Good news from Africa

From Michael Clemens:

If you’re sick of the sad, hopeless stories coming out of Africa, here’s one that made my year. New statistics show that the rate of child death across sub-Saharan Africa is not just in decline—but that decline has massively accelerated, just in the last few years. From the middle to the end of the last decade, declines in child mortality across the continent plummeted much faster than they ever had before.

These shocking new numbers are in a paper released today by Gabriel Demombynes and Karina Trommlerová in the Kenya office of the World Bank.

The figures can be found at the link.


How is this good unless fertility has fallen as well?

Boy, Bill. That's embarrassing. Wow.

Fertility rates are already down. Kenya's is 4.7 which is very high, but nothing like the 8+ it had (along with other pre-industrial societies) until a couple generations ago. To put it in perspective, Kenya has a lower fertility rate than Iran had twenty years ago, and of course the latter now has below replacement birth rates. I wouldn't expect Kenya and other countries in the region to experience such precipitous declines in fertility, but nevertheless the trend is clearly down.

oh, look. a "wow. just... wow" commenter pointing and sputtering at crimethink. maybe we should call these morally grandiose people wowjustwowsers.

bill is right. if lower child mortality isn't followed by lower TFR in africa, all you'll see is increased malthusian pressures among populations not known for streamlining their resource extraction operations. the good news is that in most parts of the world, lower child mortality leads to lower birth rates. the same will, hopefully, hold for africa. as long as international aid doesn't keep pace by subsidizing growing family sizes.

Hey, Bill & lord, maybe you can walk through African towns swinging a machete until we get this right. I mean, it's not a pretty picture, but for honest people with some perspective, we can't rule out the potential benefits. Am I right?

These people are beyond parody; someone somewhere is reading your comment and saying to himself "yes, yes; here's someone who really gets it."

Declines in infant mortality have been followed within a generation first by one last surge in % populations increase followed by a precipitous decline in TFR everywhere else so far. Maybe Africa will be different, but I don't know what evidence there is that it will be. There are still probably going to be way too many people living in some countries in 2070ish but this could be the the start of (non-coercive!) negative global population growth if Africa follows the same pattern as everywhere else. I mean, nobody _wants_ Malthus to be right, and this could be the beginning of the end of his trap.

Most demographers agree we will indeed reach flat global population, and perhaps even declining, around 2050-2070

And while this is a good thing for many reasons (environmental, Malthusian, etc), I have yet to hear a reasonable discussion of the downside. Namely, how does global capitalism work if the whole globe starts having a demographic profile like Japan, or China? Is that the end of 'growth'? And what will 'capitalism' need to do to make things work in that environment?

Capitalism shouldn't be affected any more than anything else (in the long run, big die-off isn't really good for anything). But if you are referring to the debt-inflation state, it's prospects are dim.

Child mortality in Haiti had been declining steeply and steadily since 1960s. And resulted in explosive population growth. Maybe Africa will be different but Haiti is not an example of what one can call "good news".

I'll play Malthus's Advocate and say this isn't necessarily a good thing.


More people is always good - except when it isn't.

So far, it has always been good. I seen no reason for this to change. As long as economics growth is faster than population growth, we will never reach that frontier of starvation and population decline that is caused by scarce resources.

Remind me not to invite you to any baby showers.

If you can afford to have a baby shower you don't have to worry about Malthus

Self-evidently this is a good thing. I am appalled by people saying otherwise. It is a good thing if you are an insane Malthusian - because before fertility will drop, children have to live longer. Women will have six children if they expect four to die before they get old. They will have two if they expect both to live until they retire. And they will have none if they have a good pension plan. But the first step is for the children to live. It is self-evidently a good thing and you're a decent human being. It is a good thing if you think human capital is important - this means investing in children is safer and more reliable and hence parents will do more of it. That will flow on to Africa's development and hence fertility decline.

In fact there is no way whatsoever this is not a good thing. The only sensible conversation is how it was achieved.

And I'm going to step in and be all soft and fluffy - this is a good thing because fewer families (or families less often) will be dealing with the emotional pain of losing a child. This is a real thing that matters - it's not all about growth and healthcare resources, it's about real people and their welfare.

This is really excellent news. Any idea why the improvement? Sanitation? Better access to medical care?

Natural resources extraction, I would guess.

Fixing basic problems revolving around the axis of evil-diarrhea-malaria-etc.

"In fact there is no way whatsoever this is not a good thing."

No, it's only a good thing if it's followed by a decrease in total fertility (which to be fair, it almost certainly will be). Dead babies are indeed self-evidently bad. You know what else is self-evidently bad? Twenty billion people living in Africa (note: I do not think this will happen).

