June 11, 2004
Can Third World Fertility Statistics Be Trusted?
First of all, why are Third World fertility statistics a topic for FuturePundit? Well, at the risk of boring you by stating and then answering an obvious question: demographics is destiny. Gene Expression blogger Razib just got back to Oregon from visiting with his extended family in Bangladesh and along with his many other interesting comments on his trip (with more trip reports in the pipeline) he reports that an economist relative claims the Bangladeshi government is exaggerating the decline in fertility of women in Bangladesh.
Oh, about Bangladesh's drop in total fertility in the past 10 years, my economist relative told me that a lot of it was a paper drop, as functionaries cooked the books. Some change has occured, but it is inflated.
How widespread is the practice of cooking the books on human reproduction in less developed countries? If this is a widespread phenomenon then assorted projections of future human population trends are substantially in error and the world's population is going to grow much larger than currently forecast. That is a great tragedy. An increase in population of a country like Bangladesh is a net harm to both Bangladesh and the world at large.
This reminds me of a South African correspondent who tells me that we can't trust the crime statistics and migration statistics coming out of South Africa. The government takes years longer to produce the statistics than it did in past years and there is no reason for the delay since the government can churn through the input datasets to produce the statistics quite rapidly. This correspondent says that the government cooks the crime rate statistics to make South Africa look better than it is and that it does not even report black-on-white crime any more even though that is the category that is rising most rapidly (adjusted of course for the fact that the white population is dropping and the extent of that drop is hidden as well).
This all leads to a more general question: what important demographic trends are being covered up or exaggerated by which governments? Also, what kinds of sampling methods could social scientist employ to spot check and look for indications of systematic deception?
Since there is such a huge quantity of statistical data produced by a large assortment of sources we need some rules to inform our suspicions. For instance, one can expect governments to usually have an incentive to underreport crime statistics (though occasionally desires for larger budgets probably cause some law enforcement agencies to exaggerate threats). Also, in a place like South Africa where the crime rates have been rising the populace is going to tend to stop reporting many types of crime when they see that reporting does no good. So we have to also look for signs that entire populaces may be facing changing incentives with regard to whether to report pertinent information.
Razib also says that if reports from his own extended familiy are indicative (and he comes from an unusually highly educated family) many of the most skilled Bangladeshis are living abroad. One thing I wonder about that is whether there are nations whose outward migration patterns of skilled workers have gotten large enough to lower average national IQ. That seems plausible for Middle Eastern nations that have little or no oil wealth. Ditto for sub-Saharan African nations suffering from brain drain of their most skilled.
Razib also reports that employees of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are living high on the hog by Bangladeshi standards. NGOs are funded by international agencies and by aid programs of wealthier nations.
Many of the people who work at NGOs or "own" them drive posh cars. 10% are really making out from foreign aid, while 90% are unaffected. Of course, if the money was given directly to the government, 1% would benefit. My economist uncle is working on "microdevelopment." Don't really know what it is, but sounds like getting illiterates to behave in a less stupid and exploitable fashion. I'm skeptical.
Are these NGOs providing a net benefit to Bangladesh or are they just creating a privileged class?
I read Jim Roger's book "Adventure Capitalist" about his around the world trip in his funky mercedes. He says in his book that the NGOs are nothing but scams. Much of the "foreign aid" that goes to places like Sub-saharan Africa and South Asia is also a scam.
Bangledesh is a very corrupt country , it shouldn't surprise anyone that NGO's will also suffer from the same corruption, or the government for that matter. It's just how things work in developing countries, and to try and clean out the sewer, as it were, you have to get mud on your hands.
OTOH if you believe in trickle-down economics then it's not quite such a bad thing, since the money does get into the country (although certainly alot of it leaves too).
"An increase in population of a country like Bangladesh is a net harm to both Bangladesh and the world at large."
That seems a curiously bloodless turn of phrase. Surely you didn't mean that in quite the way it came out. The country of Bangladesh has no interests independent of its people, nor does the world independent of the world's people. Each person of its population surely has an interest in being alive. In a human web of commerce and interaction, we benefit each other more than we detract from each other. Help me to understand how I can interpret your statement as other than a gimlet-eyed "I've got mine, let them be reduced in number" manner that begrudges them the air they breathe and the space they consume.
