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“Russia is fucked”

…declared my recently-returned father, after enthusing over many aspects of Russia’s cultural heritage and before waxing lyrical about the beauty of its landscape. He opined that the country appears to be in a sort of collective malaise; birth rates have declined markedly, with terminated pregnancies outnumbering their full-term counterparts significantly. The population is shrinking and the remainder are scared out of their wits – Dad surmised the latter opinion from his observation that Russian churches appear to be the most highly maintained, furnished and adorned buildings in Russia.

Of course, the fact that Russia is facing a profound demography-related meltdown is unlikely to be news for the average Samizdata reader. One of the more renowned articles written about the deep population crisis facing the modern Russian state was penned by Mark Steyn. It makes for interesting, if not always absolutely convincing, reading. In a piece of analysis that I think is dead wrong, Steyn, citing the precedent of the sale of Russia’s North American territories to the United States, asserts that a depopulated Russia will soon enough have its resource-rich Siberian hinterland snatched from it by an envious (and greatly more populous) China – so it may as well benefit from the inevitable and sell Siberia to Beijing. I suspect that if the Russians possessed as plentiful a supply of nuclear-tipped ICBMs in 1867 as they do now, Alaska would still be known as ‘Russian America’ in the Anglophonic world. Tom Clancy-esque Chinese plots against Siberia aside, Steyn is right to be gloomy about Russia’s future prospects; whilst her formidable nuclear deterrent should guarantee her borders, it will not secure her birthrate. The Economist recently published an article detailing the depressing facts regarding modern Russia’s population. Russia’s birthrate is dangerously low, but still comparable to a number of European nations (which certainly does not auger well for them, either). However, the real catastrophe is found in Russia’s soaring death rate:

At less than 59, male life expectancy has collapsed in a way otherwise found only in sub-Saharan Africa. It is around five years lower than it was 40 years ago, and 13 years lower than that of Russian women—one of the biggest gaps in the world.

The article goes on to detail a host of lifestyle-induced afflictions and misfortunes that kill Russians off at uniquely high rates, resulting in unparalleled population contraction.

For those concerned with curtailing the influence of government, it is worth pondering how much of the blame for this utter catastrophe can be laid at the feet of Russia’s previous political arrangements, ending 1991. Not all, but I suspect an awful lot. Admittedly, most of the health issues responsible for the abysmally low male life expectancy are related to alcoholism, and vodka was around a long time before 1917. However, the Soviets showed they understood the power of hard liquor as political lubricant on a massive scale in Mongolia in the 1970s, when the dissemination of previously rare vodka ensured growing discontent was muted by an alcoholic fog that continues to blight the lives of countless Mongolians today. I find it difficult to believe that vodka was not widely distributed for similar purposes throughout the duration of the Soviet Union. Of course, the relationship between Russia’s unhappy present, Russia’s unhappy future and Russia’s unhappy communist past is deeply complex; the above example representing a tiny portion of the picture. It is also worth considering the fate of other nations who endured a dalliance with Marxism. Certainly, many of the former members of the Soviet bloc and/or Warsaw Pact are surging ahead – Estonia and Slovenia spring to mind. Others are not doing too badly on a mish-mash of free-market reforms and Soviet-era controls, like Poland. Then there are the revisionist basketcases like Moldova and Belarus, whose wretched citizens will be immersed in deep Third World poverty for the foreseeable future. I believe Brink Lindsey justifies such variation in this quote from his excellent book, Against The Dead Hand:

The creative power of market competition can cover a multitude of policy sins…in developing countries the availability of accelerated catch-up growth allows even badly distorted economies to post impressive numbers for sustained periods of time. And in the rich countries, the lavish abundance generated by private enterprise can support a heavy load of incentive-squelching redistribution.

It is a matter of the degree of economic liberation after being freed from the yoke of the Soviet Union. I think it is fair to state that no nation has benefited because it existed under the aegis of the Soviet Union, however some have benefited in spite of the fact they were under the aegis of the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, that is an educated guess, and I can only comment conclusively on nations that I have visited and studied.

Firstly, China. A largely unacknowledged victim of Marxism is post-Mao China, whose economic woes – I believe – are pending (as per Mr Lindsey’s assertion above). My rationales for such a statement can be found here and here. The cultural losses of Chinese communism need to be considered, too. The will to exercise arbitrary control over others, that indivisible component of the collectivist power structure, drove Mao Zedong to vanquish his political rivals by sweeping them away via a profoundly corrupt and duplicitous “modernity” programme – commonly known as the Cultural Revolution – to be executed by his overly numerous and impressionable young acolytes. A few million people lost their lives as a consequence of this exercise, and an inconceivable amount of the history of humanity was destroyed. To get a feel for how much was lost, it is worth visiting India – or even Thailand – to compare the cultural landscapes of these venerable and long-lived cultures with that of similarly venerable and long-lived China.

