Belmont Club

Can we bequeath our Frequent Flyer points?

(Hat tip Tigerhawk) The Financial Times explains in numbers what Mark Steyn has asserted in words.  We don’t have enough people to pay our bills. The advanced economies are piling up generational debt so fast they need to make children pronto so they can saddle them with unpaid obligations. Forget having kids because they’re wonderful; you need them to pay off the stimulus. The FT says the ageing bill will be a tsunami that will dwarf the current economic meltdown. “In the UK, for example, the government expects the extra annual costs imposed by ageing to reach 1.6 per cent of GDP by 2017-18. That is an increase in spending equivalent to the cost of servicing a rise in the national debt burden of about 37 per cent of GDP, according to FT calculations. That outstrips the 29 percentage point rise that the financial crisis and economic downturn are expected to inflict.”

The red ink of a greyer future … Officials in many countries are prone to talking about the problem in terms that hide its immediacy: the impact of ageing on the world in four decades’ time is more commonly discussed than the weight of the problem in just 10 years. But demographic phenomena can have a significant impact on a society within a short time-span. … France, Germany and the US are among other countries set to see a sudden deterioration in demographic costs in the next decade after a long period of relative placidity. … It will take another 20 years of greying for Europe to become as elderly as Japan’s population is today. The rest of east Asia is in a race to get rich before its people get too old to work. South Korea is currently well placed, with six citizens of working age for every pensioner. Yet thanks to a collapse in its birth rate, it will be one of the greyest countries on earth by 2050.

It’s interesting to recall how, in 1968, Paul Erlich wrote a bestselling book predicting a “disaster for humanity due to overpopulation and the ‘population explosion’. The book predicted that ‘in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death’, that nothing can be done to avoid mass famine greater than any in the history, and radical action is needed to limit the overpopulation.” It’s ironic to read this now in the light of the actually emerging demographic tables, but in its heyday the idea of the “population bomb” was as popular as today’s belief in Climate Change or the Y2K bug or Nuclear Winter of recent memory.

The Population Bomb was written at the suggestion of David Brower, at the time the executive director of the environmentalist Sierra Club, following an article Ehrlich wrote for the New Scientist magazine in December, 1967. In that article, Ehrlich predicted that the world would experience famines sometime between 1970 and 1985 due to population growth outstripping resources. Amongst other remarks, Ehrlich also stated that “India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980,” and “I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks that India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971.”

Maybe he just didn’t meet enough people. It is amazing how those who are absolutely convinced of the “limits to growth” and the “limits” of this and that are rarely troubled with the limits to their own certainty. Certainty is hard because the problem with the future is that hasn’t happened yet; and when it does, it is often not what we thought it would be. Maybe life really is like a box of chocolates where you never know what you’re going to get. Who would have thought that a Youth Generation worried about a crowded planet might finish up being worried about growing old alone.