Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Update: Women and red hair

The online magazine Evopsy has posted a summary, in French, of the paper on red hair that I wrote with Karel Kleisner and Jaroslav Flegr. It can be found here.

The online magazine Cultura VRN has posted a summary, in Russian, here.

Please let me know about any other magazines that might be interested in this topic.


Frost, P. (2018). Pыжая женщина – уникальна, Cultura VRN, January 15

Frost, P. (2018). La rousse est particulière, Evopsy, January 7

Frost P, Kleisner K, Flegr J (2017) Health status by gender, hair color, and eye color: Red-haired women are the most divergent. PLoS ONE 12(12): e0190238. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The people before the First Nations

Aeta woman (Philippines) – Wikipedia (Ken Llio)

Modern humans pushed out of Africa along two routes: a northern one through the Levant and into Europe and a southern one along the Indian Ocean coast and eventually into New Guinea and Australia. The southern route is said to have had two waves: an earlier one between 62,000 and 75,000 years ago that was ancestral to present-day Australian Aborigines and a later one between 25,000 and 38,000 years ago that was ancestral to present-day Negrito groups in Southeast Asia: the Andaman Islanders, the Semang of the Malayan Peninsula, and the Aeta of the Philippines, although these groups would have intermixed with the population already present from the first wave (Rasmussen et al. 2011; Reyes-Centeno et al. 2014).

Did this southern route end in Southeast Asia or did it swing north along the Pacific coast? We know that the Philippines was once inhabited by Negritos—the country still has over thirty such groups. In addition, there have been claims that a Negrito group used to live on Taiwan. In the early 20th century, the anthropologist Rolange Dixon argued that a Negrito population once occupied the whole of the South, Southeast, and East Asian littoral:

At this time the southern and eastern borderlands, from India around to Kamchatka, seem to have been occupied in the main by a dolichocephalic, dark-skinned, Negroid population which was a blend in varying proportions of the Proto-Australoid and Proto-Negroid types. There is some evidence which leads us to believe that this Negroid population extended farther westward than India, along the shores of the Persian Gulf and the southern coast of Arabia, so being continuous with the great area held by similar peoples in Africa. (Dixon 1923, p. 243)

In the late 20th century, interest declined in Negritos and their place in human prehistory, partly because anthropologists were increasingly taking an ahistorical approach hunter-gatherers and shunning anything that smacked of racial or evolutionary thinking. Though a student of Franz Boas, Dixon studied anthropology (1897-1906) at a time when Boas believed not only in the existence of human races but also in psychological differences between them, albeit in a statistical sense (Frost 2014, Frost 2015). Furthermore, genetic studies in the late 20th century seemed to show that different Negrito groups had little in common with each other. Clearly, Negritos are a very ancient population, and the time to the most recent ancestor for all of them is greater than it is for, say, present-day Europeans and present-day East Asians. They still look similar to each other only because they remained under similar climatic and cultural conditions.

Recent years have seen a renewal of interest in Negritos. Mitochondrial DNA studies have shown that they are indeed the remnants of a southern "Out of Africa" route, together with New Guineans and Australian Aborigines (Reyes-Centeno et al. 2014; Stoneking and Delfin 2010; Thangaraj et al. 2005). Of particular interest is the discovery of significant admixture from these peoples in Amerindians from Amazonia and the Central Brazilian Plateau (Skoglund et al. 2015). This admixture seems to be very old:

The genetic data allow us to say with confidence that Population Y ancestry arrived south of the ice sheets anciently: the fact that the geographically diverse Andamanese, Australian and New Guinean populations are all similarly related to this source suggests that the population is no longer extant, and the absence of long-range admixture linkage disequilibrium suggests that the population mixture did not occur in the last few thousand years.

As the authors note, this finding is consistent with ancient skeletal remains from the same region:

This discovery is striking in light of interpretations of the morphology of some early Native American skeletons, which some authors have suggested have affinities to Australasian groups. The largest number of skeletons that have been described as having this craniofacial morphology and that date to younger than ten thousand years have been found in Brazil6, the home of the Suruí, Karitiana and Xavante who in genetic data show the strongest affinity to Australasians.

How did this population reach the Amazonian basin? Perhaps the same way the Paleo-Amerindians did: across the Bering Strait and down through North America. If Negrito groups had reached south China and the Philippines, they could have continued up the East Asian shoreline and then down the west coast of North America. One problem with this model, raised by Greg Cochran and Steve Sailer, is that the "Australasian" admixture is absent from native North Americans. Keep in mind, however, that at least three waves of migration entered North America: the latest one corresponding to the Inuit-Aleut peoples, an earlier one corresponding to the Na-Dene peoples, and the earliest one corresponding to all other Amerindian groups. Only this earliest wave reached South America. There has consequently been much more population replacement among native North Americans than among native South Americans.

Population replacement is widely seen as something that has been done by European peoples (and, more recently, which is being done to them). In reality, the world was not a static place before Columbus. Human populations have been replacing each other for a very long time.


Cochran, G. (2018). Beringians, West Hunter, January 4

Dixon, R.B. (1923). The Racial History of Man, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Frost, P. (2014). The Franz Boas you never knew, Evo and Proud, July 13 

Frost, P. (2015). More on the younger Franz Boas, Evo and Proud, April 18

Rasmussen M, et al. (2011) An Aboriginal Australian genome reveals separate human dispersals into Asia, Science, 334(6052), 94-98.

