Putin the Great
Russia’s Imperial Impostor
THE interest which constructors of utopias had always displayed in the ideal number of citizens, along with the academic controversies about the "populousness of ancient nations" which entertained eighteenth century writers, gave place early in the last century to very practical discussions of population problems. It became widely recognized that numbers have a bearing upon social welfare, though the discussions were limited to conditions within certain old countries which were supposed to be suffering from overpopulation. But as the century advanced, the prevailing optimism and the determination not to raise devils, Malthusian or otherwise, caused interest in population problems to fall into the background. This interest has been revived by another great war and its scope has been extended to include international as well as domestic affairs. Moreover it is unlikely again to fade away. The scientific outlook has found what seems to be a permanent place in the investigation of social problems and no one imbued with this attitude could fail to keep in mind so fundamental a matter as population.
The study of the population problem in its international aspect is thus new. The required facts often fail us. Our knowledge of the demography of many countries is very defective. Only within the last few years have we begun to collect systematic information about migration movements. It requires, however, very little acquaintance with contemporary discussions to make clear that our thought about fundamental matters is much confused whatever the facts of the moment may be. It may therefore be of more service to attempt to deal broadly with basic issues than to direct attention to the particular situation existing at the present time.
Let us first take the characteristic of size, or to be more precise, of gross numbers. This characteristic is so obvious that on that very account it runs the risk of neglect. Nevertheless, other things being equal, power and prestige are a function of numbers. Now sociologists and psychologists are well aware of the disturbing influence of stature upon conduct, as shown, for instance, in investigations of offenders against the law. In somewhat the same way large nations tend to bully and domineer while small nations tend to cringe and intrigue. Difficulties of this order are enhanced because relative size does not remain constant. In 1821 the ratio of the population of Great Britain to that of Ireland was roughly as 2 is to 1; it now is as 11 is to 1. Are not the phases through which the attitude of Great Britain toward Ireland has passed -- fear of a relatively large and potentially unfriendly neighbor, temptation to domineer over a smaller neighbor, and finally willingness to wash hands of so insignificant a neighbor -- connected with changes in this ratio? Such changes are always in progress. About 1850 the population of Germany came to exceed that of France. At the present time France finds that Italy is drawing away from her. Or take the case of Russia. In 1930 Russia had a population of 158 millions and had gained 21½ millions in six years -- that is, an average annual gain of 3½ millions. During the same period the rest of Europe, with a population of 370 millions, had an average annual gain of 2½ millions. Must we not attribute in some part at least the arrogance, domineering, suspicion and fear that have characterized the relations of European nations during the last century to such facts and such changes?
Another aspect of the same matter is seen in the marked concentration of public opinion in Europe upon the birth rate during the last decade or so. Since in Europe a high birth rate now goes generally with a high rate of increase, it is the same matter once again. But the concentration of attention upon the birth rate is worthy of note. A high birth rate is desired and a low birth rate feared. The former is regarded as a proof of vigor, and nations thinking themselves to be vigorous are inclined to suppose that they need to expand territorially. The latter is held to presage decadence, and public opinion supports the efforts made by various governments to encourage large families and to link fertility to patriotism. The ordinary citizen applauds these efforts and such of his neighbors as respond to them, though most often he finds the small family system best for himself.
Differences in size between nations are due to what we may call, for want of a better term, historical accidents. Nations have come into possession of territories of very different sizes and, whatever adjustments there may be in the future, it is obvious that differences on the present scale will remain. Thus population enters into international relations quite apart from the existence of what is known as population pressure. Moreover changes in relative size may occur without any question of overpopulation. In fact, with regard to those particular changes that have been mentioned there is no reason whatever to suspect the occurrence of overpopulation. There is no reason, for instance, to imagine that Germany was becoming overpopulated before the war. The rapid industrialization of that country apparently offered opportunities for the employment of more than the swiftly growing number of Germans, since Germany was finding work every year up to 1914 for some hundreds of thousands of immigrants. So, too, a policy of industrialization might well enable Russia to equal the rest of Europe in numbers without being overpeopled. Changes of this kind are inevitable. By some turn of the wheel a country may find itself in possession of unsuspected resources which a new invention has for the first time rendered of value. A high birth rate and a large increase of population are justified under these circumstances. But neighbors are alarmed and the country with an increasing population imagines quite erroneously that it is vigorous beyond its neighbors and entitled to territorial expansion. Such was the mind of Germany before the war. Hence come restlessness, bumptiousness, fear and friction, which nothing can assuage except a deepening understanding of these fundamental aspects of population. Territorial changes may indeed be proposed to satisfy claims for expansion, but this is a political cure for a political claim and not an economic remedy for an economic evil. As such it lies beyond the limits of this paper to consider.
