Demographics Change Series No. 3
In this third of our three-part series on global demographic changes, The Winds of Demographic Change, we examine some key geopolitical and social implications of declining fertility rates, aging populations and increasing life expectancy.
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Demographics Change Series No. 3
In the third of our three-part series on global demographic changes, The Winds of Demographic Change, we examine some key geopolitical and social implications of declining fertility rates, aging populations and increasing life expectancy.
The Winds of Demographic Change: Social and Geopolitical Ramifications
Many readers may be old enough to remember when the world worried about overpopulation. In a best-selling book published in 1968, “The Population Bomb,” Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich warned of imminent mass starvation, a shortage of natural resources and general societal upheaval as a consequence of overpopulation.
Today, our worries are precisely the opposite. With a slowing and aging population, new concerns emerge. Our reference to “The Population Bomb” is a reminder that predictions about the future should always be made with a large dose of humility, and with that we offer six significant ramifications of the unfolding global demographic changes.
Six Ways the World May Change
- War and Conflict—Manpower, money and technology are what define military power. Stagnant populations and economic growth are likely to impact the power projection of many developed countries. For instance, the ability of any one European country to intervene will grow increasingly limited, making the role of the U.S. in preserving the international order and protecting Western values more critical than ever.
Russia, which is facing a demographic catastrophe, will find itself with reduced capabilities and feeling vulnerable as a result. However, that may only make them a more disruptive force internationally.
Generally speaking, older populations are also less concerned with making war, and they may act as a political restraint on leaders with interventionist designs.
- China-Hegemony Interruptus?—After ascending to become the second largest economy in the world, China’s demographic dividend is running dry. Slower economic growth could increase political instability and frustrate its ability to expand its sphere of influence.
- Workers in the Crosshairs—AI and robotics will be a key strategy for overcoming worker shortages, but it also creates the possibility of worker displacement and social upheaval.
- Governments Will Be Challenged—Reduced revenues, increased social program obligations and an expectation of an expanded government role in the lives of its citizenry will make governing much more difficult, and may strain the limits of cooperation among competing interests.
- A Rise in Nationalism—As domestic economies and workers struggle in a slow growth world, the desire to place parochial concerns above international cooperation and trade may lead to greater nationalism and protectionism.
- Generational Divide Sharpens—An aging population will have policy priorities to ensure that national pension and health care benefit commitments are kept. This may come at the expense of education and other spending priorities that may be favored by younger voters.
Change can be a frightening thing. Humans tend to fear that the worst will come from change despite the leaps of human progress over thousands of years of change. Perhaps we can take comfort from Socrates, who said, “The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but building on the new.”
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