Friday, March 23, 2012

The Youth Bulge

A few days ago a reader of this blog drew my attention to an interview with German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn. Link here.

The long and detailed interview dates from 2007. It provides us with an overview of ideas that Heinsohn wrote about several years previously.

It’s not exactly a new idea, but it’s new to me. Perhaps it will be new to some of you. At the least, I am grateful to the reader who sent it along.

Heinsohn is a big picture thinker. He is promoting a grand idea, an explanation for many of the world’s current troubles.

Regardless of whether you  believe that his idea has as much explanatory force as he does, it is definitely compelling,  especially for its policy implications.

Heinsohn theorizes about demography. The subject might concern population replacement, that is, whether a community is producing a sufficient number of new members to replace those who are retiring or dying off.

If a society is not producing enough replacement members, it is engaging in what Heinsohn calls “demographic capitulation.”

If some culture produce too few new members, others produce too many. For Heinsohn that situation should be called a “youth bulge,” by which he means an overproduction of young men. I assume that the term “bulge” is supposed to evoke pictures of young men.

More specifically, “youth bulge” occurs when a culture produces more young men than it can absorb into the labor force. These lost young men, suffering from anomie, have no possibility of making a life for themselves in society. They have no prospects, no future, no hope, no way to establish themselves as marriageable.

Thus, they turn to violence, to terrorism, to destructive behaviors that destroy the world that other, more fortunate men have built.

Here Lars Hedegaard’s summarizes Heinsohn’s idea:

Heinsohn is not concerned with the absolute size of populations, but rather with the share of teenagers and young men. If this share becomes too big compared to the total population, we are facing a youth bulge. The problem starts when families begin to produce three, four or more sons. This will cause the sons to fight over access to the positions in society that give power and prestige. Then you will have a lot of boys and young men running around filled with aggression and uncontrollable hormones. And then we shall experience mass killings, until a sufficient number of young men have been eradicated to match society's ability to provide positions for the survivors.

According to Heinsohn, 80 per cent of world history is about young men in nations with a surplus of sons, creating trouble. This trouble may take many forms — a increase in domestic crime, attempts at coups d'état, revolutions, riots and civil wars. Occasionally, the young commit genocide to secure for themselves the positions that belonged to those they killed. Finally, there is war to conquer new territory, killing the enemy population and replacing it with one's own.

More importantly, Heinsohn challenges the received Western wisdom that says that the disenfranchised anomic youth of the world will become pacified if they have enough to eat.

To Heinsohn it’s about social position, status and standing, about being marriageable, about commanding dignity and respect. It's not about food.

What is producing the youth bulge? Heinsohn answers that the culprit is the welfare system. Paying women to have children by assuming responsibility for feeding them encourages women to have more children that the society can absorb into the workforce.

Providing food is not the same thing as providing a job. A well-fed jobless young man is likely to be angrier.

It’s no surprise to learn that the greatest youth bulge has occurred among Muslims.

Hegegaard summarizes:

In recent years the West has been facing a gigantic youth bulge in large parts of the Muslim world. This bulge is created by a Muslim population explosion. Over the course of just five generations (1900-2000) the population in the Muslim countries has grown from 150 million to 1 200 million — an increase of 800 per cent. As a comparison the population of China has grown from 400 million to 1 200 million (300 per cent). The population of India has risen from 250 million to 1000 million (400 per cent).

Heinsohn analyzed the data by analyzing the ratio of 40-44 year old men and 0-4 year old children.

The higher the number of young children compared to the number of 40 to 44 year old men the greater the future tendency toward violence.

For example, in Gaza the ratio is 100/464—meaning that there are 464 children from 0-4 for every 100 40-44 year old men. With time this can only produce more violence.

As he sees it this means that Israeli-Palestinian peace process cannot succeed. Even if Hamas signs a peace treaty, he explains:  “Their young men will tear such agreements to pieces."

Heinsohn offers some other examples:

Apart from Gaza this is [the] situation in among others the three Muslim countries Afghanistan (100/403), Iraq (100/351) and Somalia (100/364). It is no coincidence that they are marked by widespread and extreme acts of violence and will be for several more years into the future. This also holds true for Gaza and the Palestinians in general.

Heinsohn does not believe in the more draconian means of population control.

He does suggest that Europeans and Americans stop subsidizing the production of children in these places. When you pay people to have children and when you support their children, women have an incentive to produce more and more children.

Naïve Europeans and Americans assume that a well-fed child will be less likely to turn to terror. Heinsohn argues that well-fed children who cannot gain status within their cultures will resent those who have consigned them to anomie and ignominy.

Rather than introduce Chinese-style population control measures, the West should announce, Heinsohn says, that it will no longer subsidize the youth bulge. Put Gaza on notice that after a specified time food aid will cease. If that happens parents will learn to plan their families as a function of what they can afford.

I think it fair to mention that the money that is being handed out in welfare payments is money that is not being invested in productive industry, in the kind of economic growth that might help absorb the youth bulge.

In Western Europe Muslim immigrants are receiving generous welfare benefits for having more and more children. At the same time those who are being called on to support this profligacy, the young people of France and Germany, are not reproducing at the replacement rate and are, increasingly, looking to emigrate.

Heinsohn suggests that young people in countries like Germany and France want to move to places where their high level of educational attainment makes them attractive employees.

But they are especially likely to move to countries that do not pay women to have children, that have ended welfare as we know it, and that base immigration policy on what a potential immigrant can contribute.

Heinsohn sees these policies being implemented in Canada, Australia, and America.

Continental Europeans seem obsessed with occupying the moral high ground in the culture wars, largely by welcoming anyone that their bureaucrats have identified as a member of an oppressed group. Then they overtax the productive class in order to provide generous and caring welfare benefits to the people it has just saved from persecution.

The result, according to Heinsohn: Europe is becoming a continent of losers.


David Foster said...

"More specifically, “youth bulge” occurs when a culture produces more young men than it can absorb into the labor force."

Important that the number/percent of young men a society can absorb into the labor force is not a constant, but depends on the structure of the society, In the US in the 19th century, for example, availability of free land meant a lot of people could gain income, autonomy, and reasonable status as farmers. In the first half of the 20th century, the expansion of mass-production industry meant absorbability of a lot of low and medium-skilled people for reasonably-well-paid, if often boring, jobs.

Not clear that many of the Middle Eastern countries will follow or be able to follow either of these paths, Turkey and probably Iran excepted.

Anonymous said...

Also, let's look at China and India where a combined 60 million girls have been aborted in the last 20 years due to the wonders of sex selection tech. So now there are 60 million young men growing up who will find it very hard to get a wife. War to come? I wouldn't be surprised.

Note too how South Asians in the U.S. have also been practicing selective abortion, even though many are quite wealthy. Luckily, we won't have to deal with the kinds of numbers that China and India will, but I still find it practically and morally reprehensible

JP said...

Spengler's (Goldman's) point on this is that population growth rates are collapsing everywhere, including the general arab world.

Except for Africa, perhaps. I think they are still expanding rapidly, but they also die rapidly.

"Population decline is the elephant in the world's living room. As a matter of arithmetic, we know that the social life of most developed countries will break down within two generations. Two out of three Italians and three of four Japanese will be elderly dependents by 2050. [1] If present fertility rates hold, the number of Germans will fall by 98% over the next two centuries. No pension and health care system can support such an inverted population pyramid. Nor is the problem limited to the industrial nations. Fertility is falling at even faster rates - indeed, at rates never before registered anywhere - in the Muslim world."