[p2p-research] Peak Population crisis (was Re: Japan's Demographic Crisis)

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Mon Aug 17 17:59:06 CEST 2009

Paul D. Fernhout wrote:
 > Michel Bauwens wrote:
 >> I know this is a very popular theme in the U.S., and very attractive to
 >> young people ...
 >> hell, the boomers you are critiquing where saying the exact same things
 >> about their parents 40 years ago ...

Some more on the demographics and historical economics of this:
   "The Lost Youth of Europe"
The continent's boomers are retiring, leaving a bitter legacy for the 
generation that comes next, which increasingly feels locked out of the 
European dream. ... Young adults in France, like their contemporaries across 
Europe, face a slew of problems never experienced by their middle-aged 
leaders. Consider: a 30-year-old Frenchman earned 15 percent less than a 
50-year-old in 1975; now he earns 40 percent less. Over the same period, the 
number of graduates unemployed two years after college has risen from 6 
percent to 25 percent, even if they typically have better degrees. 
Thirty-year-olds in 2001 were saving 9 percent of their incomes, down from 
18 percent just six years before. Young people who snag stable jobs, gain 
access to credit and buy homes later in life are particularly angry that the 
older generations continue to rack up public debts for which they will get 
the bill. And they are very skeptical of the pledges of boomer-generation 
politicians. "If all this were financially possible, it would have been done 
long ago," says Clément Pitton, the 23-year-old leader of Impulsion 
Concorde, which recently circulated a petition declaring "We will not pay 
your debt."
   Pitton's sentiments are increasingly shared by the children of Europe's 
baby boomers, a generation sometimes called the baby losers. Not only will 
they be forced to pick up the tab for a welfare system that offers far more 
to the elderly than to the young, but they will be forced to do so with 
less: Europe's economy remains skewed in favor of the old and its 
politicians have been shy about pushing painful reforms that might correct 
the balance. No wonder one recent poll in France showed that only 5 percent 
believed young people had a better chance of succeeding than their parents. 
Europe, it seems, is increasingly split—not along class or racial lines, but 
between its young and its old.
   As the rift grows so does awareness. Just browse the media or visit the 
bookstores. In France, the shelves groan with works bemoaning the 
"Génération Précaire"—the Precarious Generation. Two boomer authors warned 
in a book released this December, "Our Children Will Hate Us." In Britain, 
think tanks turn out reports on "Maggie's Children"—the unfortunates born in 
the affluent Thatcher years—or the IPOD Generation: the newcomers to the job 
market who find themselves "Insecure, Pressured, Overtaxed and Debt-Ridden."
   Small wonder Europe's young are losing faith in their leaders. In a 
recent report for the Policy Exchange think tank, David Willetts, the 
Conservative Party's education spokesman, concluded, "A young person could 
be forgiven for thinking [there's] a conspiracy by the middle-aged against 
the young." There may not be any concerted plot, but it's clear who's to 
blame for today's sorry situation: the boomers. The sunlit decades of 
postwar prosperity saw the creation of generous welfare states across 
Europe. Dynamic economies assured the boomers secure employment (Germans 
still like to speak of "job owners") and hefty pensions on retirement. But 
this good fortune came at a price. The same labor rules that protect the 
jobs of the middle-aged shut out the young. And dwindling birthrates mean 
there will soon be fewer workers to support the retirees.
   So will the boomers renounce—or at least share—their benefits? Unlikely, 
says leading French sociologist Louis Chauvel. "The baby boomers didn't 
[intend] to do this to young people, but I don't see a willingness to get 
them out of the situation either." Such intransigence looks even more unfair 
given the disparities in wealth and lifestyle. The boomers are living it up; 
many have used their generous pensions to opt out of the labor market 
altogether. Only 30 percent of Belgians older than 55 still work, for 
example. A report by the London-based think tank Reform put the issue 
plainly. "People over 50 are developing the lifestyles of teenagers."
   As they slack off, their children's woes are multiplying. Germans now 
talk of "Generation Intern" as well-educated graduates increasingly accept 
unpaid jobs in the quest for elusive permanent posts. Such challenges breed 
despair. Ask Daniel Knapp. Born in Germany, he speaks four languages 
fluently and holds a master's degree from the London School of Economics. 
But he's spent the last six months chasing jobs in London, Berlin and 
Brussels —unsuccessfully. "I feel as if I'm simply draining my family's 
resources. It seems my degrees only qualify me for further education but not 
really a job."
   Some countries have so far avoided the malaise. In Ireland, the birthrate 
peaked late and the strong economy still provides jobs for all. In fact, 
"this is the first generation to have grown up in Ireland with no question 
that they would be able to find a job in the country," says Tony Fahey of 
the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin. Ditto for Spain, where 
everyone is enjoying the new prosperity and a welfare system vastly expanded 
since the end of the Franco regime. "[The young here] don't live worse than 
their parents; in fact they live much better," says Federico Steinberg, an 
economist at the Autonomous University of Madrid.
   But even the happy Irish and Spanish share a housing problem. Across the 
continent, spiraling property prices and poor job prospects are conspiring 
to keep youngsters living at home. According to the Italian Institute of 
Social Medicine, 45 percent of the country's 30- to 34-year-olds still sleep 
in their old beds and enjoy Mama's home cooking. In France, the proportion 
of 24-year-olds now living with their parents has almost doubled since 1975, 
to 65 percent. Even in the U.K., with its enviable record of job creation, 
the average age of the first-time home buyer has climbed from 26 in 1976 to 
34 today. Property prices are now eight times higher than the median 
earnings of the ordinary twentysomething. ...
   Ironically, Europe's young don't seem to favor cutting their parents' 
benefits; they want the same treatment. Last year French youths mobbed the 
streets to protest a new bill that aimed to create more employment but 
offered less security; the proposal was defeated. Says Wanlin: "Their 
aspiration is to get the same protection for themselves." If the economics 
don't work out, that's a problem for the politicians—not the young. Indeed, 
even some boomers recognize the flaws in the status quo. "The worst thing," 
says French author and former political advisor Bernard Spitz, "would be if 
we lived contentedly with our debts and our early retirements, telling 
ourselves the young will pay, just like we told ourselves 'Germany will pay' 
after the Treaty of Versailles." As Europe has learned before, a bad peace 
only leads to more war—even between generations. ...

