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Friday, June 17, 2005

Old/Single/Young: The Century's 3 Great Demographic Challenges

We, as in this country and most nations, have more old people now than ever before in our entire history. We also have an expectation of longevity that has been around post-war but is growing in most countries.

With so many elderly and the permanence of democracy they are yielding huge power now and it will continue to increase. To fund their pensions and health costs they will use the power of the State to take those resources from the young. The young will become resentful but any government willing to sacrifice the elderly will be gone at the next election. Apart from the obvious allocation of society's resources to retirement villages, hospices, hospitals and pensions we have another huge problem: conservatism.

Old people seek stability and abhor change. They tend to prefer nostalgic falsehoods rather than realities, are forgetful, cannot even engage in debate or dialogue because of their intolerance or short attention spans. Naturally being old they think their opinions count for more and that they deserve respect on an automatic basis. Government's wanting to overhaul anything will face resistance from this huge bloc and the Western nations will not just face a future of low productivity with less young people, but also an inability to make necessary reform. Backlash policies and knee-jerk authoritarianism will find a happy home with this constituency as the only form of change acceptable to them. They will hold a veto over the future and I think that is already happening in our country (especially with the introduction of student loans) with things such as anti-boy racer laws, wanting to make 20 the drinking age etc. All developed countries risk stagnation on economic terms but also will have to deal culturally with a less tolerant atmosphere as the elderly demand their tastes and inclinations recieve greater prominence in public policy.

I personally believe that far too many people consider themselves worthy of immortality and the wealthy countries have far too many of these people willing to engage scientists to create the font of youth from foetuses, pigs, baboons etc. I find the whole thing dispicable, distasteful and yes, immoral. The media portray these freaks and grasping, deeply insecure people as recipients of scientific miracles - to the contrary, they are abominations. They detract from the humanity of us all. It seems the only new thing the elderly aren't dead set against are ways to keep them alive for one more pointless day.

Second only to aging is China's one child policy. A generation of only-children will inherit a system of repressive authority. But only-children tend to be spoilt, selfish, unco-operative, self-absorbed and, well they are rather petulent and whine a lot. Those traits do not fit neatly into that system. How will this effect that great country and therefore the world in the future? How will diplomacy, foreign affairs, business, social policy be conducted when everyone on the committee has the tendencies, outlooks and inclinations of an only-child. I would say that capitalism and materialism fit perfectly with this future demographic, and may in some part be why it's nascent form of crony capitalism seems to be flourishing.

HIV is ravaging the Southern population that cannot come to terms with regulating multiple sex partners, as opposed to the Islamic North that is prone to fundamentalism. AIDS has reduced some countries life expectancy to below 40 years. But seeing as how - albeit by process of elimination - Africa remains the largest potential market it will be the object of intense foreign interest after the age of China. Having their productive population either dead, dying or dependent on foreign drugs the potential for undignified exploitation could be almost colonial in economic terms giving rise to resentment. Anyone familiar with the rhetoric and paranoid thinking of your average insecure African may have their delusions become reality if their ability for economic self determination remain in a terminal spiral.

With so many young people due to the high birth rate and so few elderly we may see what is seen in pockets of instability already: child armies, anarchy and instability. Because there are almost no elders to regulate the behaviour, culture and institutions of their societies, relatively uneducated adolescents become king-makers and set rules and standards. Without the experience and knowledge and being naturally radical and iconoclastic the results of youths making all the decisions may tend to violence. China's cultural revolution is a case in point. Whoever wants to win an election in Africa must appeal directly to an average voter who is an ignorant, orphaned, wretched, 20 year old. What sort of societies will they become? See Seirra Leone, Liberia, Congo etc for that answer.

These huge demographic changes are having many consequences that have hitherto been relatively uninvestigated or thought through. Are there any sociologists out there?


At 19/6/05 6:00 pm, Blogger Lucyna said...

How old is "old"?

At 19/6/05 7:11 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

Old enough to be dead?

End of one's productive/creative life?


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