29 September 2009

Ponzi Demography

Excerpt from the Christian Science Monitor, 17 August 2009

'Forty-five nations face a population “bust” that has some leaders wringing their hands. They worry about the costs of supporting an aging society and the loss of national and economic power...

But notions that population growth is a boon for prosperity – or that national political success depends on it – are “Ponzi demography,” says Joseph Chamie, former director of the population division of the United Nations.

The profits of growth go to the few, and everyone else picks up the tab...

This trend toward fewer births is accelerating. In the rich, developed nations, the average age is rising at the fastest pace ever, UN demographers note. Today they have 264 million aged 60 or over. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 416 million.

By that time, the world’s population should stabilize, if UN predictions are correct. The population surge in poor countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East would be offset by declines in much of the developed world.

Some nations facing decline are fighting back with incentives for families to have more children. The United States is bucking the trend with its relatively high immigration rate.

Growth, whether through immigration or natural increase, is a plus for some groups. For business, it means a boost in the demand for products. It also means a surge in low- and high-skilled workers, which can keep a lid on wage pressures. Religious and ethnic groups want more immigrants of their own faith and ethnicity to raise their political and social clout. The military regards young immigrants as potential recruits.

But the public pays a cost for a bigger population.

Mr. Chamie speaks of more congestion on highways, more farmland turned into housing developments, more environmental damage, including the output of pollutants associated with climate change...

Of course, there are also costs for countries with stable or declining populations. They will need to spend more looking after older citizens and, yes, some industries like housing will shrink. But governments won’t have to spend as much on children...

The goal should be gradual population stabilization, Chamie says. The costs of an aging but stable population would be more manageable than those of a population boom...

A stable or falling population, he says, “is not a disaster. It is a success.”

1 comment:

  1. Interesting in light of former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer's column in The Adelaide Advertiser 28/9/09.

    Downer’s reasoning seems to be that if we grow our population to 50 million, Australia will be an 'influential' country on the world stage. Great! While we turn our taps on and no water comes out, we can take comfort in having a voice at the international table where decisions are being made about damage-controlling the consequences of unbridled growth!

    Surely how well we look after our people and the ability of our ecosystems to sustain us is the measure? As for our ‘small’ population, we already punch well above our weight in any field of endeavour – if political influence is the only exception, then perhaps we must focus on politicians, not population?


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