Kishinev 1903.

When our family did a study-abroad stint in Paris, I failed to get my sons into the local French public schools.  As a fallback, I enrolled my older boy in a commercial language class.[1]  He soon reported that his classmates were Portuguese plasterers and Moldavian cleaning ladies.  (He spent the rest of his time panhandling).  Now Moldavia is just a squalid and impoverished country waiting to be flossed from the gap between Ukraine and Rumania.  Better than a hundred years ago, however, it was just a squalid and impoverished territory of the rotting Russian Empire of the Tsars.  In Moldavia, there was a town called Kishinev.

Kishinev became a railroad town on the southwestern edge of the Russian Empire.  It attracted businessmen and entrepreneurs and people looking for jobs.  A dozen factories sprang up, but most people shopped in street bazaars.  By 1897, almost half (46 percent) of the city’s population were Jews.  Perhaps 50,000 people.  Familiarity did not breed fraternity.

In Spring 1903, as Easter approached, rumors circulated among the Orthodox Christians of Kishinev, that Jews had engaged in the ritual murder of Christian children so that their blood could be used for making mazo for Passover.[2]  Other rumors—somewhat better grounded in reality—also circulated that government authorities had approved three days of retribution.

Kishinev’s Jews were not without preparation for this attack.  After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II (1881), 200 attacks on Jewish communities happened.

On 19-20 April 1903, mobs of Moldavian Christians ran amok in a “pogrom” (an anti-Semitic riot).  The town’s government and police did not protect the embattled subjects of the Tsar.  The mobs left behind 49 dead Jews, a great deal of property damage, and many raped women.

The Russkie ambassador to the United States claimed that oppressed peasants had merely counter-attacked against Jewish money-lenders.  That didn’t sit too well with TR.[3]  Vladimir Korolenko, a Russian writer of no great ability, but of great courage, wrote a book about the pogrom called House Number 13.[4]  Sholem Aleichem’s play, “Tevye and His Daughters,” became the basis for the musical, then movie “A Fiddler on the Roof.”  It is set in Ukraine in 1905.  Eventually, the family decides to emigrate to the United States to escape oppression.

The pogrom was traumatic, but not only in the obvious ways.  Jews began to tear at each other over the refusal of many men to fight back.[5]  Some Israeli attitudes may find their origins in Kishinev as much as in the Holocaust.[6]

In Maus: My Father Bleeds History, Art Spiegelman has his protagonist, Vladek Spiegelman, observe of pre-war Nazi Germany that “there is a real pogrom going on there.”  Before 1945, a pogrom like Kishinev offered the only terms that Jews had for understanding extreme danger.  It wasn’t enough.

[1] I took the younger boy on extended walks around Paris.  We found Jim Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise.  We saw the steam-powered tractor developed by the French revolutionary armies to pull cannon.  We ate a ton of crepes with melted sugar.  He later won the French prize at St. Andrew’s School.

[2] Steve Zipperstein, Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History (2018).

[3] See:

[4] Let us now praise famous men.

[5] Chaim Bialik, “The City of Slaughter.”

[6] I’m not trying to be snarky here, but see


More Young People.

If we look at the history of the last quarter century, we see two dominant and inter-related trends.  Radical Islam isn’t one of them.  First, the collapse of Soviet Communism inspired other followers to abandon the controlled economy for participation in the world market.  Second, information technology destroyed many old barriers.  Upheaval and opportunity resulted.   Currently, about a quarter of all the people in the world are aged 10 to 24.[1]  That is, they were born between 1992 and 2006.  The world in which they have grown up is that same world that older people have often found so disorienting.   Now young people face their own problems.

Those billions of young people are not equally distributed around the world.  They account for only 17 percent of the population in economically developed countries; for 29 percent in less-developed countries, and 32 percent in the least developed countries.  In the United States, the median age is 37; in Russia, 39; in Germany, 46.  In Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, the median age is 18.  China offers a particularly interesting case of a transition.  Faced with a swiftly rising population, China declared a one-child policy for married couples.  It worked so well that the youth base of the population narrowed to a frightening degree.  A shortage of workers to replace those who are approaching retirement loomed.  At the same time, young couples found themselves providing care for up to four aging parents, while trying to work and raise their own child.  Recently, the government ended to one-child policy.

