While improvements in nutrition, hygiene, irrigation, medicine, modern plumbing, the ability to distribute food and advanced sanitation systems have helped to elongate the human lifespan and consequently allow for larger populations, an unintended consequence of the modern revolutions in human health has been the fuelling of wars in regions that have experienced the most population growth over the shortest period of time.
While modern population statistics are vastly more reliable than those further back in history, the census keeping of the Ottoman Empire was always at a highly advanced level and continued to become more accurate over the centuries. Because the Ottoman bureaucracy had a comparatively efficient tax collecting system, it became imperative for Ottoman bureaucrats to have accurate information as to the population of its vast territory.
In 1800 at the dawn of Europe’s industrial revolution, the entire population of the Ottoman Empire stood at 26 million. At that time the territory of the Ottoman Empire included all of modern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Bulgaria, Serbia, Jordan, Montenegro, Greece, Albania, Macedonia/FYROM and much of modern Saudi Arabia, Romania, Libya, Moldova Tunisia and Algeria.
In 1900, by which time the Ottoman Empire had lost much of its Balkan territory, an accurate figure for the total population of the Empire was 31,706,300. By contrast, contemporary Turkey’s population is 79.51, while the modern population of Syria is 18.43, Iraq is 37.2 million and Greece is 10.75 million. Looking at Egypt in isolation, during the last century of de-jure Ottoman Rule (de-facto UK), the population was just over 10 million where today Egypt’s population is 95.69.
The following chart illustrates how the last 200 years has seen an inordinate growth in the global population compared to preceding centuries.
Another chart showing growth trends between 1800 and the present day makes the human global growth spurt of the late modern era all the more apparent.
As almost all of the current crises in the Middle East are taking place in what was the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 20th century, the ballooning populations of this region bear closer inspection. While population grow isn’t a requisite to conflict, growing populations, particularly in dense urban areas does make the exploitation of civilians through the use of war and embargo all the more easy for the exploiter. Throughout history governments, feudal landlords and corrupt clergy relied on growing populations to provide more tax, tithe, zakat, soldiers and slaves for the benefit of what in retrospect can be called the 1%. Today’s neo-liberal economies are largely the same in terms of their desire to balloon the population in order to create more wealth for the corrupt ruling classes.
At present, Palestine’s Gaza strip is the most densely populated place on earth. Because of this, the starvation of Gaza by the Tel Aviv regime has been made all the more easy for the occupiers. This is just one of the most prominent examples of a colonial power exploiting population density in order to sow chaos.
While growing populations and dense populations are no excuse to inflict war and starvation on totally innocent populations, as the world becomes more populous there are more opportunities to exploit tensions over resources and power than their would be in comparatively small populations. Libya’s comparatively small population of 6.293 million helped in its rapid economic development between 1969 and 2011. Tragically, its comparatively small population could not save Libya from an exploitative war launched by NATO in 2011. Interestingly, while the political situation in present day Libya is far worse than that in Syria or Iraq, Libya’s comparatively small population may ultimately make it easier to unite the country under a stable leadership in the future. While such things remain a tall order, such a feat would be even more difficult to accomplish in the same territory with a larger and/or more dense population.
I recently wrote the following regarding population management in developing countries, with an emphasis on the need to adopt a Chinese style model in an age of increased automation:
Some European and pan-western media outlets remain fixated on Europe’s declining population rates, something which is a trend throughout the EU except in countries where migration numerically compensates for the otherwise universal trends of shrinking populations. On the other side of the geopolitical spectrum, Russia and many former Soviet republics are also seeing population declines.
Not a problem but an asset
There is no rational reason to be worried by this trend in an age of automation, assuming that one adopts a national revenue generating mechanism that puts automated factories, increasingly automated farms and other so-called artificial intelligence based sectors to work in the service of national wealth, rather than in the service of generating wealth solely for the owners of the means of production.