Previously I mentioned Mongolia, and previously I wrote about what I think communism did to Mongolia. Earlier in this article, I also discussed the former epicentre of communism – a nation that has barely begun to come to terms with the loss of its ill-afforded superpowerdom – and the demographic horrors it is foisting upon itself. In the face of such history, I cannot help but marvel at the remarkably stultifying, soul-destroying influence of overweening statism and central planning, and how quickly it can despoil an ancient nation and a proud people.

47 comments to “Russia is fucked”

  • Bah. A nation of 148 million has a very long way to go before it could be considered “depopulated”. By population Russia is still one of the largest countries in the world.

    With respect to Siberia and China you have it exactly right. If it really came to a final showdown, a few buttons would be pressed in Moscow, and China would cease to exist. Largely-metaphorical blather about demographic vitality is of little real-world importance compared to an arsenal of fusion warheads.

    It’s hardly surprising that the debilitating effects of totalitarianism have not yet been lifted from Russia, considering that the state remains highly authoritarian. It remains to be seen whether this will be the case for much longer. Ukraine, a closely-related culture, has succeeded in casting off the pall of thugocracy. There’s no reason why Russia could not do the same.

    The real demographic crisis in Russia is the high rate of early death, which is (a) heavily concentrated in the male half of the population, and (b) mostly due to substance-abuse problems (alcohol and cigarettes). The success of anti-smoking campaigns in the West has shown that with sustained effort such plagues can be brought under control and minimized, even if not totally defeated. Smoking was once almost as pervasive and accepted here in the US as vodka is in Russia now. What we did, they can do too. It’s just a matter of finding the will.

    Others have written off or underestimated Russia in the past. Contemplating the verdict of history upon those who did so, I have no desire to follow their example.

  • htjyang

    I think James Waterton dismisses the idea of Chinese encroachment on Russia rather too quickly, as if Steyn was talking about a Chinese military invasion of Russia. That was not what he was talking about at all. He was talking about Chinese immigration (legal or otherwise) into Russia. What does James Waterton think the Russians can do about it? Nuke the Chinese in Russia? (i.e. nuke their own territory) The Chinese-Russian border is more than a thousand miles long. Securing that border is very difficult.

  • Nick M

    My girlfriend is a graduate in Russian. She’s far less certain than James Waterton’s Dad as to the future of Russia. BTW has Samizdata ever had an expletive in the title of a post before? Not that I’m getting fucking prudish in my annecdotage…

    My feelings about Russia are similarly mixed. There is absolutely no reason in principle why Russia with it’s enormous agricultural and industrial potential and it’s phenomenal natural resources shouldn’t be a grade A power with a high standard of living.

    Unfortunately, these things can back-fire. As the old saying goes Switzerland was a country lucky enough to be created without natural resources. If the Russians just predicate their entire economy on pumping oil and gas via increasingly state-owned companies then they are fucked.

    Except I think they are smarter than the Saudi Oil-Ticks. Any culture that can produce the sort of stuff I once used to read from Moscow University Institute of Physical Problems can’t be totally buggerated.

    The idea that the Ruskies will flog Siberia is well off beam. It is too deeply ingrained in the Russian soul. And anybody who knows anything about Russia knows what that means.

    They obliterated Grozny rather than allow Chechnya to secede. And Chechnya is a ghastly place with nothing going for it. So relax Samizdatistas – I don’t think you need to buy new atlases just yet.

    PS. I always wonder how the cold war would have panned out if the Ruskies had held onto Alaska. Badly I suspect. I’m a complete swine for counter factuals…

  • Dale Amon

    China doesn’t have to annex anything. They are currently getting all the cheap resources they want from Siberia. Deforestation is proceeding at an apalling rate, and anyone who complains is at risk from the organized crime bosses who are siphoning off the money and bribing and threatening the local government officials.

    The earlier commentator does not quite recognize how quickly a nation’s population can fall when the birth rate goes as low as it has in Russia. They could halve their population by the middle of this century.

    I do not actually believe this will happen. As I have said before, demographics is a complex issue, and a rapid fall of a large demographic segment can easily hide a rapid rate of increase of a small segment. In such cases the smaller segment will dominate. We are seeing something like this on a more modest scale in America where the ‘red’ states are outbreeding the ‘blue’ states.

    The most important thing in Russia’s long term favour is the educated populace. Russian scientsts and engineers are damned good, among the best in the world. There is another ‘demographic’ transition I expect to see: the one where the inefficient ex-soviet and crime infested large companies continue to decline and crumble… while the creative and capable folk beaver away in obscurity creating something new.

    Time will tell.

  • It is also worth looking at China’s demographics as well as Russia’s. Their birth rate has dropped rapidly (as birth rates seem to when you get to a certain level of development) and they have exacerbated the problem dramatically through their one child policy (surely one of the most misguided pieces of coercive government policy in history). This means that their population is going to age more rapidly than any other in history. And when that happens, expansionism into Russia is not likely to be an obvious consequence. (I also should qualify this with Dale’s caveat about demographics being inexact and unpredictable, though).