A disproportionate share of young people lives in the countries least well able to provide them with either an adequate education or a decent standard of living.  Take the example of India.  There are more than 420 million Indians between the ages of 15 and 34.  The median age is 27.  Desperate measures to expand primary education have had mixed results.  Although almost all Indian children now attend primary school, half of fifth graders can neither read at a second grade level nor do subtraction.[2]

Then, India needs to create 12-17 million new jobs every year to absorb the population growth.  In India and in other countries in similar dire straits, young people are forced into spotty, badly-paid just to get any jobs at all.  India’s reluctance to end the carbon-burning that drives economic growth in that country is easier to understand in light of that imperative.  The here and now weighs more heavily in the balance of decision-makers than does the future.[3]

Migration from “young” countries to “aging” countries might offer a solution.  However, there are several big barriers here.  First, even in the developed countries there is a problem of youth unemployment: in the United States, almost 17 percent of people between 16 and 29 are not in school and not working; in the European Union the youth unemployment rate averages 25 percent.[4]  It will be difficult to make the case for expanded immigration of young people when a country cannot even provide work for its own young people.  Second, the poor quality of education in many developing countries means that only some people will be viable migrants.

Even so, migration from the Lands of Inopportunity to the Lands of Opportunity may be inevitable.  There are 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  The current refugee crisis in Europe shows just how difficult it can be to keep out hordes of determined people.

[1] Somini Sengupta, “The World’s Big Problem: Young People,” NYT, 6 March 2016.

[2] The wretched state of education can be glimpsed in Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (2008), and Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013).

[3] A third problem is anti-female sex selection.  There are 17 million more Indian males than females aged 10 to 24.

[4] Sengupta argues that the high European rate results from a combination of a slow economy and the absence of economically valuable skills.  The same may be true in the United States, although some economists would argue that the skills-deficit argument is false.

The owl and the pussycat.

Bounded by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Americans are obsessed by their “un-secured” Southern border, a land frontier. Other people perceive the oceans as pathways as much as obstacles. During 2014, 350,000 people took to the sea in an effort to migrate illegally.[1]

In 2014, more than 80,000 people from the “Horn of Africa” have crossed the Gulf of Aden. Often, their first land-fall is Yemen, hardly an improvement on Somalia or Ethiopia. Their more distant goals are the oil-states of the Gulf. The largest numbers of those who reached Southern Europe by sea came from Syria and—mind-bogglingly—Eritrea.

This year more than 50,000 have descended the Bay of Bengal from Bangladesh and Myanmar to Malaysia and the little chicken-leg of Thailand that runs down the Malaysian Peninsula.[2] Many of these migrants are Rohinyas (Muslims living in northwestern Myanmar). The Buddhist military government has long persecuted the Rohinyas. Over the years, many of the Rohinyas sought refuge by taking passage to Muslim Malaysia. Often, the migrants fell prey to gangs of traffickers who sold them into near-slavery. In the last few years the trafficking gangs have extended their reach into Bangladesh.

Gangs in Myanmar and, now Bangladesh, shanghai people and take them to Thailand and Malaysia. They are crammed into little fishing boats and lightered to larger ships in the Bay of Bengal. The ships bear them south to Thailand, where they are unloaded and moved to camps in the jungle. Then the gangs start to economically exploit their captives. First, the gangs extort a standard fee from the families of those they have kidnapped, just to let them go on living. If the family can pay the ransom, then the traffickers move the captives into Malaysia. Here they work for low wages on plantations, or construction jobs, or sweat-shops. News accounts don’t say what happens to those whose families cannot pay the ransom.

The human stories are both illuminating and heart-breaking.[3] Amadou Jallow was a 22 year-old Gambian college graduate with a teaching certificate and a job in a high-school. The pay was lousy compared to what rumor said he could make in Europe. One day in 2002, without telling his father, he borrowed part of the family savings from his mother as a grub-stake, mounted his bicycle, and set off for Senegal. From Senegal he hoped to catch a boat to the Canary Islands. Two years later he finally caught his boat, although it was from Guinea-Bissau.

The boat was over-loaded (131 people set out) and badly supplied with food and water (there were supplies for six days, but the voyage took eleven days). The bodies of those who died during the night were thrown over-board when dawn broke. The hell-ship finally reached the Canary Islands. The passengers spent six weeks in a detention center, then were flown to Spain. Jallow was delighted: “I thought I was going to be a millionaire.”

It hasn’t turned out the way he expected. He made about 600 euros a year as a teacher. Now he averages about 2,000 euros working in restaurants or in farm fields. This is a pittance given the much higher cost of living in Europe compared to Gambia. He sent about 4,000 euros home to his family, but stopped doing that when work became hard to get. Now he lives in a squalid camp in a forest with other African immigrants.

The Africans keep up the charade that first drew them to Europe. They feel humiliated by their own stupidity and embarrassed by having used the modest savings of their families to finance these fool’s errands. They send home photographs of themselves smiling and standing next to expensive cars as if they were the owners. They never tell anyone the truth when they call home. More and more Africans are drawn to make the difficult, often dangerous journey to Europe. Twenty-five thousand of them have reached the Italian island of Lampedusa in recent years.

