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The Labor Of Politics: No Country For Young Men?

The Labor Of Politics: No Country For Young Men?

As the world’s population surges towards 8 billion people, two massive demographic trends are underway that will have distinct political consequences for different countries around the world


First, in many industrialized countries, population growth rates are stagnating or, as in Eastern Europe and parts of East Asia, falling. These countries are graying fast as the share of old folks rises.

Meanwhile in vast reaches of Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East, people are also living longer while at the same time youth populations are also currently exploding. In fact, by some estimates, Africa alone will account for almost all of the global population growth that occurs in this century (2 billion people in total).

Old folks and young folks present different sets of political challenges. One way of thinking about, in the Labor Day spirit, is that it’s mainly about jobs or, you might say, about labor.

Countries with aging populations face a basic challenge: are there enough warm bodies to keep the economy humming along and to pay taxes into pensions and healthcare schemes for the elderly? If not, governments must face the politically unpopular choice of either raising taxes or cutting pensions benefits. For an illustration of the political risks of pension reform just over the past year, look at Argentina (protests), Nicaragua (riots, killings leading to political crisis), or Russia (protests, uncharacteristic public policy reversal by president Putin).

Meanwhile, countries with huge youth populations face a different, and arguably more severe challenge: how to find productive jobs for all those young people. Consider that many of the countries in Africa and the Middle East that have the biggest youth bulges also show some of the highest rates of youth unemployment – youth unemployment in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, and Kenya is above 20 percent. In South Africa, youth joblessness is nearing 60 percent. Lots of idle young people is a recipe for political instability anywhere. Creating enough jobs for them requires little good luck and lot of good policy on education, on labor markets, and on infrastructure.

One great but unpopular solution: there’s one obvious way to balance this all out – it starts with an I and it ends with… well, these days, it tends to end with populist backlashes. That’s right: increased immigration flows are the most logical way to balance out labor surpluses in some countries with labor shortages in others. But anti-immigrant cultural and political backlashes in the rich world are making that a very tough sell these days, even if some sensible immigration reforms have been put on the table.

And if immigration policies tighten in precisely the places where there is the most economic opportunity, the pressure on poorer countries with huge swaths of young and restless will only rise. 

Pop quiz: what percentage of plastic currently gets recycled worldwide? Watch this video in Eni's Energy Shot series to find out and learn what needs to be done to prevent plastic from ending up in our oceans. Plastic is a precious resource that should be valued, not wasted.

This Monday, March 8, is International Women's Day, a holiday with roots in a protest led by the Russian feminist Alexandra Kollontai that helped topple the Tsar of Russia in 1917. More than a hundred years later, amid a global pandemic that has affected women with particular fury, there are dozens of women-led protests and social movements reshaping politics around the globe. Here we take a look at a few key ones to watch this year.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shocked the world last year when he recovered from an attempted assassination plot by poisoning — an attempt that bore all the fingerprints of Russian government. Then he shocked the world again by returning to Russia and timing that return with the release of an hours-long documentary that catalogued the Putin regime's extensive history of corruption. Virtually no one, therefore, was shocked when he was immediately sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and expert on authoritarian regimes, believes there was a method to Navalny's madness. "His decision of '….I'm going to do something that harms me personally, but is going to be a lesson for Russians. I'm going teach a generation of Russians how to be brave.' I mean, not very many people would have the guts to do that."

Applebaum's conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television stations nationwide starting Friday, March 5. Check local listings.

It's not like things are going well in Mexico.

COVID has killed more people there than in any country except the United States and Brazil. Just 2 percent of Mexicans have gotten a first vaccine jab, compared with nearly 24 in the US. The Biden administration made clear this week that it won't send vaccines to its southern neighbor until many more Americans have been vaccinated. Mexico's government has cut deals for doses from China, Russia, and India.

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A body blow for Pakistan's Prime Minister: Imran Khan suffered an embarrassing defeat this week when members of the National Assembly, the country's lower house, voted to give the opposition bloc a majority in the Senate. (In Pakistan, lower house legislators and provincial assemblies elect senators in a secret ballot.) The big drama of it all is that Khan's own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party holds a lower house majority, which means that lawmakers supposedly loyal to his party voted in secret for opposition candidates. Khan's allies claim that PTI members were bribed to support the opposition, and the prime minister says he will ask for a lower house vote of confidence in his leadership. That vote will not be secret, but even if he survives, the political damage is done. Without a Senate majority, he has no chance of passing key reform plans, including constitutional amendments meant to centralize financial and administrative control in the federal government. Khan has, however, refused to resign.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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