Perhaps you think that more Bangladeshi people are a net harm because you take Factory's perspective that they are intrinsically corrupt, either because "the country" has a magical miasma of corruption seeping from the rocks, or because underdeveloped countries in general haven't yet been cleaned out by corrupt NGOs. (Funny how these socialist thugs are now trying to justify their depredations on the "sewer people" with the phrase "trickly-down economics.") I can't imagine that any Bangladeshi wouldn't seethe at the insult in these words.
Surely I did mean it the way it came out.
There are the people who already exist. But I'm talking about the creation of new people. "reduced in number"? Where'd I advocate killing them? I must have missed that.
As for corruption: If some countries are not "intrinsically" corrupt then what exactly causes them to be corrupt? The fluttering of butterfly wings and chaos theory?
Aid programs do not lift up poor countries by much. The vast bulk of lifting of countries that have lifted out of poverty has come from private sector growth. I think that large families make that less likely to happen for a variety of reasons. Among the reasons is that more people dilute the existing capital stock. Also, parents have less resources to invest per child.
The bigger the world's population gets the more people there will be competing for resources and generating pollution if and when the various nations do industrialize. We see this now with China's rising demand for oil. Their several years running yearly increase of million barrel additional demand is translating into rising oil prices and more pollution. Their even more rapidly increasing consumption of coal is increasing the amount of pollution on the US West Coast.
I highly recommend the books "Adventure Capitalist" and "Investment Biker" by Jim Rogers. Also, Jim Roger's website (www.jimrogers.com) is a good place to look. He believes that "foreign aid" has actually held much of the developing world back because of the political strings that come attached with it as well as how it is used to help maintain kleptocrats in power in many of these countries. The aid is often used as a means to inhibit or prevent meaningful reform that would allow these countries to actually develop. He also believes (as I do as well) that the World Bank and IMF should be abolished and the third world debt should be cancelled.
Any books written by Hernando De Soto are also worth reading. De Soto is the libertarian economist from Peru.
I read De Soto's first book (The Other Path? The Third Path? something like that) when it came out and have read reviews of his second book. He makes some valid arguments. But I think he assigns more to his preferred cause of poverty than it objectively deserves. He's got his hammer. The whole world looks like a nail.
It's not a far cry from the stance that "there are too many" to the stance that "there should be fewer." It is the loudly stated goal of the pseudo-environmentalist brigade you have not been unsympathetic to on this blog. I also must have missed the talk of killing, having made no mention of it myself. The reduction-in-numbers function is usually wrapped in reduce-their-fertility talk.
Countries are corrupt because their political systems don't adequately protect property rights, i.e, their justice systems are not impartial, i.e., they are partial to a political class or faction. I recommend, well, anything written by Steven Pinker, but apropos this discussion, Chapter 17, "Violence," of his book The Blank Slate for a very nice discussion from the perspective of what he calls "the sciences of human nature," or of "mind, brain, genes, and evolution." Buchanan's Nobel-prize-winning work on rent-seeking in political endeavors also is accessible and makes no mention of butterfly wings.
I agree with you wholeheartedly that private sector bootstrapping is the source of all but a few countries' wealth (assuming a republican form of government with carefully constrained public institutions). However, I see the greatest resource as the people themselves, dwarfing any natural resources thay happen to find themselves on. Also, I don't understand your concept of parents' investment. If a family invests in more children and the payoff is a productive adult, then the more children the more the payoff.
This also applies to China or wherever. The more people, the more resources, since people are the most productive resource. So oil becomes more expensive as a billion people rise from abject poverty. This raises the viability of other energy sources. Good for them. Welcome out of the cold, sere planes of poverty into the shelter of capitalist abundance.
I've lived on the West Coast all of my life. Pollution has never been lower, despite a burgeoning population.
So you oppose my stating that population growth in Bangladesh is bad. You think my stating that is objectionable for some reason that you believe that I can not figure out. It is not that you fear forced killing since you are not accusing me of being in favor of killing people. You fear something else. What exactly?
Pseudo-environmentalists? I think that people who want to live under conditions of less pollution and less crowding are real environmentalists.
