Friday, March 30, 2012

Demographic Twilight

Japan is facing a demographic crisis and there doesn't seem to be much chance that it will be able to avoid it, argues Pat Buchanan in a recent column. The facts he amasses in support of his conclusion, if they are indeed facts, paint a pretty hopeless picture for the Land of the Rising Sun. Here are some excerpts:
A week before the anniversary of 3/11 [the date of the devastating earthquake/tsunami], buried in a story about Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s effort to rally support for a doubling of the 5 percent consumption tax, to preserve Japan’s social security system, was this startling statement: “We’re faced with an aging society and a declining birth rate unprecedented in the history of mankind.”

.....the prime minister’s statement is rooted in numbers that may fairly be called a demography of death.

By 2055, according to government data, 40 percent of the country’s population will be 65 or older. Just 8 percent will be younger than 15. According to U.N. figures, [although] Japan’s population [will] reach 127 million in 2010, the number of Japanese will shrink to just above 101 million by 2050. Every year between now and 2050, the number of deaths over births in Japan will average two-thirds of a million, with the population shrinkage accelerating each decade.

The median age of a Japanese, 22 years old in 1950, reached 45 in 2010 and will exceed 55 by mid-century. What kind of future can there be for a nation, even one with the high quality human capital of Japan, when there are two Japanese 65 years old or older for every Japanese 24 years of age or younger? When Japan became the world’s No. 2 economy in 1960, seizing the crown from Germany to hold for 40 years, Japanese 24 years old and younger outnumbered the population 65 or older eight to one.

Japan’s fertility rate, the number of births per woman, has been below zero population growth for 40 years and has plunged to where Japanese woman are having only two-thirds of the children needed to replace the present population. Not only has the birth rate per woman fallen, the percentage of Japanese women aged 15-49 — 56 percent in the 1960s — is expected to plunge to 31 by midcentury.

Every new Japanese generation is one-third to one-half smaller than the one that came before. Japan’s high school graduation class has fallen by more than one-third in just 30 years.
This is all pretty ominous and Buchanan has more to say about Japan's predicament, and what caused it, at the link, but it's not just Japan. Similar collapses are occurring across much of the globe. Russia, Europe, and, to a lesser extent, the United States are all facing crises of their own.

This raises two very urgent questions: How will these countries provide for their elderly when there are no longer enough workers to pay into the support system, and how will nations which have lost their economic and demographic dynamism stave off the masses of people languishing in the Muslim world, China, and much of the southern hemisphere who look with covetous eyes on the lands and resources to their north and west?

One hopes that more people than just Pat Buchanan are giving these questions serious attention.