Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

The West is getting old

By Chrystia Freeland
July 28, 2011

It’s the demography, stupid.

There are a lot of different reasons this is turning out to be such a politically hot summer in so much of the Western world. But one way to understand this season’s acrimony — from the protests of the indignati in Spain and Greece, to the budget deadlock in Washington and even to the tragedy in Norway — is as diverse symptoms of a shared condition: The West is getting old. That demographic fact is becoming a generational war, and there is every reason to believe that in the coming decades it will get worse.

The heart of the problem is arithmetical: The post-World War II social welfare state, created at a moment when the baby boom was still gestating, is built on a generational Ponzi scheme. As life expectancy increases and fertility declines, that population pyramid is being inverted — and in some countries, that is causing the entire economy to topple.

That’s true in Greece and Spain, where the young are taking to the streets partly because state pension commitments have become so heavy they are suffocating the economy and depriving the seniors’ grandchildren of any chance of a job. Likewise in the United States, where, notwithstanding the national self-image as a laissez-faire land that has eschewed Europe’s lavish social safety net, the budget battle is really a fight about the old: Programs for the elderly constitute almost half of non-interest government spending, about $1.6 trillion in 2010, of a $3.3 trillion total. That figure will swell as the baby boomers retire.

According to a paper by political economist Nicholas Eberstadt, who has done extensive research on the issue, “costs associated with population aging are estimated to account for about half the public-debt run-up of the O.E.C.D. economies over the past 20 years.”

It is not just at home that graying societies are creating wrenching political and economic tensions: The demographic squeeze may be contributing to one of today’s biggest dangers in international finance: the threat of sovereign default. Ali Alichi, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, argues in an essay published by the fund last month that “old folks may be less willing to repay sovereign debt.” According to Alichi, “As the number of older voters relative to younger ones increases around the globe, the creditworthiness of borrowing countries could decline — resulting in less external lending and more sovereign debt defaults.”

This demographic crunch has transformed the way a lot of us think about the relationship between economic growth and population growth. Not so long ago, the conventional wisdom was neo-Malthusian — for individuals, for families and for societies, one of the keys to prosperity was having fewer children. Now, that thinking has been turned upside down.

In a speech at the Aspen Ideas Festival a few weeks ago, former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin cited the United States’ “favorable demographics relative to Europe, Japan and even to China and Korea” as one of the principal reasons to believe that the country has sunny economic prospects.

President Dmitri A. Medvedev is so worried about his country’s shrinking citizenry that the Kremlin is offering families that have a third child financial incentives.

Even China, the most brutal apostle of population control, now fears it will get old before it gets rich. Meanwhile, India, whose fertility was once seen as its national curse, is touted as a rising investment prospect thanks to its “demographic dividend.”

One solution to the demographic dilemma is immigration. But absorbing immigrants can be tough. And that’s true not just for the traumatized Norwegians, but also in U.S. states like Arizona, which have less homogenous populations and a history of immigration.

Moreover, immigration is a zero sum game that can’t work for everyone forever. As the world’s poor countries get richer, their citizens have less reason to emigrate — and they begin to suffer their own demographic squeeze.

Eberstadt points out that this is true not only of one-child China, but also of the economically prospering Indian south, where fertility levels are at, or already below, replacement levels.

The other answer is to persuade families to have more children. So far, that’s something no developed country has really figured out. As women get richer, better educated and more autonomous, they have fewer babies. That decline in fertility is driven by harsher economic forces, too: Most middle class families in the West need a mother’s wage to survive, and women in industrial and postindustrial societies can’t bring their babies to work in the way their peasant great-grandmothers could.

As countries awaken to the demographic squeeze, their first instinct is often fiercely conservative. That is the case with Medvedev: As well as giving families incentives to have a third child, the Kremlin is restricting abortion and making common cause with Russian Orthodox Church activitists and social conservatives who condemn “refusal of marriage and child-bearing” as a “social deviation.”

But there isn’t much evidence that a return to patriarchy will bolster fertility. After all, some of the societies where the birthrates are plummeting the fastest — like Japan or Italy — are the ones where women have made the least social and economic progress.