Countries are corrupt because their political systems don't adequately protect property rights, i.e, their justice systems are not impartial, i.e., they are partial to a political class or faction.
A lot of corruption is done for extended families. Combine large families with high levels of consanguineous marriage and the result is corruption as people put family ahead of the larger polity. I've made many posts on this subject. For a good starting point going back to previous posts go to John Tierney On Cousin Marriage As Reform Obstacle In Iraq. I gotta take a small measure of credit for publicising the importance of this phenomenon. A couple of years ago I sent Steve Sailer articles by Stanley Kurtz about consanguineous marriage which helped to prompt Steve to write an article on the subject. Steven Pinker saw and read Steve Sailer's article and passed it along to NY Times writer John Tierney (who Pinker apparently knows) in Baghdad. That led to Tierney's NY Times piece. Go click back thru and read all the posts and articles off that link and you will see why I think it is an incredibly important topic.
My problem with de Soto is that he doesn't explain the culture of corruption. It doesn't just spring out of nowhere. It is coming from the larger culture that forms a society. Consanguinity is a major cause. There are others. Stating that people need property rights does nothing to solve the problem of corruption. An elaborate system of property rights can be defeated by corrupt judges, police, and bureaucrats. But de Soto's mistake is a typical mistake of economists who ignore both culture and biology in trying to explain why we are not already living in a libertarian free market paradise.
I've read Pinker's politically correct attempt to get Lefties to accept the biological basis of human nature. I even attended a Liberty Fund conference on the book. I think the book is valuable because by denying racial differences and sounding politically correct he managed to write a book that introduce a number of other ideas to a left-liberal audience that is resistant to accepting genetic causes of human behavior. I've even told lefties I know to read The Blank Slate. But Pinker dodges some big questions and he is quite wrong to argue that the biological basis of human nature does not undermine existing left-liberal ideology. It does that and it also undermines some of the foundations of libertarianism, conservatism, and religious beliefs. Still, if he has to strike that pose in order to get some science into the heads of people who otherwise would resist the science then he is performing a valuable service. So bravo Pinker.
Pollution is much higher in the San Joaquin valley than it used to be. Look at a national list of the top 20 or so metropolitan areas ranked by pollution. Fresno and Bakersfield are on it if memory serves. Ditto for the "Inland Empire". They didn't use to be. LA has gotten better but much of the rest of California has gotten worse. LA would be much better still if the immigration wave hadn't hit.
"But Pinker dodges some big questions and he is quite wrong to argue that the biological basis of human nature does not undermine existing left-liberal ideology. It does that and it also undermines some of the foundations of libertarianism, conservatism, and religious beliefs."
Could you be more decriptive or provide a link to an essay that discusses these issues regarding Pinker's book more in depth?
I can't imagine that any Bangladeshi wouldn't seethe at the insult in these words.
doubt it, my father regularly tells his bangladeshi relatives that they are the laziest and most corrupt people on earth. he's been doing it everyday since he's been in bangladesh. the people are well aware of the problems of their country, but in a way, they are at a "stable equilibrium" of corruption, insofar as a situation where some people are not corrupt (like members of my family) are actually just screwing themselves over since they don't get much public praise in a society where everyone else is corrupt. corruption will only disappear as the economic situation improves....
BTW, Note that one of the effects of smaller families would be a reduction in consanguineous marriages. This, in turn, would lead to a reduction in corruption and the development of the institutions of a civil society. If there are not enough relatives to give favors to and get favors from in interlocking systems of obligation then consanguineous marriages will not be such a big cause of corruption.
I am somewhat bewildered myself by reactions I receive to (what I perceive as) my run-of-the-mill pro-human stance. I am a second- or third-generation secularist, a big fan of the Enlightenment and civilization, and certainly no moralist. Yet the reactions are usually similar to yours: normative judgments set in moralistic terms: "population growth ... is bad." Cue brow-knitting and appalled sniffing.
The issue, to my mind, is not moral at all, but is simple arithmetic. It is the phrase you cite above: "demographics is destiny." Those that breed more will outnumber those that breed less. Entirely ancillary for now are intelligence, looks, height, race, culture, etc. No amount of harumphing, or excited arm-waving about consanguinuity or other sesquipedalian ramifications can overturn simple and ineluctable arithmetic destiny.