While it is none too clear what is sometimes meant by population pressure, the underlying idea is a condition arising from maladjustment of numbers to resources. Let us accept this broad definition, but in so doing it is necessary to be as precise as possible. Maladjustment of numbers to resources implies that there are either too few or too many people in a given country. We may omit the former case and concentrate attention upon the latter because those who speak of population pressure clearly have it alone in mind. It is a commonplace notion nowadays that for any country under any given set of circumstances there is a limit to the number of inhabitants that it is desirable to have. Too many people -- that is overpopulation -- means that so much labor is applied to each acre of land that the yield per unit of effort is not as large as it might be. It is evident that the desirable number in any country varies with the natural resources and the skill of the inhabitants; the richer the resources and the more developed the skill, the higher the density that is desirable. Therefore a knowledge of the density is no answer to the question whether any country is overpopulated. Nor are other facts that are sometimes used for this purpose. A distinguished American student of population a few years ago examined the position of Great Britain and concluded that the country was overpopulated to about the extent of the number of unemployed persons. To show that this line of argument is unsound, it is only necessary to mention that, if he now turned his attention to the United States, he would conclude by parity of reasoning that the country was overpopulated by four, six or eight millions or by whatever the number of unemployed may be. The truth is that it is impossible to ascertain with certainty the number that it is desirable to have in any country at any given time. Gross overpopulation shows itself in some Asiatic countries where family farms are so small -- an average of two or three acres -- that, if the farms were twice the size, the family would clearly be better off. Moderate overpopulation may be suspected in certain circumstances. When we find the density of population equal in two countries, but the resources and skill and real income markedly higher in one than the other, we may reasonably suspect overpopulation in the latter. A comparison between Germany and Italy is a case in point. Again we may sometimes infer overpopulation from an examination of the data for real income over a period of years.
By definition, population pressure is a consequence of over-population. But the result of overpopulation is avoidable poverty. The term population pressure is unfortunate because it implies what most certainly does not necessarily follow -- namely that overpopulation leads to pressure outwards as manifested in a desire for territorial expansion. Whether or not this is ever a consequence of overpopulation, the normal consequence is rather pressure downwards. The overpopulated millions of Asia work from before dawn until after dark for a pittance. They are over-employed, slaves to their farms, and have no energy or leisure left to think beyond the daily drudgery. This does not mean that they will not emigrate if a barrier is removed, as is shown by the case of the Chinese influx into Manchuria. The downward pressure produces a tendency for population to exude at the edges. It would, however, be very difficult to find any indisputable case in history of definite territorial ambitions or of deliberate aggression seeking outlets on account of population pressure. These ambitions and aggressions have their roots in political motives, although those inspired in this direction may often believe that they are the victims of overpopulation.
Three solutions for overpopulation are suggested. The first alone is a permanent solution, and that is control of reproduction. It is very necessary to remember that the power of reproduction is such that any country, however small, could pour out an unending stream of emigrants, surplus to the population-carrying capacity of the country, which would crowd the whole world to suffocation in no long time. The other two solutions are mere palliatives. If the skill is not as advanced as it might be, that is to say if the natural resources of the country are not developed as fully as is possible, then the absorptive capacity of the country can be increased to a certain point without overpopulation. Thus it may be possible to industrialize an agricultural country and increase the amount of employment. Finally, relief may be obtained through emigration if there are relatively undeveloped countries available. It is not necessary that the countries which receive the migrants should be underpopulated; it is only necessary that they should be undeveloped relatively to their capacity for development.
Remembering that a permanently satisfactory adjustment of population in any country can only come about through population control in that country, it is evident that the palliatives for the consequence of overpopulation -- population pressure so-called -- are related to the adequate and reasonable development of the land surface of the world. It is doubtful whether there are considerable areas anywhere which are underpopulated, having regard to the existing economic organization and skill of the inhabitants. But there are vast areas which are relatively undeveloped, which could (that is to say) support much larger numbers without overpopulation. There is a good case for holding that these areas should be made to bear their fruits. The rest of the world will not tolerate indefinitely the failure to use them fully in the common interest. It is therefore possible to be skeptical about the supposed restlessness of overpopulated countries on account of their exclusion from these regions, and at the same time to allow that there is a claim in justice for the palliation of their condition by creating appropriate facilities for emigration. Population pressure thus appears as a problem for international statesmanship, not because it is a prominent cause of international friction, but because there are countries which need development and there are peoples with a surplus population apparently available for this purpose.