Reyes-Centeno, H., S. Ghirotto, F. Détroit, D. Grimaud-Hervé, G. Barbujani, and K. Harvati. (2014). Genomic and cranial phenotype data support multiple modern human dispersals from Africa and a southern route into Asia, PNAS, 111(20), 7248-7253.

Sailer, S. (2018). Were There People Already in the New World When the Indians Arrived? The Unz Review, January 6

Skoglund, P., S. Mallick, M.C. Bortolini, N. Chennagiri, T. Hunemeier, M.L. Petzl-Erier, F.M. Salzano, N. Patterson, and D. Reich. (2015). Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the Americas, Nature, 525, 104-108

Stoneking, M. and F. Delfin (2010). The Human Genetic History of East Asia: Weaving a Complex Tapestry, Current Biology, 20(4), R188-R193 

Thangaraj, K., G. Chaubey, T. Kivisild, A.G. Reddy, V.K. Singh, et al. (2005). Reconstructing the origin of Andaman Islanders, Science, 308(5724), 996

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Red-haired women are special

The Damsel of the Sanct Grael – Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

It's known that red-haired women, but not red-haired men, are more sensitive to pain. Red hair is also associated with a higher risk of developing endometriosis, Parkinson's disease, and decreased platelet function.

A study in the latest issue of PLoS One has confirmed that red hair, especially in women, is linked to certain health issues. According to a survey of over seven thousand participants, red-haired women do worse than other women in ten health categories and better in only three, being especially prone to colorectal, cervical, uterine, and ovarian cancer. Red-haired men seem to be as healthy as other men, doing better in three categories and worse in three. Reproductive success, i.e., number of children, is the only category where redheads of both sexes do better than other participants.

This study has also confirmed that red hair is naturally more frequent in women than in men. To a lesser degree, the same is true for blond hair and green eyes. These bright colors seem to result from a selection pressure that mainly targeted women, i.e., sexual selection. In other words, among early Europeans there were too many women and not enough men; hence, competition between women for mates favored those who could better catch the attention of men, such as through a palette of bright hair and eye colors.

Because women are overrepresented among redheads, it may be that estrogen promotes synthesis of red pigments by hair follicles, particularly during fetal development. Thus, if a baby is born red-haired and female, estrogenization of its body tissues should be, on average, near the top end of the normal range. It will therefore be more at risk of developing certain health issues.

Another hypothesis can be put forward. If red hair was the last hair color to evolve, the underlying alleles may not have finished adapting to the rest of the genome, and vice versa. This reciprocal adaptation is all the more necessary because one of the five alleles for red hair seems to be of Neanderthal origin. The hypothesis of incomplete adaptation does not exclude the hypothesis of high estrogenization. In fact, there may be interaction between the two factors. Although it's likely that sexual selection did produce new hair and eye colors, we must still explain why, in this palette of colors, red hair seems to show the greatest difference between men and women both in population frequency and in associated health effects. 


Frost P, Kleisner K, Flegr J (2017) Health status by gender, hair color, and eye color: Red-haired women are the most divergent. PLoS ONE 12(12): e0190238. 


La rousse est particulière

On sait que les rousses, mais pas les roux, sont plus sensibles que les autres à la douleur. La rousseur est également associée à un plus grand risque de développer l'endométriose, la maladie de Parkinson, ainsi que des troubles de l'agrégation plaquettaire.

Une étude publiée dans le dernier numéro de la revue PLoS ONE confirme que la rousseur, surtout chez la femme, est reliée à certains problèmes de santé. Selon une enquête menée auprès de plus de sept mille participants, les rousses se classent pire que les autres femmes dans dix catégories de santé et mieux dans seulement trois, étant surtout susceptibles de développer des cancers du gros intestin, du col utérin, de l'utérus ou des ovaires. Quant aux roux, leur état de santé ressemble à celui des autres hommes : mieux dans trois catégories et pire dans trois. Le succès reproducteur, soit le nombre d'enfants, est la seule catégorie où les têtes rouges des deux sexes font mieux que les autres participants.

Cette étude confirme également que la rousseur est naturellement plus fréquente chez la femme que chez l'homme. Dans une moindre mesure,  c'est le même constat avec la blondeur et les yeux verts. Ces couleurs vives semblent être le résultat d'une pression de sélection visant surtout la femme, soit la sélection sexuelle. Autrement dit, il y aurait eu trop de femmes et pas assez d'hommes chez les premiers Européens, avec pour résultat une concurrence entre les femmes favorisant celles qui attiraient mieux les regards des hommes, comme par exemple par une palette de couleurs vives décorant les cheveux et les yeux.

Les femmes étant surreprésentées parmi les têtes rouges, on peut émettre l'hypothèse que l'œstrogène favorise la synthèse de pigments rouges dans les follicules pileux, particulièrement au cours du développement fœtal. Alors, si un enfant nait à la fois roux et de sexe féminin, l'œstrogénisation de ses tissus organiques doit être, en moyenne, vers la limite supérieure de la normale. La rousse sera donc plus à risque de connaitre certains problèmes de santé.