Those who want less crowding may be real environmentalists, but are not realists. Anybody who succumbs to arguments urging lower reproductive rates has reduced their darwinian fitness. The future will simply be overwhelmingly populated by people who reject those arguments in the coils of their DNA. It will be a feeling in their gut, and eventually their culture will voice it, their art, theater, music and religion will elucidate it. "Family values" will seem like a scary religion because it will be, and a fast growing one. Childless people will be ostracized as a potential danger to "decent people's" children. Majority rule will seem a much less friendly principle of governance to dwindling minorities of people just trying to mind their own business.
To answer your question, I am not feeling fear at all for the pro-population side, but instead bemusement at the thin moral shell that refutes these arguments in the gut of those who simply cannot understand this. It just doesn't matter that you don't think it would not be optimal for this to happen. Any talk of the future must include this issue of darwinian fitness. Anti-human environmentalists have their heads in the sand if their scenarios include perpetually reduced human fertility. Anti-population arguments are a self-solving problem, and thus not really a problem. People will look back at those that just couldn't muster up the desire to breed the way we look back at Dodo birds -- kind of tragic, but mostly comical.
Yes, I make normative judgements. So do you. You obviously disapproved of what I said. You did so on the basis of normative judgements. But is there something wrong with normative judgements?
You appear to favor the operation of natural selection. Am I reading you correctly? If so, why? Do you just like bowing to the inevitable forces of nature? If so, then do you also cheefully support entropy secure in the knowledge that it will win out in the end?
Is it unrealistic to try to reduce future crowding because such efforts are doomed to failure? China's One Child policy certainly has reduced present and future crowding there as compared to what the population would have been without centralized intervention. Do you admit this is the case? Do you then also argument, yes, but so what because Darwin will win in the end and eventually increase population in the long term?
If you think Darwin will win in the end then is that a reason to let him win in the short term too? Curious to hear your logic on this point.
I am well aware of many future problems that I do not have solutions to. But I support efforts to delay them. For instance, I accept that I am mortal and yet still want to delay death. Same is the case with crowding. Population may increase some day. But I'd rather delay the increases in crowding.
I am very comfortable with the entirely rational component of discussions but I have come to understand what an enormous importance normative or moral judgments have in any discussion. People are never convinced until a proposition "feels right," and that is the place ("in the gut") where arguments both originate and end. But because these countless moral judgments are so pervasive, I both don't ignore them and don't place too great an importance on any given precept. They are a feature of any conversation, neither to be ignored nor treated as holy objects, because they are amenable to persuasion and discussion.
By stating my normative judgments and framing my perception of yours, we are then ready for a logical discussion. For instance, I don't believe that it's worth much moral energy to fight darwinian selection any more than it is to resent the force of gravity or the heliocentric solar system. Given that, I do object -- normatively -- to a discussion of human population that begins with the premise that devalues the worth of human lives ("too many of them"). I am aware that this position has stirred controversy, including arguments, marches and warfare on issues ranging from the status of blacks in the US Constitution, female suffrage, and abortion. Despite the deeply-felt nature of these controversies, people and nations have been convinced of alternate points of view (and always at the normative level).
Here's what passes for my rational argument: I think talk of crowding now is overblown. A particularly risible example is the movie, The Day After Tomorrow. The population of the developed world is falling -- precipitously in countries such as Japan and Italy. The capacity of the planet to support people, meanwhile, has been rising at a rate far surpassing any increases that have occurred, even when increase rates were highest. This has been going on for so many decades, that we can measure the rate in centuries now. The darwinian scenarios I've brought up, on the other hand, will happen, if they do, over the course of generations. Our technology will have raced so far ahead by then, that current fears that we are now overpopulated will be viewed in the future the way we now look back at phrenology.
Back to my moral qualms: If the darwinian scenario is both unavoidable and completely manageable, then, in my gut, I am made very uncomfortable with the demonization of what I feel to be precious: our human lives. I understand that, e.g., Razib will feel otherwise in his gut. He happily propounds the benefits of a celibate class of solons. To my mind, that's kind of a Jim Jones meme, but to each his own. In a couple of generations, our grandchildren will probably still be arguing about it, although it may be a one-sided argument by then.
"demographics is destiny."