Yet there is one political movement that has long campaigned for societies to find a better way for women to be both workers and mothers: feminism. Until now, we have framed those efforts as being about expanding personal choice — and government and business have paid them lip-service, but not much more.

As graying countries become angrier and more dysfunctional, that could change. We think the most pressing issues in the rich West are budget deficits and job creation. To fix our economies in the long term, what we should probably be talking about is maternity and paternity leave and workplace day care.

Comments
46 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Chrystia, shame on you for joining economists’ idiotic bandwagon of using population growth to prop up macroeconomic growth. Economists don’t have a clue as to what’s happening since they steadfastly refuse to even consider what economic consequences may result from such never-ending population growth. Because of that, they haven’t even recognized the relationship between population density and per capita consumption, and how extreme population densities drive down per capita consumption, thus driving up unemployment and poverty. They have yet to see the relationship between population density disparities and the global trade imbalances that nearly collapsed the global economy. Instead, they cling to the simplistic notion that population growth translates to macroeconomic growth, so more must be better. They are too close-minded to ponder where this ultimately leads.

Population stabilization is to be welcomed, not feared. Yes, it does present challenges as the population ages, but those challenges are obviously transitory, since a population cannot continue to age forever. And since simple laws of physics dictate that the human population cannot grow forever, the challenge of an aging population must be faced sooner or later. Putting off that day of reckoning until some time in the future when the size of the aged population is much higher will only make the challenge that much greater.

Unemployment has been steadily worsening throughout the world. We’re rapidly exhausting the supplies of fossil fuel that have made our high standard of living possible. And, unless we dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, we face extinction on an over-cooked planet. How in the world any thinking person could conclude that growing our population will help solve any of these problems is beyond me.

Posted by Pete_Murphy | Report as abusive
 

“One solution to the demographic dilemma is immigration. But absorbing immigrants can be tough.”

Really? We’ve done it successfully for over 200 years, despite the best efforts of each generation’s Nativists to demonize incoming waves of immigrants.

The government needs more revenue and part of the solution is more citizens paying taxes. Immigrants are nearly 30% more likely to start a business than nonimmigrants, and represent 16.7 percent of all new business owners in the United States according to the Small Business Administration. The IRS has estimated that as much as $400 billion in taxes goes uncollected from undocumented workers.

Immigration and tax reform are a part of the solution, as is health care and entitlement reform. Unfortunately, there’s no political will to tackle these issues, or as we see now in the current debate over the debt limit, they are simply used as wedge issues for self-interested politicians and the wealthy corporations and organizations that fund them.

Posted by johnnyjr | Report as abusive
 

capitalism …. isn’t working

Posted by maltadefender | Report as abusive
 

every new person that is added to the total population, reduces the dollar value of individual human labor.

supply.

every new person that is added to the total population, increases the dollar value of limited resources and commodities.

demand

Posted by Robertla | Report as abusive
 

we need to feed ourselves not bring in more people to feed.

Posted by truetoearth | Report as abusive
 

Cute, but C. Freeland needs to do more research. Money going to the military comprises the largest portion of the budget. It’s time for the U.S. to lessen that commitment and for other countries to pick up more of the cost for their defense.

Posted by Shoreline | Report as abusive
 

It is not just that the white population is getting older, it is also becoming more and more female as the males die off at younger and younger ages. Increasingly, benefits for older white Americans are benefits for older white American women.

This will disrupt current political alliances.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

The U.S. has a fixed border (and the Earth is a closed system). It has finite resources, just like any other country. It is also mining, harvesting, utilizing, destroying, or polluting those resources while the population continues to grow.

The more people…the less resources to go around. Hundreds of millions of people don’t have access to clean water, arable land, jobs, funds for higher education, proper health care, etc. And mankind is the dominant species on this planet with nothing to thin our ranks except hardwired mortality.

Bigger is not necessarily better. Anybody that says that we have to grow our way out of our problems, via immigration or procreation, is part of the problem.

