scientific advances, or even reading “self-help” pamphlets on how to be more effective in his profession (such as were becoming prevalent in England as early as the 17th century). The Chinese writing system, whether it arose from QWERTY reasons or even genetic reasons – and which became prevalent throughout East Asia – surely hampered the creative potential of East Asians.

Estimating average national IQs historically – from which M can be derived in conjunction with historical population sizes, of which we now generally have fairly good ideas about – is far more tricky and speculative, but not totally hopeless, because nowadays we know the main factors behind national differences in IQ.

Some of the most important ones include:

  • Cold Winters Theory – Northern peoples developed higher IQs (see Lynn, Rushton).
  • Agriculture – Societies that developed agriculture got a huge boost to their IQs (as well as higher S.D.s).
  • Inbreeding – Can be estimated from rates of consanguineous marriage, runs of homozygosity, and predominant family types (nuclear? communitarian?), which in turn can be established from cultural and literary evidence.
  • Eugenics – In advanced agricultural societies, where social relations come to be dominated by markets. See Greg Clark on England, and Ron Unz on China.
  • Nutrition – Obviously plays a HUGE role in the Flynn Effect. Can be proxied by body measurements, and fortunately there is a whole field of study devoted to precisely this: Auxology. Burials, conscription records, etc. all provide a wealth of evidence.
  • Parasite Load – Most severe in low-lying, swampy areas like West Africa and the Ganges Delta.
byzantine-empire-intellectual-capacity

This old comment of mine to a post by Sailer is a demonstration of the sort of reasoning I tend to employ in Apollo’s Ascent.

All this means that educated guesses at the historic IQs of various societies are now perfectly feasible, if subject to a high degree of uncertainty. In fact, I have already done many such estimates while planning out Apollo’s Ascent. I will not release these figures at this time because they are highly preliminary, and lacking space to further elucidate my methods, I do not want discussions in the comments to latch on to some one figure or another and make a big deal out of it. Let us save this for later.

But in broad terms – and very happily for my thesis – these relations DO tend to hold historically.

Classical Greece was almost certainly the first society to attain something resembling craftsman level literacy rates (~10%). Ancient Greeks were also unusually tall (indicating good nutrition, for a preindustrial society), lived in stem/authoritarian family systems, and actively bred out during their period of greatness. They produced the greatest scientific and cultural explosion up to that date anywhere in the world, but evidently didn’t have quite the demographic weight – there were no more than 10 million Greeks scattered across the Mediterranean at peak – to sustain it.

In 15th century Europe, literacy once again begun soaring in Italy, to beyond Roman levels, and – surely helped by the good nutrition levels following the Black Death – helped usher in the Renaissance. In the 17th century, the center of gravity shifted towards Anglo-Germanic Europe in the wake of the Reformation with its obsession with literacy, and would stay there ever after.

As regards other civilizations…

The Islamic Golden Age was eventually cut short more by the increasing inbreeding than by the severe but ultimately temporary shock from the Mongol invasions. India was too depressed by the caste system and by parasitic load to ever be a first rate intellectual power, although the caste system also ensured a stream of occasional geniuses, especially in the more abstract areas like math and philosophy. China and Japan might have had an innate IQ advantage over Europeans – albeit one that was quite modest in the most critical area, verbal IQ – but they were too severely hampered by labour-heavy agricultural systems and a very ineffective writing system.

In contrast, The Europeans, fed on meat and mead, had some of the best nutrition and lowest parasitic load indicators amongst any advanced civilization, and even as rising population pressure began to impinge on those advantages by the 17th-18th centuries, they had already burst far ahead in literacy, and intellectual predominance was now theirs to lose.

5. Intelligence and Technology under Industrialism

After 1800, the world globalized intellectually. This was totally unprecedented. There had certainly been preludes to it, e.g. in the Jesuit missions to Qing China. But these were very much exceptional cases. Even in the 18th century, for instance, European and Japanese mathematicians worked on (and solved) many of the same problems independently.

sdfsd

Source: Human Accomplishment.

But in the following two centuries, this picture of independent intellectual traditions – shining most brightly in Europe by at least an order of magnitude, to be sure, but still diverse on the global level – was to be homogenized. European science became the only science that mattered, as laggard civilizations throughout the rest of the world were to soon discover to their sorrow in the form of percussion rifles and ironclad warships. And by “Europe,” that mostly meant the “Hajnal” core of the continent: France, Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and Northern Italy.

And what had previously been but a big gap became an awning chasm.

(1) In the 19th century, the populations of European countries grew, and the advanced ones attained universal literacy or as good as made no difference. Aggregate mindpower (M) exploded, and kept well ahead of the advancing threshold IQ needed to make new discoveries.

(2) From 1890-1970, there was a second revolution, in nutrition and epidemiology – average heights increased by 10cm+, and the prevalence of debilitating infectitious diseases was reduced to almost zero – that raised IQ by as much as a standard deviation across the industrialized world. The chasm widened further.

(3) During this period, the straggling civilizations – far from making any novel contributions of their own – devoted most of their meager intellectual resources to merely coming to grips with Western developments.

This was as true – and consequential – in culture and social sciences as it was in science and technology; the Russian philosopher Nikolay Trubetzkoy described this traumatic process very eloquently in The Struggle Between Europe and Mankind. What was true even for “semi-peripheral” Russia was doubly true for China.

In science and technology, once the rest of the world had come to terms with Western dominance and the new era of the nation-state, the focus was on catchup, not innovation.This is because for developing countries, it is much more useful in terms of marginal returns to invest their cognitive energies into copying, stealing, and/or adapting existing technology to catch up to the West than to develop unique technology of their own. Arguments about, say, China’s supposed lack of ability to innovate are completely besides the point. At this stage of its development, even now, copying is much easier than creating!

This means that at this stage of global history, a country’s contribution to technological growth isn’t only a matter of the size of its smart fractions above the technological discovery IQ threshold. (This remains unchanged: E.g., note that a country like Germany remains MUCH more innovative per capita than, say, Greece, even though their aveage national IQs differ by a mere 5 points or so. Why? Because since we’re looking only at the far right tails of the bell curve, even minor differences in averages translate to big differences in innovation-generating smart fractions).

It also relates closely to its level of development. Countries that are far away from the technological frontier today are better served by using their research dollars and cognitive elites to catch up as opposed to inventing new stuff. This is confirmed by real life evidence: A very big percentage of world spending on fundamental research since WW2 has been carried out in the US. It was low in the USSR, and negligible in countries like Japan until recently. Or in China today.

Bearing this in mind, the technological growth equation today (and since 1800, more or less) – now due to its global character better described as innovation potential – would be better approximated by something like this:

Innovation potential ≈ c * M(>threshold IQ for new discovery) * literacy rate * (GDP/GDP[potential])^x

or:

I c * M(>discovery-threshold) * l * (Y/Y[P])^x

in which the first three terms are as before (though literacy = 100% virtually everywhere now), and potential GDP is the GDP this country would obtain were its technological endowment to be increased to the maximum level possible as dictated by its cognitive profile. The “x” is a further constant that is bigger than 1 to reflect the idea that catchup only ceases to be the most useful strategy once a country has come very close to convergence or has completely converged.

Japan has won a third of all its Nobel Prizes before 2000; another third in the 2000s; and the last third in the 2010s. Its scientific achievements, in other words, are finally beginning to catch up with its famously high IQ levels. Why did it take so long?

Somebody like JayMan would say its because the Japanese are clannish or something like that. Other psychometrists like Kenya Kura would notice that perhaps they are far less creative than Westerners (this I think has a measure of truth to it). But the main “purely IQ” reasons are pretty much good enough by themselves:

  • The Nobel Prize is typically recognized with a ~25-30 year lag nowadays.
  • It is taking ever longer amounts of time to work up to a Nobel Prize because ever greater amounts of information and methods have to be mastered before original creative work can begin. (This is one consequence of the rising threshold discovery IQ frontier).
  • Critically, Japan in the 1950s was still something of a Third World country, with the attended insults upon average IQ. It is entirely possible that elderly Japanese are duller than their American counterparts, and perhaps even many Europeans of that age, meaning smaller smart fractions from the Nobel Prize winning age groups.

Japan only became an unambiguously developed country in the 1970s.

And it just so happens that precisely 40 years after this did it begin to see a big and still accelerating increase in the numbers of Nobel Prizes accruing to it!

Extending this to South Korea and Taiwan, both of which lagged around 20 years behind Japan, we can only expect to see an explosion in Nobel Prizes for them from the 2020s, regardless of how wildly their teenagers currently top out the PISA rankings.

Extending this to China, which lags around 20 years behind South Korea, and we can expect to see it start gobbling up Nobel Prizes by 2040, or maybe 2050, considering the ongoing widening of the time gap between discovery and recognition. However, due to its massive population – ten times as large as Japan’s – once China does emerge as a major scientific leader, it will do so in a very big way that will rival or even displace the US from its current position of absolute primacy.

As of 2014, China already publishes almost as many scientific papers per year as does the US, and has an outright lead in major STEM fields such as Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Computer Science. (Though to be sure, their quality is much lower, and a significant fraction of them are outright “catching up” or “adaption” style papers with no new findings).

If we assume that x=1, and that c is equal for both China and the US, then it implies that both countries currently have broadly equal innovation potential. But of course c is not quite equal between them – it is lower for China, because its system is obviously less conductive to scientific research than the American – and x is higher than 1, so in practice China’s innovation potential is still considerably lower than that of the US (maybe a quarter or a third). Nonetheless, as China continues to convege, c is going to trend towards the US level, and the GDP gap is going to narrow; plus it may also be able to eke out some further increases in its national average IQ from the current ~103 (as proxied by PISA in 2009) to South Korea’s level of ~107 as it becomes a truly First World country.

And by mid-century it will likely translate into a strong challenge to American scientific preeminence.

6. Future Consequences

The entry of China onto the world intellectual stage (if the model above is more or less correct) will be portentuous, but ultimately it will in its effects on aggregate mindpower be nowhere near the magnitude in global terms of the expansion in the numbers of literate, mostly European high IQ people from 1450 to 1900, nor the vast rise in First World IQ levels from 1890-1970 due to the Flynn Effect.

Moreover, even this may be counteracted by the dysgenic effects already making themselves felt in the US and Western Europe due to Idiocracy-resembling breeding patterns and 80 IQ Third World immigration.

And no need for pesky implants!

Radically raise IQ. And no need for pesky neural implants!

A lot of the techno-optimistic rhetoric you encounter around transhumanist circles is founded on the idea that observed exponential trends in technology – most concisely encapsulated by Moore’s Law – are somehow self-sustaining, though the precise reasons why never seem to be clearly explained. But non-IT technological growth peaked in the 1950s-70s, and has declined since; and as a matter of fact, Moore’s Law has also ground to a halt in the past 2 years. Will we be rescued by a new paradigm? Maybe. But new paradigms take mindpower to generate, and the rate of increase in global mindpower has almost certainly peaked. This is not a good omen.

Speaking of the technological singularity, it is entirely possible that the mindpower discovery threshold for constructing a superintelligence is in fact far higher than we currently have or are likely to ever have short of a global eugenics program (and so Nick Bostrom can sleep in peace).

On the other hand, there are two technologies that combined may decisively tip the balance: CRISPR-Cas9, and the discovery of the genes for general intelligence. Their maturation and potential mating may become feasible as early as 2025.

While there are very good reasons – e.g., on the basis of animal breeding experiments – for doubting Steve Hsu’s claims that genetically corrected designer babies will have IQs beyond that of any living human today, increases on the order of 4-5 S.D.’s are entirely possible. If even a small fraction of a major country like China adopts it – say, 10% of the population – then that will in two decades start to produce an explosion in aggregate global elite mindpower that will soon come to rival or even eclipse the Renaissance or the Enlightenment in the size and scope of their effects on the world.

The global balance of power would be shifted beyond recognition, and truly transformational – indeed, transhuman – possibilities will genuinely open up.

 
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In the Japanese TV series Dennō Coil, people wear Internet-connected augmented reality glasses and interact with a world that is now split between the real and the virtual. Citizens and netizens become one. The story is set in 2026, some eleven years after the introduction of this technology.

Considering that this series was first conceived of in 1997, the dates are remarkable accurate. Recently it was revealed that Google is working on a “Project Glass” that will become available to consumers for a cool $1,500 from late 2013 or early 2014.

