September 12, 2005


Demographics and Iran's imperial design (Spengler, 9/13/05, Asia Times)

Aging populations will cause severe discomfort in the United States and extreme pain in Japan and Europe by mid-century. But the same trends will devastate the frail economies of the Islamic world, and likely plunge many countries into social chaos.

By 2050, elderly dependents will comprise nearly a third of the population of some Muslim nations, notably Iran - converging on America's dependency ratio at mid-century. But it is one thing to face such a problem with America's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $40,000, and quite another to face it with Iran's per capita GDP of $7,000 - especially given that Iran will stop exporting oil before the population crisis hits.

The industrial nations face the prospective failure of their pension systems. But what will happen to countries that have no pension system, where traditional society assumes the care of the aged and infirm? In these cases it is traditional society that will break down, horribly and irretrievably so. [...]

The rising elderly dependent ratio, that is, the proportion of pensioners in the general population, has given rise to a genre of apocalyptic literature in the West: governments will raise taxes, debase the currency, cut pensions and flail about hopelessly as the cost rises of supporting the rising number of aged. In the US, pensioners now are 18% of the population, but will become 33% by 2050, according to the United Nations' medium forecast. In other words, a full additional 15% of the population will require support from the remaining population.

Shifting a full 15% of the population from the ranks of the working to the ranks of the retired will place an uncomfortable burden on American taxpayers, to be sure. But the shift in the case of Muslim countries is much worse. Between 2005 and 2050, the shift from workers to pensioners will comprise 21% of Iranians, 19% of Turks and Indonesians, and 20% of Algerians. That is almost as bad as the German predicament, where the proportion of dependent elderly will rise from 28% in 2005 to 50% in 2050.

Each employed German worker will have to support a pensioner in 2050.

Spengler here, having convincingly demonstrated why Islamicism can not succeed, is needlessly alarmist. Places like Iran and China have to reform and become more like us to have any hope of thriving or else will collapse inwards on themselves. Their populations, if not their leaderships, seem eager for the former even if not fully cognizant of the latter. Thus the greatest threat is to the regimes, not to us.

China's Rising Tide of Protest Sweeping Up Party Officials: Village Chiefs Share Anger Over Pollution (Edward Cody, September 12, 2005, Washington Post)

XIACHAOSHUI, China -- The first thing villagers noticed was the mud. Silt gradually thickened the waters of the Chaoshui River, they recalled, and before long fouled the rice paddies that provide them a meager but dependable living here in the rugged hills of central China.

By the beginning of this year, the fish had disappeared and the once-pristine water turned black. Women could no longer do the family laundry along the banks. Then, as the weather warmed this spring, the villagers said, children started coming down with skin rashes after taking a dip.

The reason their river was going bad, the villagers were told, was that scores of mines containing an industrial metal known as molybdenum had started operating in the hills upstream, sending waste down the river. Repeatedly, the villagers complained to county authorities, demanding that the mines be shut down or brought under control. But with mineral prices shooting up, the lure of profits was too much to resist. Thousands of small-scale miners -- some with permits, others sneaking in to work at night -- kept raking the mountainsides for ore and flushing what they did not need into the Chaoshui.

In May, the enraged villagers gave up on the government and decided to organize a raid on the mines. Over several frenzied hours, the wiry villagers used farm tools and their bare hands to destroy more than 200 mining sites, defying a local policeman who tried to rein in their fury.

What was remarkable about the raid was that the village Communist Party secretary and elected village chief declined to intervene, revealing a crack in the iron discipline traditionally enforced by government security organs and the party apparatus.

In the nearby village of Guideng, just three weeks earlier, another mob tore down mining facilities, in this case a pollution-spewing refinery for another metal, vanadium. They also reported passive complicity on the part of the Communist Party secretary and elected leader. And now a group of irate village leaders in this remote region have gone a step further, moving from passive complicity to active support of the peasant cause.

In a rare act of open defiance, the village leaders have joined forces against the central government in an unauthorized organization. They have threatened to resign en masse if authorities fail to take swift action. Unless something is done soon, the leaders said in a protest letter to Premier Wen Jiabao, more peasant violence will follow.

"If the central government cannot solve the problem, we will wait for a little while, and if they still have not solved the problem, we will destroy more of the factories," declared Hua Ruiqi, 55, elected leader of Aimen village.

The two eruptions of peasant violence in the hills near here offer a glimpse of a much larger wave of popular unrest. Thousands of protests break out every year in China's cities and villages, even though such demonstrations are prohibited. The protests have become a major concern for President Hu Jintao's government, which is anxious to prevent them from spreading and undermining stability and, ultimately, the Communist Party's hold on power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 12, 2005 12:00 AM

"...likely plunge many countries into social chaos."