Posted by Andvari | Report as abusive
 

Any company I have ever worked for acknowledged at some level that their greatest asset was their employees (yes, human people). And truly by extension any nation’s greatest asset is its people. I think Ms. Freeland’s article makes a lot of sense because money-minded people are motivated by self-interests a lot of the time. Aging populations in the West, only accustomed to better and better life offerings, want their lifestyles and standards of living to remain the same and probably improve even if they are in the 85+ age range. Now these arguments in the Freeland article may not apply to the more altruistic types, but lets face it there are very few true altruists among us no matter what your philosophical, political or economic stripe. You will find them among the true believers in religions (those who actually work as hard on their spiritual lives as economic know-it-all’s do on their golf swings). The comments by Johnnyjr and HosedinAmerica appear to me to reflect reality. I would add that trade agreements can and do work for a period of when hopeful people are having children who will consume goods and services and will need a job of their own one day. Circumstances and environments change. When people try to fiddle with population control, unforeseen events occur that tend to re-write the history that everyone thought was inevitable. In the end, those who value new life will live and bring forth the next generation. This may sound obvious but few societies saw the seeds of their own decline and destruction. Still fewer are those who do see and are willing to speak up. Too many in the West have specialized in their areas of expertise to the point that their observations are too myopic and not integrative of the whole situation. Those with economic, business, accounting or financial expertise are sometimes woefully inadequate to size up a reality that factors in the other Arts. The complexity of the issue demands a societal collaborative effort that evokes some common sense and wisdom, not rhetoric and posturing. We will all be dealing with this sooner or later whether certain constituencies are ready or not.

Posted by dbr12 | Report as abusive
 

Encouraging immigration is a bad idea. Our economy is not generating enough financial activity/growth to provide incomes for new Americans. With a few exceptions for immigrants with extraordinary wealth or abilities, most immigrants would simply add to America’s burden as we try to revitalize.

Furthermore, adding to the population expands the generational Ponzi scheme to which Ms. Freeland refers.

It is the nature of Ponzi schemes to eventually fail and when that failure occurs, it visits great financial harm upon participants. Expanding the generational Ponzi scheme now can only serve to delay the inevitable and to increase the scope of the harm.

Ensuring genuine financial sustainability is the key.

That requires nimble flexibility with long term social programs in the form of increasing contributions, decreasing payouts and/or altering the manner in which the money is invested over time as changing economic and demographic conditions dictate.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive
 

It’s pitiful to hear Americans complain about anything. Most folks really do make about $3 to $5 a day. The local hospital has one doctor, if they are lucky. Where I live, only civil service workers own a car. Go ahead and close the borders, you better get that shale oil stuff up and running real quick. Most folks in the USA no longer have chickens in their backyards.

Posted by threeRivers | Report as abusive
 

This generation of seniors are much more expensive to support. This is true not only in the wealth West, but also in developing countries such as China and India. The reasons are as follows: (1)Seniors are living longer, a good 10-20 years longer, than just a generation ago. So naturally they consume more medical expenses which are largely paid by the societies in which they live. (2) Just two generations ago while seniors might not work, but they did contribute to the society by taking on chores such as preparing meals and taking care of grandchildren because they normally lived with their children in large households. Today most seniors live in separate households. They probably indulge in their own activities such as watching TV and playing cards. But they contribute less to the economy. In conclusion, an aging society needs not feel the economic burden because of supporting retirees if seniors are given the incentives to work, and medical services are paid by seniors accordion to their ability to pay in stead of a blank check provided by the society.

Posted by jlpeng | Report as abusive
 

Wonderful article Chrystia, your view reflect a very important side of the problem yet the big picture do show clearly that all earth is getting old & it’s the same situation everywhere “east,west,south,north”…

Reading your words & a wise saying from Gebran passed across my thoughts “Woe on a nation which sacrifice youth to protect old ones” …

Posted by Tony.F | Report as abusive
 

Yes sustainability is the future not growth growth growth.

Posted by diddums | Report as abusive
 

Free trade and outsourcing r to blame for the decline of the west. The illusion of cheap labor abroad and the blind faith in financial leveraging, have impoverished the productive substrate of the western nations. There r plenty of kids in the US, now, that will not have the same opportunity and wage earning capabilities of the early post WWII generations. How can u think, Chrystia, that a medieval prolific family concept could save the world now? There r plenty of single mom in the world just struggling with just one kid and no job.

