Washington Profile has published an extensive interesting interview with Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute about Russia’s demographic crisis. For more info about these troubling birth rate and mortality trends, we also have a 45-minute documentary film on the subject.
Washington Profile: What is the alternative? If there is no public outcry and if business continues as usual, to what extent could demographics have an impact on the economic and social development of Russia in the next 15-20 years? Eberstadt: Russia’s current survival schedule is about the same as India’s. Overall life expectancy in Russia and in India are similar today—in fact, India’s may now be higher than Russia’s. The Putin government promotes the goal of long term Russian growth to reach Portugal’s income levels, i.e. western European levels, but you can’t generate Irish levels of productivity on Indian levels of health. In the modern world, health and wealth are very closely connected. This fact is being disguised in the Russian case to some degree by the oil and energy boom, the bubble that is favorably affecting public finances and GDP numbers right now. In the long run, for any modern economy, wealth lies in human beings, not in the ground. If the human capital of Russia is becoming increasingly debilitated, and if human numbers are steadily decreasing, Russia’s economic power cannot be steadily increasing. Russia risks prolonged relative economic decline, in a world where many of its neighbors are growing very rapidly: of course I am thinking of China and India, but there are others as well. What would it mean for the Russian population to be shrinking steadily through severe excess mortality in a world of more or less steadily improving health standards? From a Russian standpoint I’d think that would look pretty grim and pretty dangerous.