What is that supposed to mean? That Iran will be overrun with rampaging old people? The chaotic countries of the world all have young populations, not old ones.

Posted by: Brandon at September 12, 2005 8:58 AM

If the Chinese peasants close down the mines, and destroy the polluting factories there, who will make our cheap crap?

Posted by: AllenS at September 12, 2005 9:24 AM


Posted by: oj at September 12, 2005 9:31 AM

Apparently it isn't just the secular Europeans who are failing to breed, it's also the devout Muslims. Perhaps there is some other cause for declining birth rates then the lack of religious faith.

Posted by: Anon at September 12, 2005 9:36 AM

Anon, check this article in the Jerusalem Post about Muslim inbreeding.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 9:59 AM

Modernization lowers birthrates--you just don't need as many kids. But Islam, like Christianity (see America) and Judaism (see the Orthodox) can provide the basis for Islam to sustain population growth in the long term, which the secular states have been incapable of.

Apparently you didn't read your own article:

Shifting a full 15% of the population from the ranks of the working to the ranks of the retired will place an uncomfortable burden on American taxpayers, to be sure. But the shift in the case of Muslim countries is much worse. Between 2005 and 2050, the shift from workers to pensioners will comprise 21% of Iranians, 19% of Turks and Indonesians, and 20% of Algerians. That is almost as bad as the German predicament, where the proportion of dependent elderly will rise from 28% in 2005 to 50% in 2050.

Any society that is one step behind the Germans demographically cannot be sustained in the long term.

But then I'm dealing with a person who trims and deletes posts (which contain arguments that are inaccurate or nonresponsive) in a deceitful and cowardly fashion. If you like I can repost those comments on WWII Soviet and German demographics. Perhaps you'll be man enough to actually try to address them.

Posted by: Anon at September 12, 2005 10:51 AM

Erp, I'm very familiar with the Arabic practice of first cousin marriages. The NY Times had an article on the subject in September 2003. It's now archived and requiores paid access but here are the money quotes:

"...Her reaction was typical in a country where nearly half of marriages are between first or second cousins, a statistic that is one of the more important and least understood differences between Iraq and America. The extraordinarily strong family bonds complicate virtually everything Americans are trying to do here, from finding Saddam Hussein to changing women's status to creating a liberal democracy.

"Americans just don't understand what a different world Iraq is because of these highly unusual cousin marriages," said Robin Fox of Rutgers University, the author of "Kinship and Marriage," a widely used anthropology textbook. "Liberal democracy is based on the Western idea of autonomous individuals committed to a public good, but that's not how members of these tight and bounded kin groups see the world. Their world is divided into two groups: kin and strangers."

... Cousin marriage was once the norm throughout the world, but it became taboo in Europe after a long campaign by the Roman Catholic Church. Theologians like St. Augustine and St. Thomas argued that the practice promoted family loyalties at the expense of universal love and social harmony. Eliminating it was seen as a way to reduce clan warfare and promote loyalty to larger social institutions - like the church. The practice became rare in the West, especially after evidence emerged of genetic risks to offspring, but it has persisted in some places, notably the Middle East, which is exceptional because of both the high prevalence and the restrictive form it takes. In other societies, a woman typically weds a cousin outside her social group, like a maternal cousin living in a clan led by a different patriarch. But in Iraq the ideal is for the woman to remain within the clan by marrying the son of her father's brother, as Iqbal did.

The families resulting from these marriages have made nation-building a frustrating process in the Middle East, as King Faisal and T. E. Lawrence both complained after efforts to unite Arab tribes. "The tribes were convinced that they had made a free and Arab Government, and that each of them was It," Lawrence wrote in "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" in 1926. "They were independent and would enjoy themselves a conviction and resolution which might have led to anarchy, if they had not made more stringent the family tie, and the bonds of kin-responsibility. But this entailed a negation of central power...."

Posted by: Anon at September 12, 2005 10:56 AM

Anon. I did read the article and thought it was relevant to your question: "... Perhaps there is some other cause for declining birth rates then (sic) the lack of religious faith."

Perhaps inbreeding isn't the only reason for declining birth rates, but it must be factored in somewhere.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 11:17 AM

Erp, first cousin marriages have been the norm for most of Islamic society since the start of Islamic civilization. If first cousin marriages had a negative impact on birth rates, Islam would have never achieved a high birth rate in the first place.

Posted by: Anon at September 12, 2005 11:29 AM

It's not the 1st marriage, it's #s 2, 3, and 4.