The answer is domestic job creation and expansion.

Why would u have more immigrants or more kids if the unemployed r so abundant? Perhaps more than 9 million jobs have been exported, let’s “immigrate” them back.

Posted by robb1 | Report as abusive
 

Interesting that the off shoring of jobs was left out of the formula. We are seeing the fruits of their lack of labor in Europe. Our conservative ways here in America may seem backwards to europeans, but just look at the status of their socail safety nets and economies to figure out why we are the way we are.

The problem though is that our politicians have sold us down the river for cheap labor abroad. We off shore jobs and import the products instead of making them here, which means fewer and lower paying jobs left here to work. Then we try to suppliment our population growth with immigration, which lowers the wages even more. I have no problem with immigrants. The problem I have is with such an attitude towards jobs. Has anyone figured out yet that fewere low paying jobs mean fewer taxes being paid? We need good solid high paying jobs created, not more service jobs at McDonalds.

The solution to the problem? First, eliminate any and all tax loopholes for those companies that do not employ 100% of their employees in the US. I suppose there could be reasonable exceptions. No loopholes for retailers that buy anything not made in the USA. Next, rebuild the tax code to encourage US job growth, and discourage off shoring of jobs.

Posted by neeros | Report as abusive
 

I’m sorry your low paying factory job screwing the heads on dolls was shipped over seas HosedinAmerica, but no one could afford to pay 5 times more than the doll was worth just so it could have a “made in America” stamp on it.
If american companies werent so burdened with regulations and such high taxes maybe more jobs would stay in this country.
If we truly enjoyed “free trade” in this country then we wouldnt have this problem.

Posted by Incitatus1 | Report as abusive
 

Chrystia, Shame on you. The CBO shows in its graph http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/102xx/doc1029 7/Chapter1.4.1.shtml
that the non-interest government spending level of non-interest, and presumably non-military, is about 25%, not about half as Samuelson states.

Posted by MikeStover | Report as abusive
 

The solution…

1) Means test Social Security / Medicare / Medicaid at no benefits with a net worth over 1/2 million, 1/2 benefits with net worth over 300,000. Everybody else full-coverage.

2) Legalize Pot – tax at 100% and regulate.

3) Legalize Prostitution – tax at 100% and regulate.

4) Eliminate ALL corporate tax loops holes – NO EXCEPTIONS

5) Adjust the corporate tax rate to 25% across the board. (Fascist should love this).

6) No tax shelters. No shell accounts. No over-shore shell corporations (full stop).

7) Nationalize the American fossil fuel industry; No private ownership of any oil, gas or coal reserves by private citizens or corporations. Restitution for past exploitation of a national resource (recouping royalties). All profits go to deficit reduction and the national healthcare system. (Private corporations may still drill and distribute once they’ve paid the american people for the resource).

8) Establish a carbon / pollution tax and trading system (marketplace).

9) Corporate tax reduction to 21.5% for any corporation that are based in the United States and have 70% of their jobs located in the United States or US Territories; and fills those jobs with American citizens.

10) Tax all hedge-funds profits at 50%.

11) Regulate all commodity speculation and tax at 50%.

12) Adjust taxes on all with incomes greater than 500,000 at 50%.

13) Adjust taxes on all with incomes greater than 200,000 at 40%.

14) Adjust taxes on all with incomes greater than 150,000 at 30%.

15) Adjust taxes on all with incomes greater than 75,000 at 10%.

16) Adjust taxes on all with incomes greater than 50,000 at 5%.

17) Adjust taxes on all with incomes less than 50,000 at 0%.

18) Allow for US corporations to move foreign profits to US banks or shores with a tax rate established at 18.5%

19) Reduces healthcare costs by scraping Obama-Care & creating (Medicare for All – with private plan opt-out option) a bifurcated system relieving business of the healthcare burden.