Une autre hypothèse est possible. Si la rousseur a été la dernière couleur de cheveux à paraître, il se peut que les allèles sous-jacents n’aient pas encore fini de s'adapter au reste du génome et vice versa. Cette adaptation réciproque est d'autant plus nécessaire parce que l'un des cinq allèles pour la rousseur semble être d'origine néandertalienne. Notons que l'hypothèse d'adaptation incomplète n'exclut pas celle de forte œstrogénisation. En fait, il pourrait y avoir une interaction entre les deux facteurs. S'il est vraisemblable que la sélection sexuelle ait produit de nouvelles couleurs des cheveux et des yeux, il faudra toujours expliquer pourquoi, dans cette palette de couleurs, la rousseur semble montrer la plus grande différence entre les hommes et les femmes, autant en termes de fréquence dans la population que sur le plan de la santé. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Crisis of the 2020s

China's population pyramid. The crisis of the 2020s will be triggered in part by the end of cheap imports from China and the return of inflation.

New Year's 2021. Little seems to have changed over the past three years. Technologically, there are more smart devices to entertain you or to help you with your work. Economically, things are supposed to be better, but that's not your impression. Politically? Not much either. Most of eastern and central Europe has gone nationalist, but they always were, weren't they? There's Italy, where Berlusconi governs with two nationalist parties, but isn't that a rerun of what he finagled two decades earlier? Finally, North Africa is in the news, but no one seems to know what's going on there.

Yet something is afoot. A friend makes a remark he never would have before. He of all people! At the health club you try to follow the news on TV, but it seems harder to follow than usual. You're thinking of traveling abroad, but it's more complicated, supposedly because of the terrorist threat ...


The Crisis of the 2020s will not be readily apparent when the decade begins. Nationalist parties will be in power over most of Europe, but the Western European "core"—the United Kingdom, France, and Germany—will still be postnational. Yet even there nationalist parties will have made inroads at the regional and municipal levels. These electoral successes will be self-reinforcing, with one leading to another, especially in regions that are culturally and linguistically similar.

But this nationalist consensus will have to reckon with an opposing consensus that is already in place and likewise self-reinforcing. This postnational consensus took shape in the 1940s, when elites throughout the West blamed nationalism for the Second World War and the preceding depression. It grew stronger in the 1950s and 1960s with competition by the two superpowers for the hearts and minds of emerging nations in Asia and Africa. The Cold War had the perverse effect of making the United States and the Soviet Union mirror images of each other, each trying to preach its own universal gospel to the unconverted. 

This elite consensus entered a new phase with the end of the postwar boom in the 1970s and a slowdown in economic growth throughout the West. This slowdown has been attributed to several causes:

- The postwar boom was driven by low prices for raw materials, especially oil. In the 1970s oil prices spiked, as did prices for other key commodities.

- The postwar boom was also driven by population growth—the baby boom. Young adults spent more on housing, children's clothes, educational supplies, and other family-related purchases. They also became more willing to invest in the future, both personally and collectively, since they were literally investing in their children. During the 1960s fertility rates declined dramatically, and by the 1970s declines in school enrolment and household spending had become noticeable. 

- A backlog of technological innovation had piled up during the Great Depression and the Second World War. By the 1970s this backlog was largely gone.

- Thrift and saving had become ingrained during the depression and the war. By the 1970s the culture had shifted toward greater acceptance of living beyond one's means.

These causes should be viewed with some caution, since the slowdown happened across very different political and cultural contexts in North America, Western Europe, and Japan. It also happened in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Slow growth may simply be the historic norm, and economies return to this norm as they mature. In any case, policy makers are less interested in causes than they are in solutions, and to find solutions to slow growth they have consciously or unconsciously turned to postnational thinking for inspiration. 

A slowly growing economy isn't necessarily bad for the average person. Because population growth has likewise slowed throughout the West, economic growth, however sluggish, translates into more wealth per capita. Because companies can no longer count on a growing market, they have to compete much more with each other for market share, thus improving the quality of the goods and services they offer. They also have to compete for a limited supply of labor, thus bidding up wages and raising productivity through automation and robotization. Japan has taken that path, and it isn't doing so badly despite the doom and gloom one hears. Labor scarcity means that 74% of Japanese aged 15 to 65 have a paid job—well above the OECD average of 67%. Only 1.2% of Japan's labor force has been without work for a year or longer—below the OECD average of 2%. Also, Japanese life expectancy at birth is 84 years—well above the OECD average of 80 years.

Slow growth may not be bad news for the average person, but it is for the rentier class—those whose income comes not from work but from dividends, interest, and speculation. When economic growth falls to 2 or 3% a year, this becomes their return on investment. It's not enough to live on, at least not in the style they're used to.

The rentier class has thus pushed Western governments to make the economy grow faster than it normally would. Since the 1970s, growth has been spurred through financial stimuli of one sort or another: tax cuts, deficit spending, lower interest rates, and monetary expansion. This is still a popular response, but the shortcomings are now well-known. The immediate one is inflation—in the 1970s inflation rose to double digits throughout the West. It has since been contained by a mix of money supply management and globalization, i.e., outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries and insourcing low-wage labor for jobs that cannot be outsourced (agriculture, construction, services). In the U.S., massive low-wage immigration began with the Reagan amnesty of 1986, although this outcome was emphatically denied at the time. Upward pressure on wages has further slackened with the decline in unionization, itself largely a result of globalization, particularly the loss of jobs in manufacturing and the shift to less easily unionized jobs in services. Finally, immigration itself has been seen as a way to stimulate the economy through increased aggregate demand, particularly for real estate and construction.