"The New Generation Gap"
In many ways, the argument is generational. A CNN-Opinion Research 
Corporation poll from last week found that a majority of voters over age 50 
opposed overhauling the health care system, while most younger voters were 
in favor of doing so. ... But their fears underscored the findings of a 
Gallup poll in July, which found that seniors are the age group most 
resistant to changing the system. Fewer than half favor doing so. They are 
more likely to believe that such efforts would reduce, rather than expand, 
their access to health care, and they say their own medical care would get 
worse rather than improve. ... By a margin of 2 to 1, people under age 45 
said that insurance was more serious. But those over 45 cited costs. This 
poll and others show that concern about costs rises with age. ... And if the 
administration doesn’t have enough to worry about, here’s one more thing: 
older Americans tend to vote in greater numbers than any other demographic.

"Health Care’s Generation Gap "
That was back in the mid-’80s, when the nation was spending around 8 percent 
of its gross domestic product on health care. I and other health care 
workers solemnly agreed that the spending spree could not continue. 
Taxpayers and insurance companies would eventually revolt and refuse to pay 
for such end-of-life care. Somebody would surely expose the ruse for what it 
was: an enormous transfer of wealth based on the pretense that getting old 
and dying is a medical emergency requiring high-tech intensive-care 
intervention and armies of specialists, which could cost $10,000 or more per 
day. (Europeans have so far resisted this delusion, one reason they spend 
much less than we do on health care, with far better results.)
   That was back in the mid-’80s, when the nation was spending around 8 
percent of its gross domestic product on health care. I and other health 
care workers solemnly agreed that the spending spree could not continue. 
Taxpayers and insurance companies would eventually revolt and refuse to pay 
for such end-of-life care. Somebody would surely expose the ruse for what it 
was: an enormous transfer of wealth based on the pretense that getting old 
and dying is a medical emergency requiring high-tech intensive-care 
intervention and armies of specialists, which could cost $10,000 or more per 
day. (Europeans have so far resisted this delusion, one reason they spend 
much less than we do on health care, with far better results.) ...
  One thing’s for sure: Our health care system has failed. Generational 
spending wars loom on the horizon. Rationing of health care is imminent. But 
given the political inertia, we could soon find ourselves in a triage 
situation in which there is no time or money to create medical-review boards 
to ponder cost-containment issues or rationing schemes. We’ll be forced to 
implement quick-and-dirty rules based on something simple, sensible and 
easily verifiable. Like age. As in: No federal funds to be spent on 
intensive-care medicine for anyone over 85.
   I am not, of course, talking about euthanasia. I’m just wondering why the 
nation continues incurring enormous debt to pay for bypass surgery and 
titanium-knee replacements for octogenarians and nonagenarians, when for 
just a small fraction of those costs we could provide children with 
preventive health care and nutrition. Eight million children have no health 
insurance, but their parents pay 3 percent of their salaries to Medicare to 
make sure that seniors get the very best money can buy in prescription drugs 
for everything from restless leg syndrome to erectile dysfunction, scooters 
and end-of-life intensive care.
  Sir William Osler, widely revered as the father of modern medicine, said, 
“One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to 
take medicine.” Perhaps the second duty should be to administer an ounce of 
prevention instead of a pound of cure. ...

