Friday, March 20, 2009

More on EU's population time bomb

Michael Mapa writes a letter to the editor at PDI commenting on EC Ambassador Alistair MacDonald's support of a proposed reproductive health bill brewing in the Philippine Congress. Mr. Mapa points out that "European countries are facing a serious problem: their rapidly aging populations. After decades of freely available contraceptives and abortion-on-demand, some countries, such as Germany and Russia, now have to offer financial incentives to encourage people to have more children."

So yeah. Why do we have to encourage ourselves to follow in the footsteps of EU in their mistakes? Many have seen the negative effects of legislated population control programs in Europe and in other countries who followed suit. A paper entitled: Managing European Demographic Decline: Below Replacement-Rate Fertiltiy and its Impact on European Security considers many of these. Excerpts:

In this regard, it may be profitable to consider the current and projected security situation among the nations of Europe. Why Europe? Europe is the first region that has apparently completed the “demographic transition,” from high fertility to extremely below replacement-rate fertility. Although it remains uncertain how low fertility may still drop in some European countries, most have now been in a state of below replacement-rate fertility for at least two to three decades; thus, the implications of this level of fertility are being acted out now – reducing the need for conjecture. What is more, the fact that the European landmass is bordered by countries with fertility rates (and corresponding “youth bulges”) relatively higher than Europe’s, may also illustrate the security ramifications of uneven fertility decline. For these reasons, it may prove useful to investigate Europe as the model for the world’s low-fertility future – it could be considered either the harbinger of a new age of relative tranquility or the canary in the mineshaft, alerting the rest of the world to the security problems resulting from low fertility.

The basic demographic facts are startling. According to the European Parliament, by 2050, the average resident of Europe will be 49 years of age. (Draft Report on the Demographic Future of Europe, European Parliament, 2007) Joseph Chamie, former head of the United Nations Population Division, estimates that, without continued immigration or an unexpected spike in fertility, the population of Europe will drop by around 20 per cent, from a current level of 730 million to “well below 600 million by mid-century.” (Chamie, 2007) Because of the anticipated “contraction” in the working age population, the governments of Europe and the EU are actively planning for “a drop in the potential growth of European GDP of up to 1.2% between 2031 and 2050.” (Draft Report on the Demographic Future of Europe, European Parliament, 2007) The status of France and Germany – the major drivers of EU integration – is therefore particularly problematic (but not unusual among European nations); according to Haas,

France and Germany confront similar problems…Both states presently face a daunting fiscal challenge created by their aging populations. Over the next thirty years, annual spending on elderly care is expected to rise by nearly 14 percent of GDP in France and by more than 10 percent of GDP in Germany. In both states, seniors rely heavily on their government for retirement support, and both will be hard-pressed to pay for this support without significant cuts in discretionary spending, given that tax and deficit rates are already high. (Haas, 2007)

European governments are mainly concerned about such economic ramifications. But as Haas, makes clear, beyond the issue of how relative economic vitality affects national security, there is an even more direct link between demographics and security: if governments are forced to spend the lion’s share of their budgets on care for the aged, there will be less money left over for other budget items, such as the military The projected increases in government spending for the elderly in coming decades are sobering….The ratio of working-age people to seniors is steadily declining. These anticipated increases in welfare payments will add hundreds of billions of dollars, in real terms, to governments’ annual expenditures for many decades. To give some perspective on their magnitude, consider the following: roughly thirty-five years from now, the annual amount of money that the great powers will have to spend on elderly care is going to increase, in real terms, many times what these states currently spend on their militaries. By 2040 Germany will have to increase its annual spending on elderly care more than seven times what it currently spends on defense. France will have to spend more than five times as much… (Haas, 2007)

Other stories about this population problem may be found here and here.

In 1990, I spent many months at ELIS in Rome, Italy to prepare for the operations of my school in Cebu. In one conversation wth a lawyer and his pediatrician-friend, the doctor said that his practice was declining. I told him that children are healthier. While he agreed to what I said, he also answered that it was not as complicated as that. Simply, there are less children.

That conversation was echoed about 10 years later. I was in Tokyo, Japan to attend an AOTS training program with representatives from other training centers of ASEAN countries. I remember that in one mid-morning break, I was peering out of a window and looking at a complex with four-storey buildings across the street. Our Japanese coordinator who was beside me told me that the complex was a school and that they were using only one floor of one of the many buildings. I asked him why and, as expected, he said that there was just not many children in the district. One of the other participants within earshot of us, wittingly said that if only there were technology available, he would like to ask the Japanese government to transfer those buildings to his country. Why not?

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