20) Cut the military and all defense expenditures. Reduce the nuclear stockpile by 75%. Reduce the Army by 75%. Reduce the Airforce by 75%. Reduce the Navy by 25% (go navy). Leave the Marine Corp alone (heck, they need money broke-asses). Close all foreign bases in Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Poland, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, and Singapore. Close guantanamo bay. Establish an elite counter-terrorism force to find, capture or kill the Osama-Bin-Ladens of the world as a 5th branch to do quasi-international-law-enforcement.

Posted by Foxdrake | Report as abusive
 

Gee, what ever happened to ‘natural selection’ via things like the Bubonic Plague or ‘Hundred Year Wars’. These used to ‘cull the herds’ just fine. And then the Phoenix’s could rise from their ashes…

Posted by Eric93 | Report as abusive
 

An aging demographic is a symbol of success – longer lives, more affluence. But sometimes it’s a challenge not to fall victim to your own success.

It seems credible that this phenomenon should be accompanied by a trend toward people being productive later and later in life, especially given the widespread demise of defined-benefit pensions, routine medical procedures that were unthinkable even fifty years ago, and the growing understanding of how to stay healthy.

But there are serious obstacle to the general growth of productivity in our aging population.

One obstacle is another aspect of our success, the trend toward income disparity. The concentration of income at the top deprives the domestic economy of proportionate consumer demand, due to the well-known increasing propensity to save at higher levels of income. The need for even skilled labor decreases, further reducing consumer demand, and so on in a vicious spiral.

Another obstacle is the growing underclass, not of the poor, but of those with chronic illness. Think diabetes. This is not just a burden on Medicaid and Medicare, exacerbated by the dynamic of private health insurance. It is also a growing impairment of the workforce.

At the very least, it would behoove a successful, affluent society to stop subsidizing and encouraging obstacles to its own productivity. For example, there has long since ceased to be a credible rationale for the favorable tax treatment of capital gains, since inflation has been near zero and there is no lack of capital chasing assets. It is a policy that mainly promotes the concentration of income. Another example, the tax subsidy of premiums paid for health insurance. This helps to keep the middle class comfortably in favor of a status quo that effectively shuffles the chronically ill out of the workforce and into public care.

We know what happens in a low-demand, aging society. It’s Japan. But in a high-demand economy, with greater workforce participation, the results should be markedly different.

Posted by TheCageNovel | Report as abusive
 

Friedland seems to be another of these observers who can’t see the elephant in the room: The military. Extremely expensive to keep alive and unable to do its job: win wars and then keep the peace.

Posted by nossnevs | Report as abusive
 

Chrystia – thank you for the above article and your interesting input on Left Right and Center on July 30, 2011 show. Got a “hmmm” out of Matt and Tony – I enjoyed that.
Your above article and the comments posted thus far expose the many ways we got into this mess we are in and some great ways out of this depressing everyone mire. I liked that the comments posted to here seemed apolitical and laced with common sense of which there also seems precious little in all of Washington.
The main problem the USA is facing is the post for leader for a balanced great nation I thought Obama would be is still vacant. The concerned and thinking let us do what is right populous are not putting their foot down and their hands up to help enlighten the rest of us and amass us to show Washington the direction we should be heading.

Posted by StayAPolitical | Report as abusive
 

Free trade and outsourcing did the damage, not the lack of kids!

Make our corporate fiscal environment more favorable to invest domestically and all those problems will go away.

In California a small business is taxed over 45% above the first $ 50K earned. We cannot compete with developing countries on tax alone, not to count less regulations and lower cost of labor.

Posted by robb1 | Report as abusive
 

Blame demography or not – the issue still seems like inefficient wealth distribution to me.

Posted by rtgunlimited | Report as abusive
 

@Foxdrake …. I think that you are onto something there … a complete tax revamp …. and I would go along with the other points you make as well.

Posted by WBGriffin | Report as abusive
 

Some interesting and valid posts. You have thought about this Foxdrake, you should be in politics. Eric93 that is so true, I have always believed that nature will deal with it all, look at all the natural disasters, next will be pandemics and food shortages.

Posted by kiwibird | Report as abusive
 

The problem depends on your point of view.

Who cares about the power and well being of the US “power elite”? That reduces nationalism to the level of NHL hockey. It does not matter who is on the team, only the team name matters. And so with the “United States of America”. It is just a name. Who cares if the name survives? No rational human being.

