Future Population Lower Than U.N. Estimates, Perhaps by Billions

(p. A15) Is a dangerous population explosion imminent? For decades we’ve been told so by scientific elites, starting with the Club of Rome reports in the 1970s. But in their compelling book “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline,” Canadian social scientist Darrell Bricker and journalist John Ibbitson lay out the opposite case: “The great defining event of the twenty-first century,” they say, “will occur in three decades, give or take, when the global population starts to decline. Once that decline begins, it will never end.”

. . .

So why exactly is everyone still worried about the opposite problem? The authors pin the blame on faulty assumptions by the population establishment, as represented by the U.N. Population Division. They don’t use the United States as an example, but I will: The U.N.’s most recent population forecasts suggest that the average U.S. total fertility rate from 2015 to 2020 should be 1.9 children per woman. In reality, CDC data shows U.S. fertility has averaged about 1.8 children per woman from 2015 to 2018. In 2019, early indications are that fertility will probably be nearer 1.7 children per woman.

. . .

As Messrs. Bricker and Ibbitson point out, U.N. forecasts are substantially out-of-step with existing data from many countries, including China, India and Brazil. As a result of these mistakes, the most widely used population benchmarks in the world are probably wrong. The future will have far fewer people than the U.N. suggests; perhaps billions fewer.

For the full review, see:

Lyman Stone. “BOOKSHELF; A Drop In Numbers.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, February 7, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 6, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Empty Planet’ Review: A Drop in Numbers; Governments stoke fears about overpopulation, but the reality is that fertility rates are falling faster than most experts can readily explain.”)

The book under review, is:

Bricker, Darrell, and John Ibbitson. Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline. New York: Crown, 2019.

“The Regulations Are Absurd”

(p. A6) CIUDAD del ESTE, Paraguay–This remote South American country, long known for contraband traffickers and a 35-year dictatorship, is now becoming something else: a manufacturing hub.
Paraguay has attracted scores of foreign factories since 2013, as predominantly Brazilian companies respond to new incentives by flocking to this gritty border city to make everything from toys to motor scooters for export.
Koumei SA, a family-run Brazilian light-fixtures company, is typical. Its owners moved the plant and about 150 jobs here last year, saying they were fed up with Brazil’s high taxes and complicated labor rules.
“It’s just easier here,” said Seijii Abe, who directs the company with his father.
. . .
Brazil ranked 123rd out of 190 in the World Bank’s 2017 survey on ease of doing business, right behind Uganda and Egypt. Companies there say they are bedeviled by rules that smother entrepreneurial impetus. They point to labor regulations that make hiring and firing difficult, high energy bills, a legal system that encourages employee lawsuits and taxes of up to 35% on imported goods.
“The regulations are absurd,” said João Carlos Komuchena, owner of Kompar SA, a company which makes small plastic bottles used for packing soy sauce and other products that moved to Paraguay from Brazil last year. “We need to wake up in Brazil; there is a lot of prejudice against business.”

For the full story, see:
Jeffrey T. Lewis. “Businesses Flee Brazil Rules for Paraguay.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 28, 2017): A6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2017, and has the title “Brazil’s Woes Multiply as Manufacturers Move to Paraguay.”)

“There Comes a Time When You Get Tired of Being a Slave”

(p. A1) RIO DE JANEIRO — In a rare act of collective defiance, scores of Cuban doctors working overseas to make money for their families and their country are suing to break ranks with the Cuban government, demanding to be released from what one judge called a “form of slave labor.”
Thousands of Cuban doctors work abroad under contracts with the Cuban authorities. Countries like Brazil pay the island’s Communist government millions of dollars every month to provide the medical services, effectively making the doctors Cuba’s most valuable export.
But the doctors get a small cut of that money, and a growing number of them in Brazil have begun to rebel. In the last year, at least 150 Cuban doctors have filed lawsuits in Brazilian courts to challenge the arrangement, demanding to be treated as independent contractors who earn full salaries, not agents of the Cuban state.
“When you leave Cuba for the first time, you discover many things that you had been blind to,” said Yaili Jiménez Gutierrez, one of the doctors who filed suit. “There comes a time when you get tired of being a slave.”
. . .
(p. A10) . . . , Dr. Jiménez, 34, found the work rewarding, but also began to harbor feelings of resentment.
“You are trained in Cuba and our education is free, health care is free, but at what price?” she said. “You wind up paying for it your whole life.”
. . .
“We keep one another strong,” said Dr. Jiménez, who says she has been unemployed since being fired in June and is now barred from re-entering Cuba for eight years.
Dr. Álvarez and her husband were among the lucky ones to keep their jobs and get what amounted to a huge pay raise. They also managed to bring their children to Brazil.
“It’s sad to leave your family and friends and your homeland,” she said. “But here we’re in a country where you’re free, where no one asks you where you’re going, or tells you what you have to do. In Cuba, your life is dictated by the government.”