While these stimulus measures help to spur growth over the short term, the outcome seems more dubious over the long term. Today, interest rates are at record low levels throughout the West, and immigration is running at record high levels—in the U.S., legal immigration alone is over three times what it was in the 1960s. Yet year-to-year economic growth is much lower: 1.6 to 2.5% in the 2010s versus 2.3 to 6.5% in the 1960s.

The economy seems to habituate to these stimulus measures. We thus have the apparent paradox of more and more stimulus producing less and less growth. This paradox has three causes:

- People take further growth for granted, particularly in their willingness to go into debt. Growth becomes a Ponzi scheme.

- Uninterrupted growth leads to accumulation of inefficiency. Without periodic recessions to remove wasteful companies and work practices, the economy becomes less productive.

- Sources of immigration have shifted to cultures that are less oriented to the market economy and to the values that make it possible. Historically, most economic growth has been within two culture areas: Europe, especially northwest Europe, and East Asia. These cultures are characterized by high levels of trust, high future orientation, and low willingness to use violence for personal disputes (Clark 2007; Clark 2009; Frost 2015; Frost 2017; Frost & Harpending 2015). Most immigrants to the West no longer come from either culture area. As a result, trust is declining, fear of violence is increasing, and more resources are being earmarked for external behavioral controls (police, private security), which are replacing the internal behavioral controls that used to be enough. Transactions now have to be double-checked for evidence of fraud, theft, or counterfeiting, with the result that economic activity costs more and in some cases is no longer worth doing.

For the near future, Western policy makers will continue to follow the postnational consensus, not so much because they believe in it but rather because they are immersed in it and have little exposure to alternate views. This echo chamber will, in fact, cause the prevailing consensus to become more radical over time. One example is the recent call from Canada's council of economic advisers for a sharp rise in immigration:

The 14-member council was assembled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau to provide "bold" advice on how best to guide Canada's struggling economy out of its slow-growth rut. 

One of their first recommendations, released last week, called for a gradual increase in permanent immigration to 450,000 people a year by 2021 — with a focus on top business talent and international students. That would be a 50-per-cent hike from the current level of about 300,000.

The council members — along with many others, including Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains — argue that opening Canada's doors to more newcomers is a crucial ingredient for expanding growth in the future. (Blatchford 2016)

This is the backdrop for the Crisis of the 2020s. On the one hand, the postnational consensus will continue to radicalize in the core countries of the Western world. On the other hand, a very different consensus will dominate most of central and eastern Europe, with inroads being made into France and Germany. These opposing consensuses will diverge more and more, if only because mutual antagonism will make dialogue impossible.

The crisis itself may be triggered by one or more factors:

- Inflation will return after a four decade absence. China's supply of cheap labor is drying up, and alternate sources, such as Africa, will prove unsuitable. Prices for certain commodities, especially food, may also rise. This will be pivotal because globalism has gone unchallenged among the elites largely because it has delivered on its promise of inflation-free growth.

- There will be a growing realization that the new migrants to Europe have a different work ethic. They will end up being tax consumers rather than, as hoped, tax payers. Forget about them paying for your pension and health care.

- The French presidential election of 2022 will be much closer than the one in 2017, the result being a narrow defeat or a narrow victory for the Front national. Either way, the country will become ungovernable. A similar situation may or may not develop in Germany after the 2021 federal election.

- NATO may try to intervene in one or more countries in eastern or central Europe.

The actual trigger will matter less than the instability of the world-system. This instability will cause even minor conflicts to escalate, either within the Western European core or, perhaps, in response to a failed intervention in Eastern Europe.

Such escalation will be demanded by those who support the postnational consensus, yet it will work to their detriment. A world-system is stable only if, as Wallerstein (1974) argued, it meets three conditions:

- Military strength is concentrated in core societies

- Ideological commitment to the system is pervasive, i.e., "the staff or cadres of the system (and I leave this term deliberately vague) feel that their own well-being is wrapped up in the survival of the system as such and the competence of its leaders. It is this staff which not only propagates the myths; it is they who believe them."

- Peripheral societies are unable to unite against core societies.

Conflict, especially armed conflict, will destroy the illusion that the postnational consensus is a consensus and thus the only sensible way of viewing reality. Uncertainty and disenchantment will spread even among "sensible" people. Furthermore, if military strength no longer remains concentrated in the core, being used, for example, to intervene in the periphery, there may not be enough people in uniform anymore to defend the entire world-system. Defeat in one country may lead to a chain reaction where one country after another defects to the other side.


Blatchford, A. (2016). Finance Minister's key advisers want 100M Canadians by 2100, October 23

Clark, G. (2009).The Domestication of Man: The Social Implications of Darwin, ArtefaCToS, 2, 64-80

Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Frost, P. (2017). The Hajnal line and gene-culture coevolution in northwest Europe, Advances in Anthropology, 7, 154-174.

Frost, P. (2015). Two Paths, The Unz Review, January 24

Frost, P. and H. Harpending. (2015). Western Europe, state formation, and genetic pacification, Evolutionary Psychology, 13, 230-243.

Wallerstein, I. (1974). The rise and future demise of the world capitalist system: concepts for comparative analysis, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 16(4), 387-415.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The unlikely domino

Ahmed Ouyahia, "The Eradicator" - Prime Minister of Algeria. (Wikicommons: Magharebia). "We are the kings of our home!"

