Save the & quot; dying bear & quot;
Political economist and sociologist Nicholas Eberstadt – about the consequences of the demographic catastrophe in Russia.
American political economist and sociologist Nicholas Eberstadt closely follows the demographic situation in Russia for many years. In the book “The Demographic Crisis in Peace Time in Russia,” published in 2010, Eberstadt presented the Russian demographic situation as catastrophic, comparing the expected life expectancy and the death rate of Russians with similar indicators in the world’s poorest countries. The contents of the monograph Ebershtadt were stated in the article “The Dying Bear”, published in the journal Foreign Affairs in 2011. In it, the author suggested that the Russian authorities’ realization of the difficult demographic situation in the country could lead to the fact that “Russian political leaders will take on a more alarmist, unstable and confrontational position in the international arena.”
The scientific observer of Radio Liberty met in Nicholas Ebershdat and asked him about the coming of the forecast, the paradox of the epoch of the rule of Vladimir Putin and the main resource of mankind.
– Is there really a demographic catastrophe in Russia?
– In my view, Russia is going through a deep crisis of human resources, and it did not begin now, it has been going on for half a century. During this time, he gained tremendous momentum, it is now very difficult to turn from this path. The patterns of fertility in Russia are very similar to the European ones. But given that in European countries the birth rate may be slightly less than the necessary to restore the population, this is not such a big problem. The declining population of Germany does not prevent it from flourishing, and its citizens – to grow rich. The problem is not in the size of the population, but in human capital, health, education, knowledge production. For each of these points, Russia is in deep crisis. Take the situation with mortality. Of course, it varies from year to year, but, frankly, it still remains catastrophic. The life expectancy of a 15-year-old man from Haiti is higher than that of a Russian. By this parameter, Russian men are not even in the third, but in the fourth world. Women’s position is better, but only slightly. The life expectancy of a 15-year-old Russian woman is at the level of the least developed countries, she is less than that of cambodians. If you look at men and women together, the prospects for survival during working age are worse for Russians than for Ethiopians. And this is an extraordinary paradox, because we are talking about an urbanized society with a high level of literacy, in a peacetime situation. It began a long time ago, and in the post-Soviet era the situation has not fundamentally improved.
– And the crisis is not limited to high mortality?
– The big problem is the level of production of knowledge. Everyone who communicates with the Russians, note how many of them are talented, with great potential of people. But this is practically not manifested, does not go outside. Here is a small example: the number of international patents granted by the US patent office to inventors from Russia, in terms of the number of people with university education of working age, is roughly at the level of Liberia. It looks very strange. You can go even further and look at the structure of Russian exports, to that part of it that is not related to minerals, but to people, with the services that they produce. Russia’s export of services is incredibly weak for a country of this size, with such access to education. All this indicates that there is an alarming crisis of human resources. The potential of people simply can not be revealed.
– Is it correct to judge the ability of Russia to produce new knowledge on the number of international patents, and even issued by the American Bureau?
– This is a fair comment. International patents are a very rough indicator, for many reasons it can be non-indicative. For example, a significant share of knowledge produced can be associated with secret military developments. Perhaps there are some structural barriers that limit fair competition of patents, although for other countries I do not know such barriers. Again, not all patents are real, there are, for example, the so-called “protective patents”, which do not really reflect the production of knowledge. But the situation with publications in international scientific journals is very similar. Since China emerged from self-isolation, the number of works by Chinese scientists in scientific journals is growing very rapidly, and the number of articles by Russian scientists is in stagnation. And Russia is one of the very few countries in the world where there is such stagnation. These two observations, patents and publications, as a minimum, are in good agreement with each other. Of course, one can not say that they describe the full picture, but you can still recall what I said about the Russian export of services.
– Yet it can not be said that Russia is at the level of Liberia in terms of the number of scientific publications.
– Liberia is much smaller than Russia, and the number of educated people in these two countries is generally stupid to compare. In Russia, five percent of all able-bodied citizens of the world live, who have graduated from an institution at least the level of a college. In this case, the population of Russia is two percent of the world. Against this background, a tiny number of international patents granted to Russians are shocking. In Liberia, in principle, very few people who have graduated.