  • Michael – well, China is going to have to do something with the 50 million surplus young men created by the One Child Policy, a desire to have sons and modern neo-natal technology. It’s certainly possible that they may end up as cannon fodder. If China felt expansionary, a push south seems far more likely in terms of path of least resistance.

  • Millie Woods

    One of the elements never mentioned about population implosion is urbanisation. In my native Quebec when the French population was largely rural, families of seventeen and eighteen children were far from unusual. In fact, the former PM, Jean Chretien, came from just such a family. If you lived in the country you just added an extension to the living quarters as the numbers increased and planted more root crops plus increased the number of laying poultry and milking cattle. Living in an urban environment makes housing and feeding large numbers of children difficult if well nigh impossible. My anecdotal observation of population trends goes something like this. I came from a family of five siblings. My brothers and sisters and myself have had four, three, two, two and two offspring. I’ve noticed my children and their contemporaries most of them coming from two children families are having a minimum of three children. My conclusion – extrapolating a scary future from contemporary indicationsis like gambling at Las Vegas

  • “that will be created”, I should have said.

  • michael farris

    “China is going to have to do something with the 50 million surplus young men created by the One Child Policy”

    India has similar problems, a cultural and monetary preference for male offspring and the technology to ensure more sons than daughters has created millions of unmarriageable males (and families headed for Darwinian oblivion in an ironic touch) there too. Given that the best way of getting rid of suprlus young men is to start a war to kill them off, I wouldn’t want to get between those two countries.

  • One can predict all sorts of things about Russia (or other countries) fifty years in the future based on current demographic trends. But is there a single country in the world whose present-day demographic situation could have been accurately predicted based on the demographic trends it was exhibiting fifty years ago? Could the political world of 1950 (Germany in ruins, British and French empires being dismantled, US and Russia as the only superpowers) have been predicted from the situation in 1900?

    And good luck convincing the people who engineered the clear-out of Silesia and Pomerania that they can’t defend their Siberian border against illegal immigration. They don’t seem overly concerned about being politically correct over there.

  • RAB

    Well I havent read the Steyn article yet, and I havent been to Russia since the bad old communist days( It can’t be any worse now surely!)
    But I did read somewhere else that negotiations are taking place to lease the area to China.

  • cryptononcommie

    1) Anyone who believes “the one child policy” myth is unbelievably gullible. Since when is it common operating procedure to take authoritarian governments (or any sort of government) at its word. It is amazing how much people can talk about a subject that they couldn’t have been bothered to research at all. The CIA Factbook lists china’s fertility rate at 1.73 children/woman (and that’s probably a conservative estimate) — this figure can be confirmed from other sources as well. The “one child policy” is a tool designed to convince fools, useful idiots, and “those who want to believe” that the PRC is somehow going to commit suicide and not be the dominant player in the 21st century. 1.73 children/woman (assuming we take this low value as truth) is still a lot higher than you will find in any “European” country.

    2) The birth rate in Russia is no worse than in most of Europe, and the death age matters little. Everyone dies eventually. Whereas birthrates affect population growth in an exponential manner, death age has only a linear effect. A country whose birth rate is 2 and whose average life expectancy is 25 is going to have a lot more people than a country whose birth rate is 1 and whose average life expectancy is 100 once sufficient time has passed. Everyone dies; it doesn’t matter when. It only matters that they have had sufficient children before they do so (something that you Western imbeciles with poor math skills can’t seem to come to terms with).

    3) The true problem in Russia is not that Russians are not having enough children or dying too quickly, but that “non-ethnic Russians” (a huge portion of them Muslims) are not experiencing the same problems (they are breeding far more). The demographics are projected to flip within the next 50 years if this rate continues.

    4) Russia is a lot less screwed than Western Europe in terms of demographic. Russia is not burdened by crypto-Christian morality, and therefore has many ways of solving these sorts of problems (and lots of practice employing them). They’ve done far more brutal things to people that were closer to them in their view.

    5) The only question is whether Russia is not depressed and suicidal enough to do what it would otherwise almost certainly do. If they are not depressed and suicidal enough, then the problem will be “resolved.” If they are, then they will follow the logical course of action and commit suicide (almost simultaneously with Western Europe).

    6) If Russia is indeed not sufficiently depressed and suicidal, I wouldn’t want to be a Chinese colonist trying to colonize Siberia for mother China. That sort of job would be extremely dangerous.

  • Nick M


    I haven’t checked the math on your point 2) but I’m fairly sure you’re right. Of course the death rate matters a hell of a lot to the poor buggers kicking the bucket themselves.

    Your points 3) and 4) seem in conflict. Last figures I saw, there was every chance that Russia would become majority muslim before anywhere else in Europe.

    Obviously excluding Albania, Bosnia and perhaps a coupla others.

    I’m pretty vague as to what precisely “crypto-Christian morality is” or how it makes a difference but Russia was built as a Christian country. I seem to recall learning about Vladimir I of Kiev baptising the entire country in 988AD.