When political change comes to a world-system, does it begin near the center and then spread outward? That seems to be the common view. Karl Marx predicted that communism would first triumph in the U.K., France, and Germany, yet he was proven wrong. In 17th century England the "Levellers" called for giving all men the right to vote, an aim first achieved in the United States and only much later in England. Similarly, the late 19th century saw women gain voting rights in Scandinavia, some Australian colonies, and some western U.S. states. Not until 1928 were the same rights recognized in the U.K. 

The center is an interesting place for new ideas, but it's terrible for getting them implemented. It’s the place where power is concentrated, where resistance to change is strongest, where the elite has been established the longest, and where the elite has diverged the most from ordinary people in terms of self-interest and social distance. So the center is where new ideas have the most trouble spreading through all social strata and gaining acceptance. 

The situation is different farther out on the periphery of a world-system. Social distances are generally shorter and the elites less entrenched. This is partly because peripheral societies tend to be more recent—often beginning as colonies of central societies—and partly because weaker control by the center and greater contact with other world-systems may make them the scene of war, rebellion, and social upheaval, which in turn means replacement of local elites. New ideas can thus percolate more easily throughout the whole of a peripheral society

These are tendencies to be sure and, as such, may not always hold true. The periphery may be a quiet backwater where elites stay put and become more distant from the people. Furthermore, a new idea may face hostility not only from the elite but also from ordinary people. Communism, for instance, was admired in the Muslim world for its opposition to Western imperialism, but its atheism made support impossible among the working people it targeted.

In writing this series I'm simply arguing that public sympathy isn't the only factor in the spread and acceptance of new ideas. There is also elite hostility, and that factor tends to be more formidable at the center than at the periphery.

The next two to three years

A nationalist bloc of European nations has formed on the periphery of the Western world—Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary. This has happened not only because public sympathy for nationalism is stronger there but also because elite hostility is weaker. The elites are less differentiated from the rest of society; consequently, there is more social cohesion and commonality of purpose. Finally, the language of the Western world being above all English, the centre has trouble maintaining ideological conformity in those countries where English is poorly understood and where ideology, like culture in general, tends to be locally produced.

In my previous posts I’ve argued that the nationalist bloc will spread outward into culturally similar countries, as well as into countries where post-national elites are unpopular and weakly entrenched. By the year 2021 this bloc will cover a much larger area: almost all of central and eastern Europe, plus Italy. 

It will also include a seemingly unlikely area that isn't European at all, an area that is, in fact, African and Muslim.  

Background to the migrant crisis

Population pressure has been mounting in sub-Saharan Africa for some time. While fertility rates have fallen throughout most of the world, often dramatically, the picture is different in this world region. Fertility declines have at best been modest, and in some countries, like Somalia, fertility has actually risen. The current pace of population growth will continue even if fertility rates fall dramatically:

Rapid population growth in Africa is anticipated even assuming that there will be a substantial reduction of fertility levels in the near future. The medium-variant projection assumes that fertility in Africa will fall from around 4.7 births per woman in 2010-2015 to 3.1 in 2045-2050, reaching a level slightly above 2.1 in 2095-2100. After 2050, it is expected that Africa will be the only region still experiencing substantial population growth. As a result, Africa's share of global population, which is projected to grow from roughly 17 per cent in 2017 to around 26 per cent in 2050, could reach 40 per cent by 2100.

[...] It should be noted that the population of Africa will continue to increase in future decades even if the number of births per woman falls instantly to the level required for stabilization of population size in the long run, known also as "replacement-level fertility". Growth continues in that scenario thanks to the age structure of the population, which is currently quite youthful. The large numbers of children and youth in Africa today will reach adulthood in future decades. Because of their large numbers, their childbearing will contribute to a further increase of population even assuming that they will bear fewer children on average than their parents' generation. In all plausible scenarios of future trends, Africa will play a central role in shaping the size and distribution of the world's population over the next few decades. (United Nations, 2017, p. xxii)

Meanwhile, the inevitable has begun. When the slave trade ended in the early 19th century there began a long period when relatively few people left sub-Saharan Africa. Some did, but their numbers were relatively small—Senegalese riflemen, Somali seamen and, later, university students. This hiatus came to an end in the early 1970s. To fill insecure, low-paying jobs, French employers extended their zone of recruitment to sub-Saharan Africa, and this example was followed by employers elsewhere. Even Greece began to recruit African labor for jobs in construction, agriculture, and shipping (Pteroudis 1996).

The stream of migrants continued despite the economic slowdown that set in with the Oil Crisis of 1973 and the 1982-1983 recession. They came for the most part on temporary visas and then overstayed. Large-scale illegal entry did not begin until the early 2000s, via a route across the Sahara to Libya and then across the Mediterranean to Italy by boat (De Haas 2008). In 2008, Silvio Berlusconi, signed a treaty with Muammar Gaddafi to block this route, but enforcement collapsed with Gaddafi's overthrow and murder in 2011. The result was a surge in African migration.

