A Trip Down Meme…ory Lane

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Or is it a trip down Mammary Lane? Afterall, meme…ories are metaphorically very much like mammaries. Meme…ories psychically nurture us and create the illusion of security just as a woman’s bosom does for her infant child.

Either way, what prompted this blog post is a comment made in the previous Na Zdorovia (Nostrovia) – You Deserve A Break Today! thread by PailiP. The contention of the comment is Russia is showing significant improvement, demographically; its population is stabilizing rather than decreasing as it had been in previous years. PailiP provided this link to a Forbes article authored by Mark Adomanis and then promptly said “someone really needs to update their memes.” To be honest (as if anyone is), PailiP linked to Foreign Affairs but the page is screwed up when you click the link. The Forbes link I’ve provided above is more legible.

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For those of you unfamiliar with Adomanis, he’s a young up-and-comer fresh out of Harvard and then Oxford, of course, and subsequently a few short Management Consultant (what could someone this young with no experience whatsoever be consulting about when it comes to “management”?) stints over several years to include, get this, Booz Allen Hamilton. Yes, you heard that correctly. The same seemingly ubiquitous and infamous organization that employed Edward Snowden. And where’s Snowden now? That’s right, Russia…where he’s been granted asylum–at least temporarily. And what is Adomanis’s expertise, you ask? But of course, it’s none other than Russia, and more specifically per his LinkedIn page here, he specializes in Russian economics and demographics. This guy is quite the item…and so young, but obviously brilliant. What’s up with Booz Allen Hamilton and this Russian Connection (I smell a movie with a title like that)? First Snowden and now this guy? How many others are obviously in Russia’s camp? Or are there no camps, just the illusion of them? It’s something certainly worth exploring in future posts, but for now, what did the Boy Wonder Adomanis have to say about Russia that PailiP felt compelled to provide as counter-evidence to my previous post? Of course, you can read the provided link, but here’s a taste:

Thanks to Anatoly Karlin via Twitter for alerting me to the latest information about Russian demographics. According to initial numbers from the Russian state statistics service, when taking migration into account Russia’s population increased by 189,000 people in 2011. This means that, if the official numbers are to be believed, Russia’s population has increased 2 of the past 3 years and has basically been stagnant for the past 4 or 5.*

However, considering some of the truly apocalyptic predictions that have regularly been made about the country over the past decade, the turnaround does seem to be rather stark and more than a little bit impressive. This especially true when you consider a broader, comparative context. Population decline in Ukraine (a country very similar to Russia since its has a nearly identical health system, a similarly drink-sodden and unhealthy culture, and a similar demographic profile) has not been ameliorated at nearly the same pace. Initial estimates are that, when taking migration into account, Ukraine’s population shrank by about 145,000 in 2011. So not only is Russia’s relative performance much better than Ukraine’s (Ukraine has a much smaller population, so Russia would have to shrink by around 453,000 to experience an equivalent loss) it’s absolute performance is as well. Not too bad for a “dying bear.”

From a more strategic perspective, Russia’s demographic stabilization matters because it means that Russia will not, contrary to the predictions of many Western experts, simply vanish from the global stage. Yes Russia will have serious demographic stresses to deal with, but this is true of essentially every country in Europe and is doubly true of the post-Communist countries in the East. Ultimately the long-term driver of any population is the fertility rate and Russia’s total fertility rate is now actually ahead of that of many other European countries. This strongly suggests that Russia’s future demographic challenges will, if anything, be less severe than those of its neighbors. It also suggests that Russia will continue to play a very large and important role in the “near abroad,” especially in Ukraine which is continuing to hollow out at a truly worrying pace.

This article was published in February of 2012. Talk about telegraphing…or setting the stage, this takes the cake. The more I dig, the more it seems ordained. You should be asking yourself “just what the hell is going on here?” Reviving The Bear, or the illusion of it. Conjuring a Kabuki Cold War Redux. Strategy of tension on display if you look between the lines. This all comes to mind the more you delve.

Per the Forbes link, the following comment addressed Adomanis’s partiality and lack of objectivity nicely:

mls13 2 years ago

Okay, you’ve got an axe to grind with Eberstadt. I get that. You claim (in previous articles, and tangentially here) that his conclusions and the statistics that he uses to support them are based in hyperbole and unduly dramatic. But of course you realize that you are falling into the exact same trap by cherry-picking statistics and framing them in such dramatic terms?

For instance: “Average life expectancy is already at or near it’s ALL-TIME HIGH – if recent improvements in mortality continue Russia will definitely set a NEW RECORD in 2012.” On the face of it, that sounds very impressive (and indeed, that is the whole point of framing it in such hyperbolic language). But you’re still talking about an “all time high” that is still #112 in the world–tied with Guatemala. Point being that these accomplishments are undoubtedly improvements… but they are still very very bad. To your credit, here as elsewhere you do offer greater nuance to your position.

