Monday, January 10, 2005

Communism: The Gift that just won't stop taking

The demographic trends throughout the industrialized world are longstanding and undeniable. Wherever modernization has allowed people to purchase, rather than create, their sustenance, plummeting birth rates have followed.

This is true across all societies and religious groups. Even the Mormons, who make unbridled procreation a plank of their theology, have seen their fertility rate drop from roughly 5.5 children per woman to about 2.6 today.

However, despite the fertility rate ranging from slightly to well below replacement throughout the West, natural population size will remain reasonably stable over the next 20-40 years. A post WWII surge in births, combined with a significant increase in average life-span over the last 50 years, means that, for the medium term, populations will grow older, but not drastically shrink.

Excluding for the moment any notion of causes to this problem, how great the problem is, or any potential solution, the long term population trends are fundamentally dependent upon just one thing. How many children women choose to have.

Not so with Russia, The Sick Man of Europe.

Russia looks to be in a three way vise, squeezed between female reluctance, female sterility, and the only example of declining life span the world has ever known that hasn't been accompanied by plague or war.

Here are a few bullets to outline the problem:

-- In the last 13 years, the Russian population has declined by 3%, from 148.7 to 143.8 million.

-- It is only the return of expatriates, a pool by now largely empty, that has stopped this being worse. "Tabulated deaths have outnumbered births by 900,000 or more in Russia in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002, by nearly 900,000 in 2003, and by over 420,000 in the first half of 2004. In all, between the eve of 1992 and the summer of 2004 the Russian Federation evidently recorded 10 million more burials than births."

-- Russia's total fertility rate (average total live births/woman), hovering just over 2 births/woman throught the late 1980s is now at 1.17.

-- Predictions of Russian population range from -560,000 to -840,000 people per year between now and 2025. Below are some reasons to think this range optimistic.

Okay. That is one squeeze, one that could, in theory, rapidly change as the shockwaves from the collapse of the Communist utopia subside. With less turmoil and better material prospects, women could quickly return to more bountiful birth rates.

Maybe not. Probably not.

All women, where able, choose to limit births to fewer than they could physically attain. In the West, various contraceptive means are the rule, with abortion being a method of last resort. Most women in the West have never had an abortion; very few more than one. And, particularly over the last 30 years, almost all have been under medically advanced conditions.

Not so in Russia. The Worker's Paradise was such a failure that abortion was the only alternative available, given the dearth of far cheaper and safer alternatives. Instead, Russian women, on average, have two abortions for every live birth.

Given the noteworthy standards of the Communist and post-Communist health care system, the reliance on abortions has led to a female infertility rate somewhere between two and four times the 7% rate in the US.

The final clamp in this three-way vise is the unprecedented peacetime decline in life expectancy--nearly five years for Russian males. Cardio-vascular disease has skyrocketed, as have all the consequences from the peculiarly Russian affinity for consuming oceans of vodka.

As a result, Russia has lower male life expectancy than regions such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Just a little perspective

Russia is a vast country, spanning 11 time zones, with a total land area more than twice that of the continantal US.

And half the population, with that population destined to decrease somewhere between significantly and precipitously.

In other words, large parts of Russia are destined to be virtually devoid of humans. Someone call Paul Ehrlichs office, stat.

This is the part of the essay where the answer to the Why question is supposed to appear.

Some commentators emphasize the self-centeredness of secularism as the cause. Others note broader, long term, and widespread economic influences. Still others look to variations within the overall trend and find correlations with tax and childcare policy.

But all those discussions take place within societies that have no barriers to the pendulum swinging the other way.

Russia is different, and Communism is the reason. I spent a brief period in the Soviet Union, and can confidently state from first hand experience that it is the most pervasively awful place I have ever been. The place is permeated with a miasma of crushing mediocrity that must, ultimately, grind down Russians in a way that would be alien even to the poorest parts of Africa.

Certainly Communists and their fellow travelers have much to answer here.

Do secularists?


Blogger Brit said...

I've often wondered whether the fundamental problem with Russia is that it's just too damn big, and too damn cold, to function as a country.

I found this article on the subject, which is worth a read.

PS. the Daily Duck must be amassing quite a quality archive by now. Have you considered introducing some sidebar links to list the best posts by topic? Easy to do - just make 'index' posts as per usual with links to the articles, and then link to these index posts from the sidebar.

January 10, 2005 8:48 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Yes, I've considered those enhancements, but haven't had the tim ein the past few weeks. This weekend I should have time to tinker with the site.

Communism is obviously the major culprit for the demoralization of Russia over the past 90 years, but the religious will argue that Communism is an outgrowth of secularism. Only bad things happen once a society turns its back on God, the argument goes. The problem for the apologist of secularism is to tease apart the two phenomenon. Certainly Christians had to face that problem, of separating the faith from the abuses of power by tyrannical governments that claimed sovereignty under the Christian God. They did so via the secularization of state authority.

Secularism is a much abused and ill-defined word. American Christians will apply it to themselves to differentiate American democracy from Islamic theocracy, but will bemoan it when describing the European experience with socialism, fascism and communism in the 20th century. We are in need of precise definitions.

January 14, 2005 11:33 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Religionists pick on an appallingly narrow distinction in tarring secularists with Communism and Nazism. All the organized religions share a well known set of characterstics. Communism and Nazism share with organized religion all but one: belief in a supernatural being. And even that distinction is one practically without difference. Communism and Nazism both rely on cults of personality that move the object of worship to nearly that of a supreme being.

What distinguishes religions from secular materialism is that the former are baroque/monarchic belief systems, and the latter is spartan/meritocratic.

I'd blabber more, but I really have to get to bed.

January 18, 2005 6:56 PM  
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October 31, 2005 3:42 PM  

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