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Posts Tagged ‘demographics

“There are too many of us, he thought. There are billions of us and that’s too many.”*…

 

elders

 

Ever since Thomas Malthus got it started in 1798, people have been warning that population growth, given enough time, would lead to famine and environmental destruction. There would eventually be too many mouths to feed. But now a new study, published in The Lancet, forecasts new threats to the economic and social order caused by precipitous population decline.

Damned if you do (it), damned if you don’t.

The world population is now 7.8 billion, up from 3.5 billion less than 50 years ago. Previous estimates suggested we wouldn’t reach “peak humanity,” the point at which things start going to hell, for generations. The most recent United Nations projections see population growth stopping at around 11 billion people near the end of the century. This new study from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington found that the population might peak at 9.7 billion around 2064 — much sooner than previously predicted — and then fall to 8.8 billion by 2100.

ihme-population-graph

On the face of it, this seems like good news. There’s no doubt that fewer people would relieve pressure on the environment, especially if there were fewer meat-eating, car-driving, computer-buying people. Not as many people taking long-haul flights and buying houses means that a smaller portion of the earth will be devoted to filling the human maw. The authors of this new paper acknowledge that their findings are good news for those who seek to reverse climate change and save orangutans. Moreover, if the world met the UN’s sustainable development goals — educating kids, stamping out disease, providing access to contraception, and spreading prosperity — the planet’s population would likely fall even more abruptly. It’s now clear that improving people’s lives — not population control measures — have been key to driving down fertility rates.

In the future described by this study, richer countries like Japan could age into insignificance, while Nigeria might grow to become a vibrant power broker. By 2100, the populations of Japan, Spain, Italy and South Korea could be half the size they are today. The United States treads water in this projection, buoyed by immigration. Rich European countries like Germany and the Netherlands might stop restricting immigration and begin competing with each other to attract migrants.

So what’s the problem? Picture millions of confused seniors wandering around without enough youngsters to corral them. In 2100, if the paper’s projection prove correct, there will be five people over 80 for every one kid under the age of five, and fewer people with jobs than without. There would be a big increase in elderly folks grasping for pensions and healthcare as the number of taxpayers covering the cost of these benefits dwindle. Economies would sputter and choke…

The risks, spelled out: “The population bomb didn’t detonate. Turns out there’s a new problem.”  See also “Fertility rate: ‘Jaw-dropping’ global crash in children being born.”

But to balance the dystopian sci-fi take in the title quote, this one, which would seem to suggest that fewer might be better:

Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. This is as true of humans as it is of gas molecules in a sealed flask. The human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who so survive.   – Frank Herbert, Dune

* Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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As we study senescence, we might send well-armored birthday greetings to a man who did his part to combat population growth, Samuel Colt; he was born on this date in 1814.  An inventor and the proprietor of Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company, he popularized the Colt 45 revolver (and other firearms) and made the mass production of revolvers commercially viable.

Colt’s manufacturing methods were sophisticated: his use of interchangeable parts helped him become one of the first to use the assembly line efficiently.  But as impactfully, he was a pioneer in Barnum-like salesmanship and self-promotion.  His innovative use of art, celebrity endorsements, and corporate gifts to promote his wares made him a pioneer of advertising, product placement, and mass marketing.

220px-Samuel_Colt_engraving_by_John_Chester_Buttre,_c1855 source

 

 

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”*…

 

population aging

 

The good news is that, as a product of economic, social, and scientific advancement around the world, life expectancy is increasing and birth rates are decreasing.  The other news…

The world is experiencing a seismic demographic shift—and no country is immune to the consequences…

By 2050, there will be 10 billion people on earth, compared to 7.7 billion today—and many of them will be living longer. As a result, the number of elderly people per 100 working-age people will nearly triple—from 20 in 1980, to 58 in 2060.

Populations are getting older in all OECD countries, yet there are clear differences in the pace of aging. For instance, Japan holds the title for having the oldest population, with ⅓ of its citizens already over the age of 65. By 2030, the country’s workforce is expected to fall by 8 million—leading to a major potential labor shortage… Globally, the working-age population will see a 10% decrease by 2060. It will fall the most drastically by 35% or more in Greece, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. On the other end of the scale, it will increase by more than 20% in Australia, Mexico, and Israel…

As countries prepare for the coming decades, workforce shortages are just one of the impacts of aging populations already being felt…

There are many other social and economic risks that we can come to expect as the global population continues to age:

  • The Squeezed Middle: With more people claiming pension benefits but less people paying income taxes, the shrinking workforce may be forced to pay higher taxes.
  • Rising Healthcare Costs: Longer lives do not necessarily mean healthier lives, with those over 65 more likely to have at least one chronic disease and require expensive, long-term care.
  • Economic Slowdown: Changing workforces may lead capital to flow away from rapidly aging countries to younger countries, shifting the global distribution of economic power.