Likewise, I admire that you try to contextualize the statistics by offering “a broader comparative context.” And then you compare with… Ukraine? In your previous send-up of Eberstadt, you offer even broader comparison… with Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania. An interesting way to couch your numbers–by choosing only the postcommunist cases that are similarly dismal, it makes the Russian case glow by comparison. But why not include, say, postcommunist countries like (heavy-drinking) Poland, (heavy-drinking) Hungary and the (heavy drinking) Czech Republic? Because if you did, it’d show that average life expectancy is still abysmally low, even among countries that endured postcommunist transition.

So I’ll buy that Eberstadt’s alarmist and apocalyptic proclamations are not entirely warranted. But then again, neither is the overly flowery optimism. The truth–if there is such a thing–is somewhere in between.

That is an example of an excellent comment. Thank you, whoever you are. But there’s more. Despite Adomanis’s “flowery otimism” and Putin ass-licking, using the same data care of Putin’s perversely corrupt Russia (Adomanis caveats the source by saying “if it’s to be trusted”……that’s a giant IF), this article removes the “flowery optimism” and Putin felatio. Here’s a sampling, but please read the article at the link…it’s well worth your time, and in my opinion, much less partial and much more objective:

“Despite the positive dynamics of the birth rate, the crisis is not over, and Russia is on the brink of new threats,” reads a debut report (“Will It Be Too Late in 10 years?”) presented by the Research Laboratory of Political Demography and Social Macro-Dynamics (PDSM) during a December conference on political demography at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA).

“Today, we have half as many 15-year old people as 25-year olds!” the report warns. “The conclusion is evident: Russia has just two or three years to strengthen family, raise fertility and improve productivity labor or in several decades, Russia will become a hopelessly aged and poorer country, at risk of being unable to preserve its territory and its heritage.”

The authors of the report include prominent U.S. and Russian scholars and academics, such as Jack Goldstone of George Mason University and Andrey Korotayev and Julia Zinkina of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In addition, authors include other experts and officials from RANEPA, the Institution of Scientific and Social Assessment (ISSA) and the working group “Family policy and childhood” (an expert council formed by Russia’s government).

According to the report, the increase in Russia’s total fertility rate will not be able to respond to the very high mortality rate and Russia’s accelerating decline in population.

“Russia’s mortality rate remains very high by world standards, and the problem is not so much in the age structure and aging of the population, as, first of all, in the extremely high mortality rate of working-age males,” the report says pointing out that Russia rates 22nd highest in the world in mortality rate, which is higher than Mali, Burundi or Cameroon.

“It is striking that mortality among Russian males has been so high,” said Michael Teitelbaum, a research fellow from Harvard Law School, who took the floor with a keynote lecture at the RANEPA conference. “I know it’s correlated with some things that are very difficult to change like alcohol, for example. And it should be clearly a major focus of Russian health care to reduce adult male mortality.”

So yes, PauliP, someone needs to update their memes. That someone is you and Adomanis. I’ve updated mine…and with the proper Firmware release. Maybe that’s the problem. You downloaded the wrong version of Firmware. It’s understandable; there are so many versions out there you’re having to update constantly and it all can get easily confused and confusing. It’s why the notion of a True Cold War Redux (another one, HBO…you owe me Big Time) is farcical. The cycle of change, considering the approaching Singularity, is just too swift. No one has time for a Cold War.

A Final Note

Let’s wish Mark Adomanis well and congratulate him on his upcoming assignment. Per this article, he’s heading to Moscow this summer. Imagine that. Oswald 2014 comes to mind.

In any case, he will be on the ground soon enough. In February, Adomanis was awarded an Alfa Fellowship, which will see him move to Moscow in mid-June to take part in a year-long professional development program from young American and British professionals. “Assuming that World War III doesn’t start in the next few weeks,” he said, “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to live and work in Moscow.” Where he can ask semi-important people to comment on events that have already happened? “I can’t make any ironclad promises,” he said, “but I suspect that my method will remain the same.”

Between numbers and feelings, in other words, Adomanis is going to stick with the numbers.

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I bet he’s going to stick with the numbers versus feelings. Putin’s the same way. No feelings. Isn’t that what they say about psychopaths? They have no feelings?

Maybe he’ll get some face time with Snowden. They can go Bear Hunting With Putin (great title for my next book). I advise them to not drink the tea. That will be my next post. Polonium-210 Tea With The Tsar.

Before Adomanis departs for Autocratic Russia though, I’d like him to spend some time with James Howard Kunstler…you know, the highlight of my very first blog post, because these two fellas are living in entirely different universes–or should I say realities? See, that’s one of the reasons reality is a lie. Everyone has their own, so which one’s right? They all can’t be, so I’m going with the sure bet that none of them are, and therefore reality (your version and mine) is a lie.