For the full story, see:
ERNESTO LONDOÑO. “‘Slave Labor'”: Cuban Doctors Rebel in Brazil.” The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 29, 2017): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the title “Cuban Doctors Revolt: ‘You Get Tired of Being a Slave’.”)

“We Grow at Night, While the Government Sleeps”

HarareNightStreetMarket2017-09-10.jpg“In Harare, unauthorized street vendors wait until dark to avoid the police. The government says 95 percent of the work force is involved in the informal economy.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I remember my Wabash College economics professor, Ben Rogge, telling us that during one of his visits to Brazil, many decades ago, he asked an entrepreneur how the Brazilian economy managed to grow in spite of the heavy government regulations. With a smile, the entrepreneur told Ben: “We grow at night, while the government sleeps.”

(p. 6) HARARE, Zimbabwe — Dusk falls and thousands of vendors fan out across central Harare. Through the night, they hawk their wares — vegetables, clothes, kitchen utensils, cellphones — from carts, wheelbarrows or even the pavement, transforming the city’s staid business district into a giant, freewheeling village market.

On Robert Mugabe Road, around the corner from the city’s remaining colonial-era luxury hotel, the Meikles, Victor Chitiyo has sold dress shirts since losing his job as a machine operator at a textile factory several years ago.
“Since then, I’ve never been employed,” Mr. Chitiyo, 38, said under the dim light of a street lamp. “If the economy improves, I’d want to be employed at a company again. But I don’t think that will happen. It’s been a long time since we were optimistic in Zimbabwe.”
Harare’s night market is the most visible evidence of Zimbabwe’s swelling informal economy, which the government estimates now employs all but a small share of the country’s work force.
Even as Zimbabwe’s government, banks, listed companies and other members of the formal economy lurch from one crisis to another, the thriving informal economy of street vendors, traders and others unrepresented in official statistics helps keep the country afloat. For the government of President Robert Mugabe, that parallel economy is both a source of stability — and a potential challenge.
Once one of Africa’s most advanced economies, Zimbabwe has rapidly deindustrialized and shed formal wage-paying jobs, forcing millions like Mr. Chitiyo to hustle on the streets in cities and towns.
From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of Zimbabweans scrambling to make a living in the informal economy shot up to an astonishing 95 percent of the work force from 84 percent, according to the government. And of that small number of salaried workers, about half are employed by the government, including patronage beneficiaries with few real duties.
. . .
The government has occasionally cracked down — sometimes violently — on the street vendors, who are not licensed, describing their activities, near the seat of government and businesses, as an eyesore. Some of the vendors have also staged protests against Mr. Mugabe’s rule.
But the government mostly turns a blind eye, clearly calculating that a permanent crackdown on the livelihoods of an increasing number of its citizens would result in greater political instability. According to an unspoken rule, the street vendors are allowed to operate only after dark on weekdays and starting in late afternoon on weekends.
“If I come too early, the police will take my wares away and I’ll be broke,” said Norest Muza, 28, who sold popcorn and chips while carrying her 2-year-old son on her back. “Evenings, the police don’t come.”
Many of the street vendors arrive in Harare’s business district at dusk and spend the night on the streets before going home at dawn with the morning’s first taxis and buses.
. . .
Mr. Mugabe’s violent seizure of white-owned farms starting in 2000 precipitated a decline in manufacturing and a process of deindustrialization. Manufacturing peaked in 1992, accounting for about 30 percent of the gross domestic product. Now it is 11 percent and declining.
. . .
With the government now strictly controlling the transfer of dollars outside Zimbabwe, companies dependent on trade are finding it increasingly difficult to import critical goods.
“We have companies scaling down or discontinuing certain lines that are heavy on import requirements,” said Busisa Moyo, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries.
. . .
As the formal economy keeps shrinking, more and more people have been crowding the area where Mr. Chitiyo sells shirts on Robert Mugabe Road.
Across the street, a girl’s voice was crying, “Twenty-five cents for a cob!” It belonged to Tariro Dongo, 13, on her first evening working as a street vendor. It was past 9 p.m. Tariro said she was good in school and wanted to become a teacher.
She had bought 20 corn cobs for $2 near her home in Epworth, a poor township outside Harare. If she sold everything, her profit, after transportation, would amount to a couple of dollars. Sitting on a black bucket and fanning the coals in a small charcoal burner with a piece of cardboard, Tariro roasted the cobs.
She was happy with the money she had made on her first day, Tariro said.
“Twenty-five cents,” she cried. “One cob left!”