Demographics is important but it is not the whole story. A pithy statement is useful for summarizing a complex argument but is not a replacement for that argument.
Conversion and death are important factors that can oppose simple birthrate.
If the WoT escalates into a full-blown total war, then the high birth rate of some Muslim countries won’t matter. If a future society follows a “Chinese” pattern then flouting the law against high birthrate could lead to death.
If a “high birthrate” group loses members faster than the birthrate, that group will shrink. (That is the strategy behind “make all societies wealthy” and the birth rate will come down. Convert ‘em with wealth.) This has also been the American “melting pot” strategy. (Whether the “melting pot” strategy is working today is open for debate.)
New technology could significantly alter the effectiveness of “conversion”. Capture an enemy and use the latest mind technology to force a permanent conversion. Or enforce change on violent criminals. Or force change on those whose biological instinct is to breed, breed, breed.
Froth, I agree with much you’ve written about this issue. I believe that technology is providing new resources faster than population growth. I also believe that some sub-standard cultures are expanding only due to high birthrate. And that some “better” cultures may be declining due to low birthrate. I favor high birthrate for the most productive members of a society.
But I don’t believe in some inevitable Darwinian destiny. Social forces or technological forces could overwhelm birthrate “destiny”.
Normative judgements: They are necessary. At some point you have to choose between alternative futures based on something. Science can provide the means to create a number of possibilities. But people still have moral decisions to make.
Some secularists think that by rejecting religious belief they can escape the need for moral judgements. I do not see how this is possible. I think they are fooling themselves.
Crowding: Look, crowding has all sorts of affects. First of all, the cost of pollution doesn't scale linearly. Have a small population and you can ignore a lot of types of pollution. Bring a lot of people together in a small area then suddenly pollution matters. Bring more people together and the amount of pollution allowable per person goes down even farther and the cost inflicted per person goes up even higher since it costs more and more to reduce the remaining emissions.
But the political and economy costs of crowding to do end there. Bring a lot of people together in a small area and rules that were not necessary for rural living become necessary for suburban living. Bring them even closer together and even more rules become necessary for urban living. People interact with each other more and impinge upon each others' space more.
Also, people who feel crowded feel more stress. They are more prone to committing acts of violence. They are more miserable. Environmental factors that relax people, such as green plants, suddenly have to be consciously engineered into their environments at some cost.
Also, there really are types of resources that are finite. Oil is an example. The more people who compete for them
If the Darwinian scenario is both unavoidable and manageable? If the human race is going to explode into tens and hundreds of billions of people then how could that be manageable?
As for what people will be arguing about a couple of generations from now: Well, we are alive now. I care about the kind of environment I live in now, the kind I will live in 5, 10, 20 years from now. There are things we can do to make those years better. If bigger problems are going to follow later that is no reason to accept the on-rush of those problems and let those problems happen even sooner than they have to.
To take an extreme example: I expect some day a terrorist group is going to blow up a city with a nuclear bomb. If we can delay that day by 20 years then I think we should. I think we are each going to die some day. I am all for delaying that too.
Try: "IQ demographics is destiny". At this point there is no "conversion" option. But our ability to convert people in productive ways has been diluted by the Left. We can't fix that problem. The Lefties are adamant and they dominate schools and universities.
Also, since we don't have a cure for aging the aging population is a form of demographic destiny.
There are some big demographic changes happening that will cause negative changes to our society. I think we ought to reduce the extent of those changes by, for instance, adopting a much stricter immigration policy.
“Try: "IQ demographics is destiny". At this point there is no "conversion" option.
You’ve recommended choline. Exercise also helps. Research on rats indicates that nutrition in the womb has lasting and significant affects. Better knowledge should lead to healthier, more intelligent people.
As we understand the connection between the genome and I.Q., we may be able to intervene nutritionally. (E.g., inability to process phenylalinine causing retardation.) Phenotype comes from the genotype interacting with the environment. As we understand the genotype better we should be able to improve the environment (nutrition, drugs, exercise, education) to optimize the phenotype (effective I.Q.).
The information environment is shaping young minds. The Internet, cell phones, and video games are training minds that will be unlike those of two generations ago. Young minds at all I.Q. levels are awash in information.
