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July 2023, Volume 29, Number 3

Global: WDR, Population

The World Bank in April 2023 released a report outlining steps to “maximize the development impacts of cross-border movements on both destination and origin countries and on migrants and refugees themselves.” The report opens with an excerpt from a Parsi legend in which residents offer migrants a vessel of milk to show the area was full and cannot support more people. The migrants respond by adding sugar to the milk to show that newcomers can enrich local residents.

The report focused on the 184 million non-citizen residents of host countries, not the total 280 million foreign-born residents; 100 million migrants in host countries are naturalized citizens.

Many of the 38-members of the OECD are opening more doors to migrant workers, including Germany and Japan. The 700 million projected increase in the working-age population over the next two decades in sub-Saharan Africa exceeds the projected total working age population of North America and Europe in 2050 of 680 million.

Net migration to OECD countries was five million in 2022, including two million Ukrainians. South Korea raised the quota on EPS low-skilled migrants to 110,000 for 2023, and Japan is admitting more lower-skill migrant workers.

Population. Is demography destiny? Historically, larger populations meant more soldiers and thus more capability to conquer smaller neighbors. Rising agricultural productivity and the Industrial Revolution allowed fewer farmers to feed more people and transferred most of a country’s workers first to industry and later to services. Residents of richer countries have higher educational levels and longer life expectancies.

China’s economic takeoff in the 1980s is usually attributed to market-friendly policies and the demographic dividend that doubled the number of residents who are 15 to 64 between 1975 and 2010; this dividend yielded workers to staff factories that produced goods to export. China had a one-child policy between 1979 and 2015 that reduced fertility to perhaps 1.5 children per woman, well below the 2.1 fertility rate needed to maintain a population.

China’s youthful population is shrinking and the elderly population is growing, which could push the median age in China to 50 by 2050, up from 25 in 1990. Russia also has a shrinking and aging population as well as high levels of education but low life expectancies.

American demographic exceptionalism arises from higher-than-average fertility and immigration, putting the US population of 335 million in 2023 on track to surpass 380 million by 2040. The US has a sixth of the world’s college graduates and the most patent applications and scientific publications.

Populations are shrinking in the EU and Japan, which have well-educated and highly skilled workforces. Some analysts link ever-smaller cohorts of young men to lower levels of military might, while others believe that new technologies will make soldiers carrying arms less important to project power. Those who believe that demography is destiny urge the US to strengthen alliances with countries whose youthful populations are increasing, including India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Economy. The world economy is expected to expand by less than two percent in 2023, limiting the growth in per capita incomes. One reason for slower growth is de-globalization, as with many firms reducing their investments in China and reshoring or nearshoring production in higher-cost areas to protect their supply chains.

Many governments are also reducing economic freedom, often summarized as market-determined prices, limited government and few regulations, and adherence to the rule of law. Simultaneously, many governments have embraced deficit spending to cope with recessions and covid, contributing to rising inflation that reduced savings and investment.

During the 1990s, many opinion leaders embraced the Washington consensus of free-trade and market-led policies that would result in democracies and peace. However, the 2020s are marked by reshoring to improve supply-chain resilience and a government-subsidized transition to clean energy. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump slowed the march toward globalization, and Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine demonstrated that economic integration does not guarantee peace.

Globalization increased economic output, but also inequality and environmental damage. Markets do not always allocate capital productively or efficiently, and can aggravate rather than resolve socioeconomic problems. China benefited from globalization while becoming more autocratic, and many developing countries that incurred debt for good and bad projects are unable to repay. Markets allocate resources and also create power, as when Russia cut off the supply of natural gas to Western Europe or the US used the dollar-dominated financial system to sanction Russia.

Africa. Africa’s population is projected to increase from 1.4 billion in 2022 to 2.5 billion in 2050 due to high fertility in many of the 54 African countries. A third of the world’s 134 million births in 2022 were in Africa, putting Africa on track to have a larger prime-age working population larger than China and India combined in 2050.

Sudan, a country of 45 million at the intersection of the Arab and African worlds, was wracked by conflict in spring 2022 as two generals competed for power. Egypt and Russia supported one general, while Libya and the UAE supported the other. Gulf countries own farm land in Sudan that is irrigated by Nile River water to grow food that is exported. Russia wants to develop a port on the Red Sea to access the gold and rare earth minerals of Central Africa.

The US provides more food aid to Ethiopia than any other country, but suspended food aid in June 2023 after it was discovered that the Ethiopian government was stealing the food meant for the poor and selling it in local markets or export it to other countries.

The WHO declared the Covid pandemic over in May 2023. About seven million people died of or with covid globally, including 1.1 million in the US.

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