But seriously, PailiP, do you think we can hook Kunstler (I know he has to check it out with Bibi first) up with Admomanis (I know he has to check it out with Putin first) and they can hash this out and come to some compromise about the future and growth? I realize James would have to take a break as The Fed’s resident Fish Wife and put his weekly scoldings on hold for a while, and Adomanis would have to skip a few of his love letters in the form of favorably-couched Russian economic and demographic statistics to Putin, but the sacrifice would be worthwhile, in my humble opinion.

Growth or Contraction? Infinite Growth or Collapse? Paper or Plastic? Democrat or Republican? Communist or Capitalist? Which is it? Is it what’s behind Door #3; none-of-the-above? Do we have a choice? Should we choose if we do? I don’t know the answers, but I sure as hell know there’s an awful lot of contradictions. I’m devoting the remainder of my time unearthing and underscoring them in entertaining fashion. I’ll leave it to everyone else, if they’re interested (which of course they’re not), to sort it all out and reconcile it if they can (they can’t and won’t).

So, without any further adieu, another toast…this time in Russian for real.

Ваше здоровье!

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5 thoughts on “A Trip Down Meme…ory Lane

  1. “Today, we have half as many 15-year old people as 25-year olds!” the report warns. “The conclusion is evident: Russia has just two or three years to strengthen family, raise fertility and improve productivity labor or in several decades, Russia will become a hopelessly aged and poorer country, at risk of being unable to preserve its territory and its heritage.”

    It seems that Russia is already doing what the authors suggest is necessary, considering that the Russian ‘Kid Stuff’ retail sector seems to keep growing.

    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/199797d8-cf62-11e2-a050-00144feab7de.html#axzz2yNg2XjbJ

    It looks like the sharply higher birth rates of the past few years aren’t merely an artifact of Rosstat’s allegedly jiggered statistics, but it also shows up in much harder to fake statistics on retail sales.

    • an artifact of Rosstat’s allegedly jiggered statistics

      If the U.S. fudges its statistics, and there’s a solid case supporting that accusation, then it’s not difficult to conjecture Russia via Rossstat does the same. If one’s livelihood is predicated upon presenting Russia in the most positive light in order to make investors feel secure about investing in this emerging market with such prodigious potential (at least according to the Ponzi Propagandist), the tendency is to overlook any possible jiggering and couch those statistics with “flowery optimism.”

      Or do you believe the official U.S. unemployment figures and inflation rate?

      Also, as I’ve noted, this rosy outlook of growth doesn’t sit well with the Collapse Crowd, especially since a number of them in their hatred of Americans and Jews, have embraced Russia and Putin as the hero David against their Goliath. The last thing they want to hear, because it might shatter their paradigm, is that Russia is a future paradise of consumption and investors from around the world are throwing their money at it based on positive demographic statistics.

      My previous post still stands until I see positive proof (80 or greater, thank you) that Russia has changed its soul-decimating culture.

  2. The death rate from alcohol poisoning is down to about a third of its 2000 level, and has dipped below its pre-Soviet collapse level. Still atrociously high by world standards, but still declining. So, when does a change in degree become a change in kind? Judgement call.

    And investors seem to be ignoring it, despite stuff like the Alphaville article.

    • The death rate from alcohol in the Soviet Union and now Russia has fluctuated wildly over the past thirty years. Despite efforts to curtail its use in the past, it still continues to rear its ugly head. Yes, it’s down from 37% to 25%, but as history’s proven, that can change rather quickly, so I’d say it’s much too early to call it a change in kind.

      http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/mar/16/14-die-in-russia-of-suspected-methanol-poisoning/

      Investigators in Russia say at least 14 people in a village in the Far East have died of apparent methanol poisoning after drinking counterfeit liquor.

      Officials in the Krasnokamensk region said Sunday they believe the alcohol may have been imported from China, around hour’s drive from the village. The federal Investigative Committee says a 49-year-old resident of the village, Krasny Velikan, has been detained on suspicion of selling the liquor.

      Russia has for years battled in vain to combat a lucrative trade in counterfeit alcohol, much of which is now carried out online.

      The official minimum price for a half-liter of vodka was raised earlier this month to 199 rubles ($5.40), a move that experts worry could lead to a spike in the consumption of moonshine.

      This is both foreseen and foreseeable. It’s the culture that must change, and that’s a tall order. Cultures don’t change overnight, or within a decade.

      • The pre-Soviet collapse level of alcohol poisoning was itself at a relatively low level historically. Gorby’s anti-alcohol campaign had a non-trivial effect on Russian life expectancy. Getting the death rate due to alcohol poisoning below that is significant.

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