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Friday, June 25, 2004

Population Decline

Here is an interview with Phillip Longman who has recently written a book on world population decline and the problems it will produce.

Italy is on the threshold of losing population in absolute terms; Russia is losing about 750,000 people a year. South Africa is losing population primarily because of AIDS and falling birthrates. Japan will probably lose population this year in absolute terms and then a compounding curve of population law takes over so that Japan by the end of the century may easily be one-third smaller than it is today. But just to keep this in context: Even in the Middle East, for example, Iran winds up in just 25 years having more seniors than children. That's a dramatic change. They're going to have to figure out how to finance those seniors. They don't have the resources that Italy has. A kind of paradoxical way to look at this is that the number of children in the world starts to decline in absolute terms in about 15 years, according to a United Nations projection. And by midcentury there are 35 million fewer children in the world than there are today, but simultaneously there's 1.2 billion more seniors. So you can see that in a real sense that, yes, we have population growth still in the pipeline but it's population growth of elders occurring in the context when there's literally fewer and fewer children.
I can remember when it was assumed that overpopulation would be the dominant crisis of the future. We were destined for a hyper-Malthusian situation that would destroy the planet.
Historically it's hard to find any economy that's thrived under any form of government in the context of population decline.
Of course historically it is hard to find a time when population decline wasn't the result of pestilence, famine and war also. This is new territory. Longman isn't taking into account improvements in lifespan that may be in the near future. Such technology could change these projections dramatically (the population would still be getting older, vastly older, but the old wouldn't be infirm, non-producers. In any event, interesting times are ahead.


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