Again, sick or dead young people can't pay for the health care of old 
people, nor can sick or dead young people be health care practitioners for 
old people. You would think old people could see it, but maybe it will take 
some leadership to help them see it?

Again, this is not to disagree with Michel's main point that people need to 
focus on commonality to solve problems. The last paragraph in the first item 
makes a related analogy to old wars and how the young just want the same 
thing the older generation got. I'd suggest my point just above is one such 
point of commonality -- the young can not take good care of the old if the 
young are sick or dead.

That point by David Willetts was actually the quote in my mind when I wrote 
my previous reply, but I could not find it.

As with the comment on Ireland, that is why the industrialized globe is 
facing a "Peak Population" crisis, not a "Peak Oil" crisis, even though 
people are confusing the two, which is odd given solar is now (or soon will 
be) cheaper than coal. :-)

But, think about it, how many of the industrialized world's current problems 
are better explained by "Peak Population" rather than "Peak Oil"?

And how much has the "Peak Energy" misrepresentation of the "Peak Oil" fact 
by people like Catton led to smaller families and made worse the "Peak 
Population" crisis? Gloomsters and Doomsters are in that sense creating the 
terrible problems we are facing right now. In Voyage from Yesteryear, James 
P. Hogan talks about despair versus optimist in a culture, in part based on 
appreciation of the potential abundance energy in the universe.

The less peers that are around, the less peers can help each other and 
contribute to a free commons. Maybe there are laws of diminishing returns, 
but are we anywhere near them? What would Wikipedia be like with only 100 
contributors instead of 100 thousand? Especially in a digital age, it is 
easy for a peer to add more to the free commons than they take away. What do 
you take away from Wikipedia by reading a page? A little electricity power 
perhaps, but Wikipedia shows us how to get all the power we need from the sun.
So, even in a physical sense, Wikipedia is helping peers physically power it 
by giving away such knowledge.

We can support quadrillions of humans in the solar system (see my previous 
references to Dyson, Bernal, Savage, O'Neill, and there are many others), or 
about a million times our current population on Earth. We essentially had 
the specific technological ideas in the 1970s we needed to do that, even 
given refinements since then. So, a focus on zero or negative population 
growth for the human race as a whole right now, as opposed to just limiting 
the population currently on Earth (which might be sensible, even though I 
think we could easily grow 10X on Earth), has created a "Peak Population" 
crisis that we didn't need to have for 1000 years when we filled up the 
solar system (and by then, we would have better technology and better social 
ideology to deal with changing demographics of moving from a triangle to a 
square of population by age).

Sure, let's set a population target for some carrying capacity on Earth the 
same way the health and fire departments limit the maximum number of people 
in a restaurant. But, you don't limit the human population of a city (or the 
solar system) the same way you limit the number of people that can safely be 
in a restaurant (the Earth). That is ultimately the mistake that gloomsters 
like Catton make -- they confuse the two, mostly IMHO from lack of 
imagination, but also because some profit from artificial scarcity, as well, 
as in Catton's case, the hypocrisy of having four children while telling 
everyone else to have less.

So, we desperately need peers to help solve the "Peak Population" crisis 
until we reach the carrying capacity of the solar system of several 
quadrillion people. :-) And, no, that's not what I had in mind, get your 
mind out of the gutter. :-) I was thinking about this purely in terms of 
peers helping solve the "Peak Population" problem in academic and 
demographic and infrastructure and economic and space and ocean and free 
commons terms. :-) Still, I'd suggest, if you want to have four kids like 
Catton, don't feel guilty about it -- in fact, be proud you are helping 
solve the Peak Population crisis outlined above. :-)

Robots and mind children are another way to solve the "Peak Population" 
crisis, and that is essentially why, as in the original article Ryan linked 
to, the Japanese are building robots to survive.
So, in thirty years we'll have a flood or humanoid robots and other "mind 
children", and so humans won't have to "work" except at what they like to 
do. :-) But that's another problem then caused by the crisis of "Peak 
Population", or essentially how to deal with sibling rivalry by figuring out 
how to get physical children peers and mind children peers to get along and 
play nice. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

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