Yet this surge is only the tip of the iceberg:

[...] it is a misconception that all or most migrants crossing the Sahara are "in transit" to Europe. There are possibly more sub-Saharan Africans living in the Maghreb than in Europe. An estimated 65,000 and 120,000 sub-Saharan Africans enter the Maghreb yearly overland, of which only 20 to 38 per cent are estimated to enter Europe. While Libya is an important destination country in its own right, many migrants failing or not venturing to enter Europe prefer to stay in North Africa as a second-best option (De Haas 2008).

African migrants currently take three routes to Europe: a western route via Morocco and Spain; a central one via Libya and Italy, and an eastern one via Egypt and Greece. Given the chaos in Libya, the central route is shifting to Algeria, and that country is increasingly becoming their final destination. "Our studies revealed that more than half of the migrants in Algeria actually live there," explains MDM. [Médecins du Monde]" Even if this was not their plan at the beginning, they end up finding a job and settling in one place." (Matarese 2016)

A changing response

Until recently, the official Algerian response has been similar to that of Western countries. Last July, the government announced plans to grant at least some of them residency rights and job permits. These measures were announced in a sympathetic tone:

"The presence of our African brothers in our country will be regulated and the Ministry of the Interior is using the police and the gendarmerie to take a census of all the displaced people," said Tebboune, who was replying to the concerns of deputies of the National Popular Assembly during debate over the government's action plan.

[...] "There are parties who wish to tarnish Algeria's image and label it as a racist country,' said Tebboune, who added: "We are not racists. We are African, Maghrebin, and Mediterranean."

"Africa and the Arab world are the natural extension of Algeria and the space in which it has evolved and developed," said Tebboune, underscoring "the moral and human duty that requires us to provide assistance to our brothers who are forced to flee their lands because of poverty and the torment of war." (Huffpost 2017)

Other members of the government, however, were less sympathetic. Also last July, the Minister of State, Ahmed Ouyahia, condemned the growing numbers of African migrants:

The African community that illegally resides in Algeria brings drugs, delinquency, and other scourges. One cannot say to the authorities: "Throw them into the sea" but one must live in Algeria legally.  [...] People will say to me "human rights!" but we are the kings of our home! (RT 2017)

Public opinion has also turned sour. In June of this year, an anti-migrant campaign was launched on the Algerian social media via the hashtag No to Africans in Algeria! This slogan may sound strange in a country that is, in fact, in Africa, but the reality is that the average Algerian feels more in common with Europe or the Middle East.

Anti-migrant discourse is summed up by this comment:

[...] these Africans from all over the Sahel think they're in conquered territory, being arrogant and threatening. They forcefully demand money and not food. They're everywhere and present a sorry picture of what a human being should be. Begging, nothing but begging from these hefty guys who are more athletic than Cristiano Ronaldo and who refuse to roll up their shirtsleeves and work. Now they're no longer content to be in southern Algeria; that's no longer their fine seigneury. They're moving into the coastal cities. There are hundreds of thousands of them, and more come every day. (RT 2017)

Threatening behavior might work in Europe, where the average citizen feels that only the police are entitled to respond to threats with violence. In Algeria, however, the police are a relatively recent institution, as is State authority in general, and every adult male feels entitled to use violence if threatened or even insulted. An exchange of insults can quickly escalate into fighting by both parties:

Kader, an Ivorian who has been in Algeria for six years, said there was a growing number of Guineans in Algiers. "They don't know the country, and they react very badly the minute an Algerian is rude to them or insults them. It ends up in a fight, and people get hurt." (Chenaoui 2017)

A single incident may become a riot. In March 2016 more than a hundred residents of a small town south of Algiers showed up at an abandoned shopping center where migrants were living and assaulted dozens of them in retaliation for an alleged rape (The Observers 2016). At about the same time in another town, some 300 local inhabitants surrounded and attacked a refugee reception center after a migrant from Niger murdered a local resident during a break-in (Huffpost 2016)

Last August, Ahmed Ouyahia was appointed Prime Minister, and migrant policy has grown increasingly hardline. Since August 25, more than 3,000 migrants have been summarily deported to Niger, including many from other African countries (HRW 2017). There is a striking similarity here to Israel’s response when African migrants began pouring into that country. It, too, initially responded like Western states but did an about-face partly because of the magnitude of the problem and partly because of pressure from public opinion. Whatever one thinks of either country, they are both fundamentally democratic, more so in fact than most Western countries. The elites cannot defy public opinion because they’re too close to the public and because they lack the firm ideological control that makes defiance possible.

Algeria, like Israel, will have to adopt harsher measures against the migrant influx. Unlike Israel, the migrant population is much larger and will continue to grow through natural increase alone. Meanwhile, public opinion is radicalizing. The situation may become like what we see in Greece, but without the external coercion that comes with being an EU member.

The migrant issue will loom large in Algeria's 2019 presidential election. Ahmed Ouyahia may run as a Trump-like populist candidate. He may even, à la Trump, call for construction of a fence along the southern border. And like Trump he has already been condemned by human rights groups, notably for his role in the "eradicator" faction that pushed for all-out war against the Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.


