Bo Malmberg and Evo Morales

Bo Malmberg is a demographer and he works at the Stockholm-based Institute For Future Studies. Evo Morales is the ‘flamante’ President of Bolivia. OK, this much is clear, now where’s the connection?

Well, Brad Delong says of Morales’ election, citing Pyrrhus of Epirus, Another Such Victory and We Are Lost, while the Financial Times informs us that the result of the election is likely to cause consternation in the United States.

However, rather than allowing ourselves to fall victim to too much schadenfreude, maybe we would better employ our energies trying to understand why Morales is happening, and why right now. This is where Bo Malmberg comes in handy.

Malmberg is known, among other reasons, for his four phases of the demographic transition idea. Central to the Malmberg thesis is the proposition that the demographic transition leads to age structure changes, and that these can be classified into phases, all the way from childhood to old age, with each phase having its own, defining, characteristics.

Now if we look at the basic life data of Bolivia, we will see that it is a child dominated society( Median age 21.47, fertility 3.8, life expectancy 65.5). Now Malmburg identifies four ‘stylised’ characteristics which serve to typify this stage:

1/. Child dominated societies tend to be inherently politically unstable.

2/. In child abundant economies there is a widespread presence of child labour.

3/ Child dominated societies tend to be prototypically poor.

4/. Child abundant countries have a strong dependence on the exploitation of natural resources.

Now if we look at the schema, and look at Bolivia, maybe we could see that there is some conformity to role type. Nor would we be surprised, as one Bloomberg correspondent apparently was, to find that:

At an anti-U.S. rally in Argentina in early November, 30,000 protesters cheered as Bolivian presidential candidate Evo Morales stepped onto a podium and embraced Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Basically it should be no great mystery why these countries produce leaders like Morales and Chavez, the real mystery, and the one which should really be occupying our thoughts, is how to break the demographic deadlock which lies behind the headline-grabbing political events.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

20 thoughts on “Bo Malmberg and Evo Morales

  1. Edward,

    Come on! This is like a parody of a Marxist piece. Demography is destiny. The only thing one has to know about a country are its median age, fertility, and life expectancy, and suddenly we can predict everything. Instead of vulgar Marxism, now we have vulgar Demography.

    I can think of a number of counterexamples, by the way. Let’s see, the US for most of its history, Mexico for most of the 20th century, Quebec, etc. In fact, Quebec is a great counterexample, since it wasn’t until the Quiet Revolution and the huge drop in birthrate that things really started to destabilize on the political front.

  2. I did thinkthis post came across as a bit pat and simplistic, but one can read it in the light of everything else Edward’s written, which is somewhat less simplistic, and interpret it more charitably.

  3. Well, Edward, there’s a lot of Neocons who have believed for a long time that this kind of development would precipitate progressive change in much of the Arab world, not least in Iran. Now we have Amandinedshad (who’s just today prohibited decadent western music and films). I’m sure that demography is influencing political events, like in Africa, where the “population bomb” led to kids eating up the growth there was leading to continued economic hopelessness paving the way for continuing dismal governance, to say the least, that is visible from Kongo to Zimbabwe.

    I think, despite having a genuine cause for anger, much of what is happening in Latin America is effective populist use of a global trend. Without posessing any kind of specific knowledge about this, in some sense, I have a hunch it’s in some sense comparable to what was happening on Majdan last year… just without Western endowments paying much of the bills.

  4. Well, this does come across as a bit simplistic.

    Yugoslavia had a median age around 34 when it went to hell, BTW. Meanwhile Belize (median age 19) has obstinately refused to implode into bloody chaos.

    Of course, there is a decent correlation between median age and all sorts of things. On the other hand, there’s also a decent correlation between average population height and bad human development statistics. We do not conclude from this that elevator shoes will solve world poverty.

    That said, I’d be interested to see a longer post fleshing out just what Malmberg /does/ say.

    Doug M.

  5. An alternative view by Alvaro Vargas Llosa at RCP.

    Essentially, he attributes it to the spectacular growth of evangelical Protestantism in Latin America( a whopping 15% of Latins ) and the fact that America is tied to closely with the ‘political and business elite groups’. Both these groups and the Catholic Church are seen as pillars of Latin American society that ordinary Latins have been revolting against for decades.

    Btw, my understanding is that population growth in Mexico has been dropping moderately for decades, yet at the same time anti Americanism has been growing, although Mexico has always been fairly hostile towards the US.

  6. On a positive note, it’s not a bad thing for Latin America to reenact its left-right swings with stronger democratic institutions and lower chances of nastiness from the US. Likewise, I think it may be useful for Iran to elect a loony populist candidate while clerics are still in power.

