Monday, August 13, 2012

Europeans, the next Native Americans?

             When the first European settlers arrived in North America, did the natives have a clue what their future generations were in for?  Would they have guessed it right around the time of the American Revolution?  They were most certainly decimated by the time of the American Civil War, but even then, there were many Native Americans who still lived as they did generations before.  Some even had it better, as was the case with the last free tribes on the plains. They were at an advantage compared to their ancestors, because they had horses to help them on the hunt, as well as many manufactured tools.  It was probably not until sometime towards the end of the 19’Th century, that it sunk in to the few remaining free natives in the United States and Canada that they were finished.  They were outcompeted by a different culture.  They probably would have gone extinct eventually, if it wasn’t for an awakening of a bit of conscience on the part of many non-native people, which ended the process of extermination decades ago.  In fact, our current policies are leading to a demographic comeback, if not a cultural one, for the Native American nations.

            Extinction of a tribe, culture or nation is nothing new.  It has been happening throughout the ages, and it will continue to happen in the modern era.  The extinction is most often (but not exclusively) the result of unsustainable cultural adaptations (Read Collapse, by Jared Diamond).  The big question is who is next?

            My best candidates are the European nations and cultures, and collectively they are as clueless as many Native Americans were, mainly because it is a bit of a taboo subject.  Many people heard by now about the impending demographic challenge Europeans face.  No one however in the mainstream is willing to spell out just how imminent and serious this is.  To best illustrate the discrepancy of what official mainstream structures suggest lies in the future of these countries and people, and what the actual prevailing reality is, I will write a series, concentrating on the situation in a few countries, which are to some extent representative of the wider picture.

            For my first case study, I chose Romania, the country where I was born.  There is a lot that non-Romanians can learn by looking at the situation there, because it is in many ways a harbinger of things to come.

Romania’s Demographic history:

            As the era of communism in Eastern Europe was ending, Romania’s population was the second youngest on the continent.  A forced increase in the population through drastic measures meant to limit family planning, ranging from outlawing the sale of most forms of contraceptives, to outlawing abortion, led to a population boom starting in the late 1960’s and went on well into the late 1970’s.  It was only in the 1980’s that this boom slowed down slightly, due to many factors, including the rise of the butcher abortions, the penetration of contraceptive products on the black market, as well as the worsening economic conditions that made it impossible for people to accept having more kids.  In 1989, when the communist dictatorship of Ceausescu collapsed, there were almost 370,000 births and a population of 23.2 million people.

            A report just five years ago was predicting that Romania’s population would decline to 19.6 million by 2035[i].  Last year’s census showed however that Romania already breached that point as of 2011, since its population is only 19 million now[ii].  So, that country’s population declined by 4.2 million people, or 18% in two decades, which contradicts projections that suggest there is no reason for alarm.  Birth rates currently hover at around 200,000, so almost half of two decades ago.  If we are to consider only the non-Rroma (Gypsy) population, the birth rates have been cut by half, because there is evidence that the Rroma births have actually increased slightly from about 30,000 in 1989, to probably around 40,000 per year currently[iii].  So, that means that the non-Rroma births went from 340,000 to about 160,000. 

            The bulk of the population loss is due to immigration.  The difference between births and deaths since 1990, taken cumulatively suggest a stagnated population.  The loss resulting from this imbalance was half a million, which means that 3.7 million people (mostly young), left the country over this period.  This however changed as of the last few years, and now there is a widening gap between births and deaths.  The gap averaged about 30,000 people per year during the last decade, while this current decade, it looks set to widen to about 80-100,000 per year.  In addition to that, the trend of out-migration may slow, but is still an important factor, the effect of which is now magnified by natural population decline increasing substantially.

Chances of reversal:

            Total births do not have a chance of rebounding, because if we look at the total reproductive female population, we have a net loss of about 50,000 per year, due to more exiting this category than entering.  There are currently about 4.5 million women of reproductive age in Romania, so the loss is about 1% per year[iv].  We now have females maturing to reproductive age from the post 1990, low birth era.  There is an additional loss due to out-migration, which we cannot be sure of in terms of its magnitude, but we know that it still continues.

            If things continue along the current path, non-Rroma births can drop to somewhere around 20-40,000 per year by 2100.  That is only 10% of what it was in 1989.  It is important to understand that with such a calamitous drop in population, creating a huge disparity between young and elderly, it is hard to imagine a state surviving at all.  So in effect, we can be looking at the seemingly incredible prospect of  failed states appearing in Europe before 2050.  Romania is not the only European country in this situation.  The entire region is looking at a more or less similar trajectory.

            It is hard to imagine how this trend can be reversed at this point.  Low fertility rates are due to the poor economic environment, which is getting ever worse as the demographic balance continues to shift towards more and more dependents (pensioners).  The country’s potential labor force, currently at around nine million, is shrinking at a rate of about 100,000 per year, due to the gap between those turning 65, versus those entering the workforce.  Out-migration will probably double the yearly rate of loss.  Meanwhile, the number of pensioners will either remain steady at the current level, or even increase slightly over the coming decades.  Currently there are as many non-farm workers officially employed as there are pensioners.

The only thing that could save the situation would be a burst of growth and development, which cannot materialize in the absence of stemming the continued outflow of young people, and without major reforms that are unlikely to come on the part of government.  This economic expansion would have to be strong enough to actually start enticing a portion of the ones who already left to move back, and perhaps convince a proportion of young families that it is alright to expand their families.  With every year that passes, the situation is deteriorating.  As the situation deteriorates, the country’s political culture, as well as that of the population will deteriorate.  Reason will give way to hysteria, and the ability to understand and deal with the problem will diminish.

