Monday, June 13, 2005

Russia's demographic implosion

As an old Cold Warrior, I still have a knee jerk respect for the power of the Russians. For the 21st Century though, the facts are clear that they are a fallen power. A new "weak man of Europe." Sad to watch, and an important lesson for all.

The rapidly aging Russian population is not only shrinking, but is not fit for any major economic or military efforts. Some 60 percent of Russians are elderly, children, or disabled. Out of 20 million males of working age, one million are in prison, a million in the armed forces (including paramilitaries), five million are unemployed (or unemployable due to poor education, health or attitude), four million are chronic alcoholics, and a million are drug addicts. Thus there is something of a labor shortage, with plenty of jobs for women and immigrants. The birth rate is below replacement level, and a declining population means more immigrants just to keep things going. Improving medical care, and health habits (especially treating alcoholism and drug use) is a government priority, in order to raise the life span of Russian males. All of this makes the idea of a smaller, all volunteer, military more attractive. Too many of the current troops are drunks, addicted to drugs or just unreliable. Volunteers must be paid much more, but their discipline is much higher. Russian officers are very impressed with what the British, Japanese and Americans have done with all-volunteer armed forces and want to emulate them.
Do the math on that real fast. How many "regular Ivans" are there to support a family and be a productive member of society?
Working age = 20 million
Prison = 1 million
Military = 1 million
Unemployed = 5 million
Cronic Alcoholics = 4 million
Drug Addicts = 1 million

Regular Ivans = 8 million
That is just dad. What are the kids doing? Well lets see what the BBC says.
Some 700,000 children are orphaned or homeless, and 4m use drugs, he added. ... the condition of Russian children and teenagers is comparable with that after the bloody civil war of the 1920s or World War II, when much of the country lay in ruins.
America's best newspaper, IBD, had a good editorial on the coming economic consequences as Putin goes after what little economic freedom there is, and folds in some more demographic nightmares.
Ho bad is it? Since communism fell in 1992, Russia has lost 3% of its population, according to demographer Nicholas Eberstadt. That comes to 5 million people - unprecedented decline that the U.N. estimates will continue well into this century.
The fear of the 10-ft tall Russian soldier is a far, faded memory. This is not going unnoticecd by our friends the Chinese. They are a rising power that needs land and resources. More that that, it has old scores to settle. I don't think they have let the 1858 - the Russian-Chinese Treaty signed in Aigun slip their mind. Do you? Sorry Kim Iskyan at Slate, I don't think that Russia is going to sell it to China.

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