An observation based on my experience with physics and economics: both fields create models that predict how nature will behave, often people for economists. Then we observe nature and people. In physics if nature contradicts our predictions, we say we’re wrong and the model needs fixing. When people behave differently than economists predict, economists say people are wrong and need fixing.
Economists claim that a country’s or the world’s population growing too old creates economic problems, like requiring too many young people to take care of old people or pensions will go bankrupt. These claims filter to the rest of us, who don’t look at their assumptions to see the flaws.
You need only consider that humans lived with close to no growth for hundreds of thousands of years. Imagine the challenges a species faces on that time scale from weather, predators, climate, and so on. On the contrary, indications of our ancestors most of that time showed health, longevity, and social stability. We don’t know much since they didn’t write records for us, but we know they survived.
Still, economists need economic language to understand the world and a recent paper debunks their myths, Silver tsunami or silver lining? Why we should not fear an ageing population.
Read the report for details. I’ll copy the key points here. I recommend reading at least the summary too, beyond the key points, for a breath of fresh air after the hogwash in the media, which promotes a Ponzi scheme for the population. We know how Ponzi schemes end.
- With people living longer than ever and the baby-boomer generation reaching retirement age, some people worry that we will run short of workers and taxpayers. But demographic ageing will stop well before that occurs. Retirees will never outnumber younger adults.
- In the countries that have aged the most, there has been no shortage of workers. Instead of less employment, they have less unemployment and underemployment. Economic models that predict less economic activity as populations age are based on false assumptions.
- The rise in the proportion of older citizens accounts for only a small fraction of the rise in health costs. The major increase in costs is due to new, improved and more services per person.
- Longevity has deferred, rather than extended, the period in which the elderly need more health care and aged care.
- High levels of immigration can slow, but not prevent, population ageing. But the cost of extra infrastructure and education to sustain population growth is greater than the avoided costs of pensions, health care and aged care.
- Those with vested interests in population growth have overstated ageing concerns, to make high immigration seem essential. The resulting negative social and environmental impacts continue to accumulate for no net economic gain.
What does it mean?
This result means we can stop fearing lowering birth rates. We can enjoy more sex without kids. We can stop taking for granted that our population will keep rising to 9 or 10 billion or so. We can confidently pursue strategies to lower the global birth rate to below replacement, knowing they mean prosperity, health, longevity, and stability.
We can stop sticking our heads in the sand from seeing what is plain once you see it, that our combination of population and consumption is using more than one Earth’s resources and focusing only on one doesn’t suffice. Focusing on both improves life for everyone.
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