  7. Well , a few points:

    “Demography is destiny. The only thing one has to know about a country are its median age, fertility, and life expectancy, and suddenly we can predict everything.”

    No, you are the one who is saying this. You are talking about determinism. I am contextualising: embedding if you like. Laying down the constraints within which institutions operate when choices are made.

    “Let’s see, the US for most of its history,”

    The US (and Australia for that matter) just don’t count since – given the role of immigration historically – the US has never been a ‘natural’ country demographically speaking. Today, eg, it is the major ‘outlier’ in the rest of the OECD world.

    Are you seriously calling the quiet revolution in quebec ‘political instability’ akin to what we can see now in Iraq, Bolivia, the Spanish civil war. the Allende epoch in Chile?

    “I think, despite having a genuine cause for anger, much of what is happening in Latin America is effective populist use of a global trend.”

    One simple point here: I think it is a big mistake to talk in terms of Latin America in this sweeping sense. I am saying that there are countries: Chile, Argentina (post crash), Brazil etc which are now moving steadily forward, bucking the trend as it were. This doesn’t mean that they are on a direct line to heaven, but that there are grounds for guarded optimism.

    Brad Setser was noting only yesterday that both Brazil and Argentina are now offering to repay the IMF their debts:

    http://www.rgemonitor.com/blog/setser/111728

    This is hardly the anti-globalisation obsession which is supposedly sweepping Latin America. Too much emphasis IMHO has been focused on Diego Maradonna and Hugo Chavez.

    And look at the presidential election in Chile. The emergence of Michelle Bachelet. There is a huge difference between what could become the Bachelet era and the Allende one.

    On the other hand you have a block of countries: Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador whiuch are stuck in a demographic hole.

    The distinction is important, since it influences what kind of policy approach you need to adopt.

    With the former group – the one entering the demographic dividend period – the IMF policy package is appropriate, and can enjoy a significant measure of success.

    With the second group you need something like the Jeffrey Sachs package: a lot of institutional finacial support from outside to provoke the infrastructural changes internally which can then open the demographic window.

    Birth control education would obviously come high on the list, but equally importantly secondary education and health, since there is every indication that as education levels rise (especially among women) fertility declines and health is the greatest single correlate with economic growth.

    But both these things are expensive, and normally provoke the debts ands deficits which get these countries into so much trouble externally (and also fuel in negative feedback fashion the internal instability). So rather than simply ‘forgiving debt’ (which largely goes to line the pockets of corrupt politicians) what we should be doing is giving specific infrastructural aid.

  8. “Well, Edward, there’s a lot of Neocons who have believed for a long time that this kind of development would precipitate progressive change in much of the Arab world, not least in Iran.”

    I think I’ll take this one separately. I doubt that what you say about the NeoCons can be true. I mean if they had twigged the importance of this they wouldn’t be out there chasing a wild goose in Iraq now would they?

    I have always held that the idea that there could be a stable democracy in Iraq in the short term was madness, and the main reason was demographic. Do the NeoCons favour contraceptive education programmes? I am in a muddle. Perhaps one of our NeoCon sympathising readers could clarify this.

    Iran is a singularly bad example of what you want to say. Iran now has exactly replacement fertility (2.1). Iran for some reason has a low median age still – maybe the war with Iraq has something to do with this – but this will change rapidly.

    Iran is a good example of a country which may well miss the opportunity presented by the demographic dividend due to negative feedback from the political sub-system (Cuba is obviously a clear case of a country which will grow old but probably never grow rich).

    If the NeoCons had been as clued up on all this as you say they are, wouldn’t they have pointed the army towards Teheran rather than Baghdad, it would have made a lot more sense.

  9. “On the other hand, there’s also a decent correlation between average population height and bad human development statistics.”

    Be careful with your choice of examples here Doug, Robert Fogel got a Nobel Prize for noting just this.

    Basically you need to measure without the shoes on, and then of course height is a major indicator of economic progress. The big puzzle, btw, is why median heights in the US are static,, and why for that matter life expectancy is so comparatively low in the US. In all these senses the US is a puzzle, and an outlier, and it isn’t a good idea to generalise from the US experience outwards.

    BTW, economic growth revision whizz Xavier Sala-i-Martin says that after ten years of growth regressions the only strong conclusion he has been able to reach is that life expectancy increase is the factor which is most strongly correlated with growth.

  10. “Yugoslavia had a median age around 34 when it went to hell,”

    I’m afraid I do have some explanations. Basically the whole ‘socialist block’ experience (I have mentioned Cuba, I could mention N Korea) seems to mean that these countries complete a big part of the demographic transition without the economic development which goes with it. I said, I am not being deterministic. Politics and policy matter. So Eastern and Central Europe are also a special case in their own way. This is one of the reasons I worry about the future for them. They have very low fertility, are set to age rapidly, but don’t have the accumulated economic wealth which could ease this process. They are not Germany and Japan.

