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April 2023, Volume 29, Number 2

Global: Population, Debt

The world’s population of eight billion is expected to peak at 10 billion in the 2070s and then decline as fertility falls to the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman. The world’s population more than tripled between 1950 and 2020, from 2.5 billion to more over 7.5 billion, and today many countries including China have declining populations. Average life expectancy rose from 51 in 1960 to 73 in 2020.

Africa, the continent where the population is growing fastest, is less democratic and safe in the 2020s than it was a decade earlier, the result of 23 attempted and successful coups between 2012 and 2022. Governments in sub-Saharan Africa have weak institutions that often lack effective checks and balances, and populations that are poor and unable to assert individual rights. Covid strengthened authoritarian governments by allowing them to postpone elections and impose restrictions on independent media.

The world’s oldest person, a 118 year-old French nun, died in January 2023, leaving two 115 year-old women as the oldest people alive.

Debt. China is the largest government creditor to developing countries, accounting for half of their debt. Many of the 150 countries that took Chinese loans cannot repay their loans, including Sri Lanka and Zambia, which is increasing pressure on China to accept less repayment. The US decries Chinese debt-trap diplomacy, as when China encourages countries to take out loans that they cannot repay.

Global economic projections expect growth to slow due to slow recovery from covid, disruptions associated with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and worries about banks. Developing economies grew at a six percent annual rate between 2000 and 2010, but their growth rate could fall to four percent a year in the 2020s.

World Cup. Qatar spent $220 billion before the November-December 2022 World Cup on highways, a metro system, a new airport, eight new stadiums, and high-rises that were built with the help of millions of migrant workers from low-wage neighboring countries. The Qatar government changed its labor laws to increase protections for migrant workers, most from South Asian countries who earn $300 to $400 a month in Qatar.

Up to 6,500 migrants died working in Qatar between 2010 and 2022. Criticism of the treatment of migrants frustrated Qatar, which hoped that hosting the World Cup would transform Qatar and foreigners’ views of Qatar.

Investigations after the World Cup found that Qatar paid EU parliamentarians to praise the country and slowed a potential ILO investigation of migrants in Qatar by lobbying and donating $25 million in 2016 to the ILO. In response, critics allege that politicians and the ILO refrained from criticizing Qatar’s migrant worker policies before the World Cup.

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