Needless to say the usual cynics and technophobes have been making fun of the idea, going on about the ethical problems of facial recognition, announcing they will boycott the technology (yeah right), etc. I am unconcerned with all this. As with other mega-trends like global demography or climate change, contrary opinions are like a flimsy shack against an advancing tide, in other words, irrelevant. Fortunately, for the most part, technological revolutions increase wellbeing and are useful anyway.

In my opinion, the decisive technological development of the 2000′s was the mass proliferation of cell phones. In the late 1990′s, only a small percentage of people in developed countries had access to them, as well as a handful of businesspeople and high officials in the developing world. Today they are ubiquitous with global penetration at over 70%. Apart from making people much more connected – I can barely remember the days when one actually had to make strict appointments in advance – the sector also powered a mini-economic boom for both designers (Nokia, Samsung, etc), their manufacturing contractors in China, and the ecosystem of app developers they spawned in places like the Silicon Valley.

The augmented reality eyeglass revolution will be of similar or even greater scope. What is now almost unheard of outside the techosphere will begin to break out into the public consciousness by the mid-2010′s; substantial numbers of the global middle class will start wearing them by the late 2010′s; and by the mid-2020′s, this will be a thriving global industry with tons of spinoffs and applications. So much so that a proper name will surely have to be found for these glasses. Intelligent glasses? AReyes? Thinking goggles? Denno glasses? I like the sound of the last one so I’ll be using it until the term catches on or another replaces it.

The historical penetration of cell phones. I suspect denno glasses will follow the same trajectory, plus two decades.

Anyway why exactly do I think they will be so revolutionary? Simply because of the absolutely seamless and compact way they will integrate with and augment everyday life and the other aspects of Internet features (Google Search, Wikipedia, social networks, etc) that already enrich it. Here is a list of how different activities will change:

(1) Facial recognition. Have you ever had this awkward situation where you meet some person (or worse romantic prospect) whose name you can’t quite recall? No more problems as long as they are plugged into Facebook, Google+, etc. Facebook already has fairly good face recognition technologies as per when you tag photos so integrating this with denno glasses will be a breeze.

(2) Social networking. Which leads us to the next big revolution – meeting someone, and having a list of relevant information appear beside his or her name. This will be highly useful as it will enable one to better optimize their social interaction. Privacy concerns are irrelevant; the technology doesn’t cardinally change anything in this regard, it only makes the process of recognition and information gathering far quicker and more efficient.

(3) Geolocation. So you find yourself hanging out by yourself? The world is a small place. Quite possibly some of your friends or acquaintances may be nearby; you will know if they choose to switch their locations on. This possibility already exists on smart phones but you actually have to bring up the program which is a spot of bother and the main reason I rarely use the feature. But if this feature is literally staring in your face all day…

(4) Translation. Text is a breeze: Just look at something, and Google Translate will give you the general gist of it. Same goes for Chinese Hanzi for which as I mentioned there already exists instant translation software on the iPhone. Speech recognition will create more trouble, as machines will first have to transcribe it into indigenous language text before spitting out the appropriate translation. This will require half a decade to a decade of tweaking to perfect. Nonetheless, denno glasses may well be the greatest technological aid to learning foreign languages since the invention of alphabets.

(5) Livestream your life. Not the kind of thing I would do, at least unless I’m doing something very cool like shredding snow on a double diamond or picking up an HB10, but if it floats your boat why not?

(6) Cloud memory. Have a great view that you want to take a picture of? Get an original thought that you will soon forget if you don’t jot it down in your Moleskin? Denno glasses can record both.

(7) Events. Concerts, wine tastings, friends’ birthdays… all in very close proximity.

(8) Real time performance monitoring. Get an instant heads-up display of heart rate, distance covered, calories burned, etc, etc, with just a couple of sensors attached to your body. Needless to say, this will also allow perfect performance tracking. This is extremely important because monitoring yourself improving is very inspirational when losing weight, getting big, etc.

(9) Learning. With the advent of Internet technology, cognitive patterns are changing. Older people have wonderful memories; younger people are much better at recalling how to access a piece of information, as opposed to actually committing it to memory. Neither method is superior to the other – they are products of different technological environments. Denno glasses will put the final nail in the coffin of the old, memory-intensive way of thought. But they will also be of great practical help. Learning to drive a car? Fly a helicopter? Denno glasses can actively give you hints and solutions just as happens in the tutorial modes of video games.

(10) Knowledge. If Wikipedia is a single voice command away…

(11) Gaming. This is going to be huge. Imagine what you could do if you could populate the real world with virtual objects that can be perceived with denno glasses. Create a real life Stalker simulation in the shadows of Chernobyl. Organize Western-style shootouts in the dozens of abandoned dustbowl towns of inner California. Instigate a zombie outbreak in New York or Los Angeles. (That might not be such a good idea actually what with the potential for car accidents…). This is coming soon:

So what should gamers expect from the final Oculus RIFT product? “Imagine an HMD with a massive field of view and more pixels than 1080p per eye, wireless PC link, built in absolute head and hand/weapon/wand positioning, and native integration with some (if not all) of the major game engines, all for less than $1,000 USD. That can happen in 2013!”

Still, I see the emergence of numerous “game arenas”, in the style of paintball areas: Just bring your denno glasses, pay for day access and (electronic) gun rent, and off you go! Once people (virtually) die, the HUD can start representing them as translucent “ghosts” to avoid confusion. Similar games already exist for smartphones like Zombie, Run! but with denno glasses the feeling will be much more… visceral.

(12) New ways of seeing the world. See the city in wireframe X-ray vision – much more efficient way of navigating it than using maps. Look up at the sky and see the names of all the stars and constellations just as you can with the Google Sky Map. Look at famous landmarks or natural wonders and get instant information about their history, dimensions, how many of your friends visited them, etc.

(13) And even more new ways of seeing the world. See virtual re-enactments of historical scenes. See ads while passing by corporate areas (ugh). This will take time to develop but by 2030 I suspect a lot of the visions of augmented reality in Minority Report will have been realized.

(14) Semantic Webs. In tandem with this revolution, we also have the emergence of the “semantic web.” Cell phones are a huge phenomenon. Denno glasses are more integrated with people; more integrated with the Web; and the Web itself is steadily becoming far more useful and intelligent.

(15) Economic opportunities. For most rich country citizens (those not in the 1%) the 2010′s and 2020′s will be grim because limited global resources and competition from China will mean that their share of the global economic pie will shrink not only in relative but absolute terms. Nonetheless, some niches – especially the hi-tech and dematerialized – will continue seeing very impressive growth and possibilities for vast new fortunes.

The App Revolution meant that anybody with even fairly basic programming skills could begin making apps for the Droid or iPhone. Everything from wake up alarms to Hanzi flashcards to Angry Birds to Zombie, Run!. The mass penetration of denno glasses will recreate the same conditions and if anything on a much larger scale because they are likely to become even more central to human life than cell phones are today. I foresee a lot of millionaires and probably a few billionaires arising from this industry in the next two decades. I can think of few things more prospective today for the high-IQ and logically-minded than mastering computer programming and becoming deeply involved with the emerging world of Dennō Coil.

None of this is science fiction – indeed, I have avoided the more sci-fi like development scenarios, which are unlikely to be realized before 2030. The prototypes for denno glasses already exist, and they go into mass production very soon. The first versions will no doubt be buggy and slow, unable to process data quickly, however with time – with the further development of ubiquitous ultra-fast broadband wireless Internet, cloud computing, etc. – these issues will be ironed out and denno glasses will become an integral element of life in the early 21st century.

PS. This article was translated into Russian at Inosmi.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Like my post on Resource Depletion and Peak Oil, this is intended as a reference article for another key future trend. One important observation I will make at the beginning is that the approach of Limits To Growth (already imminent in the developed world) will not lead to a cessation in technological growth. In fact, they might even act as a spur to innovation, because 1) the end of growth prospects in material product will encourage a reallocation of resources to doing things better or more efficiently, and 2) the Boserupian Effect (in the Malthusian context – “relative overpopulation creates additional stimuli to generate and apply carrying-capacity-of-land-raising innovations”). So to my fellow peakists, please bear these qualifiers in mind before condemning me for “cornucopian” or “techno-progressive” heresies.

One of the best summaries is the Wikipedia page with the List of emerging technologies and I’ll be drawing heavily on it. I’ve marked out the technologies I consider to be more important and MOST IMPORTANT. Please feel free to chime in with your own suggestions.

Energy & Transport

OVERVIEW: Up to 2050, the dominant trends will be 1) exploitation of already-existing energy sources like coal and natural gas, as well as conventional oil in ever deeper and remoter locations, with marginally improving technology, 2) new unconventional hydrocarbon sources such as shale gas or coalbed methane, and 3) a massive expansion in nuclear power (assuming problems in the supply side don’t materialize early). Many modern renewable, battery, and energy efficiency technologies are critically reliant on Rare Earth Metals. Too bad that 1) you need energy to mine them, 2) they peaking at the global level (see 1, 2, 3, 4) and 3) their production has been largely monopolized by China. Though wind and solar are becoming more efficient, they are starting from a low base, which added to their other problems (dependency on REM’s, low EROEI, low energy density, intermittence, etc) will prevent them from becoming dominant energy sources within the next few decades. However, space-based solar power may be an exception. If an extensive space infrastructure is built up, e.g. for military purposes, then adding on an energy component will become highly desirable.

Information Technology

OVERVIEW: As the decades go by, and as long as industrialism remains intact (i.e. at least until 2040), the line separating the real world from the virtual world of cyberspace will become blurred. There will be ultra high-bandwidth communications, perhaps directly connecting human brains in reality (telepathy?), as well as to their avatar within other full immersion virtual realities. Specialized AI’s will proliferate as ever more “conventional” products become digitized and act as “virtual assistants” to cyborg humans in “augmented reality”. Perhaps some AI’s will pass the Turing test (Ray Kurzweil suggests 2029), helped in part by accurate brainscans (enabled by nanobots injected into the bloodstream) and brain simulations (enabled by progress of Moore’s Law). The spread of these global, intelligent networks of cyborgs and AI’s will be a revolution unprecedented in history.

Biotech & Agriculture

OVERVIEW: Bioengineering will revolutionize the way people live and very soon – longer and healthier lives, largely free of degenerative diseases, and with enhanced physical and mental capabilities. Existing life forms will be modified or mated with machines, while entirely new bioconstructs may be created to fulfill specific purposes. And with the decline of the petroleum economy and the industrial agriculture it subsidizes, other techniques like permaculture, organic gardening, and hydroponics will become more prominent.

Robotics, Nanotech & Materials Science

OVERVIEW: Nanomanufacturing may revolutionize economic values, but only if it’s of the “bottom-up” variety; but there is little cause to expect a general breakthrough in this sphere until around 2040 at the earliest, since even the experimental basis for it is very weak now (upshot: we won’t die from gray goo). But there will be a great deal of innovations in materials building using nanotech using the “top-down” approach – lighter, tougher, stealthier, and more flexible, efficient, and resilient. This will improve many already existing technologies and physical assets.

  • The long process of miniaturization is at the heart of NANOTECHNOLOGY, the science of manipulating matter on the molecular and atomic scale (see molecular self-assembly, nanomaterials, molecular nanotechnology). Progress will advance along two fronts – smaller size, bigger complexity. Distant possibilities include the reengineering of the human body, building nanoscale “swarm bots” that can enter the human body and do anything from creating an inner virtual reality to killing her, and molecular replicators that could build anything or turn the world into “gray goo”. Its nearer and more realistic possibilities include powering the continuation of Moore’s Law and creating nanomaterials.
  • SWARM ROBOTICS involve many agents operating by simple rules and communicating with each other to organize complex outcomes (like bees or ants). Popularized in Crichton’s Prey novel.
  • Powered exoskeleton are suits that can increase the wearer’s strength, endurance, and mobility. Obvious applications to prosthetics, workers in hazardous conditions, and soldiers. Popularized in Iron Man films.
  • High-temperature superconductivity so as to create no loss conductors, frictionless bearings, magnetic levitation (MAGLEV) and lossless high-capacity accumulators. High-temperature superfluidity may enable frictionless mechanical devices. Huge efficiency savings will be made if such devices are developed at a cheap enough cost.
  • Nanomaterials are new materials created with nanotechnology such as fullerenes (e.g. carbon nanotubes needed for space elevators) or other nanoparticles “of particular interest for their mechanical, electrical, magnetic, optical, chemical and other properties” (e.g. see quantum dots, with applications in quantum computing, solar power, and LED’s). Metamaterials “are artificial materials engineered to provide properties which may not be readily available in nature” with applications such as the superlens, “cloaking” (stealth), and sensors.
  • Self-healing materials could detect and repair physical faults in a structure like biological organisms do. Programmable matter can change its actual physical properties “based upon user input or autonomous sensing”.

