Sunday, January 29, 2012

The 2011 census of (eventual) doom?

Maybe it is just a kind of scientific fallacy, but it is said that some large animals, when shot by hunters, will keep moving or attacking even after they have suffered fatal injuries. The damage is done, but for various reasons, it can take many seconds or even minutes for the animal to die. Given a “freeze frame” image of the animal just after it was shot, a veterinarian could say that while the creature is very much alive when the snapshot is taken, it is just a matter time before the injury it has suffered will kill it or at best severely cripple it.
The 2011 Latvian census, sadly, is this kind of snapshot. A nation isn't exactly a charging rhinoceros, so the analogy is poor, but it is a living socio-economic and historical organism. It can suffer fatal damage that is visible, obvious, yet will take time to work its ultimate effects.
The 2011 figures show that Latvia had a population of 2.068 million, down 13% from the last census in 2000 and down 22.4% from the 1989 census, the last before Latvia regained its independence. In absolute numbers, this represents a population loss of 600 000, more than the losses suffered to political repression (including deportations), combat in the Second World War, and refugee flight to the West.
At first glance, these figures would appear to be evidence for the strident claims that Latvia's 20 year period of independence has amounted to “genocide” in excess of anything the national has every experienced. This is not true. Of the 13% population loss since 2000, 190 000 are emigrants. Presumably most of them are alive and many of them are better off economically than their cohorts in Latvia. 119 000 represent deaths in excess of births, but very few of these deaths were violent, although some could be considered premature by European life expectancy standards. So to speak of “genocide”, except in some peculiar metaphorical sense, is a misleading exaggeration.
However, it is not an exaggeration to say that the end result of Latvia's demographic decline will be further depopulation in coming decades and the eventual unsustainability of the Latvian nation as such. In other words, there will not be enough people of working age to support a growing number of pensioners and, indeed, to prevent economic stagnation. Labor immigration may be the only way to remedy this, reversing the depletion of the active labor force by emigration and low birth rates.
Who or what is at fault for this? I would say that the Latvian political elite over the past 20 years is responsible for, in effect, keeping open and “salting” the deep wounds ripped into the nation's fabric by 50 years of Soviet Communist occupation. Not the least, most of Latvia's governments since 1991 have, to a greater or lesser degree, perpetuated the Soviet mentality and Soviet way of handling matters. Most notably, they have largely ignored the advice (sometimes not well presented) of Western countries and during the European Union accession process to do a number of things that require little or no spending – stop bribery, end other forms of corruption, run government cleanly and efficiently. I have expounded on this before.
Now that Latvia has failed to do what it could have done to heal and mitigate the wounds of occupation, it has, in effect, turned these into self-perpetuated wounds that have now turned the nation into a ticking demographic bomb that it is probably too late to disarm. Latvia is well on its way to becoming, and will probably inexorably become a territory with a shrinking, aging, demoralized population and a stagnating, most likely shrinking and unsustainable economy. That is the brutal reality of the census.


TRex said...

Yes, the population is dropping but Latvia's real problem is the deeply ingrained corruption. and unprofessional behaviour of it's business owners and politicians. Why would a young person hang around just to be treated like dirt and paid in an envelope with no health care or pension, working abroad is an obvious escape but one that could be reversed if transparency was actually desired by everyone from the top down. Something I'm not so sure of.

Standard & Poor's rates Latvia as improving but they are just looking at the cooked books of the financial institutions and government projections. But it could just be, as an example, that they aren't aware of the the EU grant money that is being stuffed into various pockets while the employees shuffle from one low paying grey job to another. Not much has changed over the years in this regard.

The language schools in Riga are a case in point. EU grant money is there to provide language training for the unemployed who are often so poorly instructed that they soon lose interest while the instructors and staff are short changed and abused and the officials meant to oversee the whole process, don't. No course material, no office supplies, students pay for each sheet of paper. No standardized exams, no oversight and teachers who get paid sporadically and never in full because no amount of prodding can get a contract created even if they are a small business, generate invoices and pay their taxes. This is just such amateur criminality for the simple reason that it is an open joke in Latvia that it does not pay to be transparent and stealing is easy.

Same applies all the way up the ladder.

Valdis said...

Juris, I've been reading your blog on and off and do not follow it regularly, but I seem to recall you used to proclaim yourself as a libertarian.

How do you reconcile the ideology of libertarianism, with its belief in a FYGM mentality, self interest and the egalitarian nature of well made bootstraps with the Latvian way of failing at being a society which you've been documenting here?

If anything, the thoroughly and increasingly rotten state of affairs in Latvia would be an excellent example on why rational actors (in this case, the elite) would do anything to weaken any possible opposition and maintain their position of advantage.

Anonymous said...

To Valdis,

The principle of egalitarianism does not apply to Latvia, a post-communist country of back door favors, tens of years of corruption, oppression and murder. Juri's critique is mostly addressed towards the fundamental socioeconomic structures that political ideologies, whether left or right stand on.

Valdis said...

To Anonymous.

Nor would anything comparable to egalitarianism apply in a society organized on libertarian principles. Goes back to game theory and all that jazz.

To be fair, I enjoy Juris' writing on these matters and mostly share his pessimistic outlook.

I just cannot parse the disconnect between a relatively grim reality and the naiveness of subscribing to an ideology that essentially legitimizes it.

In fact, I believe that the only thing preventing a reenactment of the events of 1905. are the graciously open borders. The Schengen agreement has been a very convenient safety valve not only for Latvia, but for quite a few other countries in the EU.

Velirand said...

"down 13% from the last census in 2000"
But number of ethnic Latvians dropped only 6,3 %.