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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
While embroiled in the most vivid display of great power rivalry since the Cold War, the U.S. and China are both also battling a largely invisible force — relentlessly unfavorable demographics that are sapping their long-term economic vitality.
The big picture: For four decades, China has carried out one of the longest, fastest and biggest economic transformations in history. Integral to China's miracle has been its 1-child policy, which has constrained the size of its bulging population. But demographic experts say that even though 2 children per family are now permitted, the policy has baked in a dire midcentury future for China.
So dramatic are the unfolding trends that they will swamp geopolitics and make China's rise much less certain, argues Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographic expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
The U.S. faces similar demographic problems, including a fertility rate of just 1.7. But they are not as grave as China's since, historically speaking, the U.S. is much more open to immigration. The American working age population is forecast to grow about 10% by 2040.
Put together, the trends — the shrinking, aging and low fertility of the population — will overwhelm the Chinese economy, Eberstadt said. "The age of heroic economic growth is over."
There are steps the Chinese can take: Beijing is already investing in industrial robots at a dizzying pace, and Brad Setser, an economist with the Council on Foreign Relations, said China can raise the retirement age and allow more internal migration by workers from rural areas. "With per capita GDP still only a fraction of U.S. levels, China also still has scope for catch up growth."
But Wang Feng, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, said the demographics ultimately threaten the government's political hold because it will no longer be able to afford social payments to the public.
Go deeper: Why population will drive geopolitics
On Oberlin's campus. Photo: Getty
A high-profile dispute between Oberlin College and a local bakery over accusations of racial profiling and libel is emerging as a microcosm of a larger national debate over how political polarization is upending the country, writes Erica.
Background: In 2016, a black student was caught shoplifting from Gibson's Bakery, after which the bakery owner's son, who is white, reportedly put the student in a chokehold. That sparked protests in the small town.
Why it matters: Oberlin College president Carmen Ambar said the bakery would likely suffer a couple million dollars of damage over a few decades, and she questioned whether the steep penalty was reasonable.
Ambar said a decision whether to appeal has not been made.
Neither the Gibsons nor Lee Plakas, their lawyer, returned calls seeking comment.
Piracy exercise off Nigeria's coast, March 2019. Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty
Until a few years ago, piracy was such a menace in East Africa that Hollywood cast Tom Hanks in a movie about it. No longer: Now Somalia — the former epicenter of such trouble — is among the safest coastlines around (albeit with most of the world's major navies on patrol).
Driving the news: In its place, pirates are now striking West Africa, the new oasis for oceangoing theft, the Economist reports.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
One of the great enduring mysteries is what is said in "Linear A," a bit of writing scratched into a stone discovered on Crete in 1886 by British archaeologist Arthur Evans (see above).
What's happening: It's been 66 years since Michael Ventris, an English architect relying on amateur wits, deciphered "Linear B," the other ancient script scratched into Evans' stone. But until today, no one has cracked Linear A.
Now, a joint team from MIT and the Google AI Lab may be in a position to take a new stab at it, reports MIT Technology Review. Already, the MIT-Google team has used a machine learning system to independently decipher Linear B.
Given that AI never tires, the Tech Review usefully suggests how the indefatigable MIT-Google system might succeed: "simply attempt to decipher it into every language for which machine translation already operates."