Chenaoui, Z. (2017). Adrift in Algiers: African migrants marooned in a new transit bottleneck, The Guardian, October 31

De Haas, H. (2008). Irregular Migration from West Africa to the Maghreb and the European Union: An Overview of Recent Trends, International Organization for Migration, Geneva

HRW (2017). Algeria: Surge in Deportations of Migrants. Apparent Racial Profiling, Summary Expulsion of Sub-Saharan Africans, Human Rights Watch, October 30

Huffpost (2016). Après les affrontements de Ouargla, 700 migrants subsahariens transférés à Tamanrasset (Wali), March 3

Huffpost (2017). Abdelmadjid Tebboune : La présence des migrants subsahariens sur le territoire algérien sera réglementée, June 24

Matarese, M. (2016). Migrants in Algeria struggle for acceptance, Middle East Eye, January 6

Pteroudis, E. (1996). Emigrations et immigrations en Grèce, évolutions récentes et questions politiques, Revue européenne de migrations internationales, 12, 159-189 (Espagne, Portugal, Grèce, pays d'immigration).

RT (2017). L'Algérie raciste ? Une directive anti-migrants, finalement retirée, fait polémique dans le pays. RT en français, October 3

The Observers (2016). Police watch as locals attack migrants in Algeria, March 29

United Nations (2017). World Population Prospects. The 2017 Revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Volume 1, Comprehensive Tables

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Terra Nostra, for how long?

Giorgia Meloni, president of Terra Nostra. (Wikicommons: Niccolò Caranti)

A nationalist bloc of nations now extends across much of eastern and central Europe, but Italy seems like another world. In the Italian parliament the leading nationalist party, the Lega Nord (LN), has lost seats at each general election since 1994, except for the one in 2008. The party is also under pressure from members to distance itself from Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, particularly after both failed to make major electoral gains this year. Finally, by its very nature, the LN is limited in its potential for growth—it’s a regional party whose support is confined to northern Italy.

Ironically, Italy had once been Europe’s epicenter of political change, as novelist and literary critic Umberto Eco pointed out:

Italian fascism was the first right-wing dictatorship that took over a European country, and all similar movements later found a sort of archetype in Mussolini's regime. Italian fascism was the first to establish a military liturgy, a folklore, even a way of dressing—far more influential, with its black shirts, than Armani, Benetton, or Versace would ever be. It was only in the Thirties that fascist movements appeared, with Mosley, in Great Britain, and in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, Spain, Portugal, Norway, and even in South America. It was Italian fascism that convinced many European liberal leaders that the new regime was carrying out interesting social reform, and that it was providing a mildly revolutionary alternative to the Communist threat. (Eco 1995)

What would have happened if Italy had stayed out of the Second World War? Would fascism have remained an “interesting” alternative not only to Communism but also to liberal democracy? Probably not. It would have fallen prey to dry rot and eventually collapsed, like in Spain and Portugal. There were fundamental problems with fascism besides the obvious one of stupid jingoism. There was also the problem of maintaining traditional values in an increasingly urban and anonymous mass culture, and this mission was assigned to a state/clerical bureaucracy that might, one day, have other ideas …

As a credible postwar movement, fascism persisted longer in Italy than elsewhere. Indeed, a neo-fascist party was represented in the Italian parliament throughout the postwar era. This was the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MRI), which held seats in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate from 1948 until its dissolution in 1995, when the MRI rebranded itself as the Alleanza Nazionale (AN) in a bid to gain mainstream support. 

Although it was for a long time preoccupied with the debate of fascism and anti-fascism, the party distanced itself from this in the early 1990s to rather focus on contemporary Italian issues. [...] When the party transformed itself into the AN, it outspokenly rejected fascism, as well as "any kind of totalitarianism and racism." In contrast to other far-right parties in Europe which increased their power in the late 1980s, the MSI chose to not campaign against immigration, because [there] was less than [in] other European countries. (Wikipedia 2017a)

This transformation paid off, electorally. In 1996 the AN peaked at 16% of the popular vote, and in 2001 it joined a coalition government with its leader as Deputy Prime Minister and Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister. Finally, in 2009 it was absorbed into a new party created by Berlusconi, Il Popolo della Libertà (PdL).

There is a lesson in this. If you imitate the mainstream in order to gain power, you may destroy your reason for seeking power, which is to promote your ideas and make them public policy. The end becomes cannibalized by the means.

And yet ...

One may conclude that nothing points to a nationalist breakthrough in Italy, at least not in the near future. Yet things aren't necessarily what they seem. Although the Lega Nord has lost support at the national level, it has gained support at the regional level, particularly in the 2015 regional elections. A party member, Luca Zaia, was elected president of the Veneto region with 50% of the vote, the combined score for the LN and Zaia lists being 41%. The party came second in Liguria (22%) and Tuscany (16%) and third in Marche (13%) and Umbria (14%). These were record successes.

One doesn't have to look far for the reason. Over the past three years half a million migrants, mostly from Africa, have poured into Italy. And the end isn't in sight. The migrant wave is being driven by population pressure in Africa, and not by specific events like the civil war in Syria:

While irregular crossings in the Mediterranean to reach Europe have been growing for a number of years, 2015 marked the sharpest rise in sea arrivals to the EU with a four-fold increase from 2014.

[...] There has been a rapid decline in the presence of Syrian nationals who went from 24% of arrivals in 2014 to just 5% in 2015. While Eritreans were the largest single nationality group in 2015, it is the presence of young single men from a wide range of African countries that truly characterises the Central Mediterranean route in 2015. (Crawley et al. 2016)

Meanwhile, an alternative to the Lega Nord has been taking shape. In 2012 the Fratelli d'Italia (FdI) was founded with Giorgia Meloni as president and a membership drawn largely from the old AN. Its ideology is described as follows:

[The basic principles are] nationalism, national conservatism, and the Social Right [a French movement of social conservatism].