Military & Security

OVERVIEW: I really recommend you read On Future War, but in summary, networks will become more important than ever to warfare. But they must not only be intelligent and flexible, but also resilient, because they may be massively disrupted by precision weapons, EMP’s, and cyber attacks – should the networks they rely on fail, the units beneath them must retain cohesion to achieve victory. Surveillance is ubiquitous both on the battlespace and the home front, indeed, the two are hardly distinguishable. Railguns and battle lasers will revolutionize naval warfare, and in response naval platforms will have to become deeper, quieter, faster, nimbler. On the ground, tanks will be entirely sidelined by RPG’s, and combat will come to resemble first person shooter video games in almost all respects. Drones and MANPADS will sideline legacy fighters, smart RPG’s will sideline tanks. Developments in missile defense will force a move to newer nuclear delivery systems (hypersonic bombers and scramjet cruise missiles). There will be “space wars” between satellites and ASAT weapons for control of the commanding heights and C&C might even move into space.

  • Already covered in a series on this blog. See On Future War, Revolution in Naval Warfare, Augmented Reality Warfare, Thinking about Nuclear War, and my upcoming articles on future aerospace warfare (Battle for the Heavens), on cyberwar, and on biological warfare.
  • [Key terms covered above: ballistic missile defense, anti-missile shields (including "plasma shield), scramjets, EM railguns, battle lasers, supercavitating torpedoes (and even submersibles), "smart dust", hypersonic cruise missiles, hypersonic strategic bombers, battlespace awareness, precision weapons, fuel air bombs, EMP bombs, NCW/4GW/RMA, cyberwar, ekranoplan, space war, drones, Augmented Reality Warfare, "cybernetic reprimitivization", "ecological war", the Iron Light Phalanx, cyborg soldiers, stealth, semi-submersible arsenal ships, military bioconstructs.]
  • The modern SURVEILLANCE STATE (e.g. particularly well developed in Britain) is highly subject to Moore’s Law: databases = information storage, detection = pattern recognition & processing power, based on networks, increasingly mobile (can be operated from drones, satellites) and all-encompassing (due to rising ubiquity and sensitivity of sensors). This may, arguably, encourage corruption and authoritarianism. Though the technological advances are unstoppable, one solution is to insist on a democratization of surveillance power (i.e. sousveillance) to encourage the emergence of a “transparent society“.
  • The HI-MEMS project to create cyborg insects that can be controlled by a military for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes.
  • Due to falling costs of DNA sequencing, the means for making biological warfare will become accessible to small groups and individuals (Biowar for Dummies).
  • See also force fields, particle beam weapons, The age of the great battlestars.

Other Developments

OVERVIEW: My own pet technologies…

  • GEOENGINEERING hardly exists as a scientific discipline today, but it will become all important by 2030. Runaway climate change is pretty much inevitable and geoengineering will be a last ditch attempt to right the careening Earth ship, but has only break even chances of success at best (see The Final Gambit: Geoengineering and S/O forum discussion about this for more details).
  • The science of SYSTEM DYNAMICS will achieve far greater prominence in all walks of life. It is central to understanding both the information networks that are overspreading the world, and the systemic limits to growth on the planet that we are breaching. It can also draw on the emerging science of cliodynamics, still in its incubation period, that seeks to mathematically model historical processes. Combining its insights with the World3 model, the various Hubbert’s peak models, etc, will surely yield great benefits in understanding current trends and envisioning our likely future path (and how to avoid the best outcomes).
  • I suspect one side effect of increased computing power, combined with greater understanding of limits to growth and respect for the systems approach, will be a rehabilitation of central planning (e.g. as first argued in the book Towards a New Socialism by P. Cockshott A. Cottrell). Why should be intuitively obvious. The emerging complex of surveillance systems, AI’s, databases, and networks should solve the classic problem bedeviling all earlier attempts at real socialism, the problem of getting accurate, real-time information about the state of the economy. But in the future, all this information will be at the central agent’s fingertips, far more than any individual (or even cyborg) could hope to possess let alone analyze. Central planning will no longer be a byword for inefficiency and cronyism; it will be the wave of the future! See also my posts on ecotechnic dictatorship and collapse ethics.

Instead of a Conclusion…

… I’m writing a “Top 10″ list* of the most significant future technologies, taking into account their 1) immediacy, and most importantly 2) their feasibility of achieving transformative global effects.

  1. Though the full ramifications of Artificial Intelligence are some distance away, they will be truly epochal in their significance (a superintelligent AI is the last invention man need ever make). Even before that period, specialized AI’s will become to impinge on and dominate ever wider spheres of human activity – driving, playing chess, sorting information, firing guns… and most importantly, developing other technologies (including better AI’s).
  2. Bioengineering enables everything from better crop productivity to life extension; though unlike AI this technology won’t displace humans, it has the potential to redefine what it means to be human. Not only will we be able to play God by modifying existing species, or creating entirely new ones to serve our whim, but we can change our own species and become transhumans. And significantly, biotech is already a huge industry.
  3. Permaculture, with its offshoots, may be the most significant technology we leave behind to our descendants after 2050. It will play an important role in mitigating the stresses placed on the agricultural system by energy shortages and climate change; should industrial civilization collapse altogether, then these farming techniques may be able to sustain a few billion people at sustenance levels and hence spare the world a full-blown dieoff.
  4. There will be rising interest in Geoengineering as the true scale of our global warming dilemma reveals itself in the immediate decades ahead. Eventually, some kind of aerosol or ocean seeding solution will be attempted in a desperate bid to prevent the world’s metamorphosis into Mad Max in Waterworld. I suspect its success (or not) will largely determine whether industrial civilization collapses or ekes out a path to a sustainable steady state by 2100.
  5. People will spend more and more time in Virtual Reality, which will become increasingly indistinguishable from real reality in some ways. Prime candidates for this are video games and movies (you are the direct protagonist or observer, respectively), social networking sites like Facebook (meet your “Friends” in person… on a deep space cruiser!), or even cyberspace in general.
  6. The falling costs of computer technology and networks, coupled with the rising social tensions of the Age of Scarcity Industrialism, will make Mass Surveillance systems irresistible for any state. The main question is whether it will be the unaccountable CCTV type, or the democratic “transparent society” type. And needless to say, advanced surveillance technologies will become more vital than ever on the ultra-lethal future battlespace…
  7. Exploiting “top-down” Nanotechnology will reliably deliver continuing improvements in computer hardware, as well as useful new materials such as carbon nanotubes and quantum dots. If “bottom-up” nanotechnology is realized, then this technology will become truly transformative, and will move up to the #2 slot. However, this prospect is probably at least several decades distant.
  8. Pacemakers, prosthetic limbs, even eye contacts can be classified as Human-Machine Interfaces. But the future possibilities are far grander. Exoskeletons can multiply human power and endurance. Bionic contacts with embedded “virtual assistant” AI’s can make people far more functionally intelligent (e.g. integrating people’s faces with their personal info streamed from their social networking profiles), thus enabling people, now cyborgs, to experience an “augmented reality”.
  9. Life Extension may hold the solution to Europe’s and Japan’s aging crisis. If old people become functionally younger, they can get back into the workforce instead of burdening their welfare states with expensive treatments for degenerative diseases.
  10. This is a bit of a wildcard, but on the energy front I’m going to throw out Space-Based Solar Power. In my view, it may be the most reliable way of solving our energy dilemma for the longue durée. Unlike hydrocarbons or uranium, it will never peak (at least not until the Sun dies). Far away from the debris in Low Earth Orbits, it should be relatively safe and stable once positioned in place. Energy can be constantly microwaved down to Earth, where it is used immediately or stored in batteries. The upfront costs are prohibitive, and in the coming age of fiscal and energy stresses many nations will be unwilling or unable to foot the bill. However, they also have an innate interest in building up their space capabilities, and providing space-based solar power may constitute an excellent economic justification for the expenditures. If industrial civilization survives its post-hydrocarbons transition and contains runaway climate change, then the second part of the 21st century will be a solar one.

I’m sure I’ve made plenty of mistakes and missed many other important technologies in this post, so please feel free to chime in on this score.

* Actually, Information Technology is not only transformative by itself, giving us ever bigger networks and more powerful computers, but it also drives progress in most of the other technologies on this list! Without its Moore’s Law dynamics, we would be in a deep technological rut. The reason it is not on the list of emerging technologies is because it has already fully emerged… it is now part of the technological background, much like the wheel or the internal combustion engine.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the most interesting emerging sciences today, in my opinion, is cliodynamics. Their practitioners attempt to come to with mathematical models of history to explain “big history” – things like the rise of empires, social discontent, civil wars, and state collapse. To the casual observer history may appear to be chaotic and fathomless, devoid of any overreaching pattern or logic, and consequently the future is even more so (because “the past is all we have”).

This state of affairs, however, is slowly ebbing away. Of course, from the earliest times, civilizational theorists like Ibn Khaldun, Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee dreamed of rationalizing history, and their efforts were expounded upon by thinkers like Nikolai Kondratiev, Fernand Braudel, Joseph Schumpeter, and Heinz von Foerster. However, it is only with the newest crop of pioneers like Andrei Korotayev, Sergey Nefedov, and Peter Turchin that a true, rigorous mathematized history is coming into being – a discipline recently christened cliodynamics.

As an introduction to this fascinating area of research, I will summarize, review, and run an active commentary on one of the most comprehensive and theoretical books on cliodynamics: Introduction to Social Macrodynamics by Korotayev et al (it’s quite rare, as there’s only a single copy of it in the entire UC library system). The key insight is that world demographic / economic history can be modeled to a high degree of accuracy by just three basic trends: hyperbolic / exponential, cyclical, and stochastic.

Korotayev, Andrei & Artemy Malkov, Daria KhaltourinaIntroduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends (2006)
Category: cliodynamics, world systems; Rating: 5*/5
Summary: Andrei Korotayev (wiki); review @ cliodynamics.ru; a similar text на русском.

Introduction: Millennial Trends

Google Books has the first chapter Introduction: Millennial Trends.

In 1960, Heinz von Foerster showed that the world’s population at any given time between 1-1958 CE could be approximated by the simple equation below, where N is the population, t is time, C is a constant, and t(0) is a “doomsday” when the population becomes infinite (worked out to be 13 November, 2026).

(1) N(t) = C / ( t(0) – t )

According to Korotayev et al, this simple formula of hyperbolic explains 99%+ of the micro-variation in world population from 1000 to 1970. Furthermore, a quadratic-hyperbolic equation of the same type accurately represents the increase in the GDP. Why?

He discusses the work of Michael Kremer, who attempted to build a model by making the Malthusian assumption that “population is limited by the available technology, so that the growth rate of population is proportional to the growth rate of technology”, and the “Kuznetsian” assumption that “high population spurs technological change because it increases the number of potential inventors”.

(2) G = r*T*N^a

(3) dT/dt = b*N*T

Above, G is gross output, T is technology, N is population, and a, b, and r are parameters. Note that dT, change in technology, is dependent on both N (indicates potential number of inventors) and T (a wider technological base enabled more inventions to be made on its basis). Solving this system of equations results in hyperbolic population growth, illustrated by the following loop: population growth → more potential inventors → faster tech growth → faster growth of Earth’s carrying capacity → faster population growth.

Korotayev then counters arguments dismissing such theories as “demographic adventures of physicists” that have no validity because the world system was not integrated until relatively recently. However, that is only if you use Wallerstein’s “bulk-good” criterion. If one instead uses the softer “information-network” criterion, noting that there is evidence for the “systematic spread of major innovations… throughout the North African – Eurasian Oikumene for a few millennia BCE” – and bearing in mind that this emerging belt of cultures of similar technological complexity contained the vast majority of the global human population since the Neolithic Revolution – then this can be interpreted as “a tangible result of the World System’s functioning”.