The strain on pension systems is perhaps the most evident sign of a drastically aging population. Although the average retirement age is gradually increasing in many countries, people are saving insufficiently for their increased life span—resulting in an estimated $400 trillion deficit by 2050…

In many countries the old-age to working-age ratio will almost double in the next 40 years.  How should we prepare?  “The rising ratio.”

* T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

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As we kick off the “Decade of Healthy Aging,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that Dracula premiered in New York.  Directed by the great Tod Browning and famously starring Bela Lugosi (in what many consider still to be the definitive portrayal of the blood-thirsty Count), the film was based on the 1924 stage play Dracula by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which in turn is adapted from the 1897 novel Dracula by Bram Stoker.  The film was was both a critical and commercial success on its release, and has earned it’s way into the canon, having been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

220px-Dracula_-_1931_theatrical_poster source

 

 

Written by LW

February 12, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control, and outnumbers both of the other classes”*…

 

middle class

 

But is there a middle class?…

Every politician defends the middle class, but none of them knows quite what it is. In August, during a town hall, Joe Biden said, “We have to rebuild the middle class, and this time we bring everyone along.” In his telling, the middle class is part memory and part aspiration, less a demographic group than a morality tale of loss and redemption. It “isn’t a number,” Biden is fond of saying. “It’s a set of values.”

For many social scientists, though, the middle class is a matter of numbers. The Pew Research Center says that anyone who earns between a mere two-thirds of the median household income and twice that amount falls within it. By that definition, just under half of all American adults are middle class. Unlike in Britain, where the category is seen as more culturally refined, the American middle class includes blue-collar workers whose consumption patterns fit the bill; they can buy a home or put their kids through college. Biden defines the middle class even more expansively. To be middle class, he said in Iowa this summer, is to know “that your kid is safe going outside to play”—something most humans, if not most large primates, would agree they want. To be middle class is to be, well, normal.

Republicans, for their part, rarely promise to rebuild the middle class; they want, as President Trump has said, to make it “bigger and more prosperous than ever before.” But liberal politicians from Biden to Barack Obama to Elizabeth Warren often vow to restore the middle class to the former glory of the three decades after World War II—a time when, they say, prosperity was shared and class conflict neutralized.

Even then, however, there was a sense that the middle class was in crisis. In his 1956 best-seller, The Organization Man, William Whyte wrote of a middle class—an implicitly white middle class—trapped in suburbs and office jobs, shorn of the entrepreneurial individualism and wartime solidarity of earlier generations. In 1969, a New York Times reporter found in Italian-American Queens a community trapped between escalating grocery bills and the expanding “ghetto.” In 1977, the middle class was “struggling uphill,” the Chicago Tribune wrote. In 1992, it felt “betrayed” and “forgotten,” according to the Times. And since 2008, Times subscribers have read of a middle class that is “sagging,” “shrinking,” “sinking,” and “limping.” In short, the middle class, as our politicians imagine it, has never really existed [in a settled, continuous way]: It is always in decline, always on the brink of being rebuilt.

To imagine the middle class, then, is to invoke a myth. Politicians use it to bind Americans together in a shared hope that they can one day return to the lost idyll of the postwar period. In that sense, the concept is remarkably optimistic, if somewhat inconsistent. As Lawrence Samuel argues in The American Middle Class: A Cultural History, the term expresses two incompatible things: It suggests that the United States is a classless society in which most citizens belong to the same social sphere, even as it hints at a rarefied class above the middle that anyone can reach if they work hard enough to ascend the ladder of opportunity. These can’t both be true—if the United States were a classless society, there would be no need for upward mobility. The metaphor gives the lie to the myth. Every ladder, after all, has a top and a bottom—and it’s the bottom that bears all the weight…

Politicians– and business people and academics– are quick to reference “the middle class.”  John Patrick Leary (@johnpatleary) explores “What We Talk About When We Talk About the Middle Class.”