For the full story, see:
NORIMITSU ONISHI and JEFFREY MOYO. “Trade on the Streets, and Off the Books, Keeps Zimbabwe Afloat.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MARCH 5, 2017): 6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 4, 2017, and has the title “Trade on Streets, and Off Books, Keeps Zimbabwe Afloat.”)

Government Threw the Party; Taxpayers Pay the Bill

(p. A1) RIO DE JANEIRO — It is not uncommon for the Olympics to leave behind some unneeded facilities. Rio, however, is experiencing something exceptional: Less than six months after the Summer Games ended, the host city’s Olympic legacy is decaying rapidly.
. . .
“The government put sugar in our mouths and took it out before we could swallow,” Luciana Oliveira Pimentel, a social worker from Deodoro, said as her children played in a plastic pool. “Once the Olympics ended, they turned their backs on us.”
Olympic officials and local organizers often boast about the legacy of the Games — the residual benefits that a city and country will experience long after the competitions end. Those projections are often met with skepticism by the public and by independent economists, who argue that Olympic bids are built on wasted public money. Rio has quickly become the latest, and perhaps the most striking, case of (p. A8) unfulfilled promises and abandonment.
“It’s totally deserted,” said Vera Hickmann, 42, who was at the Olympic Park recently with her family. She lamented that although the area was open to the public, it lacked basic services.
“I had to bring my son over to the plants to go to the bathroom,” she said.
At the athletes’ village, across the street from the park, the 31 towers were supposed to be sold as luxury condominiums after the Games, but fewer than 10 percent of the units have been sold. Across town at Maracanã Stadium, a soccer temple, the field is brown, and the electricity has been shut off.
“The government didn’t have money to throw a party like that, and we’re the ones who have to sacrifice,” Ms. Hickmann said, referring to local taxpayers.

For the full story, see:
ANNA JEAN KAISER. “Legacy of Rio Olympics So Far Is Series of Unkept Promises.” The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 16, 2017): A1 & A8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 15, 2017.)

Brazilians See Government as a Father Who Should Hand Out Subsidies to His Favorites

(p. 9) . . . “Brazillionaires” offers more than a flat collection of billionaire tales. Cuadros shrewdly presents his collage of immense wealth against an underlying background of corruption. There are kickbacks for government contracts. There are gigantic taxpayer subsidies: In 2009 alone, the state-run development bank, BNDES, lent out $76 billion, “more than the World Bank lent out in the entire world.” And of course there are lavish campaign contributions, attached to the inevitable quid pro quos. JBS, which leveraged government loans to become the largest meatpacking company in the world, spent $180 million on the 2014 elections alone. “If every politician who had received JBS money formed a party,” Cuadros writes, “it would be the largest in Congress.”
In his telling, Brazilians seem to embrace the cozy relationship between business and government as a source of pride rather than a risk for conflicts of interest. In one passage, Cuadros underscores the contrast between Adam Smith and the 19th-century Brazilian thinker José da Silva Lisboa, viscount of Cairu. Lisboa’s “Principios de Economía Politica” was meant to be an adaptation of Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” But rather than present a paean to the invisible hand of the market, the viscount offered a rather paternalistic view of economic progress.
“The sovereign of each nation must be considered the chief or head of a vast family,” he wrote, “and thus care for all those therein like his children, cooperating for the greater good.” Swap “government” for “sovereign” and the passage still serves as an accurate guide to the Brazilian development strategy. It’s just that some children — the Marinhos, the Camargos — are cared for better than ­others.
. . .
It would be wrong, . . . , to understand Brazil’s plutocracy as the product of some unique outcrop of corruption. The hold on political power by the rich is hardly an exclusive feature of Brazil. ­Latin America has suffered for generations from the collusion between government and business. Where I grew up, in Mexico, it is the norm.