Then Korotayev et al present their own model that describes not only the hyperbolic world population growth, but also the macrodynamics of global GDP in the world system until 1973.

(4) G = k1*T*N^a

(5) dN/dt = k2*S*N

(6) dT/dt = k3*N*T

Above, T is technology, N is population, S is surplus per person (and S = g – m, where g is production per person and m is the subsistence level required for zero population growth), and k1, k2, k3, and a are parameters. This can be simplified to:

(7) dN/dt = a*S*N

(8) dS/dt = b*N*S

(9) G = m*N + S*N

As S should be proportional to N in the long run, S = k*N. Replace.

(10) dN/dt = k*a*N^2

Recall that solving this differential equation gives us hyperbolic growth (1).

(11) N(t) = C / ( t(0) – t )

Furthermore, replacing N(t) above with S = k*N gives (12), allowing us to work out the “surplus world product” S*N (13).

(12) S = k*C / ( t(0) – t )

(13) S*N = k*C^2 / ( t(0) – t )^2

Hence in the long-run, this suggests that global GDP growth can be approximated by a quadratic hyperbola. Other indices that can be described by these or similar models include literacy, urbanization, etc.

One finding is that after 1973, there world GDP growth rate itself falls (rather than just a slowing of the growth of the GDP growth rate, as predicted by the original model): the explanation is, “the literate population is more inclined to direct a larger share of its GDP to resource restoration and to prefer resource economizing strategies than is the illiterate one, which, on the one hand, paves the way towards a sustainable-development society, but, on the other hand, slows down the economic growth rate”. To take this into account, they build a modified model, according to which, “the World System’s divergence from the blow-up regime would stabilize the world population, the world GDP… technological growth, however, will continue, though in exponential rather than hyperbolic form”.*

The consequences for the future are that though GDP growth will reach an asymptote, technological improvements will continue raising the standard of living due to the “Nordhaus effect” (e.g. combine Moore’s Law – exponentially cheapening computing power, with the growing penetration of ever more physical goods by IT).

“It appears important to stress that the present-day decrease of the World System’s growth rates differs radically from the decreases that inhered in oscillations of the past… it is a phase transition to a new development regime that differs radically from the ones typical of all previous history”. As evidence, unlike in all past eras, the slowing of the world population growth rate after the 1960′s did not occur against a backdrop of catastrophically falling living standards (famine, plague, wars, etc); to the contrary, the causes are the fall in fertility due to social security, more literacy, family planning, etc. Similarly, the decrease in the urbanization and literacy growth rates is not associated this time by the onset of Malthusian problems, but is set against continuing high economic growth and the “closeness of the saturation level”.

(AK: This rosy-tinged analysis is persuasive and somewhat rigorous, but there is a gaping hole – they used only “technology” as a proxy for the carrying capacity. However, as Limits to Growth teaches us, part of what technology did is open up a windfall of energy resources – high-grade oil, coal, and natural gas – that have been used to fuel much of the post-1800 growth in carrying capacity (disguised as “technology” in this model), yet whose gains are not permanent because of their unsustainable exploitation. Furthermore, the modern technological base is underpinned by the material base, and cannot survive without it – you can’t have semiconductor factories without reliable electricity supplies – and generally speaking, the more complex the technology, the greater the material base that is needed to sustain it (this may constitute an ultimate limit on technological expansion). This major factor is also neglected in Korotayev’s millennial model. As such, the conclusion that the world has truly and permanently reached a sustainable-development regime does not follow. This is not to say that it is without merit, however – it’s just that it needs to be integrated with the work done by the Limits to Growth / peak oil / climate modelers.)

Chapter 1: Secular Cycles

Korotayev et al conclude that these millennial models are only useful on the millennial scale (duh!), and that typical agrarian political-demographic cycles follow Malthusian dynamics because in the shorter term, population tends to growth much more rapidly than technology / carrying capacity, which led to a plateauing of the population, growing stress due to repeated perturbations, and an eventual tipping point over into collapse / dieoff.

The basic logic of these models is as follows. After the population reaches the ceiling of the carrying capacity of land, its growth rate declines toward near-zero values. The system experiences significant stress with decline in the living standards of the common population, increasing the severity of famines, growing rebellions, etc. As has been shown by Nefedov, most complex agrarian systems had considerable reserves for stability, however, within 50–150 years these reserves were usually exhausted and the system experienced a demographic collapse (a Malthusian catastrophe), when increasingly severe famines, epidemics, increasing internal warfare and other disasters led to a considerable decline of population. As a result of this collapse, free resources became available, per capita production and consumption considerably increased, the population growth resumed and a new sociodemographic cycle started.

He notes that newer models are far more complex and predict the dynamics of variables such as elite overproduction, class struggle, urbanization, and wealth inequality with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy (e.g. see A Model of Demographic Cycles in a Traditional Society: The Case of Ancient China by Nefedov). Korotayev et al then list three major approaches to modeling agrarian political-demographic cycles: Turchin (2003), Chu & Lee (1994), and Nefedov (1999-2004).

1. Turchin has constructed an elegant “fiscal-demographic” model, in which the state plays a positive role by by a) maintaining armed order against banditry and lawlessness, and b) doing works such as roads, canals, irrigations systems, flood control, etc, – both of which increase the effective carrying capacity. However, as demographic growth brings the population to the carrying capacity of the land (in practice, the population plateaus somewhat below it due to elite predation), surpluses diminish. So do the state’s revenues, since the state taxes surpluses; meanwhile, expenditures keep on rising (because of the reasons identified by Tainter). Eventually, there sets in a fiscal crisis and the state must tax the future to pay for the present by drawing down the surpluses accumulated in better days; when those surpluses run out, the state can no longer function and collapses, which leads to a radical decline of the carrying capacity and population as the land falls into anarchy and irrigation and transport infrastructure decays.

2. The Chu and Lee model consists of rulers (including soldiers), peasants (grow food), and bandits (steal food). The peasants support the rulers to fight the bandits, while there is a constant flux between the peasants and bandits whose magnitude depends on the caloric & survivability payoffs to belonging in each respective class. However, it’s not a fully-formed model as its main function is to fill in the gaps in the historical record, by plugging in already-known historical data on warfare and climatic factors; they neglected to associate crop production with climatic variability (colder winters result in lesser crop yields) and the role of the state in food distribution (which staved off collapse for some time and was historically significant in China).

3. Nefedov has integrated stochasticity into his models, in which random climatic effects produce different year-to-year crop yields. One result is that as carrying capacity is reached, surpluses vanish and the effects of good and bad years play an increasingly important role – i.e. a closed system under stress suffers increasingly from perturbations. One bad year can lead to a critical number of people leaving the farms for the cities or banditry, initiating a cascading collapse. However, he neglects the “direct role of rebellion and internal warfare on cycle behavior”, so as the model is purely economic, each demographic collapse is, implausibly, immediately followed by a new rise.

The ultimate aim of Korotayev et al is to integrate the positive features of all three models (Chapter 3), but for now the take a closer look at the political-demographic history of China, the pre-industrial civilization that maintained the best records.

Chapter 2: Historical Population Dynamics in China – Some Observations

Below is a graph of China’s population on a millennial scale. Note the magnitude and cyclical nature of its demographic collapses. Note also that such cycles are far from unique to Chinese civilization (see collapse of the Roman Empire), and reflect for a minute, even, on the profound difference between the modern world of permanent growth, and the pre-industrial, “Malthusian” world.

Since it would be futile to repeat the fine details of every political-demographic cycle in China’s, I will instead just list the main points.

  • The cycles tend to be ones of a fast rise in population, when surpluses are high and people are prosperous. It plateaus and stagnates when the population reaches the carrying capacity, when there is overpopulation, much lowered consumption, increasing debilitation of state power, and rising social inequality and urbanization.
  • Sometimes, such as in the middle Sung period, population stress did not lead to a collapse, but instead to a “radical rise of the carrying capacity of the land” through administrative and technological innovations. This increased the permanent ceiling of Chinese carrying capacity from 60mn to around 120mn souls, and in doing so alleviated the population stress until the early 12th century (AK: e.g. in Early Modern Britain, the problem of deforestation was solved by coal). At that point, China may have once again solved its problems, even escaping from its Malthusian trap (AK: some historians have noted that it had many of the prerequisites for an industrial revolution). That was not to be, as “the Sung cycle was interrupted quite artificially by exogenous forces, namely, by the Jurchen and finally Mongol conquests”.
  • The Yuan dynasty would not reach the highs of the Sung because of the general bleakness of the 14th century – the end of the Medieval Warm Period, unprecedented floods and droughts in China, etc, which lowered the carrying capacity to a critical level. The resulting famines and rebellions led to the demographic collapse of the 1350′s, as well as the de facto collapse of the state, as China transitioned to warlordism.
  • Carrying-capacity innovations under the Ming did not, eventually, outrun population growth, and it collapsed during the turmoil of the transition to the Qing dynasty. The innovations accelerated throughout the 18th century (e.g. New World crops, land reclamation, intensification of farming). Indications of subsistence stress as China entered the 19th century were a) declining life expectancies, b) rising staple prices, and c) a huge increase in female infanticide rates in the first half of the 18th century. By 1850, China was again under very severe subsistence stress and the state grew impotent just as Europeans began to encroach on the Celestial Empire.
  • Huang 2002: 528-9, worthy of quotation in extenso. “Recent research in Chinese legal history suggests that the same subsistence pressures behind female infanticide led to widespread selling of women and girls… Another related social phenomenon was the rise of an unmarried “rogue male” population, a result of both poverty (because the men could not afford to get married) and of the imbalance in sex ratios that followed from female infanticide. Recent research shows that this symptom of the mounting social crisis led, among other things, to large changes in Qing legislation vis-à-vis illicit sex… Even more telling, perhaps, is the host of new legislation targeting specifically the ‘baresticks’ single males (guanggun) and related ‘criminal sticks’ of bandits (guntu, feitu), clearly a major social problem in the eyes of the authorities of the time”. See Diagram V.13. (AK: Interestingly, China’s one-child policy, by artificially restricting fertility in order to ward off a “Maoist dynasty” Malthusian crisis, has led to many of the same problems in the past two decades).
  • Speaking of which… China had further dips in its population after during perturbations in the 1850′s (the millenarian Taiping Rebellion), the 1930′s (Japanese occupation), and 1959-62 (the Great Leap Forward), each progressively smaller than the last in its relative magnitude. For instance, the latter just formed a short plateau.

Korotayev et al conclude the chapter by running statistical tests on China’s historical population figures from 57-2003. In contrast to linear regression (R^2 = 0.398) and exponential regression (R^2 = 0.685), the simple hyperbolic growth model described in “Introduction: Millennial Trends” produces an almost perfect fit with the observed data (R^2 = 0.968). So in the very, very long-term, the effects of China’s secular cycles are swamped by the millennial trend of hyperbolic growth.

Finally, the authors describe in-depth the general pre-industrial Chinese demographic cycle. Below is a functional scheme I’ve reproduced from the book (click to enlarge).

