David Frum

11.29.12

Killing the "Dying Bear" Meme

Mark Adomanis brings to light a major -- albeit likely temporary -- shift in Russian demographics. For the first time since 1992, Russia's population is experiencing natural (i.e. without immigration) growth. This is big news for a society with a woeful rate of alcoholism and an atrociously low life expectancy rate.

That positive note aside, Adomanis expresses frustration with his fellow writers:

[W]hat you cannot do, what is simply not supportable by the data, is to argue that Russia is in a constantly worsening demographic crisis and that it is fated to forever be a “dying bear” beset by insufficient births and a skyrocketing level of alcoholism. While simplistic and hackneyed, this meme is incredibly popular in certain circles of the press and in certain parts of the conservative movement. Why such a clearly false narrative has such staying power is beyond me, but let me humbly suggest that when journalists or pundits describe Russia they should refer to its growing population: this would do quite a lot to clear up any confusion as it might make people look at actual numbers instead of accepting someone else’s contentions at face value.

When you zoom out and look at things from a high level, Russia’s demographics have actually improved quite dramatically over the past decade and have consistently surpassed even the most optimistic projections. Will this continue to happen? I personally think that Russia’s actual demographic performance will continue to be modestly more positive than the most alarmist predictions. But the truth is that no one really knows. If I was actually possessed of the clairvoyance necessary to see exactly how things will play out I’d already have made a fortune on the stock market, so the best I can do is constantly look at the most recent data and adjust my analysis accordingly. What I absolutely will not do, though, and what no one with an interest in getting things right should do, is to cram all of my analysis into a simplistic narrative of decay and decline.