In 1979, China introduced the one child policy in order to curb unsustainable population growth. While agrarian economies require the use of more young workers than advanced industrial economies, China’s largely agrarian 1970s economy could simply not afford to support a rapidly ballooning population. Deng Xioping’s sift to an industrial economy further hammered home the need to get China’s out of control population into line with more manageable numbers.
Contrary to Sinophobic propaganda, China’s One Child Policy has been such a success that it became relaxed to a two-child policy in 2015 whilst trends even in this policy continue to relax in favour of those seeking slightly larger families. Today, China’s success is generated largely through an industrial sector that is rapidly evolving into a industrial-technical hybrid sector where innovation is becoming as important as production. The Chinese innovation revolution has been described by President Xi Jinping as a drive to replace “made in China” with “created in China”. This is further bolstered by the fact that as more factories become increasingly automated, there becomes a gradually decreased need for large numbers of factory workers.
While many western economies, including and especially the US economy does not have a safety net for those who lose employment due to automation and artificial intelligence, the market socialist economy of China is able to not only produce wealth but distribute it even more evenly in an age where mechanical rather than fleshy hands become those which generate production and consequently, also generate profit.
Profit for people – generated by machines
The Chinese model of market socialism that was first articulated by Deng Xioping and has since been expanded for the needs of the 21st century in Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era offers a practical solution to the problem of increasing living standards in an age where fewer human workers are necessary. According to the Chinese model, enterprise and entrepreneurialism is not only allowed but encouraged, arguably more so than anywhere else in the world. However, the profits from the fruits of these enterprise remain centrally regulated, thus insuring that the capital derived from Chinese invention and labour is reinvested into Chinese society and the Chinese people.
The critical element of the Chinese model is that the phenomenon of capital flight which is such a widespread problem in the west, is tightly monitored due to China’s strict rules about capital outflow from the country. Because of this, China is well prepared for an age when fewer Chinese will be in factories but more will be using modern technology to invent the next generation of modern technological marvels. Because the profits created by automation and artificial intelligence will be sustained, circulated and re-invested within China just as the profits created by the human hard already are, there is no danger of mass poverty among Chinese workers when more and more robots take the place of human workers.
In this sense, China has both a built-in safety net for its people and a means that actually encourages people to become more intellectually and mechanically creative, just as machines will largely supplant the human time and effort needed to manufacture existing products. In the west by contrast, there is no real safety net for the unemployed, specifically in countries like the US, UK and Canada. In the western world, when a man or woman is replaced by a machine, they are left with nothing. Furthermore, while China encourages an attitude of enterprise and invention once associated with the United States, the western countries continue to increase bureaucracy, regulations and restrictions just as China is reducing such things.
Finally, China’s world-leading education system gives Chinese the tools necessary to become world leading originators of new products, ideas and technological systems while the western education systems, particularly those funded by the state continue to fall further behind.
More money – more resources
Consequently, if countries with naturally declining populations are able to develop a market socialist system with local characteristics, they will be able to use automation to generate wealth for ordinary people who will then but able to pursue other lines of work involving innovation for the benefit of the people as a whole. At the same time, as the pressure on infrastructure is relieved through smaller populations, countries can continue to invest in housing, transport, public spaces and the arts in ways that are geared towards creating what China calls a “moderately prosperous society” rather than a society pushed by ballooning populations to focus on mere subsistence based infrastructure.
Furthermore, with automation generating a substantial proportion of national wealth, there is no need to worry about a young generation generating money for the old to survive. This will be accomplished largely through increasingly automated factories generating wealth across demographic lines.
Reasons for population decline
Traditionally, births decrease as a society becomes more prosperous. As agricultural societies become urbanised, civilised cultures come to realise that while a child can do menial but non-dangerous work in a farm, in industry one requires an adult workforce that are more technically skilled than the average farm hand. Consequently, fewer children are needed and likewise there is less space for large families in cities vis-a-vis rural environments.