– Can the problem of low knowledge production be associated with a brain drain from Russia?
– The brain drain occurs not only from Russia, but also from India, China, Brazil, but the situation in these countries is completely different. The desire to move to a country that offers more economic opportunities is natural, but the transfer of talented scientists and engineers from these developing countries does not prevent them from demonstrating remarkable dynamics in the production of knowledge. Of course, brain drain gives some effect, but in other countries there is a brain drain, and the results are completely different.
– In the sensational article “The Dying Bear” you wrote that in Russia not only a low level of production of knowledge, but also a very poor education. (The exact quote: “Part of the problem is that although many Russians go to schools, attend colleges and universities, this education is horribly low.” Standardized international tests show that Russian primary and secondary education is at best at the middle level ” – PC). But if you look at the results of the TIMMS tests that are conducted among students of the 4th and 8th grades around the world every four years, Russia gets at least the top ten ranking, and by the way, each time shows better results than the US.
– This is a very strange paradox. By the level of secondary and higher education, Russia has shown excellent results. All the people from Russia, with whom I spoke, are perfectly educated. But this does not give any noticeable external exhaust. I do not think of any other country in the world where such a high level of education would have such a low life expectancy. It is generally accepted that education is a kind of vaccination. But although the average Russian learns more than the average Frenchman, the health of the citizens of these two countries is very different in the opposite direction. Education in Russia does not translate into human well-being. I do not know why, I just can observe this phenomenon and celebrate it.
– Have there been any positive developments in this regard over the past 25 years?
– In some years the situation looks more positive, but I do not see any general improvement. The death rate in Russia does not converge with this indicator in Europe and the US, the same can be said about the number of issued international patents and the number of applications for them, the same – about the volume of export of services. Obviously, there is some kind of system problem.
– Systemic – political? Or worldview?
– This is a certain system feature of the environment, perhaps, an environment of economic, maybe political, I can not say for sure. What I can say for sure is that when Russians find themselves outside Russia, everything is immediately all right. When leaving the Russian environment, people begin to prosper. I do not know what the problem is inside the black box, but it’s there for sure.
– It’s hard to imagine that Russia is at the level of mortality and life expectancy at the level of the poorest countries, such as Haiti.
– A high level of premature mortality in Russia is achieved entirely for other reasons than in Haiti or Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, one of the most common causes of premature death is illness associated with poverty, lack of hygiene and food. In Russia, other problems – chronic diseases, cardiovascular diseases, injuries. Here they drink a lot of vodka, and in Ethiopia they do not. If Russia plans to approach the mortality rate to the countries of Europe and the US, it is necessary to change something in the structure of the causes of death.
– In one of the articles you used to describe the key cause of death in Russia, the phrase “dangerous way of life”.
– Yes, a dangerous way of life. There are things that I can not measure, I can only speculate, without concrete facts in my hands. To some extent, the dangerous way of life as a cause of death can be said on the basis of data, but there are still such things as people’s ideas about their prospects, as their expectations of life. I know that now a study is being prepared on whether the most dangerous Russian killer is stress. Constant thoughts about gloomy prospects, lack of hope – all this can affect the inhabitants of Russia much more than, for example, the people of Greece. If we could figure out how and why the worldview and mentality are pushing Russians toward a risky lifestyle, it would be clear how to turn the situation around. Even if some things are at first sight deeply rooted in culture, in traditions, this does not mean that they can not be changed quickly. See: in Russia, so many people die from heart disease. If you just teach Russians, starting at a certain age, taking aspirin every day – that would save tens of thousands of lives each year. This is only one small step, but it is quite inexpensive and it is easy to do. I have long been engaged in South Korea: thirty years ago there was a terrible situation with a long life, and now, according to this indicator, Korea is the leader of Southeast Asia. And all this – during the lifetime of one generation.
– And yet Russia with its black box is unique?