For the full review, see:
EDUARDO PORTER. “Real Rich.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JULY 24, 2016): 9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 22, 2016, and has the title “Watching Brazil’s Rich: A Full-Time Job.”)

The book under review, is:
Cuadros, Alex. Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016.

Marxist Wrecks Brazil Economy

(p. A6) “The Brazilian model celebrated just a few years ago is turning into a slow-motion train wreck,” said Mansueto Almeida, a prominent commentator on economic policy. “Our political leaders want to point fingers at China or some external villain, but they cannot escape the fact that this self-inflicted crisis was made in Brazil.”
Even with the country’s legacy of economic turmoil, some historians say that Ms. Rousseff’s track record on economic growth ranks among the worst of any Brazilian president’s over the last century.
. . .
Hoping to prevent Brazil from cooling too much after the sizzling boom of the previous decade, Ms. Rousseff, 67, a former Marxist guerrilla who was tortured during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and took office in 2011, doubled down on bets that she could stave off a severe slowdown by harnessing a web of government-controlled banks and energy companies.
Ms. Rousseff pressured the central bank to reduce interest rates, fueling a credit spree among overstretched consumers who are now struggling to repay loans. She cut taxes for certain domestic industries and imposed price controls on gasoline and electricity, creating huge losses at public energy companies.
Going further, she expanded the sway of Brazil’s colossal national development bank, whose lending portfolio already dwarfed that of the World Bank. Drawing funds from the national treasury, the bank, known as the B.N.D.E.S., increased taxpayer-subsidized loans to large corporations at rates that were often significantly lower than those individuals could obtain from their banks.
Ms. Rousseff’s critics argue that she also began using funds from giant government banks to cover budget shortfalls as she and her leftist Workers’ Party headed into elections.
“They deliberately destroyed the public finances to obtain re-election,” said Antônio Delfim Netto, 87, a former finance minister and one of Brazil’s most influential economists. Taking note of the government’s inability to rein in spending as a budget deficit expands, Mr. Delfim Netto and other economists are warning that officials may simply opt to print more money, stirring ghosts in an economy once ravaged by high inflation.
. . .
Unemployment is expected to climb even higher as the authorities ponder ways to cut a federal bureaucracy that grew almost 30 percent from 2003 to 2013, to 600,000 civil servants.
A pension crisis is also brewing, partly because of laws that allow many Brazilians to start receiving retirement benefits in their early 50s, even though life expectancy has increased and the fertility rate has fallen, limiting the number of young people to support the aging population.
“How can a person who is 52 years old be able to retire with a pension?” Luiz Fernando Figueiredo, a former central bank official, asked reporters. “These things have to be confronted. If not, the country will become another Greece.”
Parts of Brazil’s business establishment are in revolt, openly expressing disdain. Exame, a leading business magazine, devotes an entire section called “Only in Brazil” to documenting problems with the public bureaucracy.
These examples include a $120 million light-rail system in the city of Campinas that lies abandoned because of poor planning, and a measure requiring companies to obtain a special license before allowing employees to work on Sundays.

For the full story, see:
SIMON ROMERO. “As Boom Fades, Brazil Asks How Sizzle Turned to Fizzle.”The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 11, 2015): A1 & A6.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word and date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 10, 2015, and has the title “As a Boom Fades, Brazilians Wonder How It All Went Wrong.”)