The main points are:

  • Fast population growth until it nears the carrying capacity, then a long period (100 years+) of a very slow and unsteady growth rate, accompanied by increasingly significant, but non-critical fluctuations in annual population growth due to climatic stochasticity (positive growth in good years, negative growth – along with dearth, minor epidemics, uprisings, etc – in bad years). These fluctuations get worse with time as the state’s counter-crisis potential degrades due to the drawdown of previously accumulated surpluses.
  • According to Nefedov’s model and historical evidence, the fastest growth of cities occurred during the last phases of demographic cycles, as peasants were driven off the land and there appeared greater demand for city-made goods from the increasingly affluent landowners (who could charge exorbitant rates on their tenants). Furthermore, some peasants are drawn into debt bondage because the landowner had previously given them food at a time of dearth. Other peasants turn to banditry.
  • Re-”elite overproduction → over-staffing of the state apparatus → decreasing ability of the state to provide relief during famines”. The system of state relief had been very effective earlier, e.g. in 1743-44 a state effort to prevent starvation in the drought-stricken North China core was successful. However: “By Chia-ch’ing times (1796-1820) this vast grain administration had been corrupted by the accumulation of superfluous personnel at all levels, and by the customary fees payable every time grain changed hands or passed an inspection point… The grain transport stations served as one of the focal points for patronage in official circles. Hundreds of expectant officials clustered at these points, salaried as deputies (ch’ai-wei or ts’ao-wei) of the central government. As the numbers of personnel in the grain tribute administration grew and as costs rose through the 18th century, the fees payable for each grain junk increased [from 130-200 taels per boat in 1732, to 300 taels in 1800, and to 700-800 taels by 1821]“. Similarly, the Yellow River Conservancy, whose task it was to prevent floods, degenerated into hedonistic corruption in the early 19th century; only 10% of its earmarked funds being spent legitimately.
  • So what you have is an increasingly exploited peasantry, a growing (and volatile) urban artisan class – e.g., the sans-culottes of the French Revolution, and more banditry. The bandits create a climate of fear in the countryside and force more outmigration into the cities, and the abandonment of some lands. At the same time, state power – military and administrative – is on the wane, displaced by corruption. The effects of perturbations are magnified due to the system’s loss of resiliency. There eventually comes a critical tipping point after which there is a cascading collapse that involves a population dieoff, the fall of centralized power, and a prolonged period of internal warfare.
  • Fast population growth does not resume immediately after collapse because things first need to settle down.

In my Facebook Note, Musings on the decline and fall of civilizations, I draw a link between the fast population increase / abundance of the “rise” period, and the concept of the “Golden Age” common to all civilizations. Also ventures a theory as to why cities (hedonism, conspicuous consumption, etc) have such a poor reputation as a harbinger of collapse… because they are, it’s just that the anti-poshlost preachers haven’t identified the right cause (i.e. overpopulation, not “moral decadence” per se).

Furthermore, a tentative explanation of the reason for differential Chinese – European technological growth rates (compare and contrast with Jared Diamond’s explanation):

Incidentally, a possible reason why Western Europe emerged as the world’s economic hegemon by the 19th century, instead of China, a civilization that at prior times had been significantly more advanced. But in China, the depth of the Malthusian collapses was deeper and more regular (once every 300 years, typically) than in W. Europe… Once the Yangtze / Yellow River irrigation systems failed, tens of millions of peasants were doomed; nothing on an equivalent scale in Europe, which is geographically and politically fragmented into many chunks and nowhere has anywhere near the same reliance on vulnerable hydraulic works for the maintenance of complex civilization (control over water was at the heart of “Oriental despotism” (Wittfogel); the Chinese word “zhi” means both “to regulate water” and “to rule”).

This theory that the reason China began to lag behind Western Europe technologically was because of its more frequent collapses / destructions of knowledge should be explored further.

Finally, about the nature of perturbations in a closed system under increasing stress… That is our world in the coming decades: even as Limits to Growth manifest themselves, there will be more (and greater) shocks of a climatic, terrorist, and military nature. The stochasticity will increase in amplitude even as the System becomes more fragile. As a result, polities will increase the level of legitimization and coercion, i.e. they will become more authoritarian.)

Chapter 3: A New Model of Pre-Industrial Political-Demographic Cycles

To address the shortcomings of other models and taking into account what happens in typical pre-industrial demographic cycles, Korotayev with Natalia Komarova construct their own model that includes the following three main elements:

(1) The Malthusian-type economic model, with elements of the state as tax collector (and counter-famine reservoir sponsor), and fluctuating annual harvest yields; this describes the logistic shape of population growth. It explains well the upward curve in the demographic cycle and saturation when the carrying capacity of land is reached. (2) Banditry and the rise of internal warfare in time of need are the main mechanism of demographic collapse. Personal decisions of peasants to leave their land and become warriors / bandits / rebels are influenced by economic factors. (3) The inertia of warfare (which manifests itself in the fear factor and the destruction of infrastructure) is responsible for a slow initial growth and the phenomenon of the “intercycle”.

Reproducing the model in detail will take up too much space, so just the main conclusions: “the main parameters affecting the period of the cycle are a) the annual proportions of resources accumulated for counter-famine reserves, b) the peasant-bandit transformation rate, and c) the magnitude of the climatic fluctuations. Hence, the lengths of cycles – and this is historically corroborated – is increased along with the growth of the counter-famine (more reserves) and law-enforcement (repress banditry) subsystems.

Chapter 4: Secular Cycles & Millennial Trends

Full version of Chapter 4: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends.

The chapter begins by modeling the role of warfare, and challenges recent anthropological findings that denser populations do not necessarily lead to more warfare.

  • First, this is explained by the fact that it’s not a simple relation, but more of a predator-prey cycle described by a Lotka–Volterra equation. When warfare breaks out in a time of stress it leads to the immediate reduction of the carrying capacity and demographic collapse; however, warfare simmers on well into the post-collapse phase because groups continue to retaliate against each other.
  • Second, the methodology is flawed because it treats all wars the same, whereas in fact they tend to be far less devastating for bigger polities than for small ones. This is because bigger polities have armies that are more professional, and the length of their “bleeding borders” relative to total territory, is much smaller than for territorially small chiefdoms, for whom even low-intensity wars are demographically devastating. As such, more politically complex polities fight wars more frequently more frequently than smaller ones, but tend to be far less damaged by them.
  • Imperial expansions in territory coincide with periods of fast population growth and high per capita surpluses; later on, shrinking surpluses decimate the tax base and even defense proves increasingly hard (“imperial overstretch”). This correlation is very strong.

Now Korotayev et al combine their model from the last chapter with Kremer’s equation for technological growth (see the Introduction):

dT/dt = a*N*T

They also model a “Boserupian” effect, in which “relative overpopulation creates additional stimuli to generate and apply carrying-capacity-of-land-raising innovations”.

Indeed, if land shortage is absent, such stimuli are relatively weak, whereas in conditions of relative overpopulation the introduction of such innovations becomes literally a “question of life and death” for a major part of the population, and the intensity of the generation and diffusion of the carrying capacity enhancing innovations significantly increases.

Finally, they make the size of the harvest dependent not only on climatic fluctuations, but also on the level of technology.

Harvest i = H 0*random number i*T i.

Running this model with some reasonable parameters produces the following diagram, which reproduces not only the cyclical, but also the hyperbolic macrodynamics.

Furthermore,

Note that it also describes the lengthening of growth phases detected in Chapter 2 for historical population dynamics in China, which was not described by our simple cyclical model. The mechanism that produces this lengthening in the model (and apparently in reality) is as follows: the later cycles are characterized by a higher technology, and, thus, higher carrying capacity and population, which, according to Kremer’s technological development equation embedded into our model, produces higher rates of technological (and, thus, carrying capacity) growth. Thus, with every new cycle it takes the population more and more time to approach the carrying capacity ceiling to a critical extent; finally it “fails” to do so, the technological growth rates begin to exceed systematically the population growth rates, and population escapes from the “Malthusian trap” (see Diagram 4.26):

The cycles lengthen, and then cease:

AK: some confirmation for my rough explanation of why Chinese technological growth rate fell below Europe’s prior to the Industrial Revolution (see end of Chapter 2 in this post).

Of special importance is that our numerical investigation indicates that with shorter average period of cycles a system experiences a slower technological growth, and it takes a system longer to escape from the “Malthusian trap” than with a longer average cycle period.

Finally, they also add in an equation for literacy:

l i+1 = l i*b*dF i*l i*(1 – l i)

Which has the following effect on population growth:

N i+1 = N i*(1 + α × dF’)*(1 – l) – dR i – rob*N i*R i

And all added together, it produces the following stunning reproduction of China’s population dynamics from ancient past to today.

And concludes:

Of course, these models can be only regarded as first steps towards the development of effective models describing both secular cycles and millennial upward trend dynamics.

The Meaning of Cliodynamics

Turchin, Peter & Sergey NefedovSecular Cycles (2008)
Category: cliodynamics, world systems; Rating: 5/5
Summary: Read the whole book (PDF) or in chapters

This is a free online, quasi-popular book about eight different pre-industrial secular cycles (including Tudor England, the Roman Empire, Muscovy, and the Romanov Empire). Knowing the facts of history and the proximate causes of Revolutions – Lenin’s charisma, Tsarist incompetence, the collapse of morale and of the railway system, etc – is all well and good, but an entirely different perspective is opened up when looking at late Tsarist Russia through a social macrodynamic prism. The interpretation shifts to one of how late imperial Russia was under a panoply of Malthusian pressure, and of how the additional stresses and perturbations of WW1 “tipped” the system over into a state of collapse.

Finally, my reply to someone who sent me a message suggesting that cliodynamics may “make old school idiographic history redundant”.

I don’t think these trends will make idiographic history redundant, because there are many elements that are irreducible to mathematical analysis; furthermore, a major and inevitable weakness of cliodynamics is our lack of numbers for much of pre-mass literacy history. To the contrary, I think cliodynamics will end up complementing the “old school” rather than displacing it.

Footnotes

* Ray Kurzweil, one of the high priest of the singularitarian movement, extends Moore’s observations to also model technological growth (computing power, to be precise) as doubly exponential, or even hyperbolic. See Appendix: The Law of Accelerating Returns Revisited,

On the other hand, Joseph Tainter noted that in many areas the rate of technological innovation is actually slowing down. This is an argument that Kremer’s assumption that the rate of technological growth is linearly dependent on the product of the population and the size of the already-existing technological base is too simplistic.

These observations are supported by Planck’s Principle of Increasing Effort – “with every advance [in science] the difficulty of the task is increased” (i.e. you’re now unlikely to make new discoveries by flying a kite in a thunderstorm). Furthermore, “Exponential growth in size and costliness of science, in fact, is necessary simply to maintain a constant rate of progress”, and according to Rescher, “In natural science we are involved in a technological arms race: with every ‘victory over nature’ the difficulty of achieving the breakthroughs which lie ahead is increased”.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Let’s start with two excellent new resources I’ve recently come across. Russia: Other Points of View states its objectives thus:

We believe there is need in the public forum for a venue which offers opinions and facts that at times may differ from the prevailing view in western media.

Hmm… Sounds quite similar to Da Russophile, in fact, and makes a substantial part of our News posts redundant. As such I’ll be referring to it frequently.

The other is the Moscow Defence Brief, an English-language quarterly that offers analysis on Russian, Eurasian and world military affairs from a Russian perspective.

Moving onto developments in Russia, the economy continues to boom, driven by investment and consumption. The vast majority of foreign investors have made handsome gains and are bullish about future prospects, despite recent global financial perturbations that have cut the RTS back below 2000 by around a quarter from its peak. Manufacturing growth remains strong at 8.4% for the first half of 2008 (artificially brought down by 0.6% yearly growth on June, due to the effects of celebrating Euro08 successes on Russian productivity). Overall industrial growth of 5.8% is as usual lowered by anemic growth of 0.5% in the extractive sectors, including a 0.6% fall in oil production (as covered in the previous News, Russia has now almost certainly reached its oil production peak). While slowing down in Moscow, the construction boom continues apace in the rest of the country. Russia’s mean salary has surpassed 700$ this year and as of May in real terms salaries and pensions had increased by 14.5% and 13.8%, respectively, on the same period last year. The Sukhoi SuperJet 100 made its maiden flight and Cisco announces investment in venture capital fund to focus on Russia and CIS.

No wonder then that Russia has overtaken Germany as Europe’s biggest car market, with 3.8mn units expected to be sold this year (compared with 3.2mn in Germany) and Russia (with 2% of the world population) predicted to account for 20% of global growth in the automotive market through to 2015. The Economist has a much more detailed (and, unusual for it, quite professional) overview of Russia’s bourgeoning car market. Exploding purchasing power means car sales are expected to approach 4.5mn units by 2010, when it is expected car ownership will rise to 253 / 1000 people. Government industrial policy has led to the world’s major car producers rushing to build factories in Russia, with their new capacity by 2012 estimated at 1.6mn units (in effect doubling Russian car production from 2007).