  11. “Essentially, he attributes it to the spectacular growth of evangelical Protestantism in Latin America”

    Yep, but the thing is, why is evangelical protestantism taking off in some Latin American countries and not say in New York or Paris? I would say that the demographics offer the framework through which you can understand this.

    “my understanding is that population growth in Mexico has been dropping moderately for decades, yet at the same time anti Americanism has been growing”

    This is true. Mexico now has a TFR of 2.6 and a median age of 24.93. I don’t know whether you would consider the Partido Revolutionario Institucional to have been a paragon of democratic respectability of not? Basically Mexico’s demography is very closely tied with US immigration these days, since a significant proportion of the population in the childbearing ages end up working there. This affects their demography and yours.

    Incidentally, while I am mentioning Chavez all the time, if you look at Venezuela, it isn’t so far from demographic stability. If Chavez doesn’t mess things up too much the post-Chavez era could get interesting. Rather like Menem and post-Menem in Argentina.

    “at the same time anti Americanism has been growing”

    Well, I don’t think I ever suggested that anti-Americanism was demographically driven. I don’t think demography can predict any particular views or values beyond the most general and abstract ones.

    “If it is all about the demography, one might wonder how Morales went from 21% to 50% of the vote in just over three years.”

    Diito for this Mathew. What the demographics might suggest is that violent swings in opinion can occur, and you just give an example of that. Also that economically a ‘child’ society will be heavily dependent on agriculture and natural resources. In the case of Bolivia, it isn’t “all about oil”, but it is about natural gas I believe.

    Some people say Singapore is a rich country, others say that Bolivia is a rich country: in one case you are talking about the people (and what is locked-up inside them) in the other case you are talking about the land (and what is buried under it). This is where demography comes in. We live in an information age, an age of human capital. If you have a lot of children they are in general poorly educated, if you have only a few then each has more ‘value’. Isn’t this what Becker meant by trading quantity for quality, and isn’t this what drives the fertility revolution?

  12. @ everyone

    Well I guess the consensus is that this is simplistic. I wouldn’t put it that way, I would say that it is a huge generalisation, and after the generalisation comes the detail, and the modification.

    Edward:0 Rest of the World: 247

    or something like that.

    I think Hektor gets near to the problem when he mentions Marxism. Not that any of this is in any way Marxist, but it is classical rather than ‘neo-classical’.

    Just like that other schema: hunter gatherer, feudal, industrial, informational. There is generalisation, but then again there is something behind it which has some value.

    Is there a structure to historical and social phenomena, or is it just one damn thing after another. I suppose I am still a rationalist at heart: there is a structure, and it is worthwhile trying to identify it.

    Of course you don’t always get it right first time.

  13. Demography of course does not explain everything. There must be at least one more component to make the explosive mix. Which component? Here’s the hint:

    – Think what has been behind suicide attacks in Israel and London 7/7/05;
    – Think what has been behind 9/11/01;
    – Think who committed violent attacks in Paris suburbs recently;
    – Think who has caused number of rapes and other violent crimes in Scandinavia soaring in recent years;
    – Think which rogue state strives to have its own nuclear weapon to be able to destroy the only democratic country in the Middle East.

    Now figure out the common denominator.

  14. “Now figure out the common denominator.”

    Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales? I may be slow, but I don’t follow. Or are you simply saying that the common thread is extremist ideology? But then, why does this come and go?

  15. Pavel, that rogue state is the closest to a democratic country the Middle East has so why would they want to destroy it?

    Edward, Peru, Boliva, Venezuela etc. are fucked up because of the oil curse. It is why they didn’t transite yet.

  16. “He’s saying three cheers for islamophobia”.

    Yes, but in Bolivia and Venezuela? This is the part I don’t follow. Is OBL manipulating Morales or something?

    Or is this just an Islamists under the bed syndrome.

    Charly, I agree that oil is probably a curse, but the energy issue is a relatively recent one in Bolivia isn’t it? Before it was the tin mines. Indeed isn’t that part of what the fissure within Bolivian society is all about, the transition from mines to gas?

