A Youth Bulge is when military age males, 15-30 make up at least 20% or more of the population. The greater their percentage of the population, the more likely war follows. Right now, there are youth bulges in the Middle East, Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Arab world is just starting to shake from the pressures of a youth bulge. 65% of the population is under age 25. As the children become men, the fun begins.

The Mid East and Africa are undergoing a demographic transition. Industrialism and the Second Agricultural Revolution increased the maximum sustainable population. Deaths from disease and starvation dropped drastically and the population quickly swells to reach this maximum (after increasing 500% or more), where it levels off to replacement rate.

The problem is not just a youth bulge. It’s an educated youth bulge that causes havoc. Afterall, starving peasants don’t revolt, they just desperately search for food. This is not a revolt of the poor – it’s more like Germany in the World Wars. The Youth Bulge occurs because people are lifted out of poverty and gain access to more technology and the education to use it.

Normally, the eldest male inherits his father’s farmland or company. The second son may enter business. But what about these “third or fourth sons” Where do they go? Resources are scarce. Arable land cannot be indefinitely divided. Industrial jobs may not grow at a fast enough pace to hire everyone. So these sons join the army or migrate as colonists to new lands. Unemployment becomes a source of frustration to young ambitious men.

the Middle East has the fastest-growing labor force of any part of the world. This youth bulge is surging onto the labor market like a massive demographic tsunami. Just to keep pace with population growth, the Middle East must create 80 million new jobs over the next 15 years. And if it hopes to put a dent in its already high unemployment rate of 15 percent, it must create 100 million new jobs by 2020—a near doubling of today’s total employment.

There are safety valves that can minimize internal conflict. In the 16-19th century, Europeans emigrated to the Americas and new colonial lands in Africa and Asia. This does not exactly minimize external conflict, as the American Indians and other indigenous people were brushed aside by a tidal wave of European youth.

If they cannot colonize unsettled or sparsely settled land (or emigrate to the U.S.), they are more likely to turn militant and compete for scarce resources. They may turn their activism towards more industrious purposes as well – there are other inputs that work with demographics.

The Arabs are not well suited to dealing with this economic pressure. They lack diversified economies beyond oil and they lack a dynamic society that can produce the rapid growth needed to accomodate these youths.

This CFR article offers a laundry-list of reforms. He concludes that “only deep reforms will avert disaster.” So disaster it is.

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