COVID-19: How Many Will Die?

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It seems perverse of me not to have pontificated or at least propounded about the biggest news story since Harry and Meghan took off – beyond blogging about bog paper. I’m talking about Corona Viral Disease No.19, aka COVID-19.

No-one knows how bad things will get or how soon a vaccine will become available, but I have amused myself by running some plausible numbers. Let’s say that one-third of humanity is infected; that’s within the range that we’ve heard from experts. Then let’s assume that 1% of those unlucky people die. That’s below the rates that are being talked about; but those are based only on the known cases of infection, which are almost certainly the minority of actual cases.

There are about 7.5 billion people alive today, so my assumptions would mean a death toll of 7,500 million x 1/3 x 1% = 25 million. That’s a lot of people, but it’s equivalent to:

  • No more than 50% of the number who died of the Spanish Flu a century ago, when the global population was only 1.8 billion.
  • Less than 50% of the usual number of deaths in a year.
  • About four months of humanity’s natural growth rate (births minus deaths).

Moreover, mortality is going to occur much more than proportionately among the old and the sick, many of whom would die soon anyway. So when future students of demography examine a graph of human population growth they will notice a deceleration in 2020. It may pique their interest enough to glance at a footnote that mentions COVID-19.

Suicide

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There’s been another report on suicide in Australia. People have expressed shock that the highest suicide rate is for men over 85 years of age. I say to those people, “Well, which group defined by gender and age do you want to have the highest suicide rate? Young men? Old women? Children?!”

Personally I think it makes perfect sense that old men are the most prone to suicide. Men are valued – by themselves and by others – for their strength, virility and self-reliance. They tend to define themselves in terms of their income-earning capacity. As they age, all these reasons to be valued fade away.

Men are also known to have fewer and weaker social connections outside their workplaces, and to recover more slowly than women after the loss of a spouse.

According to the latest Australian death statistics, with a bit of adjustment by me for population growth, 70% of males make it to 70; once there, half will make it to 90. I am not shocked if a few blokes in that bracket are no longer enjoying the party and want to leave early.

Populism

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The Cambridge Dictionary has chosen ‘populism’ as its Word of the Year. The word doesn’t even appear in my Australian Modern Oxford Dictionary – only a definition of a populist as “a person who claims to support the interests of ordinary people.”

That sounds pretty admirable to me. So why are the words ‘populism’ and ‘populist’ always used pejoratively? Nobody ever says, “That Trump fellow is a real populist. Good for him!” Could it be that the political élite, the pointy-headed intellectuals, the upper middle class people who work in universities, newsrooms and government departments, really do look down on the unwashed masses as Trump and many others claim? Do those people really think they know better what’s good for the common people than the common people themselves?

I have just read an article by Cas Mudde (pictured) in the Guardian Weekly (wishing that I’d thought of that name to give one of my characters in The Eeks Trilogy) in which he argues that what is often called ‘populism’ is really nativism. He goes on to define nativism as “an ideology that holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (‘the nation’) and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state;” and characterise it as “nasty.”

This got me thinking about the concept of the nation-state and why it was regarded as such a good thing in the 19th and early 20th centuries; why political heavy­weights in the richest countries of the West now consider it anathema; and why the epithet ‘racist’ is routinely hurled at anyone who expresses a preference for living among people with similar cultural practices, beliefs, values, history and language.

I flipped through a recent issue of the Guardian Weekly and found stories about conflict arising from this preference in six countries: Cameroon, Cyprus, Hungary, Myanmar, Poland and Tibet. And there was a story about German politics, which was dominated for over 40 years by a desire to restore nation-statehood.

Perhaps it’s time for us to be more tolerant of this preference, which seems to be deeply embedded in human nature whether we like it or not.

Muslim Takeover of Australia?

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I get a lot of emails expressing fear that Australia, or the Western world in general, will be taken over by Muslims because of a) immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, b) Muslims’ high fertility rate or c) both.

Obviously, if Muslims do breed faster then non-Muslims they will inevitably achieve a majority one day. But is it imminent? I constructed a small Excel model and put in some simple assumptions for Australia. Here they are:

  1. Muslims represent 3% of the Australian population now.
  2. Muslims’ natural rate of increase is 1.5%pa while that of non-Muslims is 0.5%pa.
  3. Annual net immigration is equivalent to 1% of the population.
  4. Muslims represent 30% of net immigration.
  5. Anyone born to Muslim parents adopts their faith.
  6. Nobody converts to or from Islam.

This set of assumptions produces a Muslim majority in the year 2289, at which time the total population of Australia will be 3.6 billion.

I’d be happy to receive evidence-based data to replace my crude assumptions; or to send out my little model to be played with by you or anyone else.

As an atheist myself I earnestly hope that nobody follows any religion at all by 2289, rendering this a pointless exercise. Fun, though.