What matters is your family, your ethnic group, your race.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

To Chrystia Freeland: I’m sure your observations represent well thought out good big picture thinking; you are one the few journalists who express those angles. I have not read the whole article.

I was just looking for a place to tell you that your dress
on Reliable Sources was fabulous, and that you were
spot on about why the media in the US is not covering the unemployment problem very well at all, and the fiscal solutions
that may be needed to help. I would add that not many American journalists seem to understand depression economics.

I plan to repeat some of your Reliable Source observations on my facebook page. Cheers!

Posted by fu2ure | Report as abusive
 

In the 1960′s as a high school student, I heard the raging storm of some saying without population control we would literally grow out of the world in a matter of decades and opposing that view was the Church saying flatly NO! Being Catholic, I preferred to have faith in the wisdom of the Church. Now at 59, from this article and current events, I see the Church’s position to be fully vindicated; and my personal choice of who to believe has also been rewarded. However, we have gone so far, for so long down the wrong turn-off will we be able to get back to the highway? And that answer too will require some element of faith.

Posted by j2soco | Report as abusive
 

The article (and comments so far) are interesting takes on the effect of an aging population in the West, though most countries will have this going on. Even China will be aging, and with 50 million girls missing, perhaps even more interesting results by 2030.
I took a look at this, and carried out market projections in 2005, in my book A Short Drive Through the 21st Century available at lulu.com. Here’s the link:
http://www.lulu.com/nbrodsky
When you recognize the economic effects, its not all bad, and there are opportunities than can be taken advantage of as a result of Western aging.

Posted by nbrodsky | Report as abusive
 

The west is getting old, and when all the baby boomers hit retirement age with no pensions or health care, the government is really going to be into social welfare. A cloudy future at best.

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive
 

If the USA would stop all the illegals from coming into the US, then the government would have the needed funds that is being depleted by thoses illegals. Welfare and Medicaid would drop drastically and so would our country’s debt amount. This country was formed on immigration true, but when we have people here illegally depleting our states, then we have to do something to get control over this. AZ’s Jan Brewer is right in fighting the feds about this issue and I support her whole heartedly. Christina, get a grip on what countries are needing before you go attacking their problems. More people is not going to solve any country’s problems. Just look closer please.

Posted by SandyMcDKS | Report as abusive
 

While I agree that unrestrained “Free Trade” is not working I really resent the anti-immigrant comments. I am caucasian and US born and raised, and while I have not researched it, I could reasonably guess I am probably of Irish decent. I am a manager is a large global corporation. My experience as a professional working with “immigrants” is that they are very hard working, family oriented and law abiding people. Immmigration is good but it is ignorant to believe opening the doors to immigrants will solve the problem completely. It’s going to take a few years of economic sobriety to clean this mess up.

Posted by m2u | Report as abusive
 

Every entitlement program works the same way. Some Political party jumps on a bandwagon and eventually looks like a hero for signing it into law. Then the program gets put into effect and is never policed. In short order the people the program was designed to help get crumbs while the abusers take the cake and NOTHING is done about it. You want to cut a Trillion dollars then audit, police, and clean-up the hundreds of programs already in place. Too bad nobody has even the slightest incentive to do so.

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive
 

if Big Candy (Hershey, Nestle, Mars, etc…) went after that senior demographic with more zeal they could solve the whole demographic problem for us.

Posted by omgbobbyg | Report as abusive
 

Freetrade is a synonym for “selling out” the USA, for those of you whom complained that paying 5 times as much for products made in the US, …the reasoning for that was things like: quality control, safe working conditions, pension plans , and most of all, a superior product, not the crap we buy from China thats worth less than a dollar. Quality is a standard you have to pay for, that has now been sacrificed for corporate profits in the name of capitalism. If you want to help the US, STOP BUYING IMPORTS and you will see how fast job growth will turn around here.