[1] Somini Sengupta, “More Refugees Take to the Sea, U.N. Reports,” NYT, 11 December 2014.

[2] Syed Zain Al-Mahmood, “Traffickers Take Aim at Bangladeshis,” WSJ, 29 October 2014.

[3] Suzanne Daley, “Chasing Riches From Africa to Europe and Finding Only Squalor,” NYT, 26 May 2011.

The Struggle for More Workers.

The world’s population currently is about 7.2 billion people. For many years apocalyptic visions inspired by Thomas Malthus haunted the sleep of demographers. Then, fertility rates in many high birth-rate countries began to decline. Current estimates now project that the world’s population will “peak” at about 9 billion people.[1]

However, that consensus has just come under attack. Many countries in South Asia and Africa continue to experience rapidly rising populations. The African fertility rate, in particular, has failed to follow the downward track projected from early statistics. Some population experts now believe that the population of the world may reach a population of 12.3 billion people by 2100.[2] Moreover, their populations are rising without the economic growth to be able to provide them with a decent standard of living. Back to Malthus on steroids.

Conversely, many other countries find themselves with a birthrate below the replacement level. The working age population of Japan began to decline about 1997. There is no sign that it will start to rise again anytime soon. That means a shrinking population of workers will have to support a growing population of retirees. Enhanced productivity can off-set this problem, but—at the moment—it isn’t. Japan’s trade balance has shift from running export surpluses to import surpluses. What’s true of Japan is or soon will be true of many other countries with low birthrates and high life expectancy. Chinese couples will have to juggle running or working in sweat-shops with caring for their aging parents as well as their own children. The Italians find themselves in an even worse boat than do the Chinese.

What’s the solution to this two-headed problem? If one approaches it from a strictly economic perspective, then one solution is to foster the migration of surplus population from Africa and South Asia to population deficient countries. Brilliant! The further triumph of the equilibrium model.[3] Why haven’t we done this already? There are two big stumbling blocks: the educational differences and the cultural differences.

The Educational problem is simply stated: poor countries have poor school systems, but the developed countries need educated workers. Some migrants will need more education.

The Cultural problem is simply stated: immigrant-receiving countries will want the newcomers to adapt swiftly to established culture, rather than to adapt themselves to a foreign culture. To avoid the sort of social problems that have overtaken Britain, France, and Germany, there would have to be some flexibility on both sides.

Is it worth thinking about “Aid to Potential Immigrants” stations abroad? ICE, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Education could maintain offices in places like India, Taiwan, Israel, the Philippines, and South Africa. They could both recruit and evaluate immigrants. Travel costs could be subsidized in whole or in part.

Is it worth thinking about the possible resistance from population-surplus countries? It’s not like someone is going to up-date Emma Lazarus: “Give us your aged, your stupid, your weak of will.” Advanced economies will be trying to cherry-pick the “best and the brightest” people from societies that are struggling to raise their own standard of living. What population-surplus countries prefer to do is to get rid of their problems. That doesn’t mean that things can’t work out. Look at Mariel. Look at Australia.

[1] Tyler Cowan, “Rebalancing the Population Scales,” NYT, 9 November 2014.

[2] I’ll be long dead by then, so you deal with it.

[3] It’s a constant in human thought, like symmetry in ideals of Beauty and Justice. See:

Pop. 2050.

People from Thomas Malthus to Paul Ehrlich used to fear that population growth would outrun resources. These fears proved groundless by the end of the 20th century. Projecting from current trends, the United Nations foresees a world population of 9.3 billion by 2050, with growth slowing to stability at 11 billion by 2200. Other reliable estimates set the “carrying capacity” of the earth (its resource base) at something better than ten billion people. Many estimates hold that the earth could support 11 to 14 billion people. In short, a huge crush on resources seems unlikely to imperil human survival.

Instead, by the start of the 21st Century it was being predicted that “the most important changes in world population over the next fifty years are less likely to be in the total number of people than in their age and geographic distribution.”

For example, the anticipated overall slowing of population growth means that populations will age. In 2002 the median age of the world’s population was 26.5 years; by 2050 it will be something like 36.5 years. In the more-developed regions, long life-spans combined with a previous drop in the number of children below replacement level (2.2 children/family) will create very distinctly aged population patterns. The absolute and relative size of the working populations will shrink. Fewer working people will have to support more elderly dependent people, but fewer children. Unless there is substantial immigration from non-European areas, Europe’s 2050 population will be smaller than its 2000 population and only 57 percent will be of working age (15-65). Italy may be regarded as an extreme case: by 2050 the Italian population will shrink by 25 percent and only 3 Italians will be working for every two over 65 years. In both Russia and the former Soviet-bloc territories population is plunging as people have fewer children, many die younger than one would expect, and others emigrate.