– I am now working on a study on an adjacent topic, I’m studying what the changes in income and labor productivity in the world in the post-war era were associated with. About 80 percent of the difference in these indicators from country to country and within the country over time is associated with four factors: health, education, urbanization (for some reason, urbanization raises the efficiency of human resources, perhaps because of the division of labor) and business climate. It’s no secret that health care and, in some respects, urbanization in Russia in recent decades are in stagnation. With education, the situation is more optimistic, but with the business climate, too, everything is unimportant. In my opinion, the potential of Russia’s human resources could be revealed better. You know, there has never been an energy superpower in the world, it can not exist at all. Last year, exports of goods and services from Russia were lower than those from Belgium. It seems to me that it would be possible to make Russia a rich country and a really big economy, revealing the potential of the people living in it, and not extracting minerals.
– What does the demographic situation in Russia look like against the background of other former Soviet republics?
– The level of fertility in Russia, which collapsed in the late 90’s, is now catching up, and somewhat faster than in many other former Soviet republics. There, it still remains well below the level necessary to replenish the population. In this sense, the position of Russia is slightly better, but it was better before the collapse of the birth rate. If we talk about life expectancy and mortality in the past 10 years, there is also some good news here. There has been a decline in the death rate from cardiovascular diseases and injuries, although at a general international level it still remains prohibitively high. Perhaps, well, Russia looks on this indicator only against the background of Ukraine, but it is unlikely that someone can please. Generally, demographic trends in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and to some extent in Moldova are very similar in many respects.
– Is everything different in the Baltic states?
– Up to a certain point and there the situation was similar, by the way, we should not forget that in these countries there are significant Russian diasporas. But all similarities ended with the 90th years. After that, the health situation in the Baltic countries began to improve rapidly. The birth rate there is still below the level of replacement of generations, but the life expectancy has significantly increased, and the death rate has decreased. But with Ukraine, Byelorussia and Moldova, the picture is largely similar. I think for people from these countries it will not seem surprising, because they have a lot that historically has a relationship.
– Are the patterns related to the education and production of knowledge that you mark in Russia, you can find in these countries?
– I did not specifically study this question. I suppose that the level of education in Moldova is much lower. I do not quite imagine how the situation in Belarus has changed in recent years. But, generally speaking, the paradox of the coexistence of a high level of education and a low level of human capital concerns these countries too. So Russia is not absolutely unique in this sense. But there are very few such countries.
– The change in the political situation in Russia over the past 25 years has somehow affected the demography?
– Here is one of the most surprising aspects of the Putin era: how insignificant the improvements in health care were compared to the growth of prosperity. Usually they say wealth brings health, “prosperity brings health”. If you look at what is happening in Russia in the last 15 years, it becomes clear that this is too broad a generalization. Yes, life expectancy has increased, but it is still small. Up to now it can not be said that modern Russia has reached the level of Soviet times in this indicator. One might assume that the stagnation of the expected life expectancy is some kind of natural thing. But the world, in fact, is getting healthier. So, on the contrary, the natural situation is the constant growth of life expectancy. In Russia, it does not exist, and, probably, it is worth considering the reasons.
– In the article “The Dying Bear” you wrote that the Russian leadership’s realization of the catastrophic demographic situation in the country could affect foreign policy, making it more unpredictable. Now such unpredictability has become a reality. Is there a connection here?
“I’d like to say no, but I’m afraid it’s possible.” If the basis of the policy was to increase the well-being and prosperity of people, and not to strengthen the central power, not the idea of national grandeur, today’s Russia could look quite different. When the government is concerned about the geopolitical situation, and its human resources base is in some sense subject to erosion, there may be a temptation to make compensatory steps in the international arena. One way to compensate for this is by accepting higher risks. For me, as an external observer, it is obvious that Russia today has become much less predictable, and its actions towards neighboring countries and the entire international community are risky. Is there a causal relationship here? I can not prove this, but this prospect bothered me five years ago. At the same time, I do not think that there is an inevitable mechanism that makes any country with demographic problems unpredictable and dangerous. It is necessary to take into account the specific political features of modern Russia.
– What is the most important resource in the modern world?
– The most important irreplaceable resource is human time. It can not be returned, it goes away and never returns. And time is directly related to well-being. Time is what we most lack. We must make it a top priority, and then we will get a guiding star for our future.
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