It is usual to begin the discussion of population pressure by examining those countries which are supposed to suffer from it. But since the core of the problem from the international point of view is the existence of undeveloped regions, it is logical to consider them first. The undeveloped areas can, it is clear, afford no more relief than they are now giving if development is proceeding as rapidly as is compatible with the maintenance of a proper standard of living. These areas fall into two fairly well defined classes. There are those which are being rapidly developed, by which is meant that modern technique and economic organization is being energetically employed, and there are those where this is not the case. The vast overseas settlements of the European peoples fall within the first class. The settlers have welcomed immigrants, and since the average annual rate of increase has approximated two percent for more than half a century,[i] it is clear that no greater amount of relief to overpopulated countries could have been afforded. Immigration into these countries has not been unrestricted. There have recently been restrictions as to numbers but unless these restrictions slow down development well below the possible rate, there is no complaint to be made on that account. There have also been restrictions upon race. There is a good case for such restrictions on the ground that a homogenous community cannot otherwise be built up. But if the case is admitted, its implications must be realized (as will be mentioned later).
If we now extend our gaze to take in the position of the races of European descent as a whole, we find that the great majority of their members are still living at home. There are only some 160 millions in the great new overseas estates. Members of the white race are thus very unevenly distributed, but it is difficult to demonstrate anywhere the existence of serious overpopulation. Some degree of overpopulation may be suspected in Italy. In the case of other European countries there may be some excess of numbers. But the birth rate is declining everywhere in Europe except in the east; as Dr. Kuczynski has shown, there is no longer a replacement birth rate in northern and western Europe. The signs of the times point to a cessation of increase and even to a decrease of population. On the other hand, the undeveloped countries of European settlement could in time carry far larger numbers at the existing standard of living. Europe and the European settlements overseas could in fact provide the essential foodstuffs and the indispensable requisites of industry for far larger numbers of persons of European descent than we need to budget for. It should therefore not be too difficult a task to relieve what is likely to be only temporary pressure in certain countries by providing facilities for overseas settlement. If it appears on the basis of experience that northern and southern Europeans do not harmonize well, there is North America and Australasia for the northern Europeans and South America for the southern Europeans. There is now a problem of the proper distribution of the peoples of European descent but it may well turn out that the real difficulty will ultimately be the adequate peopling by persons of European stock of the whole of this vast region, and of Australia in particular, rather than the inability to provide relief.
So much may be granted and yet it may be said that it is not enough because some European countries, from which many emigrants go, have no overseas settlements of their own. Territory should be found and handed over to them. So argues one school of thought. There is no substance in this point. In so far as it is suggested that all civilized countries should share in the control of undeveloped countries inhabited by colored races, the case may be good. It may be that Germany should have mandates for her former colonies. But this is a political claim which can be advanced with as much justice for any civilized country whether overpopulated or not. So far as overseas white settlements are concerned, the facts are that they achieve virtual independence sooner or later and that, even when under the flag of another European nation, there is no reluctance to go to them on that account.
The remaining undeveloped countries are almost exclusively inhabited by persons not of European descent though mostly controlled by European nations. Development is not now proceeding rapidly on the initiative of the present inhabitants. In varying degrees development by the indigenous inhabitants is encouraged by European governments. But it must be a slow process at the best, and there may be some doubt as to the capacity of certain races to make the fullest use of their territories. Since Europeans have enough for themselves, it is only reasonable that, if alien races are to take a share in development, they should not be of European descent. May it not be argued therefore that somewhat in the same manner, though not with the same ruthlessness, as Europeans pushed aside the primitive Australians, overcrowded races of non-European descent should be encouraged to enter and occupy these territories?
There is no space here to enter upon a review of the position and prospects of these various countries. They differ greatly in their potentialities. There is little reason to suppose that those peoples bordering the eastern Mediterranean and situated near the site of the first civilizations could not, if so minded, once again take a prominent part in civilization, with or without guidance. With regard to other peoples, it may be that without guidance and encouragement they would do little on their own account in the direction of development. But who would be prepared to affirm that if the African races were given help they would be unable in time to utilize to the full their resources? It may be more doubtful in the case of the East Indies and New Guinea. What, then, should be the policy of the European governments upon whom the responsibility rests? Let us remember that the most prominent countries of European stock have pronounced, so far as they are directly concerned, against the experiment of communities of diverse race. If the principle is sound, has it not wide applications? Take the case of Africa south of the equator. Would the introduction of Indians make for a homogenous community? Such a result is certainly doubtful, and if those Europeans who are responsible encourage such a movement, they may well ask themselves what the Africans of two generations hence may say. May they not be likely to reproach those who put such a policy into force? "Why," they may say, "did you not give us the opportunity to develop the lands of our forefathers? It was the mere chance of geographical isolation which made us backward at that time. You have left us a wholly unnecessary legacy of racial troubles." Moreover, such doubts are not based upon pure speculation. The example of Palestine is before our eyes. There the British Government has pledged itself to a policy of development by the immigration of an alien race bringing advanced technique. The result is far from encouraging.
