There is a specter looming on the horizon that will eventually alter the world as we know it. No, not climate change – it’s a declining world population.
Due to advances in technology and changing attitudes, the world’s population will inexorably decline, especially in the industrialized world, during the next 100 years, according to George Friedman in a Feb. 17, 2015, Stratfor article entitled, “Population Decline and the Great Economic Reversal.” For the past 500 years, population has been increasing, but as economies have matured and technology has advanced, that trend has changed, and irreversibly, according to Friedman.
This decline in population will have a major impact upon virtually every country in the world, though some more than others. The countries/regions most impacted will be those of Europe and Russia, but also Japan. The United States will be affected, not so much in population decline, but in the racial make up of the nation.
Part of this decline is the gradual graying of the large population increase of the Baby Boomer generation – those born following World War II all over the world. The generations after the Boomers are smaller and therefore the burden of taking care of them in their old age will be increasing.The creation of more effective birth control methods and their dissemination throughout the developing world has helped to bring about the decline. As populations have migrated to urban areas, the need for children diminishes.
Children in rural areas are viewed as assets. They are needed to do the labor-intensive jobs in agriculture. The role of children changes in mature economies. They are to be fed, clothed, housed and educated until they can become productive in their mid-20.
According to Friedman, the solution to declining populations for developed nations is immigration. This has worked well for the United States during its existence, the current uproar notwithstanding.
The United States will see its Western European Caucasian majority being replaced by Latin Americans and African-Americans. Although, due to rising standards of living in Mexico, fewer immigrants from there will be coming to the United States.
Europe and Japan have had more problems assimilating immigrants into their cultures, each for different reasons. Whereas immigration from Muslim countries has raised tensions in Europe, Japan has had a policy that does not allow much immigration at all.
Their culture is very homogeneous racially and that policy has been maintained through strict immigration laws.
Militarily, nations like Germany, Russia and Japan will see their ability to wage war decrease with aging populations. That fact will affect their ability to project power beyond their borders.
Some of these concerns will be offset by increased productivity due to robotics, as fewer jobs will be needed. Whereas for the last 500 years labor has been cheap and the means of production expensive —machines – this will change with decreasing populations, according to Friedman.
The cost of labor will increase where the cost of machinery will decrease due to labor shortages. As the population stops growing, the value of land also will decrease.
This means for those regions/countries that see declining populations, the middle class’s wealth will also diminish since much of it is tied up in their real estate.
For 500 years the world has seen rising populations. That trend is ending, bringing about changes in the dynamics between nations. The specter of declining populations will alter the world irreversibly. Many of you who read this column will see those changes in your lifetime.