Posted by paul182boston | Report as abusive
 

This article is more propaganda which depends on assertions given with an air of authority rather than fact. The Social Security costs are 12% of the US budget. One eighth of the problem. Tax cheats, runaway military expenditures, corporate welfare, embezzlement, pork projects, no bid contracts, price gouging by the medical industry, worthless parasitic action by insurance companies, waste and corruption, are some of the many huge drains on the economy that need to be addressed. The taxpayers provide the budget for government, and the needs of the taxpayers are the only legitimate use of those funds.

Posted by aligatorhardt | Report as abusive
 

Isn’t it obvious we actually need less people in the world longer term? Humans are mechanising the work the people used to do with computers, robots etc, ok I accept that ‘we’ also create a lot of job positions in bureaucratic red tape areas which as soon as a recession comes around are cut as companies, governments etc realise these ‘jobs’ were not needed in the first place.

We can only just produce enough food for the world’s population as it is now by over farming the land using man made chemicals to produce enough food for the masses to eat. Most of the land in the Westernised world is basically a depleted mess that would take many years to get back in balance naturally. In the meantime ‘we’ eat chemicals!

Water. A big problem! ‘we’ are moving water all around the world, in fact ‘we’ are even flying it! (Every time you eat a pack of imported veg you are importing water usually from a country that has little water for its own people). Once again the population as it is now has problems with the lack of water. If the population didn’t grow any more from now, the developing countries still want and will get the lifestyles we in the west are used to (running water in our homes, vast hotels, restaurants, plentiful supplies and wastage of fresh food produce etc). All of these need vast amounts of water.

Throughout history there has always been rich and poor. Today there is rich and poor. The question though today is who the rich are and who are the poor. Many in the West consider themselves as part of the ‘rich’, if they have debts of any degree even an unpaid credit card are they ‘richer’ than a peasant farmer who has no debts, no ‘flat screen TV’ lifestyle living in the depths of say Mongolia. I believe the ‘peasant farmer’ is richer. This all comes to the discussion of immigration where so called poor countries people want and should be allowed to work in other countries where a temporary labour force is required. I write temporary as the work should be offered to a person on a temporary contract, no family allowed just the worker, and no permanent residency etc, just a good wage that he or she can take home to help develop their own country with. At present the Westernised world is quite happy to have ‘hidden slavery’ where so called poorer countries have produced our ‘flat screen TV’ lifestyles to their advantage financially but adding to the problem of the debt mountain in the West through ‘our’ greed of cheap products. Maybe if we had have ‘used’ these people more sensibly and not been so lazy ourselves we in the West would not be faced with half the situation we have now.

I don’t think any politician in the world would dare to say it but we need less people not more! Obviously hypothetically if this was implemented we would have an even bigger deficit for a few generations but long term it’s the only sustainable solution unless we discover new habitable planets!

I noticed in a previous comment someone had noted the fact that the affluent and or what was once called middle class are having less babies. This is very true and the ‘underclass’ non working people are breeding at an alarming rate. How can this sustain?

The next decade will be very interesting.

Posted by ooovarvoo | Report as abusive
 

As a new fan Ms Freeland, I’m glad to see this perspective and its affect on the economic issues we face. I agree with those whose comments identify outsourcing, inefficient wealth distribution, and serious tax reforms as major areas that need to be dealt with if we are to begin solving this problem. But I’d like to add that the U.S. as well as the world is struggling with the convergence of technology, international competition, economic power shifts, inflation and demographics. These factors are creating a lot of confusion and uncertainty in governments, economies and the electorate. Perhaps we should heed Lady Mcbeth as she feared the end looming:
“Nought’s had, all’s spent
Where our desire is got without content.
‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than, by destruction, dwell in doubtful joy.”

Posted by savanero | Report as abusive
 

Yes the baby boom of post WW2 has arrived at retirement. This demographic has been known for 60 years. The system is designed for it. The entitlements are called that because they are paid with the mandatory deductions from a life time of paychecks. Simply raising the cap on contributions would solve the shortage. Simply replacing the moneys removed from SS funds for other purposes would solve the shortage. Most economists say that there is not a shortage at this time. This is a ploy for some to steal additional funds from Social Security to misuse them again. Claiming that health care costs are too high while allowing the public no way to negotiate prices, or in any way limit obscene price gouging by the medical industry, is bull____. Forcing citizens to subsidize the millionaire salaries of insurance companies is unjust. Wasting billions on needless and unproductive military occupations of foreign countries, does little for our citizens, and wastes far more money than SS and Medicare. Maintaining nearly 1000 bases in countries around the world is a huge waste of money. The needs of our citizens are the only legitimate use of the tax dollars. All the graft, embezzlement and fraud is where the cuts are deserved. Republicans continue to vote against closing tax loopholes. Republicans oppose prosecution of Medicare fraud, calling it a cut to Medicare. The author can repeat the same old refrain, but it sounds no better this time.