    I don’t know what you mean about the problem being “resolved” but it don’t like it would be pretty.

  • Nick M

    It don’t sound like it would be pretty

  • What Cryptononcommie said, especially (4), (5), and (6).

    The Russians have already demonstrated, in Chechnya, that they are prepared to smack down Muslim troublemakers very hard. This has met with predictable howls of outrage from politically-correct types in western Europe, but long-suffering ordinary people in Paris, Brussels, Stockholm, etc. might well wish that the Islamic encampments in their cities were being handled by the Russian army rather than by timid bureaucrats.

    If China becomes aggressive toward Russia, I suspect we will see the US offering Russia as much support as it can without getting directly involved. China is simply perceived as the greater long-term threat. Even the EU, though it currently cozies up to China out of anti-American bloody-mindedness, surely would not want to see the Chinese border pushed to the Urals. And the Russians are significantly more culturally similar to us than the Chinese are. Maybe that shouldn’t matter, but it does.

  • Christianity, like the Black Death, was once very prevalent in both Russia and western Europe, but this is the 21st century. Russia today is even less “Christian” in any meaningful sense than Britain is.

  • cryptononcommie

    I’ve quickly thrown together a mathematical model (back of the envelope work). It may not be correct, I haven’t looked it over all that carefully, if you think there are any mistakes, feel free to correct them.

    a = initial population (generation 0)
    b = fertility rate (assumed to remain constant for the purpose of this model)
    r = b / 2

    n = generation number, first generation is generation 0, then 1, etc.
    G(n) = population of generation n

    G(n) =a*r^n

    g = age at which family has all children (all children are assumed to be born at once and for all families at the same age for the purpose of this model)
    t = time elapsed in years since generation 0

    n = t / g

    G(t) = a*r^(t/g)

    x = life expectancy

    P(t) = sum of geometric series of all people born so far – sum of geometric series of all people who were born so far, but already dead

    P(t) =a*[r^[(t-x)/g]-r^[t/g]]/(1-r)

  • PS. I always wonder how the cold war would have panned out if the Ruskies had held onto Alaska.

    I suspect the effect would have been that Canada was much less annoying than it currently is.

  • cryptononcommie :

    regarding (1) actually, you’re wrong. The One Child Policy (a generic term that is not always literal) applies in Chinese cities, although it was recently relaxed somewhat in Shanghai. In regional areas the policy fluctuates depending on local demography. In some areas, couples are permitted to have a second child if the first child is a girl. In other areas the restrictions are rather looser. Now, your assertion that the figure offered by the CIA Factbook is perhaps conservative is pure guesswork on your part. So if we ignore your baseless assumptions, a birthrate of 1.73 is still substantially below the population replacement rate, so thank you for conceding that the Chinese population will start to shrink. On another matter that you’ve overlooked – did you know that, right now, there are currently 117 boys being born for every 100 girls? Do you know what’s causing that imbalance? Yep – a combination of the restrictions of the One Child Policy (which you erroneously claim does not exist) and parents exercising their preferences in light of such restrictions. Now, what impact do you think such a gender imbalance is going to have on the birthrate when today’s children reach breeding age? I don’t think you’ll need to devise a formula to get my point.

    regarding (2), let me reiterate for – wherever the hell you’re from – imbeciles like yourself with poor reading comprehension abilities, I quite clearly stated in the article that the current Russian birth rate is comparable to that in many countries of Europe, so what’s your point? That figure’s dangerously low regardless of whether it applies to Western Europe or Russia, right? Concerning Russia’s death rate; this measure is actually critically important because it means the Russian population is going to shrink much more quickly than those of the Western European nations with similarly low birthrates, because Russians die much younger. Keeping up, math man?

    As for (3) and (4), I have no dissenting observation, apart from the fact that if (3) becomes a reality, (4) will be much much harder to implement.

    Infidel753 –

    Could the political world of 1950 (Germany in ruins, British and French empires being dismantled, US and Russia as the only superpowers) have been predicted from the situation in 1900?

    There is an obvious difference between arresting growing or shrinking populations. Overpopulation problems can be resolved relatively quickly in a variety of ways; the example of WW2 that you provided is but one. Solutions to underpopulation are considerably trickier – especially in a country like Russia which isn’t exactly a magnet for migrants – and require much more time to take effect.

  • cryptononcommie

    James, I have no idea why you feel the need to be so angry and insulting. Anyways, I shall respond in a civil manner.

    Regarding the “one child policy,” I never stated that it did not exist. I stated that it was a myth being used by the PRC government and pro-PRC propagandists to alleviate fears about the rise of the PRC as the dominant superpower. The best sort of lie is the one that has truth to it. I know full-well that the “one child policy” is enforced far more in the cities than in the country, and I was actually going to make a point regarding the diabolical nature of that fact, but chose not to as it was tangential to the conversation and I was short on time.