What, then, is the position of the non-European peoples among whom overpopulation is suspected? There is much doubt as to the figures for the population of China but none as to the condition of the population. Overpopulation of a gross nature is widespread, with the result that the mass of the people are at subsistence level. There are considerable resources awaiting industrial development, though there are serious obstacles. But China is unusually fortunate in that there are large areas within her boundaries awaiting agricultural development. Now that the barriers to immigration have been removed, Manchuria (which has already taken several millions) could, it is stated, absorb another 20 millions. There is also Inner Mongolia which, according to Dr. O. E. Baker, only awaits the adoption of power agriculture in order to support a hugely increased population. China can therefore find a certain palliative for her troubles at home.
India is not overpopulated to the same extent as China. Taking a long view, some increase in material wellbeing has accompanied the growth of population in India. But that does not show that the people would not be better off if there were fewer of them. The very small average size of farms is noteworthy. Moreover there are indications that this improvement is coming to a standstill. Certain calculations show that the real income has recently diminished. In any case, the proportion of the occupied population supported by industry has recently markedly decreased. This last fact is important not only as showing that more persons are being forced to look to the land for subsistence, but also as throwing serious doubt upon the possibility of relieving the pressure by industrialization. Therefore the problem of relief by overseas emigration arises. Very much the same may be said of Java, the position of which in these respects is roughly parallel to that of India.
Japanese economists tell us that the real income of the people has doubled since the end of the exclusion period. The standard of living is higher than in the other Asiatic countries mentioned. But again, as in the case of India, this does not mean that the income would not have risen more quickly had the population not increased so fast. There are in fact several clear indications that Japan is somewhat overpopulated. Some figures for the last few years tend to show that the economic position of the people has not improved and that the pressure on the land is increasing. It is sometimes suggested that there is a way out for Japan in the direction of industrialization, but this is based upon erroneous ideas as to the resources of the country in respect of all those materials which are essential to industry. Thus in the case of Japan overseas movements have to be considered as offering opportunities for relief.
If migration is to afford any effective relief it must remove a very considerable fraction of the excess of births over deaths. This is evident when we remember that the assumption that these countries are overpopulated implies that the removal of the entire annual surplus would merely prevent any increase of the pressure. What, then, is the magnitude of the undertaking? During the last decades India has had an annual surplus of about 3 millions. Japan and Java have had annual surpluses of about a million each. East Africa has been suggested as a home for the overcrowded natives of India. But to move annually more than a few tens of thousands of Indians is quite beyond the range of what is physically possible, to say nothing of the difficulty of settling the Indians when they arrive. The very little that the capable and energetic Dutch Government has been able to do in the direction of moving Javanese to Sumatra is a good example of the difficulties. Nothing is more certain than that, with the best will and the utmost energy, only a small fraction of the annual surplus of these countries could go overseas. The fact is that the relief which emigration can afford to overcrowded countries is hugely exaggerated in popular estimation. Ireland is the exception which proves the rule. In that case a very small country found relief because there existed overseas a new country of vast dimensions in the early stages of development. There is no parallel between Ireland and the cases we are considering.
It is also relevant to ask whether, if the surplus was removed in whole or in large part, there would be any more likelihood than at present of a check being placed upon reproduction. If not, then the whole movement would be rendered futile. From what we know as to the way in which these matters work out, it is unlikely that the advent of a check would be hastened. Does anyone suppose that the migration of millions of Chinese to Manchuria has encouraged restriction of families in China? Most probably the situation has only been relieved momentarily. Therefore the problem for statesmanship is to balance the faint help that could be given by migration against the danger of creating a situation which may lead to a legacy of future trouble. This danger is not so great in some regions as in others -- not so great in the East Indies, for example, as in East Africa. But it remains true that such movements are never without risk.
Most of the discussions of population pressure are based upon an erroneous diagnosis. Territorial ambitions and jealousies abound, but they can seldom be traced to population pressure. To remedy the situation it may be expedient to adjust frontiers and areas of control. But that is a political remedy for a political disease. The economic disease of overpopulation can seldom be so dealt with. Nor do overpopulated nations as a rule demand this remedy. The demand of the Indians is for treatment consistent with a dignified status among the nations rather than for new Indias overseas. Japan has attained a position of dignity and there are few if any signs that her population difficulties are causing her to desire the founding of new oversea Japans. There are only too many real causes of international friction and we need not plague ourselves by imagining others which do not exist. What we have called the population situation is a cause of difficulty and will remain so until political education reaches a higher level and nations attain to better manners. The existence of underdeveloped countries is another source of difficulty. Over-population, though it exists on a large scale and is a terrible scourge to nations subject to it, hardly enters directly into the problems with which international statesmanship has to deal.
[i] In North America and Australasia; figures are not available for South America.