Posted by aligatorhardt | Report as abusive
 

Spot on article…..it is that simple in essence, im no einstein but demography should be a new school subject in isolation………

Posted by pennymatters | Report as abusive
 

j2soco: the wisdom of the Church.

That’s the same church that denied that priests were abusing boys and girls for decades…

that denied the earth revolved around the sun…

that still denies evolution…

that didn’t speak out against Hitler and Mussolini’s slaughter of the gypsies, jews, slavs, etc….

In your lifetime j2soco, the population of the U.S. has doubled. In less than 50 years it will double again. Faith won’t stop that from happening. You, Palin and Bachmann are all part of the problem: where faith is allowed to trump reason.

Posted by Andvari | Report as abusive
 

To bring to balance the generational dysfunction in which we are living we don’t need to have more children; that would just make matters worse. We need to have less elderly living a low quality of life. We do not have enough resources to accommodate, feed, and educate more people in this planet at our current rate of population growth and environmental degradation. We need to stop fearing death, and life for that matter, by spending more quality time with our elderly. If we give our elderly the love and attention that they deserve they will not be seeking to extend their lives hoping to some day live a fulfilling life with their loved ones that never came. Let’s give love to our elderly relatives so that they can more easily accept death when it comes, without trying to extend life through costly medical interventions that may extend their time in this world, but at a substantially degraded quality of life. Let’s live the moment we have right now with no fears- that is quality of life. Let’s stop the unnecessary medical interventions that postpone people’s departure from this world, but lower the quality of life of the people subjecting their bodies to it, and the lives of the future generation from which we are stealing the resources needed to grow, educate themselves, and thrive in the world of tomorrow.

Posted by clokey | Report as abusive
 

I say we focus on a project that involves people, lot’s and lot’s of people, to create colonies outside of the earth or on the earth’s oceans. What about living on the moon or in space? If our earth is filled to capacity on the crust, we can migrate to other areas. It just takes a matter of getting used to. With all of the garbage we have littered on this earth we are bound to use it for something, right? Might as well recycle it. Everything changes and life is risky no matter what. Those who can survive it can do just about anything. Oh, and by the way, the West is not old… It is young. The West has an advantage because it can change! It doesn’t have to be set in it’s ways. (The US Constitution can change) We may be afraid, but we don’t have give into fear! With our children comes a promise of light for the future! I will sacrifice to the death for my children. Oh, and yes I pray every day for them. Faith is absolutely necessary for one to have a strong spirit. If you ask me, I say let’s ask our youth and see what they would do.

Posted by venusianlover | Report as abusive
 

@ Foxdrake: great post. I worry that we hop on our computers and spew our opinions before we get a chance to actually expand upon any talking points. This website is soooo much better than most. By taking the time to line out each idea and its corresponding percentage concerning tax, I think we all get a chance to visualize what those numbers really could do for our country.
I love that you have pot and prostitution right up there at the top (couldn’t agree more). For instance, here in Tx, simple mj possession arrests account for a full HALF of all arrests in almost any given year in the past decade. Think of the positive implications of not only freeing up the judicial & law enforcement systems, but the money being SAVED by stemming prosecution, and then MADE by regulatory means. The drug war, like afghanistan, is NOT winnable…
I can’t say that I agree with every number posted (esp that of the military… 75% of the budget maybe but let that come out of R&D and keep personnel) but if we get in the habit NOW of putting these numbers in place, I think it really gives perspective and cohesiveness to these and other GREAT ideas that Americans are beginning to come around to more and more. Thank you for your post.

Posted by ericanthonyg | Report as abusive
 

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