Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is a War with China (and India) Inevitable?

Yesterday I made the economic case why a war with China is probably going to happen. In that post, I forgot to make mention of one of the other reasons I think this is inevitable. Niall Ferguson, a historian who has gone on record as believing a war between China and America is likely, wrote a piece called Men Without Women, where he noted that in China and India, various social customs and policies have led to there being many more men than women, rather than the natural balance of about 50/50. He notes that his has historically caused the excess males to seek other outlets, usually war:

The question left open by economists is what the consequences will be of such a large surplus of young men. History offers a disquieting answer. According to the German scholar Gunnar Heinsohn, European imperial expansion after 1500 was the result of a male “youth bulge.” Japan’s imperial expansion after 1914 was the result of a similar youth bulge, Heinsohn argues. During the Cold War, it was youth-bulge countries—Algeria, El Salvador, and Lebanon—that saw the worst civil wars and revolutions. Heinsohn has also linked the recent rise of Islamist extremism in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan to an Islamic youth bulge. Political scientists Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer warn that China and India could be the next countries to overdose on testosterone.

That has scary implications. Remember, most of Hemingway’s stories in Men Without Women are about violence. They feature gangsters, bullfighters, and wounded soldiers. The most famous story is called simply “The Killers.”

It may be that the coming generation of Asian men without women will find harmless outlets for their inevitable frustrations, like team sports or videogames. But I doubt it. Either this bachelor generation will be a source of domestic instability, whether Brazilian-style crime or Arab-style revolution—or, as happened in Europe, they and their testosterone will be exported. There’s already enough shrill nationalism in Asia as it is. Don’t be surprised if, in the next generation, it takes the form of macho militarism and even imperialism. Lock up your daughters.
Here is the situation in China:

More than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age could find themselves without spouses by 2020, says the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The gender imbalance among newborns is the most serious demographic problem for the country's population of 1.3 billion, says the academy.

It cites sex-specific abortions as a major factor, due to China's traditional bias towards male children.

The academy says gender selection abortions are "extremely common".

This is especially true in rural areas, and ultra-sound scans, first introduced in the late 1980s, have increased the practice.

The latest figures show that for every 100 girls born in China, 119 boys are born, the academy says in a new book.

And the situation in India is possibly even worse:

In India, female foeticide - the sex-selective abortion of girls - has led to an alarming "gender gap" in the country's population. In 1990, when the census showed that there were 25 million more males than females in India, the government reacted by introducing a law making it illegal to detect the sex of a foetus through ultrasound examination. Yet by 2001, thegender gap had risen to 35 million, and now experts estimate it as high as 50 million.

In addition to the above, both countries are youthful, vastly overpopulated, nationalist, and running hard up against resource limits. The lack of opportunities to start a family has already roiled the Middle East, where extreme sexual repression and polygamy have also caused distortions in male/female relationships. We all know how violent the Middle East is. As the job situation deteriorates and the gaps between rich and poor grow ever wider, is this not a recipe for conflict?

What Ferguson missed is that not only is there a disproportionate share of men, there are also decreasing opportunities for employment. Both of these combined make an even more toxic stew than either one alone. In the United States, there may not be a gender imbalance between men and women as there is in China and India, but the current depression has decimated male jobs particularly. In the United States, there is a lack of family supporting jobs. You cannot raise a family working at Home Depot, yet these are the only jobs America is creating for the majority of people. A shrinking pool of decent-paying jobs are reserved for a small cognitive elite, with everyone else dismissed as irrelevant. And what will testosterone-fuelled males not in that elite do when they cannot earn enough to support a family? Where will the energies of these men go? Today only 55 percent of young people have employment of any sort, much less decent paying wages. As I’ve said so many times before, there is no industry that is going to employ all these people, and wages are only going to continue to decline in real terms. Is it coincidence that American men are becoming ever-more attracted to radical right-wing populism, with its toxic brew of bellicose militarism, virulent nationalism, violent eliminationist rhetoric and enthusiasm for firearms? Where have we seen this before?

This, combined with the reasons I outlined yesterday, make a powerful case for a global conflagration involving not only the United States and China, but India as well. America is already fighting a secret war in Pakistan. China and India have exchanged fire over border disputes many times in the past several decades. India, China, Pakistan, and the United States are all nuclear powers. The United States and India are allies. China and India are rivals. Are we headed for something resembling the powder keg that set off World War 1?

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