Geopolitics

Demographic Disaster? Counting The Risks Of 10 Billion People

A century from now, the global population will finally begin to decline. But before that, the world must deal with the waste created by an exploding overpopulation: How do we hold on until then?

Road to nowhere?
Road to nowhere?
Daniel Fortin

PARIS â€" May the naturally anxious or chronic pessimists be reassured: everything will be a lot better in 100 years. By then, the human population will have started decreasing as a result of the declining birth rate.

Demographers estimate that we can reasonably count on a planet with 4 billion individuals by the end of the 22nd century, compared to 7 billion today. Humanity, with an accumulated two centuries of additional technical progress, will easily adapt to an Earth where the average temperature will have risen by 4 to 5 degrees Celsius.

Of course, some places will have been made uninhabitable because of Fukushima-like nuclear disasters, the mass burying of radioactive waste or the desertification linked to global warming. But others areas will appear once the ice floes have melted, for instance, or as a result of mass urbanization, of which we already know the signs.

If we accept, as Claude Lévi-Strauss did, that the quality of living together is directly correlated to the size of the population, then we have every right to feel glad about this prospect. And yet, there is at least one French economist who has his doubts â€" because even if we believe the predictions, we still need to get there.

Pierre-Noël Giraud, one of France’s most brilliant living economists, has little presence in the media, which is perhaps a good thing since it affords him more time to work and formulate questions like the one posed in his recently published book L’Homme inutile (The Useless Man): How do we handle the transition towards this promising distant future, knowing that there’s 100 years in between?

As part of his analysis, Giraud points out that before we reach the point of demographic decline, we will first have to overcome a paroxysmal period, with a planet inhabited by 10 billion people in 2050. The problem, the author argues, won’t be the depletion of resources so much as the absorption of the mass of discharged waste. The other major challenge will be the capacity of our economies to employ such a vast workforce.

In 1996, 20 years before Thomas Piketty become an economics star, Giraud wrote L’Inégalité du monde (Inequality in the world), in which he demonstrates how globalization, with its indisputable virtues, favored the emergence of low-wage countries and at the same time introduced brutal competition in the "caught up" countries, with the pauperization of our middle classes as a consequence. His new book picks up where the previous work left off.

Nomad v. Sedentary

Inequality, according to Giraud, has now reached its worst form: uselessness, as embodied by the unemployed, people working in precarious conditions or landless farmers, who are reduced to surviving with public or private welfare. That â€" together with the environment â€" is the central problem of our societies, the author argues.

Getting tighter. Photo: Julien Belli

To resolve this, we need to establish the correct diagnostic. The three major forms of globalization, digital, financial and industrial, have led to a division of the active population into two major employment categories: the nomad and the sedentary, he argues. Since globalization and the relocation of companies, the former â€" engineers, financial workers, highly qualified workers, etc. â€" have been opposed on a global level. That needs to change, according to Giraud, who says it's in the best interest of every nation to make this population grow and to keep it from moving elsewhere. Why? Because the nomads tend to have above average wealth and place orders to the sedentary, which are there to provide the former with all the necessary services.

The problem, Giraud argues, is that many countries have failed to maintain a good balance between these two groups. In developed countries, nomads are leaving. And there are too many sedentaries for a reducing market: hence the pauperization, the precariousness and the unemployment. In emerging counties, the opposite is true: nomads are arriving, but not in sufficient numbers to feed a huge mass of sedentaries. Either way, the effects are the same: increasing uselessness.

While there are certainly moral issues at play here, Giraud mostly uses an economic and political lens to form his analysis. The useless human, he argues, represents a huge financial drain on our societies, spurs migration from developing countries, and increases the threat of civil war in more developed parts of the world.

This is why we need to review our economic policies so we can get over this demographical hyper-growth point. But how? There are many, complicated solutions. First, we need a good agreement on climate, Giraud argues. We also need greatly improved financial sector regulations, and deregulation of monopolies so as to improve the lot of sedentary class. In short, we need to conceive our economic policies differently â€" and not gamble everything on a possible, but very uncertain, demographic miracle.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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