In the long run, we are all dead

Governments failed to plan for longevity. Will they make the same mistake with demography?

It is thought the last person to have been born in the nineteenth century died, aged 117, in mid-April. Improving nutrition, social welfare, medical advances, the realisation of how bad smoking and other environmental pollutants are have seen longevity among the populations, particularly of developed countries, advance in leaps and bounds.

But the failure of governments to plan for the added cost of caring for the old, the increased price of advanced medical treatments and the feeble state of government and corporate finances to support large numbers of people who are spending half a lifetime living on generous pensions has turned this boon for humanity into a crisis.

The new (de-) population crisis

Another demographic sea change is on the horizon. But with current preoccupations of politicians, it is unlikely that any plans will be made until it is again too late.

The economist John Maynard Keynes is not famous for stating the bleedin’ obvious that, “In the long run we are all dead”.

In the middle of the coming century, the Japanese population will have more than halved from around 127 million to around 50 million. The fertility rate in developed countries is falling, the Japanese age profile is simply the most dramatic illustration of it. Already one in eight houses in Japan is empty with no laughter of children filling the air.

Amidst Malthusian angst that the world is becoming unsustainably overpopulated, this is good news. A falling population, especially in the developed world that binges on most of the world’s resources, will move the Earth to a more sustainable existence pending its ultimate extinction as a frazzled carbon crisp when our sun runs out of hydrogen (in a few billion years time).

In the meantime…

One of the reasons the Japanese population will decline so precipitously is that the country shuns immigration. In many developed countries, there is a political panic about immigration that is creating barriers, or in the case of the USA, walls, to prevent them contributing to the economic lives and the diversity of their desired destinations.

The economic case for encouraging immigration is overwhelming – immigrants are proven to contribute more than they take out of their new homes and many services are depended on the younger blood immigration brings.

But in short-term, politically, the price is too high, the appeasement of those frightened by and opposing immigration too easy.

In the long run

Having failed to act when they had all the evidence that predicted longevity, governments have no excuses not to prepare for the decline in population. The decline is a long time ahead; decisions can be taken now that will ameliorate the impact to shrinking populace without negatively affecting the current population.

But then most of readers of this article and its author won’t be around to hold them to account. Perhaps that’s why governments get away with failure from generation to generation.

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