On the other hand, the Economist‘s oily hallucinations continue (“Is it “peak oil” or a speculative bubble? Neither, really”). The last “really” says it all, really. When you were so really, really wrong on predicting 5$ oil back in 1999, might as well burrow your head even deeper into the conventional ‘wisdom’. (Really reminds me of Newsweek‘s ‘Russia is really, really weak‘ line, made fun of in the eXile.) And to connect these issues together, the Economist repeats its catechism that a) Russian oil production is stagnating due to a lack of investment as opposed to basic geological limits and b) its economy is more dependent than ever on oil. This is in stark contrast to the Financial Times (‘Running on empty? Fears over oil supply move into the mainstream‘), which is beginning to see the light. Gazprom predicts oil will reach $250 in 2009.

Nikitsky Fund released an apocalyptic-sounding issue of its excellent Truth and Beautnewsletter, the Crack of Doom. Many things, from medium-term American economic prospects to long-term global sustainability, do indeed look apocalyptic…

The World Bank has revised its GDP estimates for 2007. According to the new figures, Russia overtook the UK last year to become the sixth-largest economy in the world and second in Europe behind Germany. Its PPP gross national income per capita reached 14,400 $, which is comparable to that of Croatia or Poland.

Russia has managed to occupy 9 places in the list of the world’s top 500 supercomputers in June 2008. Although it doesn’t sound impressive, it is a significant improvement on previous releases of the list; and besides, it is dominated by just a few players (the UK, Japan, France, Germany and above all the US, which accounts for more than half). As I pointed out here, national strength in things like supercomputers, nanotechnology and electronic connectivity will be to this century as steel, oil and literacy were to the last. Moscow State University also released a list of the Top 50 supercomputers in Russia and the CIS.

Medvedev’s new Presidency has brought a new burst of rhetorical energy to themes such as fighting corruption, easing bureaucratic regulations on small businesses and computerization. My interpretation on this is that just as restoring state power and implementing a national industrial and socio-economic policy were the dominant talked-about themes at the start of Putin’s first and second terms respectively, and followed up by measures to that effect, so this is the prelude to the sort of institutional reforms that are becoming increasingly important for further economic growth and rapid convergence to advanced industrialism. But we’ll see.

Western hypocrisy is heroically exposed by Gorbachev, Russia’s UK ambassador and Medvedev.
The demographic situation continued to improve over the first five months of May, as noted in my recent Demographics series of posts. There was an almost 10% increase in the crude birth rate, which nonetheless strongly suggests the TFR will exceed 1.5 this year and thus more than exceed the projection in the High scenario. On the other hand mortality has stagnated, the crude death rate rising by 0.7%. Nonetheless, I strongly suspect this is just a short-term flunctuation, in particular in view of the fact that the alcohol / food price ratio has plunged this year due to huge food inflation (the close link between that ratio and death rates was explored in Demographics II; the fact death rates have stagnated, rather than plummeted (as in 1994 and to a lesser extent post-1998), may actually be a positive sign, since it would indicate mortality is slowly but incessantly becoming divorced from the affordability of alcohol). Here’s a table showing mortality and fertility in Jan-Apr 2008 by region and change over the previous year. A few notes. Lower mortality in Muslim and rich Russian regions (Moscow, Tyumen oblast), higher birth rates in Muslim and less densely populated (e.g. Urals, Siberian, Far East) regions.

(Two remarks. It seems that the bigger the increases in number of births per month, the bigger the increase in deaths. For instance, January and April both saw relatively big increases in mortality and fertility as compared to the previous year; February to a lesser extent. March saw a small increase in fertility and small drop in mortality. May say smaller fertility and a big drop in mortality. As far as I’m aware the number of days per month remains constant from year to year (with just one minor exception, leap year Februaries), Russian maternal mortality and even infant mortality is statistically insignificant here. So I ask the question, do more babies lead to more heart attacks or something? (Most mortality increase was due to heart attacks; deaths from external causes fell). Secondly, a prediction – mortality will increase during July. With all the celebrations ensuing after Russia’s football successes that month, this is more or less inevitable.)

I found an interesting demographics opinion piece from the Moscow Defence Brief, Russia does not need a pro-immigration policy. It is true that the benefits of immigration as a source of cheap labor (as opposed to an intelligent policy of letting in only well-qualified, easy to integrate, ‘especially desirable’ workers) are overstated. I disagree with two of its claims, however. The idea that Russia’s hypermortality doesn’t actually exist because of the effect of illegal immigrant deaths is complete nonsense (they make up, ultimately, only a small fraction of Russia’s population and most of them will be young people with comparatively very low death rates). Secondly, it is not a good idea to replicate American suburban planning (for the purposes of increasing fertility, according to the article) as it is even now becoming obsolete with the era of expensive oil.

Boosting Population a Vague Science – comprehensive, conventional article about Russian demographics from Moscow Times. Happiness in Russia has increased, which should help lower mortality (unhappy people tend to die younger and Russia, as with other post-Soviet republics, have one of the world’s lowest levels of happiness).

Rampant inflation and political crisis in Ukraine do not stop it from intensifying Russophobic moves in language, religion and NATO enlargement.

Russia, along with China, vetoed sanctions against Zimbabwe in the UN (pushed most aggressively by the UK, who I suppose dislike this particular African tinpot despot because unlike the others he messed with the British whites who got the land they stole from indigenous blacks, stolen back. And I find it a bit suspicious that you have all these piteous people who whine about supposed torture, genocide, etc, but seem free enough to find and talk with Western journalists, especially those from the BBC). While this is certainly not an altruistic action on Russia’s/China’s part, it’s not as if the West concerns itself itself much (at all) over the plight of ordinary working Zimbabweans, as proved by British insistence that their companies withdraw from the country and their ruthless, cowardly support for sanctions.

Tensions have risen over Abkhazia, with both Georgia and Russia warning of a risk of war, while Russia and the US have hosted suspiciously simultaneous war games in the region. The Rise and Fall of Georgia’s UAVs casts doubt on whether the video of a Russian fighter shooting down a Georgian UAV (as shown in the previous News).

As for the video provided by Georgia, there are several reasons why their authenticity is in doubt. First, UAVs are made to observe objects on the earth, not in the air. Their cameras are housed in a semisphere on the underside of the vehicle, which makes it extremely difficult to focus on another flying object. The chances that this sort of camera could have caught another flying object at the very moment when it fired a missile are simply nonexistent.

Second, as a rule, high-definition photos and video are stored on board the UAV, while only low-quality pictures are sent in real time, due to the restricted bandwidth of the transmission system. The video shown by the Georgians was ostensibly captured in real time, since the UAV was destroyed, and the low quality of the video does not allow for the identification of the type of plane, let alone the country to which it belongs. Arguments to the effect that «the aircraft has a twin rudder and is therefore Russian» simply do not stand up to examination.

This article concludes that the “Georgian Army would be quickly defeated if Tbilisi tries to settle the conflict by force”.

Further to the excellent NY Sun article casting doubt on the mainstream Western account of Litvinenko’s death (poisoned by polonium by nefarious KGB agents), the Independent produces a piece worthy of its namesake, The Litvinenko files: Was he really murdered? It mostly covers the same points.

BP has been treating Russians as subjects (Financial Times) - the point of view from the Russian oligarchs, who reject British claims of Russian intimidation and strong-arming, and argue that BP has thwarted the company’s expansion plans abroad and long-term strategic development, in a bid to shore up reserves for BP itself.

Assessing Russian fighter technology concludes that since the end of the Cold War, Russian military aviation has for all practical purposes closed the technological gap with the West. Very succinct and detailed. Nagorno-Karabakh: Shift in the Military Balance analyzes the balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and concludes it is tilting towards Baku. Russian nuclear forces, 2008. Baiting the Russian bear – US plans for ballistic missile defences in eastern Europe risk alienating Russia and stirring up old resentments.

I liked Sean’s little insightful scribblings, Surveying Putin’s Generation and Putin: Leader or Revolutionary? He also penned a cynical critique of Nemtsov’s White Paper.

Kissinger penned Unconventional wisdom about Russia, emphasizing for US concern for Russia’s strategic interests if it wants to have its way in the world.

Russia’s energy drive leaves US reeling – Russia continues to strive for greater control over Eurasian energy flows under Medvedev, this time venturing into Africa. Washington’s reprisal (blocking Russian oil companies’ access to Iraq) was met by further Russian interest in a gas OPEC, with Iran as the other main partner.

The ever brilliant Nicolai Petro reports on yet another Western MSM smear job on Russia in Mr. Levy and the Magic Media.

The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism – PhD thesis by an American graduate student at the University of St.-Petersburg makes a forceful argument that Russia has decisively shed its authoritarian past and is engaged in building up stable long-term democratic institutions.

Russia’s Other Great Victory – the War Nerd’s colorful (as usual) account of Russia’s crushing defeat of Japan in Manchuria in 1945. A Japanese POW’s life-affirming account of his time in Siberia.

Russia’s hawks (rather tellingly) support McCain, who will accelerate America’s decline (as per contributor Brother Karamazov’s theory). Not that that’s very relevant however since Obama will almost certainly win.

Michael Averko pens some excellent articles, including Chechnya, EU-Serbia and a Disputed Lands Update, Contradictions to the “New Cold War” Theme and book review of Not My Turn to Die.

For a laugh take a look at this Russphobic drivel (its volume continues to increase). School-child spanking afficianados from the conservative neo-imperialist Telegraph have decided Bully-boy Russia needs a lesson in manners. Loco Lucas indulges in more of his heartfeld mad rantings in Kremlin’s blast from the past in the Daily Mail (a British tabloid read by their near-illiterate football hooligans) and his spymania and Molotov cocktail fetish. The poor maiden Georgia is in jeopardy. Professional Russophobe freak Max Hastings belives Hopes of close cooperation between Russia and the west are now dead. I have a lively exchange with deranged La Russophobe here and sent a letter complaining about the inaccuracies in the Enough Rope for Russia WSJ Op-Ed, albeit to no avail.

Russia: A totalitarian regime in thrall to a Tsar who’s creating the new Facist empire takes the cake, however. The title alone wins it.

Russia performed far better than generally expected in Euro2008, losing only to the champion. I think it certainly has the potential to win the World Cup in South Africa; perhaps Hiddink’s luck could make it finally realize that potential. In any case it’s certainly not a bad bed (most bookies give returns of 25:1).

Finally, polls. Plans for summer holidays – since 1997, the number of Russians without money for holidays decline (from 30% to 20%), while a constant percentage plan to remain at home or on their dacha. Those planning to go abroad or to the Black Sea region remain few in number abut are on the increase. Russians tend to be positive about Israel and neutral/apathetic on the Palestine issue. Most Russians favor a policy of diplomacy and restraint towards regions of the former USSR. This detailed poll on corruption shows most Russians are tired of it, want greater measures against it and think it has registered a slight improvement over the past three years. Internet penetration is spreading fast but is still at relatively low levels nationally, especially amongst the older generations. Most Russians continue to read avidly.

(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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The demographic situation in Russia is usually painted in apocalyptic terms. The Russian Cross – the post-Soviet transition into a world of death without new life – will supposedly preclude it from attaining First World living standards and wreck any Great Power, let alone superpower, pretensions. Is Russia Too Sick to Matter and the Sick Man of Europe, as alleged by Nicholas Eberstadt in two reports in 1999 and 2004, respectively? Are we seeing the Death of a Nation?

To answer these questions, we’ll look at the statistics and trends, and extrapolate into the future under three different scenarios – 1. Stagnation, 2. Improvement and 3. Transformation. In the end we conclude that while the demographic, or rather the mortality, problem is indeed serious, it need not entail pessimism if appropriate measures are taken. Nor will it have anything but a negligible effect on the economy.

First, let us look at the historical trends. Below, I have collated the birth and death rate for Russia from 1959-2008 using data from The Human Mortality Database, Soviet Economic Statistical Series and Rosstat. Subtracting the death rate from the birth rate gives the rate of natural increase.

The rate of natural increase would have closely correlated with overall population growth in Soviet times, since migration either way was small then. The same cannot be said of the 1990′s, though, when there was a large-scale influx of ethnic Russians from the newly independent Near Abroad. While throughout much of the period the rate of natural increase was below -0.5% annually, the population decreased at a much lower rate – indeed, serious decline manifested itself only from around 2000, by which time the flow of migrants had slowed down).

As you can see, the birth rate experienced two transitions – in the early 1960′s and early 1990′s. The fertility rate fell from 2.6 children per woman in 1960 to replacement level (2.1) by the late 1960′s, where it hovered until 1990.

