De-Politicizing Climate Activism

Or how Greta Thunberg can create more converts.

“Nature is not a temple. It is a workshop, and a human being is the worker in it.”                               _                                                                                                         Ivan Turgenev

Item 1: The outbreak of coronavirus that threatens to create a global pandemic and the tragic sudden death of basketball star Kobe Bryant both remind us that the unexpected can happen quickly and that we humans live in an environment that can at times be ruthlessly hostile.

Nature, fate, providence, or whatever one chooses to call it, works in inscrutable ways. The virus will spread and endanger millions, if humans do not stop it. It has no will or conscience and would inexorably destroy those who are dearest to us, in a matter of days. And, before downing Bryant’s helicopter and killing him, his young daughter and seven others, fate or gravity did not pause for a millisecond to ponder the sadness that it would inflict on hundreds of millions all over the world through such a senseless death.

Modern society is generally free of deadly viruses and helicopters are generally safe to fly. But it took centuries of human progress to get there in both instances. And it will take more human progress and ingenuity to seal the cracks in our vigilance that allowed the coronavirus to emerge and spread, and the helicopter to crash .

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CDC photo by Dr. Fred Murphy.

Item 2: Last week in Davos, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin volunteered that climate activist Greta Thunberg ought to get an economics degree before preaching her message to grown-up policy makers. That is more confidence in university economics departments than most of Miss Thunberg’s critics would be willing to concede. It is true that Miss Thunberg’s message is incomplete, but that is not for lack of economic pedigree. The building blocks that are glaringly missing from her campaign are 1) a better understanding of Turgenev’s aphorism on nature and man, and 2) a trip or two to China, India or other fast developing countries.

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Fertility and Literacy in India’s States

Higher female literacy is a reliable predictor of lower fertility and improved prosperity.

In a previous article, we highlighted a clear connection in sub-Saharan Africa between a country’s total fertility rate (TFR = average number of children per woman) and its young female literacy rate. The data showed that higher literacy may set off a chain reaction that results progressively in lower infant mortality, improved health for women, and lower fertility. While literacy rises to 90%, fertility falls gradually. Above 90%, it falls precipitously.

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End of the year exams in Mahatma Gandhi Seva Ashram, Jaura, India. © Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons.

In turn, this lower fertility can, under the right conditions, open a window of opportunity for the economy to realize a demographic dividend. Read more

Future Hubs of Africa and Asia

On UN projections between 2015 and 2050, the world population will grow by nearly 2.38 billion people, from 7.35 billion to 9.73 billion. Although this 32% growth is a big increase, it marks a slowdown from the 66% growth rate recorded in the preceding 35 years (1980-2015). Total Fertility Rates (TFRs) have come down all over the world and are expected to continue falling.
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About half of the 2.38 billion increase will take place in sub-Saharan Africa and nearly 40% in Asia. India is the biggest contributor with a net addition of 394 million, followed by Nigeria (216m), Pakistan (120m), DR Congo (118m) and Ethiopia (89m). By 2050, all of these countries will feature in the top 10 populations by size, a list that will include the United States (expected to rank fourth) but not one European country. Outside of Africa and Asia ex-China, regional populations will be growing slowly (the Americas), stagnating (China, Europe), or receding (Japan, Eastern Europe). Read more

The Economics of Dependency

This article first appeared at Foreign Affairs.

How countries hit the demographic sweet spot.

Demographics are among the most important influences on a country’s overall economic performance, but compared with other contributors, such as the quality of governance or institutions, their impact is underappreciated. Demographic factors, such as the age structure of a population, can determine whether a given economy will grow or stagnate to an even greater extent than can more obvious causes such as government policy.

One of the most consequential aspects of demographics as they relate to the economy is a phenomenon known as the “demographic dividend,” which refers to the boost to economic growth that occurs when a decline in total fertility, and subsequent entry of women into the work force, increases the number of workers (and thus decreases the number of dependents) relative to the total population. The demographic dividend has contributed to some of the greatest success stories of the twentieth century, and countries’ ability to understand and capture this dividend will continue to shape their economic prospects well into the future. Continue reading at Foreign Affairs >>>

The Futility of Annual Top 10 Predictions

In every recent year, a black swan event has made top 10 lists appear quaintly naive and unimaginative. Our list is probably no better.

This time of year, top 10 predictions are all the rage. These lists can be interesting and entertaining but how useful are they really?

This question goes to the heart of forecasting. How futile or how useful is an attempt to forecast the economy, or technology, or world events for the next twelve months? There are three answers. Read more

India’s Disruptive Gamble

by Ravi Srinivasan

(Ravi discussed this post at the BreakingBank$ podcast. His segment starts at 20:10.)

Modi’s demonetization was the other November 8th global earthquake.

A thorough historical record will show that not one but two man-made events shook the world on 8 November 2016. One was of course the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency against the predictions of nearly all polls and pundits. The other was the Indian government’s shock and awe decision to withdraw from circulation all ₹500 ($7.3) and ₹1,000 ($14.6) rupee bank notes, equivalent to 85% of the country’s paper money. Although the first event dominated the headlines, the second will have a greater impact on over a billion people in India and elsewhere.

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500 rupee banknote, an endangered species since 8 November 2016.

This process known as demonetization is the latest in a series of initiatives by the Modi government to modernize Indian society and to increase financial inclusion and digitalization. Along the same lines in the past two years, other government efforts have included the ambitious and unprecedented Aadhaar national identification system started in 2012, the Aadhaar-based remittance system offered by the National Payments Corporation of India in 2013, and the Jan Dhan Yojana drive to bring financial services to lower-income segments of society. Some private players such as Paytm, Citrus Pay, Mobikwik and Freecharge have also moved in lockstep with public initiatives. Read more

The Relationship Between Fertility and National Income

We all heard that “demography is destiny”. But how many of us truly believe it? If demography was destiny, the world would look very different today. The two demographic giants China and India would be uncontested economic and military powers. The United States would be a regional power struggling to keep up. Larger European nations such as Britain, France and Germany would barely register on the economic map, while smaller ones such as Switzerland and Finland would be invisible. Nigeria and DR Congo would be African powerhouses. Brazil, Indonesia and the Philippines would be the shining stars of their continents. Read more