WSJ.com – Thinking Global
The deepest demographic hole is in Russia. President Vladimir Putin trumpets his country’s new status as an energy superpower, but a decline in male life expectancy to pre-1959 levels has combined with declining birthrates to more than offset that advantage. “The real wealth of the modern world is human resources, and not what you have in the ground,” says Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, Washington’s leading expert on global demographic trends. He fears a new security challenge: a declining state with nuclear weapons that is relying on nonhuman resources for its power.
On a brighter note, Mr. Eberstadt has spotted a surprising and potentially positive trend toward lower population growth in developing countries, where concerns have focused for years on overpopulation and its relation to cyclical poverty. More than half the world is now living at subreplacement levels, including nearly every country of East Asia, many parts of the Mideast, Turkey and Brazil. The cause appears to be modern thinking seeping through to more cultures than previously thought, propagating the notion that a large number of children is more of an economic burden than benefit.
Yet geopoliticians are focusing most on China and the U.S. — the world’s fastest-rising power and its incumbent. China is following an aging course similar to that of Japan, but its trends hold more dangers as it begins from a lower income base with less-developed pension and health systems.
Mr. Bennett talks about a 1-2-4 equation, where one Chinese child supports two parents who support four grandparents, but in reality, many parents have no child to support them. “There’s this slow-motion humanitarian tragedy coming down the track for China,” Mr. Eberstadt says.
He says the U.S. trend is more a story of its “exceptionalism” among industrialized countries, with higher birthrates that grow out of significantly different attitudes. U.S. birthrates are 30% higher per family than those of Europe or Canada.
“This is the expression of millions of unorganized, spontaneous couples,” says Mr. Eberstadt, who adds that the U.S. will be the only industrialized country to hold on to its share of global population in the next half century. That also will give it more of a risk-taking nature than allies on matters ranging from fighting terrorism to technological innovation.
“The U.S. will have less and less affinity with other developed countries,” he says. “It will be harder and not easier to find common ground with allies.”