    Anyways, as you forced my hand, here it is: why exactly do you think that the PRC enforces the “one child policy” more in cities than in the country? Could it be that the people in the cities are more likely to become more Westernized, to question the intentions of the CCP, to demand more freedoms, to demand democracy, etc? The poor peasants, on the other hand, are far more likely to gobble up CCP propaganda, and more than willing to support the CCP when it annexes another country. Where exactly do you think most of the PLA soldiers come from? (Spare me the “it’s simply easier to enforce in cities” line; the CCP does what it deems appropriate for its long term goals, not whatever is easier.) The fact that you have not realized the “one child policy” also serves as a perpetual low-grade continuation of the Cultural Revolution bodes poorly for you. The CCP is smarter than you give them credit for; none of their actions are suicidal.

    The fact that China, with its “one child policy” still has a birth rate far higher than all “European” countries, including Japan (and excluding only the US, although the population growth in the US is skewed towards certain segments of society), makes one wonder what motive people always have for bringing up the “one child policy.” China’s population will not shrink to any extent resembling that of Western countries. This is a fact. In the worst case scenario, China’s population will shrink to approximately 1.1 billion (the horror of this extremely tiny number must weigh heavily on the minds of both the CCP and most of the readers of Samizdata).

    The imbalance of boys to girls (whatever number that might be, I’m sceptical of official estimates) also works in favour of the CCP, providing more eager recruits for the PLA. The existence of the imbalance is also very poor proof of the “one child policy” (I’m not sure why you are trying to use it as such). Men simply earn more money and can take better care of their parents than women. If you have sufficiently finite resources and are concerned with your own wellbeing, would you rather have 3 boys, or any other combination of genders for 3 children? Exactly. The fact that this (overblown) imbalance also occurs in other countries (sometimes to an even greater degree than the reported figure) which do not have a “one child policy” proves that trying to use this imbalance as proof for the enforcement of the “one child policy” is not a good idea.

    My point in (2), although implied, and not blatant, was that I have no idea why Westerners are so concerned with Russia’s problem (CNN International, for example made much of it at one point) when they are experiencing the same (or even worse) problems in their own countries, but seem to not care at all about that. It’s like constantly talking about your neighbour having a slight imperfection on her face when your own face is completely deformed, and ugly, or alternatively, being concerned with your neighbour’s house burning down, while he is doing something to put out the fire, while your own house is burning down even more, and you have not even lifted one finger to try to save it. It’s complete irrationality. As for my own poor reading comprehension, which you have done little to properly demonstrate, and which I don’t see what it has to do with the argument, if you had my level of reading comprehension in as many languages as I do, you’d be quite happy (but I don’t see what it has to do with the argument at hand, other than as an attempted kick to my penis and testicles by you while we are trying to have a civilized boxing match).

    Russia’s death rate is not that big of a problem. Life expectancy in the USSR has never been near Western levels, and as I demonstrated, life expectancy has a small effect anyways. The fact that the average age of “ethnic Russians” is actually lower than in the West, actually bodes well for Russia’s potential demographic future, not worse. If you have x number of people (a fixed number), and you want a higher birth rate, it is best if most of those people are still fertile. Anyways, the sorts of people that higher life expectancy adds to a population are infertile, old, and usually dependent of others (“a drain on society” from the perspective of the ruling class). If old people weren’t dieing by themselves in Russia, Putin would probably be sending out people to kill them. 🙂

    Anyways, I hope we can keep it civil in the future. For some reason, you have been very hostile towards me in the past and I have never responded to your provocations and abuse in anything but the most civil of tone (a policy which I do not intend to change, no matter what).

    Cheers. 🙂

    P.S. If you feel I have not addressed one of your points properly, please point out which one, and I will see what I can do (assuming I still have time). Anyways, the reason I actually stopped by here was to expand on the mathematical model. Let’s see if I still have time for that, although I have some other matters to take care of first.

  • dearieme

    “It is around five years lower than it was 40 years ago”. How can anyone know?

  • cryptononcommie

    Anyways, back to the fun stuff:

    P(t) = integral of G(t) from lower bound of t-x to upper bound of t

    If, G(t) = a*(b/2)^(t/g) then

    As such, x (the life expectancy) appears only in the limits of the integral, and not in the exponential function which is being integrated. The most important terms of G(t) are b (the birth rate) and g (the age at which people have children), with a (size of generation 0) playing a relatively small role for large values of t (compared to b or g).

    The loss of P(t) caused by a change in x from x1 to x2 can be expressed as:
    abs[P(t,x2)-P(t,x1)]=abs[integral of G(t) from t-x2 to t-x1]

    As G(t) is an exponential function, for values of b > 2, G(t) >> G(t-x) for sufficiently large values of x. If b = 2 (2 in our model, ~2.1 in real life), G(t) becomes a linear function, and abs[P(t,x2)-P(t,x1)]=a*abs[x2-x1]/g

    I did the above in my head (and my math isn’t what it used to be), so if you find any mistakes feel free to point them out. I may add some more if I have some time. Anyways, feel free to play with P(t) and various values for b,g,x and see how changing each affects P(t) in Excel or another spreadsheet program.

