Nice title, I think. But I am not (yet) ready to try to seriously address it.
The title came to me yesterday when thinking about some demographic questions. Walking in town I saw a poster for a musical group called "Kill the Young!". I recently read Michel Houellebecq's book, "Possibility of an Island", a thoroughly depressing consideration of the ageing (is there really an e in ageing?), the quest for eternal youth, and the place, or lack thereof, for the increasing number of "greys".
Most proximately, a few days ago I had read an article entitled "Doom and Demography" by an optimistic compensationist called Nicholas Eberstadt (at the American Enterprise Institute); his contention that there is an "incessant stream of dire--and consistently wrong--predictions of global demographic overshoot" I find particularly odious. He seems to be of those who do not recognize that spending one's heritage is not the same as spending one's earnings; that we have lived better using petroleum, high-tech fishing, and depletion of aquifers than we would have lived otherwise is not a demonstration that the planet's potential to support us is as high, or higher, than it was thirty years ago. He then concludes that "greying and population decline" are the next crises we'll be reading a lot about (hah hah, more population crises...), as with a tone suggesting we should not be any more worried or concerned than we should have been by the population overshoot that didn't happen
!? And yet, he wrote in Foreign Affaires, Summer 1991:
Population Change and National Security
Summary: It is not so much a question of how population growth threatens world security, so much as of how fertility differentials between rich and poor countries will threaten the developed world, by producing resource scarcities and irresistible migration pressures.[emphasis mine] The fastest-growing Third World areas are those least likely to share Western values, and could produce "a fractious, contentious and inhumane international order" rather more dangerous than the Cold War. Rather than pursue pro-natalist policies to bring Western birth rates up to close the gap, the West should consider ways to improve the export of Western values.
I guess he has the humility to admit he was wrong? I guess a former-doom-sayer has the right to criticize the trade. Now, back to my questions...
- If there is a stable (maximum) number of people possible, then greater longevity implies less frequent replacement (lower turnover): what are the consequences for resistance to diseases (virii) which continue to evolve at much higher rates? And for mutation and natural selection in general?
- There are some important social design questions (including manpower and educational planning, pension financing, social safety-net and income redistribution schemes, sustainable resource allocation, etc.); how can I (make a living and) work on them?
- How can one deflate the rate-based arguments that lead to the conclusion that population growth is the only solution to provide (materially and services) for an aging population? How to demonstrate that it is not only not the only solution, but that is an absurd and unviable one?
I found a couple of papers from the XXVth International Congress on Population, held in Tours, France, last summer, which help illuminate question 3:
Population trends, employment and labour migration in the European Union
Serguey Ivanov, United Nations
The size of the EU population of working age will start to shrink in a few years. By 2050, there will be fewer men and women of working age in the EU-25 than there have been in EU-15 before enlargement. This is likely to happen even though the projections have factored in the influx of 23 million working-age migrants. Increases in labour utilization could greatly offset some of the adverse demographics. Increasing immigration or fertility are other options. Combining United Nations demographic projections with alternative assumptions with respect to labour utilization illustrates the effects of different scenarios and highlights intra-EU diversity in terms of dynamics of labour supply and adjustment options.
Building a simplified model to assess the impact of population ageing, employment trends and immigration levels on pension sustainability in the EU-25 member states
Fernando Gil Alonso, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Although the problem of pensions funding cannot be reduced solely to the demographic factor, the construction of highly sophisticated models to analyse the impact of ageing on pension sustainability introduces problems of data availability and comparability between EU Member States owing to the different types of pension systems existing in each country. To overcome these obstacles, the approach used in this paper is different. A model has been defined using some simplified assumptions, which do not provide precise forecasts but orders of magnitude on the implications of ageing for the 25 EU countries over the period 2000-2030. This is done by using a range of scenarios of population and employment trends in order to assess the impact of a series of alternative measures –like the increase of the effective average age of labour exit or the growth of labour supply through immigration– to assure the sustainability of pension systems. The results emphasise the importance of employment growth for Europe and in particular the need to keep older workers at work, thereby contributing to both increased participation and delaying retirement.
The first paper considers just how to provide enough
labor-aged people in Europe, which seems to be "at least as many as today"; rather than considering any manpower-planning scenarios based on evolved composition of economic activity in Europe, the approach is purely macro. As the author notes, any growth would be entirely driven by productivity gains. The solution technique is to study scenarios, varying assumptions about fertility, labor utilisations rates, and net immigration. While interesting (fertility could bounce back almost enough, without reflecting unrealistic levels), it begs the underlying question: how many people, with what skills, will we need to support both themselves and the young, retired, and unemployed?
The latter paper, apparently intended as a sort of back-of-the-envelope baseline, is a horribly good example of what a policy analysis should not be. It sets the decisions in terms of number of people working, ratios of retired to working, and so on. The analysis considers inter-country variations in its chosen parameters and ratios (number of people working, effective retirement age, e.g.), but neglects some economic and policy issues of great importance:
- Will per capita GDP (per person, not per worker) converge across the 25? There remain disparities both in productivity and in prices (and salaries), as the Bolkestein and longshoremen issues have highlighted.
- Could another model better address the employment opportunities (or lack thereof), via manpower planning, input-output, CGE, to establish the credibility of a scenario with 98 million immigrants, 113% participation of working-age population (160% in Ireland) and 40% reduction in per capita benefits?
How can a policy roadmap intended to steer the next 45 years ingore the economic disparities today and the pressure to converge them? What will the economy of the future comprise? What natural resources will we transform, with what energy? What will we offer to exchange for imported materials and products? Will our offer be sufficiently attractive? I have nothing against working to a riper age, but wonder where these jobs will come from; last I heard, we do not currently employ everyone who wants to work: how shall we go from 173 million to 289 million jobs?
As I warned I would, I have strayed quite far from the topic of the title in this note. I'm old enough to be in favor of longevity, and hope it will prove sustainable for all of humanity. But as long as we answer the wrong questions (just because they are simple enough to answer?), we have little chance of finding the right answers. If we fail to negociate this unprecedented shift in economic demography, the longevity we expect today may not remain available very long.