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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. 

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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