    P.S. In the above math post I said “geometric series” in an instance where I should have said “geometric sequence” or deleted a whole bunch of other words and said “geometric series.”

  • James, I have no idea why you feel the need to be so angry and insulting.

    Off your high horse, squire – I was responding in kind. Remember this?

    something that you Western imbeciles with poor math skills can’t seem to come to terms with

    Or this?

    Anyone who believes “the one child policy” myth is unbelievably gullible.

    Perhaps you have some idea now.

    I was short on time

    For someone who is short on time, you write very expansively. I think a more likely explanation is that your omissions are not actually omissions at all – it’s simply you shifting your goalposts when your opponent pins you on an issue.

    Could it be that the people in the cities are more likely to become more Westernized…

    No, it’s because children are very important sources of labour in the relatively undeveloped agrarian communities of China. The Central Government knew this when it decided to regulate reproduction. Yet, China’s leaders believed they were facing an overpopulation crisis, so the parenting of “less necessary” city-dwelling children was regulated highly – rural family planning was and is much less strict. This non-uniform, national programme of family planning became known as the One Child Policy.

    Spare me the “it’s simply easier to enforce in cities” line

    I recommend you size your opponent up more thoroughly before attempting to put words in his mouth.

    The poor peasants, on the other hand, are far more likely to gobble up CCP propaganda

    Have you been to China? Perhaps spoken to these peasants who you seem to think are so incredibly gullible? You don’t think they’re cynical about their government in a very familiar way? You say

    The CCP is smarter than you give them credit for

    I say that, in my experience, the “peasants” and PLA soldiers are smarter than you give them credit for.

    This is a fact. In the worst case scenario, China’s population will shrink to approximately 1.1 billion

    References, please, for these facts of yours.

    The imbalance of boys to girls (whatever number that might be, I’m sceptical of official estimates)

    What basis or specific expertise do you have to be sceptical?

    providing more eager recruits for the PLA.

    “I can’t get a girlfriend – may as well join the army!” Your assertion is risible. Must I go into detail?

    The existence of the imbalance is also very poor proof of the “one child policy” (I’m not sure why you are trying to use it as such).

    I would have thought it so obvious as not to require explanation. If there is significant cultural custom that values sons over daughters, and if the state regulates the number of children each couple can produce, then significant numbers of people will expend effort to ensure the one or few offspring they’re allowed is/are male. This causes gender imbalances, which cause deep social problems. Even the central government recognises this – why else would Chinese doctors be forbidden to disclose the gender of a foetus, as well as perform ultrasounds to determine sex?

    trying to use this imbalance as proof for the enforcement of the “one child policy” is not a good idea.

    So you think one size fits all, that a set of circumstances in one country could not possibly create a similar outcome to that in a country enduring wholly different circumstances? At any rate…

    The fact that this (overblown) imbalance also occurs in other countries

    Which countries? And to what extent?

    As for my own poor reading comprehension, which you have done little to properly demonstrate

    If you have read my last post, all I can say is that you disprove the latter part of your quote thanks to the former. And I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about the other languages you claim to be proficient in – we’re communicating in English, and that’s all that matters in the here and now.

    I have no idea why Westerners are so concerned with Russia’s problem

    Simple. The population in most Western nations is not going to fall any time soon, due to their immigration intake (this can, depending on the cultural makeup of said intake, cause its own problems. However, that’s another argument). Russia, on the other hand, is going to experience very rapid depopulation because it is not a particularly attractive destination for immigrants (although I believe it does attract guest workers from its basketcase neighbours), and because its death rate is so high. That’s why Westerners are so concerned with Russia’s problem. There is quite an elementary distinction between the European and Russian demographic experiences.

    Life expectancy in the USSR has never been near Western levels

    Yes, but life expectancy is falling in Russia. This is quite unique outside of Africa. You don’t think this is a problem?

    For some reason, you have been very hostile towards me in the past and I have never responded to your provocations

    And here I was thinking I was responding to your provocations! Never mind. Let me just say that I like the way you punch below the belt

    something that you Western imbeciles with poor math skills

    and then righteously defer to Queensbury’s rules

    other than as an attempted kick to my penis and testicles by you while we are trying to have a civilized boxing match

    It’s a very quaint tactic, if just a tad disingenuous. Good day to you!

  • Jacob

    Suppose Russia is indeed depopulating. Why is that a probelm ?

    Once the “greatness” of a nation was measured by the number of conscripts in it’s army (cannon fodder). That’s no longer the case. And besides – I’m not worried at all at the prospect of Russia ceasing to be a “great” nation, and I care little about “nations” in general.

  • Russia is potentially a very attractive destination for one category of possible immigrants: ethnic Russians living in the Islamic countries of Central Asia which were formerly part of the USSR. These countries are becoming increasingly hostile to their Russian populations (which total, I think, at least ten million), and those Russians who decide to flee are unlikely to be welcome in large numbers in any country other than Russia itself. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of them eventually emigrate to Russia; this would more than offset the population decline for at least a decade, and since they are ethnically Russian they would also help offset the problem of growing Muslim populations in Russia.