            So is it possible that in about ten generations we will hear people here and there say, how they are 1/8 Romanian, or some other extinct group from the region, just as is the case with the Cherokee nation for instance?  I believe this will be the case for most European nations, in the absence of a cultural and economic shift that will break the current trajectory.  In ten to twenty generations, there will be no more Romanians, Germans, Russians, Italians, or Hungarians.  There will only be people telling stories about how they are 1/8, or 1/16 this or that ethnicity.  I believe we would have been talking about maybe thirty generations for many nations, before the 2008 economic crisis.  But for reasons I will specify in next month’s article on this issue, that time frame has been shortened considerably.

Implications for the world:

            From an environmentalist’s perspective, some may be tempted to cheer this process.  High birth rates in other parts of the world are causing an increase of the world’s population equivalent to Europe’s entire population every ten years, so in effect the disappearance of the Europeans is the equivalent to gaining a decade demographically.  Many left-leaning people also think that this is a good thing, because the disappearance of the high consuming Europeans will free up resources for others.

Aside from the fact that it is a perverse thing to cheer the demise of all those cultures, there is also reason to take a step back and reconsider the negative consequences for global sustainability.

For one thing, Europe accounts for a very large percentage of the world’s food production.  Europeans are net exporters.  Social collapse may mean that they may end up becoming net importers of food.  Even in the worst case scenario imagined, Europeans will still have an above average GDP per capita for a long time to come, which means that in the event of food disruptions domestically, they will outbid many others around the world.

Europeans do consume more than many others around the world, but Europeans are also the most efficient on a per GDP basis at meeting their needs, on fewer raw materials and with a smaller overall environmental footprint.  If this culture breaks down and eventually disappears, so will a large part of the world’s drive to strive towards better efficiency, and sustainability.

In financial terms, a collapse of European society would lead to massive global financial disruptions.  As we learned from the 2008 crisis, finance can have a very negative role on global wellbeing.  A small country like Greece is keeping the entire financial world on edge, despite it not yet being a failed state, just one undergoing default.  Now imagine defaults starting in a few decades in Eastern Europe, making their way West, due to the unsustainable demographic situation.  As that happens, Mediterranean countries also start defaulting for the same reason.  The result would be that most of our pensions and invested savings around the world would vanish.  Investment capital would evaporate, paralyzing many grand expensive projects we depend on, such as multi billion dollars, deep water drilling for oil.

Since the birth of the nation state era a few centuries ago, we became accustomed to thinking of our world in a new stage.  It is a more or less static stage.  The only movement seems to be the ongoing process of moving towards ever larger administrative entities, which started at the beginning of the dawn of agriculture.  Many envisioned a coming time of utopian human unity, with no more divisions.  Unsustainable culture, leading to unsustainable development, unsustainable consumption, and unsustainable reproductive practices will probably break this almost uninterrupted trend.  We cannot know whether it will be a permanent break, or something more similar to the pause that happened in the aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire.  But more and more indicators seem to point to the fact that such a historical break is coming.  The demographic situation in Europe is a part of the puzzle.  We should not shy away from acknowledging the situation and discussing it, because the last thing we want to do is ignore it due to the censorship of political correctness. 

[iii] It is hard to get precise data on the Rroma minority, because they tend to shy away from declaring their identity.  It is important to acknowledge their demographic presence, because this is a minority well adapted to life on the fringe of society, therefore cannot be considered as viable replacement to the majority population in the absence of cultural changes.  Accounting for them as being part of the rest of the population can give a false read on the real situation.

[iv] I considered women of reproductive age to be between the age of 15 and 45.  The total number of women born between 1967, and 1997 is about 6 million, but roughly 1.5 million emigrated.


  1. The food reserves (e.g. grain reserves in 2012 are at the 1974 levels, when the population of this planet was only half of what it is now) and the agriculture capacities on this planet decreased lately due to the climate changes, and there are obvious signs that we cannot continue to grow in number, as this is clearly unsustainable. In the context, do you think that increasing the population is (or will become) a problem, with ethical consequences, or is an actual solution to an economy in crisis?! Look forward for comments/debates. Thanks. (This is also a question for "Part 2" of this article)

    1. Thanks for your comment. Global population growth is in my opinion a definite problem given the limits on resources. It should be obvious by now that it is indeed a problem given that this comming winter we are looking at potentialy the third food related uprising in just the past half decade. We had the riots of 2008, the Arab Spring of 2010/11, and this comming winter, due to the droughts in US and parts of Europe, we could be looking at another round. At the same time however, the precipitous collapse in demographics that Europe is on the brink of, can be equally dangerous. If there is to be a global population decline, it should ideally be a very gentle one.

    2. It's ironic that exactly in those regions that have less resources, the population is growing, while were there are resorses, the population is declining. Education might also play a role, in my view, as well as the acess to contraception and health care.

    3. Education, Health care, level of development, access to contraception are all cultural factors. Culture is where in my view we are comming up short as humanity. Technological and finacial sophistication has outperformed cultural development for the past hundred years now at least. There is nothing more important than having the right cultural traits in place to ensure collective wellbeing. Unfortunately, it seems that we have one extreme in the Western world, where culture has led to what seems to be a road to eventual social collapse, while in other parts of the world, suc h as in the muslim world, they are on the brink of proving that locusts are not the only species that can reproduce until they completely overwhelm their habitat. We need a cultural revolution, which is much harder to achieve than our technological triumphs.

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