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Affluent Investor | June 27, 2017

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Youth In Revolt: The Demographics Behind Middle Eastern Uprisings

Much has been written about the various uprisings which have been gaining strength and momentum since 2008. Usually it takes the tack of focusing on the abuses of the particular regime in question, because the press tends to see things through the eyes of the official underdog in any story based around conflict. Supply side economists like me have pointed to the ways in which monetary debasement by the United States helped set off a wave of food price spikes and launched an Inflation Intifada. My friend David Goldman has documented the economic problems from a supply side perspective in greater depth here in the Asia Times.

But very little has appeared in the public discussion about the demographic component of this wave of destabilization. That’s a shame because although there are real economic risks in a country which gets out of balance and skews too old, there are also severe consequences to a country which gets out of balance in the opposite direction, at least when that occurs in conjunction with other risk factors. Skew too young and you get a revolution: an analysis of all the countries which have gone through a revolution, coup attempt or civil war in the recent ‘Arab Spring’ shows that every single one of them had a median age of 24 or younger. The story of political revolutions is more often than not the story of starting with a nation which has low life expectancy and high birth rates (hence a young median age) and adding high youth unemployment, one or another radical ideology and a food price spike.

Youth in Revolt 1

 

Youth in Revolt 2

 

Skew too old and you get a regime of ‘get off my lawn’: perfectly groomed, no change, frozen in time, slow death. A Japan which dreams only of its former glories; thinks any possible future lies with robots; is obsessed with horror movies about the vengeful ghosts of discarded children, and sells more adult diapers per year than it does baby diapers paints a sad but accurate picture of the future of that nation. Interestingly, the Nordic types seem more cinematically captivated by lurid crime films about murdered children who are avenged by girls with dragon tattoos, than they are by waterlogged girl ghosts.

Youth in Revolt 3

 

The traditional remedies prescribed by global elite opinion don’t seem to help much. For example, higher education is not a reliable social stabilizer. The old cliché about universities as schools of revolution seems to match the history better than the newer cliché about how sending them to college keeps them off the streets. In terms of the Arab Spring, Egypt, for example, had perhaps the highest proportion of college grads in the Muslim middle east.

But if a country has a large youth co-hort and a high college matriculation rate and at the same time has high unemployment, then higher education seems to function as an unrest accelerant. It raises expectations, but fails to deliver on a higher standard of living. It exposes young people to revolutionary ideologies, and instills attitudes of condescension and even contempt for the more cautious politics of their elders. And it connects people with these ideas and attitudes and frustrations with other people who share them.  This is a recipe for violence and bloodshed. All of this is rendered even more heartbreaking when one realizes that the pattern is that young people are typically the vanguard of the revolution, not its eventual rulers. Self-sacrificing idealists start revolutions, but self-seeking realists consolidate them.  And if you don’t believe me, than just ask the Egyptian military.

As my friend Reuven Brenner has taught me, capital markets and revolutions are not opposites. They are alternatives, alternative answers to the question which all young people ask, “How can I create the future that I want?” If the peaceful world of markets as a road to the future is cut off, as it has been for decades in the countries under question, than the violent world of revolution becomes the answer by default.

Article originally published on Forbes.com.

Jerry Bowyer is a Forbes contributor, contributing editor of AffluentInvestor.com, and Senior Fellow in Business Economics at The Center for Cultural Leadership.

Jerry has compiled an impressive record as a leading thinker in finance and economics. He worked as an auditor and a tax consultant with Arthur Anderson, as Vice President of the Beechwood Company which is the family office associated with Federated Investors, and has consulted in various privatization efforts for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He founded the influential economic think tank, the Allegheny Institute, and has lectured extensively at universities, businesses and civic groups.

Jerry has been a member of three investment committees, among which is Benchmark Financial, Pittsburgh’s largest financial services firm. Jerry had been a regular commentator on Fox Business News and Fox News. He was formerly a CNBC Contributor, has guest-hosted “The Kudlow Report”, and has written for CNBC.com, National Review Online, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as many other publications. He is the author of The Bush Boom and more recently The Free Market Capitalist’s Survival Guide, published by HarperCollins. Jerry is the President of Bowyer Research.

Jerry consulted extensively with the Bush White House on matters pertaining to the recent economic crisis. He has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, The International Herald Tribune and various local newspapers. He has been a contributing editor of National Review Online, The New York Sun and Townhall Magazine. Jerry has hosted daily radio and TV programs and was one of the founding members of WQED’s On-Q Friday Roundtable. He has guest-hosted the Bill Bennett radio program as well as radio programs in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

Jerry is the former host of WorldView, a nationally syndicated Sunday-morning political talk show created on the model of Meet The Press. On WorldView, Jerry interviewed distinguished guests including the Vice President, Treasury Secretary, HUD Secretary, former Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice, former Presidential Advisor Carl Rove, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and publisher Steve Forbes.

Jerry has taught social ethics at Ottawa Theological Hall, public policy at Saint Vincent’s College, and guest lectured at Carnegie Mellon’s graduate Heinz School of Public Policy. In 1997 Jerry gave the commencement address at his alma mater, Robert Morris University. He was the youngest speaker in the history of the school, and the school received more requests for transcripts of Jerry’s speech than at any other time in its 120-year history.

Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest five of their seven children.

 

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