  17. Ok, well trying to put this back on some sort of more structured course, I am sensitive to the accusation from Hektor of determinism. I don’t think what I am saying should be read in that way. So lets take an example from another field, sociology. In contemporary sociology there is something called life course theory. I am going to reproduce an extract from something relevant here that divides the changing structure of life courses into epochs in a way which allows a simple mapping onto Malmberg’s phases. It’s not a ‘perfect fit’ and needs some ‘smoothing’, but it allows us to see what this might all be about:

    Child phase:

    Under the traditional, pre-industrial life course regime, life centered around the family household and its collective survival. Schooling was nonexistent or short (only in winter when children were not needed on the farm), and training was part of family socialization in one’s own or other families as servants. Marriage was delayed until either the family farm could be inherited or a farm heiress could be married off or until a sufficient stock of assets could be assembled to establish a household, build a house, lease some land, and so on. Life was unpredictable because of the vicissitudes of nature in harvests and the probability of sickness and early death (especially for women in childbirth). Economic dependency and debts were widespread. The subjective counterpart of such a life course regime was a collective rather than individual identity, fatalism, and religious complacency.

    Young adult (think India and China now)

    The early industrial life course regime is well captured in Rowntree’s (1901/ 1914) image of a life cycle of poverty where industrial workers could only for a short time in their life rise above poverty when the family was still small and physical working capacity at its peak. Schooling was compulsory but ended at a relatively early age. Dependent work started with ages 12–14 and ended only with physical disability in old age. Marriage was delayed until sufficient resources for establishing a household (furniture, dowry) were accumulated and until employers were prepared to pay a family wage. Unemployment was frequent.”

    Mature Adult

    The next stage is postulated to be the industrial, Fordist life course regime. It is characterized by distinct life phases: schooling, training, employment and retirement, stable employment contracts, and long work lives in the same occupation and firm. A living wage for the male breadwinner could allow women to stay at home after marriage. The risks of sickness, unemployment, disability, and old age were covered and softened by an ever-more comprising system of social insurances. Age at marriage and first birth decreased into the early 1920s. Families could accumulate savings to buy their own house or apartment, and wages were age graded. Real incomes and purchasing power increased for a good part of the working life and then stabilized until retirement, when pensions and low rents or mortgage payments ensured a standard of living comparable to the one of the active years. Relative affluence allowed children to receive more education and training than the parental generation, and parents could afford to support their children in buying their own homes.

    Elderly society

    The postindustrial, post-Fordist life course regime, in contrast, can be characterized by increasing destandardization across the lifetime and increasing differentiation and heterogeneity across the population. Education has expanded in level and duration; vocational and professional training, as well as further training, have proliferated. A number of life transitions have been delayed, prolonged, and increased in age variance, and the degree of universality and of sequential orderliness has decreased. Entry into employment has become more precarious; first work contracts are often temporary; and employment interruptions due to unemployment, resumed education or training, or other times out of the labor force have increased. The rate of job shifts increase and occupations are increasingly not lifelong. Careers become highly contingent on the economic fates of the employing firms; therefore, heterogeneity across working lives increases. Downward career mobility increases relative to upward career opportunities. Working lives shorten because of later entry and frequent forced early retirement. The experience of unemployment becomes widespread but is concentrated in women, foreign workers, young people, and older workers. Age at marriage has increased. Nonmarital unions exploded and became a normal phase before marriage. Parenthood is delayed and for a significant number of couples never comes about. Divorce increases as has the number of children growing up in a single household and/or without a father present in the household. Women overtake men in their share of general education and greatly increase their occupational qualifications. Women want to work lifelong, and they have to work to augment the family budget or support themselves as single mothers. The standard of living in old age is threatened by reduced pension entitlements. The relation between the home and the working place is changing rapidly. Women are out of the house most of the day.

  18. The above – lengthy extract – which could have formed the basis for a separate post, but then it is xmas, and I thought I’d spare you all that :), comes from a paper by Karl Ulrich Mayer:

    http://www.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/en/institut/dok/full/Mayer/whoselif/s15427617rhd0103_3.pdf

    Interestingly, he then goes on to ask the question:

    Which institutional configurations shaped these various life course regimes? His answer is as follows (the language is of course that of a sociologist, not of an economist, but I think his observations are, nonetheless interesting):

    • The traditional life course regime was regulated by the demographics of high mortality and high fertility, by prerequisites and vicissitudes of a rural economy without the benefits of the agrochemical fertilization of soil and scientific animal husbandry.

    • The early industrial life course regime was subjected to an untamed capitalist economy with a weak labor movement and — because of the first demographic transition — a high supply of labor.

    • The late industrial life course regime was made possible by effective coordination between capital and labor, mass production and mass consumption, macroeconomic policy intervention stabilizing economic cycles, full employment, rising real wages and standards of living, and, finally, welfare state expansion.

    • For the postindustrial, post-Fordist life course regime or life course disorder, a manifold of culprits have been named: educational expansion and its unintended effects, the women’s movement, value changes, individualization and selfdirection, weakness of trade unions, de-industrialization, the labor market crises
    with spiraling structural unemployment, globalization of economic markets, and the demographic crunch produced by the low levels of fertility and decreasing mortality.

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