Monday, September 06, 2021

Unclear on Afghanistan

From an email I had sent:

I've got a lot of conflicting thoughts about Afghanistan. If anyone doesn't have conflicting thoughts about it, then I doubt they're trying to think seriously about it.

Here's one observation though, that in the blame game for what's happened there, I see very few people blaming Afghanistan. I recognize that real-world democracies don't work like they taught us in elementary school, but both the elites and the normal people of a country have to take some responsibility for their country's fate when they have a choice in the matter.

This might sound like "Screw the Afghani people for not fixing their country in 20 years, we're right to leave." I actually disagree with leaving. As a historian, you know that 20 years isn't a long time. I think Afghanistan was better off with us there (I could care less about The Blob's stupid fixation with credibility and resolve), very few American soldiers had died in the few years, and even the expense isn't that high any more. There was a war in Afghanistan but America wasn't at war there.

But still, it's their country. The parallel I draw is American responsibility for Trump in 2016. We didn't vote for him, we voted for Clinton. But we tolerated an undemocratic Electoral College system that made Trump possible with only anemic efforts to fix it. So we own the result.

The Afghani people didn't vote for the Taliban and I'm pretty sure the majority don't support them, but they did have some choice in both their government and in whether to fight the Taliban.

While the left side of the political spectrum (where I reside) doesn't like to blame "the people," we all know humans are a combination of good and bad, and our better angels don't always win. The people of Afghanistan are obviously in for a bad time, especially women, but I hope they find a chance to seize their country and future back in the future. Other poor countries have done that dating to India in 1948, so it's not impossible.

One last thing - the only mistake I'll blame Biden for, after deciding to leave, is to withdraw all soldiers by the end of the fighting season instead of waiting to the end to start withdrawing soldiers. Probably that would have only bought Afghanistan six months, but what's wrong with six months of a better life? More broadly, the Afghanistan mission did bring a better life to most of the people in Afghanistan for a generation. That's not nothing, despite how things are right now.


And for an alternative (but also unclear) opinion, the New Yorker on Afghanistan.

Friday, September 03, 2021

China's problem is the rate of change (maybe), not the direction of change

 There's been a lot of hand-wringing over China's population crunch, shown by its recent decision to allow 3-child families. It's mostly wrong, or at least focused on the wrong thing.

There are two things the hand-wringing gets wrong. First, the numbers game for supporting the elderly isn't about the ratio of workers to non-workers, but about whether the total and per-capita wealth and income of the working population in the future is growing fast enough to keep up with growing numbers of elderly who are unable to pay for their retirement. Compared to 40 years ago, China has much smaller ratio of workers to retirees, and still this smaller percentage of workers is in much better shape to take care of their elderly than in 1980's China. Future economic growth will be slower than the past, but even 2-3% per-capita annual economic growth will go a long way.

China does have an extreme demographic shift, and that gets to the other error in the hand-wringing. To the extent there's a problem, it's not because China's population will fall but because it will fall so fast. A very gradual population decline doesn't pose economic problems, and certainly not the same extent of the economic problems created by a system that relies on there always being far more young people than old people. It's weird that pundits who pride themselves on their economic sophistication are unable to recognize that they're advocating a Ponzi scheme of ever-enlarging amounts of new people paying for prior people.

There are four options:

1. Fast population growth: this results in short to medium term economic growth but long term economic problems when you get off the Ponzi-scheme train. It is also an environmental disaster.

2. Stable population levels - economic growth and increased environmental problems as the same number of people consume more resources.

3. Slow decline in population - economic growth outweighs the slow decline in numbers. There's an increased chance for environmental restoration.

4. Fast decline in population - per capita economic growth, but potential economic problems supporting the elderly. More chances for environmental restoration.

It is not clear to me that a single country on Earth, including China, is in Category 4. The goal, for earthbound populations anyway in the next century or two, should be Category 3.