Posted by: Sandy P at September 12, 2005 12:04 PM

In the case of Iran only, looking at the U.S. Census Bureau's International Data Base, we see that Iran had a boom in births between 1975 - 1995.
If the USCBIDB is correct in its forecast, then the Iranian "Boomers" will form a significant bulge in Iranian demographics throughout their lives, much like the American Boomers have done - but even more so.
The USCBIDB is also predicting that Iran will not have an "echo boom", as the U.S. did, nor robust immigration. The latter seems quite reasonable, but IMO it's far too soon to be certain of the former.

However, if we accept their predictions, and compare graphs for the U.S. and Iran in 2050, we see that American demographic breakdowns form fairly even age cohorts, with the graph resembling a Doric column.
In 2050 Iran, the graph resembles a Corinthian column with an ornate capital - top-heavy.

The most interesting prediction, however, is that for 2025 Iran.
At that time, the projection is that those aged 30 - 50 will comprise roughly a third of the population, with another third being aged 0 - 29.

So, between 2015 and 2050, the bulk of the population will be in their prime working (and voting) ages, with that being overwhelmingly true in 2015, and barely true in 2050.

If, IF, productive employment can be created for all of those potential workers, there will be enormous wealth created, enough so that the Iranian Boomers MIGHT be able to live in relative comfort during their endlife, 2035 - 2070.

If Orrin is correct, and the Middle Eastern masses thirst for reform, (a concept about which I am less sanguine than he), then Iran should be an industrializing, Western-aligned nation by 2020.
If so, and if they adopt all of our future (and past) productivity-enhancing gadgets, systems, and attitudes, then 2050 won't be more than a headache for them.

Also, by then they'll have the examples of what happened to the post-WWII Boomers in North America, Europe, and Japan to guide them about what, and what NOT, to do.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 12:09 PM


The secular society has already achieved a state of low fertility. The religious society is following the same demographic path as the first and will soon be in the same demographic position.

You are correct in describing the trends, but your conclusion about what the endpoint of the religious society's birthrate will be is entirely unsupported by statistics about who is currently having children in America.
Not surprisingly, those who self-identify as being religious have much larger average family sizes.
See, for instance, the Mormons.
In Utah, families with five, six, seven children are not considered unusual.

Both have or are experiencing rapid drops in fertility. Therefore, the lack of religious faith cannot be the root cause of declines in birth rates.

No, but what's important is each community's RESPONSE to those pressures.
The religious community LIKES children, religious people think that having children is important, and perhaps most importantly, most religious people are optimistic enough about the future to bring kids into a cruel world - they have faith, if you will.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 12:30 PM


Yes, and they're likely to track ours so long as they can do as we have and keep Islam a dominant force in their society even as they modernize.

Posted by: oj at September 12, 2005 1:06 PM

Michael, you make excellent points. You are quite correct,there is no way to extrapolate current trends and know with 100% certainty where Islamic birth rates will end up. But as far as I'm concerned, that is the way to bet.

Furthermore, we have at least one example of an Islamic country whose birth rate has bottomed out in European fashion: Tunisia has a lower total fertility rate (TFR) than does France. While France's Muslim community certainly adds to the French total, they remain a realtively small part of the population (less than 10% - which is an estimate since the French census does not record religious affiliation). However, with the reduction of Muslim birth rates in North Africa and the Middle East, there will be much less pressure to immigrate to Europe. As a result, the Muslim tide in Europe has probably already peaked and begun to recede. A future Europe will have about the same percentage of Muslims as Egypt has of Christian Copts.

Posted by: Anon at September 12, 2005 1:07 PM


Yes, it's quite possible that European secular welfarism could get Mulsims to decline to roughly the same fertility rate as the natives. Statist dependency is a powerful atomizing force.

Posted by: oj at September 12, 2005 1:23 PM


As for Islamic Iranians' future fertility, the U.S. Census Bureau agrees with you.

However, as Orrin points out, Iranian fertility might end up more like the U.S. than like Europe, in which case the USB's predictions would be wrong.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 1:29 PM

The Jpost article deals more with birth defects than with fertility, but of course they impact on each other.

When I was reading all the interesting strings on Evolution, Darwin, Natural Selection, Intelligent Design etc. I wondered about inbreeding and incest among Muslims and whether males were selected for their blind adherence to their religious leaders and unthinking violence and aggression and the women selected for extreme passivity and docility.

In the 1,400 years since Mohammed got the message from Allah, Islam has changed practically not all, so all those generations of selecting for the same characteristics must have had some affect on their behavior.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 4:45 PM

"must have had some affect on their behavior"

yeah, they like to blow themselves up.

Posted by: AllenS at September 12, 2005 6:56 PM