Monday, March 3, 2008

President of a Disappearing Russia

The Russians have elected Dmitri Medvedev as their new president on the friendly advice of the (sort of) outgoing Vladimir Putin. If there have been themes in the Putin presidency they would be kleptocracy, (quietly) re-establishing the KGB and restoring the greatness of Russia. Partly on account of rising oil prices and partly through diplomatic obstinacy, Putin is widely credited with returning Russia to the position of major international player. But this illusion cannot be maintain given the alarming trend of Russian demographics over the last 15 years.


After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the population of Russia went into remarkable decline. In 2000, President Putin made it a priority to reverse this trend but on it goes. First a growing economy need a growing population. A shrinking population portends economic implosion. Furthermore, a shrinking economy is symptomatic of deeper and profoundly distressing problems.

In 2000, the BBC reported that "Drug use, alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are leading reasons for the decline, said Murray Feshbach, a senior scholar at the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson Center....About 15% of Russian couples are infertile, he said. And as many as 75% of women experience serious medical problems during pregnancy." In 1999, the fertility rate was 1.17. The replacement rate simply for a stable population is 2.5.

Feshbach said that STDs are a big part of the problem. "'There's syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV/Aids, prostitution,' he said. He estimates that there are between 450,000 and 500,000 cases of syphilis in Russia, out of a population of 145 million." He also remarked that these diseases affect the health of those who are born, and thus their ability to function (he said their "quality," but we know what he means).

Life expectancy for a man in Russia is 59, and for a woman it is 72. Alcoholism continues to be a huge problem. In 1999, the United Nations Human Development Report ranked Russia 72nd of the 174 countries surveyed.

Unless they can stabilize their people morally, give them economic hope for the future, and attract immigrants, Russia is headed for the "failed state" category. China is facing similar demographic problems. They have an annual economic growth rate of about 10%, and yet their population is approaching decline. In the last decade, China has seen significant decrease in population under the age of 20. In the next 15 years, they will see a shrinking population of people under 50. China's problem has not been syphilis. Rather, they have been systematically killing off their own children. Sin has natural consequences. Perhaps our own workforce problem, manifesting itself in illegal immigration (the complaint of the right) and outsourcing (the complaint of the left) has something to do with our less systematic killing of our children since Roe v. Wade made abortion a constitutional right.

1 comment:

Ymarsakar said...

Talk about a soft life and democracy being the disease of humanity. It's amazing how much of a coincidence these declining states have with other states under a democratic, rather than say a Shariah tribal style of government.