    James: The point of my references to the unpredictability of the past is that over periods of decades, history and demography are likely to be strongly influenced by factors which are impossible to anticipate, so much so that extrapolating fifty years ahead isn’t useful. For example, for all we know, twenty years from now Russia’s economy and social attitudes might be different in ways which would lead to a substantial increase in the birth rate. I have no particular reason for thinking that specific thing will happen; the point is, we can’t know, any more than the demographic changes if the late 20th century could have been extrapolated from conditions in 1950. So it’s impossible to make meaningful predictions that far ahead based on the trends we see today. For the nearer term, of course, I see nothing to disagree with in your observations on the demographic issue specifically. I’m more optimistic about Russia’s future vis-a-vis China than most Americans are — but then, if I read your article correctly, so are you.

  • Rosalind

    And here was I thinking, naively, that the world needs fewer people in any case. I can see why on one level it may be thought that, for example, “Russia’s birthrate is dangerously low’. Nineteenth century nationalistic politics still rules, (indeed why just nineteenth century, but it seems to me that that is when such aggessive thinking really solidified). Would that every country had a low birth rate and sensible thinking about how to survive what may be appalling global catastrophes.
    Not in a position to comment about the rest of Russia’s problems.

  • There have been a few uncharitable references to christian morals in comments that seem to be quite ignorant of what christian morals actually are. In terms of a demographic discussion, the Bible is quite pro-natal and not too fond of all this sex-selection stuff or other forms of infanticide/abortion.

    There was, over time, quite a bit of tapdancing to shoehorn in contraception in several christian variants. I can certainly see a tightening of the prohibitions, a banning of abortion and denial of contraception in an Orthodox country like Russia. It wouldn’t take much work at all.

  • Nick M

    Millie Woods mentioned something.

    Housing availability.

    The Housing stock of urban Russia is overwhelmingly rather small flats.

    I am sure that is a factor and something that won’t change for a very long time.

    TM Lutas, are you actually saying that not allowing a woman to control her own fertility is a good thing?

  • Nick M

    is not a good thing

    Doubleplus D’oh!

  • The Wobbly Guy

    China was between a rock and a hard place. Even with modern agricultural techniques, which consume a great deal of energy in the form of imported petroleum(the amount used would only increase), China is already having difficulty feeding and supplying its entire people with enough food. Without imposing a one-child limit, or 1.73, or whatever, just allowing the population to grow unchecked would have been a disaster if not properly handled. And there are very few ways to handle such a population explosion carefully.

    At the beginning, it was also Mao’s fault for encouraging people to have more children. More hands make less work for each, he said. Then when it exploded and they realised it was getting out of control, they went to the other extreme.

    Looking at India, I just don’t believe anything good will come of not having any form of population control imposed. It’s all well to say that more people means more brainpower, labour, and consumers to drive an economy, but it’s all too easy for the whole thing to fall apart if the indian state doesn’t shape up. And then we have a demographical disaster waiting to happen.

    And finally, it boils down to energy, or again, as they say, it’s all about the oil. The US can clothe and feed 300-400 million people in relative comfort by consuming about 25% of the world’s oil supply.

    What about 2.5 billion people?

    We’d better hope the oil supply increases fast enough to keep up, and world overall reserves to continue expanding at easily exploitable sites.

    Otherwise, it’s not just Russia. We’re all fucked.

  • Wobbly, your example of Mao’s Mess shows why governments have NO BUSINESS encouraging or restricting or controlling fertility and population. I would think that a Samizdatista would understand that. Being permitted to have x number of children (or any at all) by a government…is heinous.

    Lutas: the Orthodox aren’t really strong at moral theology, they go more for mysticism. They caved on artificial contraception a long time ago and won’t campaign against it. Abortion is well entrenched in Soviet then Russian society, it’s not going anywhere either.

    However, there is a religious awakening going on in Russia, which bodes well for rising birth rates. When people have hope, they have children. As long as the kind of freedom, law and order, and economic opportunity are secured in place soon so that the people’s spiritual optimism can be met with optimism about their prospects in life.

    Gender imbalance doesn’t necessarily lead to big armies. These guys don’t have anything to fight FOR. It is just as easy to project rampant homosexuality and/or a booming mail order bride market from poorer countries or the enslavement of some of the few available women as comfort women for unmatched men or a strong market for prostitution.

    Re EU cuddliness with China as Anti-Americanism. Wha??? China is our major business buddy. Its largest export market is WalMart. We’re outsourcing manufacturing there, and not just the cheap stuff any more. I ordered an Apple iPod online from Apple’s website…personal custom engraving…and it was shipped directly from Shanghai, FedEx Worldwide in less than a week. No American distributor middlemen. Globalization.