Let me go out on a limb and say I see nothing obviously wrong with twenty billion people living in Africa either.

People are the ultimate resource. We will run short of people before we have too many. Africa has a problem with governance and ignorance. It does not have a problem with population.

This is excellent news, of course. How sure are we this isn't simply an improvement in measurement?

Also, 27% mortality in Niger? Good heavens...

Great. Just what the world needs. More blacks.

I think you meant to enter your name as "Ron Paul".

If any comment were ever a candidate for deletion, this is.

Do you guys remember when the comments to Marginal Revolution posts were actually full of substance and interesting discussion, rather than blatant racism?

I think this was more an attempt to associate racism with Lew Rockwell than an actual attempt at racism. Hence the false name.

At least your wife will have more boyfriends to pick from, Lew.

No. Just more targets. She's a proud gun owner like me.

Lew, whatever she tells you to keep her fun happening, good luck with that.

What's really amazing is that some of the more dim-witted people here will believe Lew Rockwell actually left this comment.

Isn't the adjective "shocking" usually reserved for negative connotations? I would instead call this an amazing statistic.

"declines in child mortality plummeted much faster " versus "increases in child survival rates accelerated rapidly"

Mood affiliation?

The link contains a link to a blog post by World Bank Economist Wolfgang Fengler:

Fengler writes

"This is why rapid population growth is good for Africa, since fast growth is taking place for fundamentally different reasons, compared to the past; it is because people now live longer—not because they have more children."

Fengler seems to be claiming that since rapid population growth is occurring because of a rapid decline in infant mortality rather than an increase in fertility, it follows that rapid population growth is in itself a good thing for Africa.

This is an unusual argument. While it can't be doubted that rapid declines in infant mortality is excellent news in itself, it seems somewhat less certain that rapid population growth, in countries which already have very weak infrastructures, is an unalloyed good. It seems logically possible to welcome the good news about declining infant mortality, and to be optimistic that this, together with further advances in education and gains in wealth, will lead to much lower rates of fertility and a more stable population in the future (as has occurred elsewhere) while still recognizing that it will not be easy to develop a decent infrastructure to support a rapidly growing population.

Longer lives means fewer children dying before they can be productive, and longer years of work productivity, with the beginning of work delayed to allow for more education and thus greater productivity.

The burden of a child that dies before able to work is the highest while a person that delays work to be educated and then lives to work for twice as long is a significant asset.

That's right. But very rapid population growth in a country that already has a relatively large, poor, mostly uneducated population brings its own set of problems. I just think some of the commentators like Fengler should have a slightly more nuanced view of the situation, rather than gushing about how great rapid population growth is for Africa.

I am a bit cautious about positive statistics out of Africa:

from the report (ht
"A Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition using Demographic and Health Survey data shows that the increased ownership of insecticide-treated bednets in endemic malaria zones explains 39 percent of the decline in postneonatal mortality and 58 percent of the decline in infant mortality."


A little info on DDT scare:

The pesticides merely make the bednetting more effective, and limit insect exposure to prevent insects developing a tolerance to the pesticides, as occurred with dumping tons of DDT indiscriminately everywhere in the 60s and 70s rendering DDT useless..

DDT is far from useless. Its still the most effective cheap insect repellant. When ecuador went back to using it recently, it saw malaria rates plummet.

Major Wars in Africa c. 2030-2040

Count on it!

I am not that sure that lower infant mortality will automatically cause lower natality.

Natality has a lot to do with economy structure. In pre-industrial, mostly agricultural society, every child is a net economic asset as soon as it can take some meaningful (if small) work in the agricultural system. Which is somewhere around the age of 4. This is also an incentive to have significantly more than 2 children (not necessarily 8, but maybe 5), which, at the end, will have Malthusian results.

But every child that dies before it can contribute meaningfully is a liability.

On the other hand, and child that survives to adulthood becomes a liability if a fixed plot of land must be divided.

Limiting children when child mortality is high runs a high risk of not producing any productive children, but failing to limit children in the absence of child mortality has rapidly diminishing returns.

If lower infant death rates are followed by lower birth rates, this is a positive thing. If they aren't, they are even more poached in the long run when a larger population hits a Malthusian wall. Hopefully the West won't end up with a refugee crisis on its hands.

Also if this is mainly driven by mosquito nets, it may not be sustainable as the skeeters tend to adapt pretty fast.

Insects can't adapt to bednetting in any time scale we care about. The pesticide on the bednetting targets only the insects attracted to the CO2 and kills them at a high rate without exposing the entire insect population to the pesticide to produce resistance. And the life cycle of the insects depends on a blood meal, which in turn is required to infect the insect with the disease organism, so blocking insects from humans limits the infection of insects and the infection of humans. In combination, the population of infected insects and infected humans falls.

