Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Russian Depopulation exacerbated by drunkenness

The above article was written by Nicholas Eberstadt and entitled “Drunken Nation: Russia’s Depopulation Bomb. It appears in the Spring 2009 issue of World Affairs.

Let’s begin with some statistics. We knew Russia’s population was shrinking, but the shrinkage is rather more dramatic than I realized. Eberhardt calls it a “depopulation”:

“. . . Between 1976 and 1991, the last sixteen years of Soviet power, the country recorded 36 million births. In the sixteen post-Communist years of 1992–2007, there were just 22.3 million, a drop in childbearing of nearly 40 percent from one era to the next. On the other side of the life cycle, a total of 24.6 million deaths were recorded between 1976 and 1991, while in the first sixteen years of the post-Communist period the Russian Federation tallied 34.7 million deaths, a rise of just over 40 percent. The symmetry is striking: in the last sixteen years of the Communist era, births exceeded deaths in Russia by 11.4 million; in the first sixteen years of the post-Soviet era, deaths exceeded births by 12.4 million.”

To suggest that Russia is somehow unique in its shrinking population seems to me hard to prove. All the European populations have ceased to grow as much as in the past; so what is so different about Russia? Eberhardt paints a rosier picture of European population declines than I have read in the past but then quotes two organizations as they predict Russia’s demographic future:

“Both organizations’ projections trace a continuing downward course for the Russian Federation’s population over the generation ahead. As of mid-year 2005, Russia’s estimated population was around 143 million. UNPD projections for the year 2025 range from a high of about 136 million to a low of about 121 million; for the year 2030, they range from 133 million to 115 million. The Census Bureau’s projections for the Russian Federation’s population in 2025 and 2030 are 128 million and 124 million, respectively.

“ . . . that would amount to almost as dramatic a demographic drop as the one Russia suffered during World War II. In absolute terms, it would actually be somewhat greater in magnitude.”

And what does this mean for Russia’s economy? The democratic sovereigns think it will have no negative effect, but that goes against everything I’ve read about economic growth and Eberhardt writes, “. . . history offers no examples of a society that has demonstrated sustained material advance in the face of long-term population decline. It seems highly unlikely that such an ambitious agenda can be achieved in the face of Russia’s current demographic crisis. Sooner or later, Russian leadership will have to acknowledge that these daunting long-term developments are shrinking their country’s social and political potential.”

Eberhardt goes on to provide more statistics about Russia’s expected economic and population decline and these are similar although much worse than what I’ve read about Western European nations. This is clearly a “doom and gloom” article. But I’ll skip all that to focus on something that especially caught the negative Eberhardt’s attention: “Alcohol abuse”:

“. . . Professor Alexander Nemstov, perhaps Russia’s leading specialist in this area, argues that Russia’s adult population—women as well as men—puts down the equivalent of a bottle of vodka per week. . . .”

“. . . Death rates from . . . alcohol poisoning appear to be at least one hundred times higher in Russia than the United States—this despite the fact that the retail price in Russia today is lower for a liter of vodka than a liter of milk.”


I was willing to concede that the US was worse off than China or Russia when it came to licentiousness and abusive self-indulgence. After all, we have Hollywood and Las Vegas. We glorify pop singers and contest winners. Surely we are worse off in terms of morality than China or Russia, but now I read that Russia has a drinking problem. I recall a famous movie of the past: “Lost Weekend” in which Ray Milland played a pathetic alcoholic who hid his bottles all over his house. Russia hides its drinking problem by making its own, samogon, which I suppose is something like the “bathtub gin” we used to make during our Prohibition period. And it doesn’t show up in any of the statistics, at least not directly. One needs to go looking for the signs: “. . . a medical examiner’s office in a city in the Urals, for example, indicated that over 40 percent of the younger male decedents evaluated had probably been alcohol-impaired or severely intoxicated at the time of death—including one quarter of the deaths from heart disease and over half of those from accidents or injuries.”

I was willing to give Michael Kuznetsov the moral high ground. Surely, I thought, Russia can’t be as immoral and dissolute as our present day US – at least the Left-Wing half of it. But now I learn that it can. I take it all back Michael. Russia now seems even worse than the US in terms of abusive self-indulgence. Now I know what all you ants do down there in your ant colony.

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