  • Saying that Russia’s population decline should be stemmed by banning abortion and birth control is basically saying that women should be forced to give birth to children which, given their choice, they would prefer not to have. This would obviously lead to consequences worse than the population decline itself (see the tragic mess left in Romania by the Ceausescu regime’s use of this very policy). It would also be a clear sign that Russia had turned its back on freedom and modernity and retreated into an authoritarian system in which the will of the state is supreme over that of the individual.

  • Kentuckyliz — unfortunately international trade carries very little weight in the world of international geostrategic rivalry. The world economy in 1914 was more “globalized” than it is now, but this had no effect on the decisions that led to World War I. Whether or not China someday attacks Taiwan and thus precipitates a war with the US is a question which will be influenced by a number of factors, but trade with the US is unlikely to be one of them. Much more important will be the balance of military power and what China thinks it can get away with. Those forces in the EU which want to export advanced militarily-useful technology to China are threatening the vital interests of the United States, and their rhetoric makes it fairly clear that this is their conscious intention.

    If Russia is undergoing a significant revival of interest in Christianity (a proposition I find dubious), then this is more likely a product of despair at the way things are going in the real world than anything else. Hope will be inspired when the standard of living rises and political and personal freedom increase. These things are determined by government policy, not religion. Russia’s cultural and educational fundamentals are better than those of most countries, but it is not moving in the right direction yet. Time will tell.

  • Nick M


    Are you joining TM Lutas in the anti-contraception camp?

    Er… I must be missing something here.

    Because this is nuts, un-libertarian and unspeakably backward.


    The Russian economy is doing quite well. Obviously the whole country is going every which way. They have an emerging middle-class though who have a European standard of living and proper jobs and aren’t mafia. There has been an obvious boost to the orthodox church due to the lack of the commies, due to the public piety of the very popular Putin and because it is a fixed point in a rapidly changing country. But, it’s working from a very small base. Russia is one of the most atheistical countries on the planet and I’m saying that as a Brit.

  • Cliff

    The real tragedy of Russia is how little it has changed over the years. There is a wondrous travelogue/commentary written by a French Marquis, de Custine, written back in 1839, that remains a fine explanation for this poor country. Stalinism was not some dynamic replacement for Czarism, it was merely a renaming. The lack of any kind of real system of law other than the personal, the punishment of initiative, etc., all undermine this country on a daily basis. It has not changed sufficiently to succeed. I’m with Steyn, I fear the future for Russia is not good. But their past sucked for most too.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I just thought I would mention that James Waterton’s demolition of the rather supercilious Crypto was simply wonderful.

  • Why, thankyou, Mr Pearce. And may I compliment you on your measured choice of words – “supercilious” is bang-on.

  • What absolute bilge. When I go outside the door I trip over pushchairs and toddlers and as for the money – there are building projects everywhere. I see them through two beady eyes every day. The standard of living has greatly advanced and is reflected in clothing, lifestyles and in the number of my clients – I have to say no.

  • “”China is going to have to do something with the 50 million surplus young men created by the One Child Policy”

    World of Warcraft

  • What absolute bilge. When I go outside the door I trip over pushchairs and toddlers and as for the money – there are building projects everywhere

    here is not what this seems. russia IS fucked and you clients are for sure kleptocratia in moskva who have money and fuck their prostitutes but everywere else is just shit and vodka.

  • James, population decrease in Russia for 2006 is estimated at 0.37%.

  • Two points:

    One, Chinese will not immigrate to Russia for the same reasons Americans don’t emigrate to Mexico.

    Two, there is ONE population is Russia that is growing: Muslims.

  • Louis

    Yes, muslims population is increase in Russia because there is three points:

    One: The muslims dont drink alcohol because drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited in muslim teaching.

    Two: Abortion is strictly prohibited in muslim teaching.

    Three: Every muslims family seems have more child then others community in Russia.

    If Russians can follow their example I think Russia’s population will grow to 200 – 400 millions next 40 years. Believe me..

  • Neal

    Just to note a couple things here:

    The Orthodox Church never accepted the use of contraceptives, and where that idea came from, I don’t know. Opposition to contraceptives, along with abortion and other issues, is becoming a signification subject that the Russian Orthodox hierarchy is speaking out against (Bp. Hilarion, for example).

    It was only last year that there was a big conrtoversy over a Russian pharmicutical chain that decided to stop selling contraceptives.

    Still, the chances that Russia will ban birth control and abortion in the near future, barring the complete slip back into authoritarianism, are pretty slim, and the chances that they’d be able to enforce it are even slimmer.

    From what I hear, Russians who are active in the Church are also having 3+ children, and that the main divide is not Christian/Muslim but people of faith/aithiests and secularists.

    Another note is that the Muslim provences in Russia are also experiencing sub-replacement level fertility, just that they don’t drink themselves to death and are experiencing growth through immigration and the lag effect, a la France.

  • rus

    There is something called cloniung today. Russia might reclone half its population in the future. With modern technology birthrates arent as fatal a threat as many think.

  • adamson

    fuck the jews shit these jude shit parasites are responsables
    for wars for chaos let is burn them in aushwitz.