In economic matters, these [principles] mean abandoning the euro, implementing protectionism for products made in Italy, and repealing the European Fiscal Compact.

On the issue of taxation, the electoral program calls for a "family quotient" [taxation that takes the size of the nuclear family into account], a lower sales tax of 4% on goods for young children, and tax deductions substantiated with receipts for such goods.

The party also calls for a social mortgage, i.e., establishment of a publicly funded institution to build housing and living quarters for sale to families who do not already own a home. Mortgage payments will not exceed one fifth of family income, and an eligible family must have at least one gainfully employed member.

At the international level the party declares that it is close to the Front National of Marine Le Pen and the Law and Justice party in Poland. (Wikipedia 2017b)

The party is opposed to birthright citizenship and decriminalization of illegal immigration, and it supports a naval blockade in the Mediterranean. Finally, in the field of civil rights, it opposes gay marriage and parenting, stating that it wants to safeguard the traditional family.

Although the FdI won only 2% of the popular vote in the 2013 general election, it has done better in subsequent municipal and regional elections. In the 2016 election in Rome it received 12% of the popular vote. In the 2017 regional election in Sicily, a politician close to the party was elected president. In preparation for the 2018 general election, the FdI is working to form a broader nationalist front called Terra Nostra (TN) (Wikipedia 2017c).


At first glance, Italy’s nationalist scene looks moribund. Over the past twenty years the Lega Nord has steadily lost support in general elections. In the 1990s the Movimento Sociale Italiano lost its raison d'être and eventually disappeared into the political mainstream. A closer look, however, shows that the LN has been increasing its support at the regional and municipal levels. The last few years have also seen a new nationalist party come into being: the Fratelli d'Italia, now renamed Terra Nostra. Time will tell, but it has already shown promising growth in municipal and regional elections. The TN is partly a response to electoral successes by similar parties in other countries, notably the Front National in France and the Law and Justice party in Poland, but its main impetus seems to be events in Italy itself, particularly the sharp rise in immigration from Africa over the past three years.

Both parties will have to overcome several barriers to electoral success:

- The Lega Nord cannot fully mobilize the nationalist vote. Its support is confined to northern Italy and is fueled by a perception that the north is subsidizing the south and an overgrown central government. It has in fact tried to build support in southern and central Italy, but with little success.

- Terra Nostra is new, and new parties are prone to problems that plague any new team of people: disagreement over vision and ideology, uncertainty over direction and strategy, etc. Since many of its founding members had formerly belonged to the AN, and previously to the MRI, they will tend to follow old visions and old ideology. In particular, belief in a strong central state will block cooperation with the LN.

- There is a lack of time. Immigration to Italy has reached high levels. With a fertility rate of 1.2 children per native-born woman, the most likely scenario will be rapid demographic replacement. Indeed, this fate awaits the entire southern tier of Europe.

Although both parties may do very well in the upcoming 2018 general election, they will probably not do well enough to form a coalition government on their own. The outcome will likely be a three-way coalition: Lega Nord, Terra Nostra, and Forza Italia, i.e., Berlusconi's party. This raises the prospect of absorption into the political mainstream, as was the case a decade ago. This time, however, the tail might wag the dog; there are signs that Forza Italia voters are realizing that Italy, like Europe as a whole, is facing an existential crisis. On the other hand, their party is still a mix of liberal and traditionalist tendencies:

In October 2014 Berlusconi personally endorsed Renzi's proposals on civil unions for gays and a quicker path to citizenship to Italian-born children of immigrants. However, recent developments proved the party more socially conservative. FI clarified that it considers marriage solely as the union between a man and a woman. The majority of its members voted against civil unions, whereas the NCD voted in favour. Moreover, the party is critical of teaching gender studies in schools. Party members are generally pro-life and therefore seek to limit abortion and euthanasia. The party has criticized illegal immigration and the way it has been managed by centre-left coalition governments. It has also declared itself against the introduction of jus soli in Italy. In addition, the party is opposed to drug liberalization, which it considers potentially negative for health and not useful for solving criminal matters. When FI's predecessors were in power, they restricted the legislation on the matter, with the Fini-Giovanardi law. Finally, FI considers Italy as a country with a Christian civilization and, thus, favours displaying Christian symbols in public places. (Wikipedia 2017d)

This is typical conservatism, and on several points it is vulnerable to the sort of manipulation by outside interests that we have seen with conservative parties elsewhere. If, for example, only illegal immigration is problematic, why not solve the problem by legalizing it? Perhaps Berlusconi has learned his lesson, but the example of conservatives elsewhere isn't reassuring. Again, time will tell.


Crawley, H., F. Duvell, N. Sigona, S. McMahon, and K. Jones (2016).  Unpacking a rapidly changing scenario: migration flows, routes and trajectories across the Mediterranean. Unravelling the Mediterranean Migration Crisis (MEDMIG) Research Brief No.1 March 2016  

Eco, U. (1995). Ur-Fascism, The New York Review of Books, June 22  

Wikipedia (2017a). Italian Social Movement.  

Wikipedia (2017b). Fratelli d'Italia - Alleanza Nazionale.

Wikipedia (2017c). Brothers of Italy  

Wikipedia (2017d). Forza Italia.