Sunday, November 28, 2010

Global Aging and U.S. Power

A couple of pieces on the topic:
* At Foreign Affairs, Nicholas Eberstadt, "The Demographic Future: What Population Growth — and Decline — Means for the Global Economy."

* At Foreign Policy, Phillip Longman, "
Think Again: Global Aging."
RELATED: At International Security, Mark Haas, "A Geriatric Peace? The Future of U.S. Power in a World of Aging Populations." (Abstract here.)

UNFORTUNATE TRIVIA: Phillip Longman's brother is Martin Longman of
Booman Tribune. This minor detail helps put Phillip's conclusion at Foreign Policy in perspective:
The connection between a society's wealth and its demographics is cyclical. At first, with fertility declining and the workforce aging, there are proportionately fewer children to raise and educate. This is good: It frees up female labor to join the formal economy and allows for greater investment in the education of each remaining child. All else being equal, both factors stimulate economic development. Japan went through this phase in the 1960s and 1970s, with the other Asian countries following close behind. China is benefiting from it now.

Then, however, the outlook turns bleak. Over time, low birth rates lead not only to fewer children, but also to fewer working-age people just as the percentage of dependent elders explodes. This means that as population aging runs its course, it might well go from stimulating the economy to depressing it. Fewer young adults means fewer people needing to purchase new homes, new furniture, and the like, as well as fewer people likely to take entrepreneurial risks. Aging workers become more interested in protecting existing jobs than in creating new businesses. Last-ditch efforts to prop up consumption and home values may result in more and more capital flowing into expanded consumer credit, creating financial bubbles that inevitably burst (sound familiar?).

In other words, a planet that grays indefinitely is clearly asking for trouble. But birth rates don't have to plummet forever. One path forward might be characterized as the Swedish road: It involves massive state intervention designed to smooth the tensions between work and family life to enable women to have more children without steep financial setbacks. But so far, countries that have followed this approach have achieved only very modest success. At the other extreme is what might be called the Taliban road: This would mean a return to "traditional values," in which women have few economic and social options beyond the role of motherhood. This mindset may well maintain high birth rates, but with consequences that today are unacceptable to all but the most rigid fundamentalists.
The Taliban road?

Only a radical progressive would even raise that notion with respect to cultural conservatives in the United States. Who knows if Phillip is close to Martin? But the Daily Kosification of putatively scholarly writing is a disaster. The Eberstadt piece at Foreign Affairs is far superior, a welcomed corrective to such idiotic leftist blather. A shame too. Phillip Longman's done some impressive research, but he's blinkered by ideology.


Art Deco said...

Does anyone who writes like this every study historical statistics of any sort or even use their personal memory and noggin? The total fertility rate in the United States in 1957 was about 3.5. Fully a third of the workforce was female. There were few women in professional-managerial positions, but such positions make up only about 13% of the employees in the economy. My mother's contemporaries were generally a sociable and opinionated lot and more poised and disciplined than their daughters turned out to be. They had more respect for the integrity of the family than is the case today and more respect for their husbands' prerogatives. What is wrong with that.

It is telling that this character's idea of a 'Taliban society' is one where people get married before having children, eschew expressive divorce, and think of a father as something more than an extra pair of hands for the mother.

huemaurice7 said...

If there are fewer people at work, this is not a problem. Today, humanity is replaced by the machine. The work done by machine. The car, computer, machine tools, etc