These are all “conversions” that are happening today. The Flynn Effect might indicate that these forces are stronger than genetic de-evolution.
(Perhaps your concern is that the US may fall behind countries such as Japan, S. Korea, or China? The cultural factors might affect countries equally while the US is held back by higher birthrate among the least intelligent and dilution by massive illegal immigration.)
“But our ability to convert people in productive ways has been diluted by the Left. We can't fix that problem. The Lefties are adamant and they dominate schools and universities.”
I agree the Multi-culturalism and the PC mentality are a significant problem now. I believe this may be changing. Young kids have access to Internet information so teachers can’t indoctrinate as easily as in the past. Mainstream America is more aware of what teachers have been doing. The Internet helps publicize and organize resistance against the worst abuses. I believe the pendulum has begun to swing back the other direction.
The WoT has already opened the eyes of many Lefties. (I was never a Lefty but 911 has definitely shifted my views.)
I also believe the Haplotype Map will establish genetic associations between SNP’s and I.Q. This should cause a re-evaluation as to the source of racial success differences. It will be harder to blame racial discrimination for outcome differences.
“There are some big demographic changes happening that will cause negative changes to our society. I think we ought to reduce the extent of those changes by, for instance, adopting a much stricter immigration policy.”
I agree. We mainly differ in the steps we advocate. My plan is to focus on the low-hanging fruit first. Deport criminals. Secure our borders. Track non-citizens. I believe there is strong support for these actions. The blogs could play an important role by publicizing what is not being done and explaining what could be done.
Better nutrition will help a lot more in the Third World than in the United States. Though in the US free vitamins for poor pregnant women would pay for themselves many times over in higher productivity of their children. But better nutrition in the US is going to do little to close the gap between groups in average IQ in the US.
Young minds are awash with information about Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. They are not better educated as a consequence of all the electronic advances.
Yeah, vitamins and proper health care for pregnant women is an obvious step.
“But better nutrition in the US is going to do little to close the gap between groups in average IQ in the US.”
Agreed. Since reading Jensen’s work in the ’70, I’ve believed group differences were at least half genetic. I don’t see an easy answer here. The idea that some people are just born more intelligent and the country would be stronger with more of them is a hard sell in a liberal democracy. I tend to skirt the issue by looking for approaches that help everyone. That doesn’t make the group differences go away but might make them less significant.
“Young minds are awash with information about Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. They are not better educated as a consequence of all the electronic advances.”
I’m not so certain about this. The older generations have never been happy about what the younger generations found interesting. I’ll never understand WWII as well as my parents did. And I haven’t used a slide rule in over thirty years. I remember the debates as to whether calculators would turn the US into a country of mathematical illiterates.
Yes, there are abysmally educated inner city youths. Yes, there are surprising knowledge gaps even in our educated youth. But the modern world is very large and complicated with lots of stuff to know. I’m not sure the youth of today should be judged based on their present knowledge.
What I see are kids learning reading, writing, and math at an earlier age than I did. I see them doing their own research on the Internet. (Sure beats my fifth grade research paper based on one Time-Life Science series book and a couple of encyclopedias.) Watching them socialize at night is instructive. Two girls are gabbing together at home while flirting with two guys on cell phones, all of them looking at the same site on the Internet that has momentarily captured their interest.
Even the not so bright are playing complex video games.
In today’s world I’m not sure I know what “better educated” is. Given the information barrage, the games that stress mental competition, and the pervasiveness of the information society, I feel something is sinking in. (The young generation seems to be performing well in the army.)
Interesting debate here, Froth and RP. (Okay, sort of interesting.) My feeling is, different people have different values for their own life (and the lives of people they identify with) versus the lives of others/outsiders. I feel population growth in Bangladesh is good in at least one sense, because it means more Bangladeshis will enjoy life. I can understand Americans being against Bangladeshi population growth because they think it might negatively affect their own life (more expensive resources), even though I think that assumption may be wrong (population growth may result in cheaper imported goods because of enhanced economic growth or reduced labor costs). But I think that the statement "An increase in population of a country like Bangladesh is a net harm to both Bangladesh and the world at large" is elitist and self-righteous, not to mention probably empirically wrong.
I think history has shown that the best approach on these sorts of issues is to let countries decide their own policies.