Other areas of the world still face surging population growth: in China the birth rate is double the death rate, in India and Nigeria the birth rate is almost triple the death rate, in Pakistan the birth rate is more than triple the death rate. In general, almost all of Africa, the Arab world, and South Asia can anticipate population growth by 2050 that ranges from at least 50 to over 100 percent. Eight of ten of the fastest growing countries are Islamic-majority countries. Afghan women bear on average 6.8 children, while the population of the Gaza Strips is projected to quadruple by 2050. But it is not just Islam that reports rapid population growth: sixteen million more Indians were born than died in 2002 (20 percent of the world’s population growth); and the population of Africa is projected to increase by 150 percent between 2000 and 2050. This is in spite of the AIDS epidemic, which reduced life expectancy in Africa from 60 years (early 1990s) to 36 years (2002).

In contrast to developed Western countries (including Japan), in less-developed regions, the continuing comparatively high number of children will create distinctly youthful population patterns. The absolute and relative size of the working populations will grow. More working people will have to support more children, but not as many aged people.   (Retirement homes and elementary schools may become the key institutions in two different societies.)

More importantly, it is difficult to see how “developed” societies are going to do without a large influx of workers from “developing” countries. What school-teachers call “cultural competencies” are going to start to count more and more. “Controlling the border” will take on a different meaning.


Don Peck, “The World in Numbers: Population 2050,” Atlantic, October 2002, pp. 40-41.

Climate of Fear III

People tend to fixate on oil as a key natural resource. How much oil is there in the world? Have we passed “peak oil” or is there a lot still to be discovered? (See: “The Blood of Victory.”) They should also give some thought to water. Water was a key natural resource long before oil and it will be a key resource long after oil has ceased to be the chief fuel source. We need it for drinking and for crop irrigation at a minimum.

Of all the water on the earth, 97.5 percent is salt water. Unless one goes through a very costly desalinization process ($2.50-$16/gallon, compared to $0.50-$2.00.gallon for conventional fresh water), this water is not available for use. This leaves 2.5 percent of the world’s water as usable fresh water.

This sounds scary. In theory, there is about 1.5 billion gallons for each person currently living on earth. However, only a small portion of that water is readily available for human use.   The polar ice caps and the glaciers hold about 68 percent of this fresh water. Another 31 percent of it is not readily accessible because it is buried deep underground. Thus, 99 percent of the 2.5 percent is not available for human use (at this time).

Even so, there is a huge amount of fresh water on the earth. Readily available fresh water surface run-off averages 524,151 gallons per person. That sounds reassuring.

The 6.3 billion people now living on earth use about 54 percent of that readily available water. So, it looks like we have a comfortable margin. That is reassuring. It is estimated that world population will rise to 7.8 billion people by 2025 and that use of readily available water will increase to 70 percent of the total. That sounds scary.


That small amount is unevenly distributed, just like most other resources. The UN (God bless its pointy little head) has worked out a scale of measurement for water supply per capita.

“Water abundance”:    >19,000 cubic meters/person. Canada, Russia, the Congo basin, almost all of South America.

“Water surplus”:          3,400-18,999 cubic meters/person. United States, Mexico, France, Ireland, the Balkans, Turkey, Southeast Asia, Kazakhstan.

“Water sufficiency”:   1,700-3,399 cubic meters/person. Most of Europe, Iraq, northern Iran, Afghanistan, most of India, southern and western China, Japan.

“Water stress”:            1,000-1,699 cubic meters/person. Northern Pakistan, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Syria, Czech Republic, Poland.

“Water scarcity”:         < 1,000 cubic meters/person. North Africa, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, southern Iran, southern Pakistan, northern China, southern India.

See: Jen Joynt and Marshall Poe, “The World in Numbers: Waterworld,” Atlantic, July/August 2003, pp. 42-43.

It seems likely that water shortages will start to weigh on both domestic and international politics. The pressure will come from the bottom, from those countries already facing “water stress” and “water scarcity.” One issue will be a campaign for international sharing.   Here the experience of the American West is likely to be useful. Western states have been sharing water resources for decades. It hasn’t always been easy or painless. It’s better than starting from zero.

A second issue will be migration—first internal, then international–by “water refugees.” People will try to ignore this problem for as long as possible. They will describe it as a domestic problem in water-deficient countries. It will not stay contained, any more than climate change.