In the 1990′s, it dropped precipitously, to 1.34 in 1995 and reaching a trough of 1.17 in 1999. Since then, there has been a slow recovery up to 1.30 in 2006 and rapid spurt recently. In fact, as contributor Oleg pointed out, this is getting noticed in the Western media – Russia Has First Post-Soviet Baby Boom. 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 the fertility rate rising to 1.39 in 2007 and more than 1.50 this year. This is more than the average for the European Union and approaching the United Kingdom.

Is this a sustainable trend? Nicholas Eberstadt doesn’t think so.

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.

This is an assumption backed up by the raw data – the chart below shows historic fertility rates from an international perspective, in which Russia appears to plummet into and beneath mainstream European levels since the late 1980′s.

On the other hand, a 2005 Rosstat study, Family and Fertility, challenges Eberstadt’s assumptions about desired fertility in Russia. 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. According to Rosstat, 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. Italics are estimates based on linear extrapolation from other data in the table.

Russian Demographics – Fertility
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

As we can see above, in 2005 there was 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. A number of points can now be made.

Firstly, the post-Soviet fertility drop had much more to do with transitional shock rather than a values shift. That was to be expected; following the collapse of Communism, the state of women’s rights and education (the two biggest determinants of fertility) remained largely unchanged. While religious influence did increase (for instance, the percentage of people believing in the Life Hereafter rose from 21% in 1990 to 37% in 1999 and 45% in 2008), its extent is somewhat exaggerated – it still needs to be borne in mind that proposals to introduce voluntary Orthodox Christianity courses into schools are contentious and that only a very small percentage of people go to church regularly. Russia remains (thankfully) a secular society.

Secondly, opinion polls indicate that the era of transition is coming to an end. For the first time during the transition period, the majority of people are confident in tomorrow. The year 2007 was probably the decisive tipping point, and it is reflected in the fact that it was then that fertility rates began the rapid phase of their recovery. Seen in this context, the current demographic doubleback is not surprising, since real fertility rates are simply converging with planned fertility rates. Moreover, as the economic situation improves by 7%+ per year and healthcare expands, planned fertility rates will edge towards desired fertility rates, while the latter are inflated even higher by government propaganda.

Thirdly, the current trajectory upwards is not going to last. This year’s January-on-January 12.7% increase and last year’s 8.7 % increase in the number of births is not sustainable and indeed a significant portion of them are due to a one-off increase in the case of previously fence-sitting parents who chose to have another child to get the new benefits package. There is a direct precedent for this – from the early 1980′s, state pro-natality policies increased the fertility rate from 1.9 to 2.2, as shown on the graph, but the effect peaked off by 1987. Nonetheless, I think it is reasonable to assume that eventually, say, by around 2015, the birth rate will settle at somewhere in between 1.7 and 2.1, i.e., coinciding with planned fertility. From then on they will probably again resume their decline, following the European (and pre-reform Soviet) pattern.

Fourthly, fertility rates are not birth rates. This is especially the case for Russia, whose age pyramid resembles a pine tree, due to the demographic heritage of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). As you can see, today there is a relatively large number of women of childbearing age.

However, the transitional shock, coupled with the echos 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. By 2020, it will be surprising if the overall birth rate equals today’s. This means that to avoid an intensified resumption of population decline after that period, Russia will have to massively lower its mortality rates. This aspect is covered in Part II.

Alarmist media and certain demented Russophobe bloggers have raised the spectre of Russia becoming a majority Muslim country within the next 50 years. As is usually the case with such sensationalist claims, closer examination clears up the clutter.

Below, I worked out the rate of annual increase for Russians and Muslims and linearly projected both to 2025 and 2050 (note that linear projection in demographics is meaningless – in reality, Muslim rates “merely reflect an earlier stage of development and will ultimately fall”). Even in 2002, the vast majority of Muslim people’s fertility rates were below replacement level and falling fast (i.e. there was a big difference in fertility rates between older and younger women). The main reason absolute birth rates remained high was because Muslims, particularly in the South, still have young populations. Even so, their demographic gains in 1989-2002 were not spectacular. According to the 2002 Census, there were 14.5mn Muslims (I see no reason to trust the 23mn figure given by the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia), of whom 13.0mn were from the largest eleven ethnic groups. Using backwards and forwards linear extrapolation (i.e. 1989-2002 growth rates), I estimate the Russian, Muslim and Neither population from 1989 to 2050. The RF population is the sum of the three.

Russian Demographics – Ethnic
1989 2002 2025
2050
Russian Federation 147.0 145.2 144.4 148.9
Russians 119.9 115.9 109.1 102.3
Muslims 11.4 14.5 22.0 34.7
Neither 15.7 14.8 13.3 11.9

In 1989, Russians made up 81.5% of the population of the RSFSR; in 2002, that figure was 79.8%. In the above scenario, it falls to 75.6% in 2025 and 68.7% in 2050 – Russians remain by far the dominant ethnic group. For a Muslim majority we’ll have to wait well into the next century. Of course, demographically linear extrapolation is a pointless exercise, since Muslim fertility rates will continue falling (as is the experience practically everywhere else), while ethnic Russian rates are likely to rise (as shown above). Nonetheless, the very fact that even with just primitive linear extrapolation we can show that Russians will remain dominant in Russia should shut up the likes of Paul Goble, Islamic fundamentalists and La Russophobe.

Of course, the reason the above people relish the thought of Russia becoming Islamic is because they associate Russian Muslims with their less savoury counterparts in the Middle East. Actually, vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Rusia. Tatars, by who make up more than a third of Russia’s Muslim population, are almost as secular regarding Islam as ethnic Russians are to Orthodoxy. Even amongst the Chechens Wahabbism never truly took root, despite the best efforts of Arab mujahideen. As contributor fedia 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, to demolish one last myth – no, the Chinese are not colonizing Siberia. They come as traders and seasonal workers, make a quick buck, or rather, ruble, and leave. There is little evidence of illegal Chinese settlement in Siberia outside the yellow press.

Now for Demographics II – Climbing out of the Death Spiral(about mortality rates. Third part will be about projections).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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EDIT 11/27/08: Since writing this, I have come to realize that peak oil is real and will play a major role in any future scenario, and far sooner than the other three themes I highlight here.

The twentieth century was, above all, a Russian century. Granted, Germany was the most important challenger Great Power in the first half of the century, while in the second the United States begun to assert itself on the world stage. Nonetheless, Russia, under its Soviet incarnation, was the key focal point of world history. It is hard to imagine a movement like Nazism arising in Germany, or indeed fascism in general, without the spectre of communism hanging over a country. Similarly, the US was only brought permanently out of its traditional isolationism by the Truman Doctrine – their pledge to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures”, or, in other words, to contain communism.

This article will be about Russia’s place in the world in around 30 years time. In particular, will it be able to reclaim its former mantle as a superpower? Does it have the potential to usher in a new Russian century?

Firstly, we must define what a superpower is. Let us assume that it is a state with a leading position in the international system and the ability to influence events and project power on a worldwide scale. Furthermore, it must be strong on multiple planes of power – not only in the military sphere, but also in ‘softer’ areas like the economic base and cultural influence.

(Chinese political scientists have developed a metric for state power called Comprehensive National Power. There is no generally agreed-upon method by which different components of power are weighted and totalled. Nonetheless, virtually all of them have the US leading the pack, with Russia, Japan, China, France, the UK and Germany following behind in a cluster.)

Today, the world’s only country with the whole plethora of attributes – economic, technological, political, military and strategic – that make a state a superpower is the United States. Nonetheless, there are important trends at work that threaten to undermine this full-spectrum dominance. We have identified the three most important of these as economic (re)convergence, exponential growth in IT and global climate change.

The most important of these is economic convergence. Given decent growth conditions and the appropriate human capital and physical infrastructure, per capita incomes should converge across nations via the diffusion of technology and best practice. This process has accelerated with progress in communications technology: while in the 19th C Sweden played catch-up at 1% growth per annum relative to Great Britain, today China closes its gap with the US at a rate of up to 8%. This means that, historically speaking, the world’s centres of economic power are shifting much more rapidly than at any time before.

This trend is very positive for large countries with currently low per capita incomes like China and India, but negative for advanced industrial nations like the US, Japan and Germany. Their economic decline relative to Europe took centuries – a process that culminated in the industrial revolution, which saw these formerly proud empires relagated to being colonial appendages of the Western powers. The time has come for a great reverse. As a medium-income country, the effect will be slightly positive for Russia. Assuming there is no large-scale disruption of globalization in this century (as happened in the First World War and the rise of tariffs in the early 20th C), this trend should hold.

Of course, it’s not sufficient merely to be behind to catch up. One must also have the human capital and physical infrastructure in place. One of the best proxies for human capital is education.

Sources: CIA World Factbook 2007 for literacy %; United Nations Statistics Division for school life expectancy (2005 or latest); World Bank for tertiary school enrollment (2005 or latest); PISA 2006 Math scores; PISA 2006 Science scores; TIMMS 2003 Math scores for 8th Graders; TIMSS 2003 Science scores for 8th Graders; * other source.

Now as we can see from the info above, Russia’s (and eastern Europe’s) educational profile is of a First World character. Hence it is likely that the region’s impressive post-millennial growth will be sustained, resulting in convergence with west European countries by a 2020-30 time frame.

A more comprehensive analysis of this phenomenom is given by Goldman Sachs’ GES (Growth Environment Score) and this seems to back up our fundamental points – namely, that China and Russia are better positioned for sustained growth than India or Brazil. (Russia recently overtook China in the GES). India will nonetheless grow quickly, despite its creaking infrastructure and poor human capital, simply because it is so far behind. Brazil, however, will not, because while it is a middle-income country, its human capital profile seems to dictate that that’s where it should stay. It will remain a land of promise. The same goes for the rest of South America and the Muslim world. It usually takes about a generation to effect real change in the human capital of a particular country. Hence, we think it unlikely that there will be any significant changes to the following picture – rapid convergence for China and eastern Europe with Russia, convergence from a low base of India and stagnation for all the other regions (in relative terms).

In conclusion, China seems destined to become a third economic pole in the world by 2020, in addition to the United States and European Union. (According to the World Bank’s revised figures, China’s purchasing power parity GDP in 2005 was 5.3trn $, compared with the US’s 12.4trn $ and EU’s 13.0trn $. Assuming it manages to keep a 6-8% annual growth lead over them, it should become the world’s largest economy by 2020). India will also become much larger, but its overall size will be comparable to Japan’s – furthermore, the same development pattern that we see today (islands of IT-based prosperity in a sea of poverty) will be preserved, and its per capita income will remain extremely low. Russia and eastern Europe, on the other hand, are likely to converge to west European levels of development by 2030. While Russia’s overall economy will remain small as a percentage of world GDP (around 4-5%, up from 3.4% today), it will be fully developed with a strong high-tech mainstay.

The second global trend is the doubly exponential growth in IT. Economic growth has been with us since the dawn of history, although it took us a long time to realize this. Furthermore, it is not only exponential (ie, growing by x % per annum) – it is doubly exponential (x itself increases exponentially). The reason it took us such a long time to recognize this fundamental fact is that in the beginning, growth was very slow (a fraction of a percent per annum, as late as medieval times), so we perceived it as being linear instead of exponential. (The futurist Ray Kurzweil calls it the intuitive linear view versus the historical exponential view. His article The Law of Accelerating Returns is highly recommended).

However, during this century Moore’s Law in computing – that the number of transistors that can be inexpensively placed on an integrated circuit is increasing exponentially, doubling approximately every two years – has become well known. Furthermore, it is doubly exponential growth – while calculations / second / $ doubled once every 3 years in the 1950′s, the doubling time decreased to 2 years in the 1980′s and is currently at 1.5 years. The same general pattern can be discerned in world economic history. In medieval and early modern times, all societies’ per capita income grew at a rate just a little above 0%, and this fact was concealed by much stronger cyclical and chaotic tendencies. However, leading industrial countries grew by 1% per annum in the late 19th C per capita, while today this has increased to 2-3% per annum.