Secondly, as industrial economies mature into innovation driven hybrid industrial-innovation driven economies, there is even less of a need for large families to provide members of a workforce. Furthermore, as living standards improve, the number of children who die in infancy dramatically decreases and hence, there is no need to compensate for such things by having an inordinate amount of children.
Neo-liberalism changes historic trends
While the countries that pioneered neo-liberal economies were the developed countries of Europe and North America, because these systems do not have the built in safety net of China which by most standards is a developed and growing economy, the developed western economies are faced with societies that are technically wealthy, but whose wealth is concentrated in a very small portion of the population – the infamous 1%.
As a result, people who would in previous generations been considered part of a prosperous working class or middle class, are no longer able to afford the lifestyles of their parents’ or in some cases grandparents’ generation. Because of this, many people in developed neo-liberal economies have chosen to have smaller families based on a simple cost benefit analysis.
While the neo-liberal system is systematically unfair to those outside of the 1%, the silver lining is that with decreasing populations, it may become easier for citizens to demand a Chinese style system where the robots doing the jobs that the working class and part of the middle class used to do, generate their wealth in a way that is distributed more equitably among the 99% of the population who in recent generations have been deprived of the expanding wealth of the 1%. A similar argument can and ought to be made in terms of wealth generated from so-called outsourcing. As more wealth comes in, there becomes less of an excuse not to distribute it in an equitable and rational way.
Developed countries have no intrinsic need for large populations, especially in the age of automation and artificial intelligence. Furthermore, countries that seek to develop rapidly as China did in the second half of the 20th century, ought to consider implementing their own one or two child policies in order to exhaust fewer resources of the country while preparing for an age where industrialisation and automation requires a smaller population in order to avoid a surplus of non-productive citizens.
The panic sowed over declining populations in developed countries is largely sensationalist or motivated by religious or ideological extremism. As the world becomes more mechanically self-sufficient, smaller work forces will gradually become an incredibly important asset. Such developments will be able to benefit countries as a whole so long as neo-liberalism gives way to a system of market socialism where wealth generated in the country weather by man or machine, ultimately goes back into the lives and pockets of human beings.
These same techniques when modified to account for individual national or regional circumstances can help in the re-building of nations devastated by war. When it comes to the Syrian Arab Republic in particular, China has already signed multiple contracts for the rebuilding and redevelopment of post-war infrastructure.
Syria can and should become a test case for the development of an economy that relies on increasing amounts of automation and artificial intelligence in the rebuilding of a nation. As a country that continues to suffer at the hands of terrorist aggression, in a post-war environment, Syrians more than perhaps anyone on earth, deserve to live in a country where the proceeds of national wealth are as equitably distributed as possible, a reality that is completely consistent with the ideology of the governing Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party.
Syria has the potential to become a model for a country that is able to rationally manage its population in a post-war environment in such a way that allows more Syrians to attain more proceeds of their own nation’s wealth including much of its untapped gas and oil reserves. At the same time, improved post-war living standards can be achieved through close cooperation with Chinese partners who can help to develop a long term plan for a Syria which avoids ballooning populations over the next 50 to 100 years in order to make the country not only increasingly prosperous, but less desirable as a place where locals can be infiltrated by proxy terrorists in order to foment war against the peaceful vast majority of the country.
In the future, countries with gradually decreasing populations will be less susceptible to foreign agitation and exploitation while they will also be able to harness the power of automated economies in order to advance the material condition of the people in a more complete way, something which is also a vital tool in avoiding both civil disorder and a bulwark against foreign meddling.
While Syria’s enemies seek to drag one of the most civilised counties in the world into the barbaric past that others have created, it is imperative that the leadership of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party adopts a progressive plan to elevate the condition of the people, not just in a post-war environment but for decades and centuries to come. A model for prosperity through automation in a country where the population has sensible breathing room is the clear answer for Syria and for many nations across the globe.