* Aristotle

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As we contemplate classification and its consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1792, during George Washington’s first term as president, that the first edition of The Farmers Almanac was published.  (It became The Old Farmers Almanac in 1832 to distinguish itself from similarly-titled competitors.)  Still going strong, it is the oldest continuously-published periodical in the U.S.

Almanac source

 

Written by LW

November 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”*…

 

gerontacracy

 

Hate crime is rising, the Arctic is burning, and the Dow is bobbing like a cork on an angry sea. If the nation seems intolerant, reckless and more than a little cranky, perhaps that’s because the American republic is showing its age. Somewhere along the way, a once-new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (not men and women; that came later) became a wheezy gerontocracy. Our leaders, our electorate and our hallowed system of government itself are extremely old.

Let me stipulate at the outset that I harbor no prejudice toward the elderly. As a sexagenarian myself, not to mention as POLITICO’s labor policy editor, I’m fully mindful of the scourge of ageism. (I’ve had the misfortune on occasion to experience it firsthand.) But to affirm that America must work harder to include the elderly within its vibrant multicultural quilt is not to say it must be governed almost entirely by duffers. The cause of greater diversity would be advanced, not thwarted, if a few more younger people penetrated the ranks of American voters and American political leaders.

Let’s start with the leaders.

Remember the Soviet Politburo? In the waning years of the Cold War, a frequent criticism of the USSR was that its ruling body was preposterously old and out of touch. Every May Day these geezers would show up on a Moscow reviewing stand, looking stuffed, and fix their rheumy gaze on a procession of jackbooted Red Army troops, missiles and tanks. For Americans, the sight was always good for a horselaugh. In 1982, when Leonid Brezhnev, the last of that generation to hold power for any significant length of time, went to his reward, the median age of a Politburo member was 71. No wonder the Evil Empire was crumbling!

You see where this is going. The U.S. doesn’t have a Politburo, but if you calculate the median age of the president, the speaker of the House, the majority leader of the Senate, and the three Democrats leading in the presidential polls for 2020, the median age is … uh … 77.

It doesn’t stop there. We heard a lot last November about the fresh new blood entering Congress, but when the current session began in January, the average ages of House and Senate members were 58 and 63, respectively. That’s slightly older than the previous Congress (58 and 62), which was already among the oldest in history. The average age in Congress declined through the 1970s but it’s mostly increased since the 1980s…

Timothy Noah (@TimothyNoah1) points out that our leaders, our electorate, and our hallowed system of government itself are aging. And it shows: “America, the Gerontocracy.”

* T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

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As we ponder progression, we might recall that it was on this date in 1796 that George Washington, having decided to decline a run for a third term as president, “delivered” (via a long letter published in the the American Daily Advertiser) his Farewell Address.  Characterizing it as advice from a “parting friend,” he celebrated the Constitutional logic of separation of powers and warned against permanent alliances with foreign powers, large public debts, a large military establishment, and “the devices of any small, artful, enterprising minority” to control or change the government– among many other topics.  His letter became the foundation of the Federalist Party’s political doctrine, and is considered one of the most important documents in American history. 

Starting in 1862, the Farewell Address was read, first in the House of Representatives, then from 1899 in the Senate as well on Washington’s birthday.  The House abandoned the practice in 1984, but the Senate continues the tradition.  A member of the Senate, alternating between political parties each year since 1896, reads the address aloud on the Senate floor, then upon finishing, makes an entry into a black, leather-bound journal maintained by the Secretary of the Senate .

250px-Washington's_Farewell_Address source

 

Written by LW

September 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Society is unity in diversity”*…

 

Diversity Map

 

In less than one year, the 2020 census will record just how much more racially diverse the nation has become, continuing the “diversity explosion” that punctuated the results of the 2010 census. While less authoritative than the once-a-decade national headcount, recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2018 make plain that racial minority populations—especially Hispanic, Asian and black Americans—continue to expand, leaving fewer parts of the country untouched by diversity…

From Brookings, a pre-2020 census look at the wide dispersal of the nation’s Hispanic, Asian and black populations: Six maps that reveal America’s expanding diversity.

* George Herbert Mead

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As we delight in difference, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that then 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key wrote “The Defense of Fort M’Henry,” a poem– which provided the lyrics for the U.S. national anthem–  in which he described the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.  Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the U.S. victory.

Indeed, he wrote lyrics beyond those most of us have heard:  a pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist campaigner, Key wrote a (now mostly omitted) third stanza that promises that “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

 source

 

Written by LW

September 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

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