Cultures learn.

Usually not as fast as we'd like.

The Lucky Jim principle is that there's no end to the way nice things are nicer than nasty things. Children dying is a nasty thing, and other nasty things are associated with it like very high total fertility rates. Children not dying is a nice thing and other nice things, like a fall in TFRs to sustainable levels, could follow. But, opinion-leaders in the West need to push harder for contraception in Africa -- both get the contraceptives out there for free and educate the masses, plus shame the elites into educating the masses to reduce their TFRs.

This used to be considered commonsense in the West, but after the 1970s, it was decided that this was "racist" so sub-Saharan population boomed with almost no adverse comment from abroad.

Here's the CIA World Factbook's list of Total Fertility Rates by country:

And here's its Top Ten list:

1 Niger
2012 est.
2 Uganda
2012 est.
3 Mali
2012 est.
4 Somalia
2012 est.
5 Burundi
2012 est.
6 Burkina Faso
2012 est.
7 Ethiopia
2012 est.
8 Zambia
2012 est.
9 Afghanistan
2012 est.
10 Congo, Republic of the
2012 est.

World Bank economist Wolfgang Fengler enthuses:

"Second, Africa will be the new demographic powerhouse of the world. For example, Kenya adds more than one million people per year to its population, and will reach an estimated 85 million by 2050."

There's something seriously wrong with the reigning mindset.

The most broadly prosperous country in Sub-Saharan Africa is Botswana, with Namibia second. What do they have in common? Small populations. A lot of land per person and thus a lot of natural resources per person. Plus governments that aren't just organized crime rings. In other words, they are like still quite poor versions of Australia, the Lucky Country.

In contrast, turning Kenya into Bangladesh South through massive population growth isn't going to do Kenyans much good per capita. Yet, this World Bank economist is cheerleading for that!

Yes, I realize Singapore is even more densely populated than Bangladesh, but, for the sake of sub-Saharan Africans, can we admit that they aren't Singaporeans? In a sane intellectual world, the Australian model of a lot of natural resources per capita due to population limitation would look a lot more plausible for sub-Saharan African countries than the Singaporean model of everybody become financial wheeler-dealers in skyscrapers.

Up through the 1970s, it was common for rich Protestants like the Rockefellers and Bushes to enthusiastically back contraception for the poor through their philanthropic activities. Here's the classic statement of the Protestant View in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life:

There's a theory that Bill and Melinda Gates, contemporary versions of the rich Protestants of yore, are actually promoting their caste's traditional goal of limiting fertility among the poor, but that they have to work through triple-bankshot methods to avoid being called racist. For example, rather than directly promote Depo Provera shots in the inner cities, the Gates Foundation promotes college for inner citiy dwellers, which, if all goes well, will lead the new coeds to decide to get Depo Provera shots to avoid derailing their promising academic careers with pregnancies. Same with fighting malaria in Africa. Reduce infant mortality and, eventually, Africans will realize they don't need as many children and start using birth control.

I don't know if that's how Bill and Melinda Gates think deep down, but if they do, this seems admirable in many ways. But the lag time for this triple bankshot plan is worrisome, especially since, because of "demographic momentum," it takes about a half century for the population to stop growing even after the total fertility rate falls to 2.1. If philanthropists are terrified of being accused of being racist, so they don't promote contraception, then the lag time for this triple bankshot plan will take longer to work than it has to.

More poor Africans = more *impact* for those post-Rockefeller NGOs. Not so ironically, the birth control movement was only really successful in converting American and European Catholics who, had their own welfare state operating outside the control of the WASP/Jew elite. Those little African countries continued to grow as many little brown pets as possible for our international busybodies. After all, who is going to hire a professor of African studies to fix the *broken institutions* in Africa is their are no starving Africans? Even if they were still employed they would sound a lot less cool at cocktail parties.

The chalupas in Africa will be cheaper than ever!

MPC represent. Steve Sailer I see you my nigga.

One would want to verify the statistics.

paper cited only cites Kenya. Are Kenyan statistics accurate? Could they be subject to politically-inspired manipulation ie systematic bias?

One suspects that exogenous factors like drought or lack of same will have a big impact. Ie this is not just about deliberate policy, but about something else that is happening (eg the malaria season may not have been strong).

ya da ya da ya da.

Major Wars will solve all this. Only Major Wars will solve this.
Good? no, but nothing else will solve overpopulation so well (or at all). Historically, it is how it is always done.

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