(Roughly) Daily

“There is always something new out of Africa”*…

Afrofuturism is a fun and interesting subgenre of science fiction and philosophy:, but I kind of chuckle every time I see the word, because all futurism is actually Afrofuturism. Africa is literally the future of the entire world. Here is one of the two or three most important charts you will ever see:

Notice that this is the projection for total population. It has Africa just about equal to Asia by the end of the century, but if we were to look at only young population, Africa would have a clear majority here. 

“Wait,” you may be about to ask. “Are these 80-year-ahead projections really reliable? What if African fertility falls?”

And the answer is: It’s going to fall! It’s already falling fast. As countries get richer their fertility rates drop; as Lyman Stone shows, Africa’s fertility rates are dropping faster, relative to their income level, than any other region except India…

recent paper in The Lancet attempts to model how African population will change as women’s education and access to contraception (the two biggest things other than GDP that we know affect fertility) increase. They predict a population for Sub-Saharan Africa of about 3.4 billion by century’s end — only 0.8 billion lower than the UN median projection. That’s still an absolutely enormous fraction of humanity, and an even larger chunk of the young population.

Thus, the future of Africa is the future of humanity, despite the fact that Africa will experience a normal fertility transition and its population will eventually stabilize rather than explode. I don’t think people in the U.S. (or, probably, other regions) have come to grips with the full import of this.

But what happens to Africa is even more important, relative to the rest of the world, than these population numbers suggest! This is because Africa is still a mostly poor region. Economics teaches us that marginal utility — i.e. the amount life gets better when you get a little richer — is much higher for poor people. And with China and (to some degree) India industrializing successfully and seeing population growth slow, soon most of the extremely poor people in the world will probably reside in Africa.

So the future welfare of humanity depends crucially on whether Africa can make big strides against poverty — in other words, whether African countries can achieve substantial economic growth… 

The fate of humanity in the 21st century and beyond hinges on whether African countries can figure out the riddle of industrialization.

Can Africa industrialize? Noah Smith (@Noahpinion) believes that it can: “All futurism is Afrofuturism.” The full argument (and more supporting charts and data) in the complete post.

* Pliny the Elder

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As we look to the future, we might recall that it was on this date in 1775 that an anonymous writer, now widely thought to be Thomas Paine, published “African Slavery in America,” the first article in the American colonies calling for the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery.

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