As more and more of the components that are governed by Moore’s Law enter our manufactures (GPS in cars, etc) and services (automated banking, etc), so will the growth rate of the real economy increase faster and faster. The case can be made that the Great Powers of this century will be determined by such things as R&D spending and personnel, nanotechnology spending and supercomputer production; just as the Great Powers of yesteryear focused their energies on steel, coal and engines. Not only will they generate the Kondratieff wave of economic growth for the next 50 years, they will give the states that nourish them capabilities that will fundamentally alter the strategic landscape. Powerful computers can be used to construct a truly effective missile defence; nanotechnologies can create very strong body armor (the US plans to roll out a suit that integrates nanotechnology exoskelotons and liquid body armor by 2020, as part of its Future Force Warrior project. A number of other countries have similar programs). Furthermore, nanotechnology can also be used to mitigate the effects of the third trend – climate change – by releasing light-reflecting aerosols into the atmosphere or even mass producing molecular machines that break down greenhouse gases into harmless components.

Eventually, true engines of creation (molecular self-assemblers) have the potential to radically transform every facet of everyday life through the dematerialization of production and elimination of material scarcity. A computer that can pass the Turing test also lies on the horizon, and its development will unleash “an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control“. After all, superintelligence is the last invention man need ever make. Now scrutinizing these forecasts is beyond the scope of this blog, let alone this article. We will refer you to Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns and the excellent The Futurist blog, and leave it at that.

Sources: World Development Indicators database (2004 or latest) for R&D, ppl % is researchers / million people, sp % is spending as % of GDP; public nanotechnology funding 2003 in millions of Euros; countries’ % share of top 500 supercomputers as of 11/2007. * These are my estimations (2007 spending), based on these articles: India’s nanotech spending below global levels (India spends less than Taiwan which spends 104bn $) and Russia Pours Billions in Oil Profits Into Nanotech Race (Russia to spend 7bn $ in next 5 years).

This table illustrates how strong today’s leading countries are in the leading spheres of the high-tech industries. The United States has a commanding lead. It has an excellent R&D infrastructure, with most of the world’s best universities (as defined by Shanghai Jiao Tong University). It has more than half of the world’s most powerful (ability to do calculations quickly) supercomputers – if anything, their lead is underestimated, since all the major vendors that manufacture these supercomputers (IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Cray Inc., Dell, SGI) are American. Its high government spending on nanotechnology conceals an even larger amount of private spending, as can be deduced from the diagram below.

The only other country roughly comparable to the US is Japan (while Japanese supercomputers are less powerful, they beat American ones on efficiency). Although small, individual European countries like Sweden or the Netherlands are also comparable to the US, Europe as a region is weighed down by technological laggards like Italy, Portugal and central-east Europe in general. Although the large European states spend a lot on nanotechnology (as does Russia from 2007), there is relatively very little private enterprise in this area. Amongst the BRICs, China and Russia look like they have promising futures in high-tech; the same cannot be said of India and Brazil, notwithstanding all the recent hype about the former’s flourishing IT industry (which is mostly based on Western out-shoring of cheap services, rather than true innovation).

In conclusion, the US and Japan look set to continue dominating these high-tech industries, although the US will continue to make most of the conceptual innovations. There will also be regions of the world (Taiwan, South Korea, Israel) that will occupy strong niche positions. The big European countries will lag, although Russia has the potential to break through to a leading position (its government has recognized nanotechnology as a national strategic priority, allocated massive funds to it and is seeking to build a hi-tech venture capital industry to attract private investment). China might converge to Europe in this field, but India will likely and Brazil will certainly remain substantially behind.

The final major trend for the medium to long-term global future is that of climate change. Historically speaking, global warming has followed the ‘high’ scenarios of climate models since they were first seriously constructed in the 1980′s. Nonetheless, even they might have underestimated the risk and magnitutude of catastrophic climate change. The Earth has many feedback mechanisms that could make runaway global warming a real possibility. Increased heat due to CO2 emissions will unleash the methane underneath the Siberian permafrost, accelerate forest decay in the tropics and melt the frozen methane clathrates that lie beneath the world’s ocean sediments. Think of these as primed explosives, CO 2 levels as the fuse. Beyond this global climate tipping point, there is no turning back – and the Pentagon, being substantially wiser than the Bush administration, seems to have taken note. There is even evidence that the true magnitude of global warming to date has not been fully appreciated due to global dimming – the ‘sunshade’ that emissions of soot particles create over our heads.

There have already been articles about who wins and who loses in a warmer world and even a book (How the World will Change – with Global Warming by Trausti Valsson, which is available as a free download). Northern regions like Russia, Scandinavia, Greenland and Canada will gain immensely as global shipping shifts to the Arctic and new oil and gas deposits are found at the top of the world. (Russia’s leadership seems to have foreseen this global shift – it has recently claimed a large chunk of the Arctic seabed and made long-term plans for the resurrection of a powerful blue-water navy). According to the book,

Transportation access will be greatly improved by new transcontinental railways, and as the rivers leading into the interior have become more or less ice-free, this area will be able to reap the benefits of the enormous shipping traffic along the North Siberian border.

The effect on Europe as a whole will be neutral, since the cancelling of the Gulf Stream will be counteracted by generalized warming (although Italy, the Balkans and Iberian peninsula will face drought and maybe even desertification). On the other hand huge new areas will be opened up in the north. In North America, although the West will face desertification, new areas will be opened up in Canada to compensate.

China and India will be very badly affected, both facing severe water shortages and inundation of the coastlines and river valleys (Ganges, Yangtze, Huang Ho) where most of their people live. While Europe and the US will also face inundations as the Greenland and West Antarctic icecaps melt, the extent will be more limited (mostly the Netherlands and Florida). Below is a fun applet you can play with to simulate various states of sea level rise.

In conclusion, in a warming world the US, Europe and Brazil will weather the storm, while Russia will benefit not only relatively, but absolutely. China and India will have to devote massive amounts of state resources on mitigating its effects, and questions have to be asked whether they will even be able to feed themselves. China’s northern breadbasket is turning into a dustbowl and its wheat production has been falling for the last decade, while global grain stocks have also dipped in the last 5 years under a barrage of drought and crop diseases. Outright famine is unlikely, we think – after all, China is fast becoming a medium-income country, and there is room to cut back on food consumption by reducing the proportion of meat in the people’s diet (which has been the primary cause of rising global food demand, rather than population increase).

In any case, it appears that there will be a need for a massive migration from overpopulated southern countries to the north to prevent a catastrophic disparity in global wealth and resources. (As such climate change will act counter to the equalizing tendencies of economic convergence). It is reasonable to imagine Canada and Russia filling up with tens, eventually even hundreds, of millions of immigrants from the stricken zones to the South – provided they accept their moral duty to let them in. If they don’t, there will probably be intense wars over dwindling resources in the south, possibly involving the use of nuclear weapons, from which the rich northern countries will be unable to insulate themselves from.

As we come close to the end of our analysis of the three trends – economic convergence, technological progress and climate change – that will shape world geopolitics this century, it is time for a summary of the main findings.

The US, as today’s single superpower, will be challenged by economic convergence on the part of emerging markets like the BRICs. Nonetheless, it will not be catastrophically affected by global climate change and its extraordinary strength in hi-tech should stand it in good stead for the next few decades. It will preserve its vast strategic strength (nuclear arms), power-projection capabilities and cultural influence.

Russia will re-emerge as a superpower due to economic convergence and above all global warming, which will shift global shipping to the Arctic, open up vast new energy sources and make the Siberian interior habitable on a sustainable basis. It has the potential to break through and become a leader in hi-tech industries. Economic convergence should see its per capita incomes approach, and possibly overtake, those of European countries within a generation – nonetheless, its overall economic weight in the world will remain modest. It will preserve its vast strategic strength (the equivalent of the US), should have gone some way towards developing power-projection capabilities and most importantly it will be the only Great Power with surplus energy and mineral reserves.

China will be the world’s largest economy in purchasing power parity by 2020 at the latest, although it will continue to lag in per capita terms. The development of a comprehensive R&D network should allow the creation of a truly independent, comprehensive military industrial complex, thus joining the US and Russia in that regard. Nonetheless, it will be very negatively affected by climate change, and unless a technological solution is found to this problem, its government will be increasingly pre-occupied with mitigating the consequences of global warming – desertification and inundation. China also plans to build power-projection capabilities (hi-tech forces capable of winning localized wars against technologically advanced adversaries (read: the US)) and increase the size and comprehensiveness of its strategic deterrance.

The European Union has all the pre-requisites of superpowerdom, but the million-dollar question is whether they will succeed in uniting into a truly federal state with one independent, European foreign policy and an integrated military-industrial complex. Such an outcome looks unlikely at present (what with France’s and Belgium’s rejection of the European Constitution), and that is unlikely to change, especially as the EU expands to take in the Balkans and maybe even Turkey. As it stands, however, like the old Polish-Lithuanian Union, Europeans can be manipulated against each other by the powers to the east and west (Russia and the US), which are stronger than any individual European state.

There is no question of Japan, India or Brazil becoming a superpower. Japan is developed and technologically advanced, but it does not have the public will to become militarized and actively project hard power over its own region, let alone the world. It has no energy resources and is vulnerable to being cut off from energy and food imports; nor does it possess a strategic deterrant. India has all of China’s problems and fewer of its advantages (its human capital is much lower, the infrastructure is poor and it is already more than a decade behind in per capita income). Brazil can be energy independent and it has a respectable industrial base, but it has no room for convergence (due to its low human capital) and only a scant R&D infrastructure. It has neither the capability nor the will to project its influence beyond its borders.

Our prediction is that by 2030, there will emerge a tripolar world dominated by the US, China and Russia. As we have shown, all these countries possess the means or the potential to acquire the means to acquire superpower status.

Their populations, we believe, also have the will to achieve this. As a proxy for this, let us take the World Values Survey results to the question, “E012.- E012.- Of course, we all hope that there will not be another war, but if it were to come to that, would you be willing to fight for your country?” 97% of Chinese, 77% of Russians and 73% of Americans answered in the affirmative. In Europe, on the other hand, these figures were typically in the 40-60% range. If half of them say that they’re unwilling to fight for their own country, how many of them will struggle for a united Europe? Japan scores just 25% – a reflection of its pacifist, non-interventionist foreign policy. While both Brazil (72%) and especially India (82%) have the will to be superpowers, they will be unable to acquire the capability in the foreseeable future.

Fast forward to 2030. What do we see?

The United States is still a, if not the, leading economy. In absolute size it has long been overtaken by China. Both states possess respectable power projection capabilities, the technological and economic base to sustain them and a strategic deterrant. China devotes most of its energies to acquiring the energy, mineral and food resources to feed its bourgeoning economy, and in mitigating the effects of climate change. The US is affected by these two problems to a much lesser extent.

Russia is an economic minnow next to Europe, the US and China because of its relatively small population. In economic size and technological development it is comparable to Japan (a basic fact which will not change even if it were to expand to incorporate the Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan). However, it will also possess a strategic deterrant, power projection capabilities and the will to use it. It is entirely self-sufficient in energy, agriculture and minerals, and can export surplus production. In a world which faces energy shortages, this will become an increasing important foreign policy level – on the largest scale, it means that Russia will be able to play off China and European US allies off against each other.

In the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, there is a socially conservative party called Shas. They only ever win small mandates, but since there is usually a narrow margin between the two main parties (traditionally Labor and Likud), they have the ability to tilt the balance of power one way or another. As such, they can exercise influence on Israeli politics out of all proportion to their numbers.

Russia seems destined to be the world’s Shas this century, balancing Chinese and American power. As of today, the US is much stronger, which might explain why Russia and China have banded together in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As both countries increase their Comprehensive National Power, it is likely their friendship will be revealed for what it is – a temporary marriage of convenience.

The Soviet Union never came close to being the world’s foremost economic power, yet it exerted its influence on the world through its ideological fervor and military might. In the new century, Russia can add energy dominance to its trumps. Provided it retains its traditional will to power, the next century may well be a Russian one.

Note: under the nanotechnology spending column in the Hi-Tech Table, Russia should be at 1000 mn Euros rather than 1400 mn. (I forgot to convert the dollar figure and can’t be bothered correcting the table).

Objections

Do you have any? Please comment and I’ll try to answer them.

Edit: there were objections criticisms from peak oil, US debt and demographics. I have tried to counter them in Mailbag: Back from a Russian Century?

Edit 2: for more on the vital link between economic development and education, please consult my article Education as the Elixir of Growth.

(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.