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Japan's aging population could actually be good news (newscientist.com)
38 points by eugenesia 1347 days ago | hide | past | web | 54 comments | favorite

> But fewer people in future will mean it has more living space, more arable land per head, and a higher quality of life, says Eberstadt. Its demands on the planet for food and other resources will also lessen.

Different day, same Malthusian bullshit. These people can only think of humans as net negative parasites on the planet, rather than individual agents with a positive expected value to society. Density is GOOD — it leads to cross-pollination of ideas and the advancement of the world. Yes, the planet is on a path that will require us to eventually get smarter about resource consumption. Advocating fewer people on Earth is the most harmful & naive way to solve that problem.

If your life raft is sinking, do you try to patch it, or do you throw someone overboard? Your instinctual answer says a lot about the type of person you are.

[edit: I'd remove the last paragraph if it weren't intellectually dishonest to do so. I feel like it's causing people to miss my main point. It was written more out of anger than reason. Please ignore.]

> Different day, same Malthusian bullshit.

We are currently experiencing a human-induced mass extinction event and reduction of biodiversity comparable to the largest natural catastrophes in the planet. The way things are going, by the end of the century most of the large mammalian predators will be definitely extinct, and if carbon emissions are not reduced by the end of the century, by which we should become a carbon-negative society, the oceans will not be able to support most of the base of its food chain.

I question your valuation of human society above the base of the biological systems that support its very existence. A large population living in a humongous wasteland is of dubious utility for its inhabitants.

I reckon you haven't been able to see the true impacts of humans on most of the ecosystems in the planet. Ultimately, I think you're confusing density with population; a large population is not a requirement for a dense population. Furthermore, the percentage of the population that contributes to innovation is a very, very restricted subset of it.

I don't get it. The ecosystem is not a constant system. It is summary randomness, guided by evolution. Whatever you are trying to preserve, be assured new randomness will happily take its place.

The current randomness supports human life. I'm not so sure that whatever replaces it will too.

You mean the way mold is happily taking the place of entire coral reefs? Biodiversity is not just an ethical concern; biodiversity is useful to humankind.

If your randomness consists of oceans of jellyfish and insects as the most complex land animals, sure. If you want to actually get to witness the full extent of birds, mammals, and large reptiles, no amount of evolution will supplant those for several millions of years.

Consumerism dramatically amplifies all said effects. Many of these issues would be solved for a long time by simply mitigating that mindset.

> If your life raft is sinking, do you try to patch it, or do you throw someone overboard? Your instinctual answer says a lot about the type of person you are.

Nobody is being thrown overboard. The article is just pointing out that it may not necessarily be catastrophic if population growth slows or even reverses for a time. We're all just speculating, whether you agree or disagree.

In support of the article, slower population growth would reduce resource consumption. Rampant population growth would speed up the resource depletion process. As certain crucial resources become more scarce, conflict is likely to follow. It'd only be a matter of time before large scale war followed, perhaps leading to an extinction event.

There are definite positives and negatives to slowing growth rates, but I think there are probably more positives if we're talking about a gradual slowing (as opposed to a sudden tanking). We can do a lot more with a lot less today. Many of us don't need massive families anymore, and that's OK.

A fertility rate of 1.4 is not a slowing of growth. It means population is shrinking. If you think of individuals as net negative for society, you probably think this is a good thing. I do not.

Fewer people means fewer ideas. Resource consumption is a problem with our current technological base - but it has ALWAYS been a problem, and a solution has always been developed that results in higher overall quality of life. Agriculture was the technology that allowed more than a few hundred thousand humans to live on the planet. Humanity has a pretty good track record of coming up with the next tech in plenty of time.

Panglossian? Maybe. But I'd rather be Pangloss (syphilis and all) than a misanthrope like Ehrlich or Malthus.

New ideas are hardly limited to Japan so if there population is +/- 100 million it's not going to make much difference to technology growth. However, for people living in Japan having +/- 100 million people having fewer people may be a net win relative to their current population. Just look at all those family's living in 500sf apartments that still have long commutes. Population density is good up to a point, but Japan is pushing the limit in some of it's more populaed areas. Granted, there is still plenty of open spaces in japan, but most people want to live near jobs and infrastructure.

> Fewer people means fewer ideas.

Good ideas come from a very small segment of the population. Just having more people doesn't mean we'll have more philosophy, science or art, except from scaling. If you want more creative people, then make that your goal.

> Resource consumption is a problem with our current technological base

Overpopulation destroys quality of life. You can't fix that by throwing more technology at the problem. Technology isn't going to make more nice beachfront property accessible and affordable for middle class family vacations. Technology isn't going to make more high grade wild tuna, or quiet walks in empty woods.

No. But declining populations destroys quality of life.

With an ageing population you need someone to "work" in order to cover state-subsidised health care, housing, unemployment, pensions and other living costs for those that are still alive but not working.

And technology can absolutely solve a lot of problems. Being able to grow commercial quantities of meat in laboratories will change the world overnight. As will revolutionising public transportation, power grids, storage technologies, cars etc.

Populations are contracting because of overpopulation. I think it's clear we're in the later phases of Calhoun's rat experiments, where overcrowding sent rat birth rates crashing. In the human context I think the "overcrowding" stress includes the ever increasing complexity and flux of the society. There's not a techno/policy fix. This is a self-correcting problem that should be left alone. Fertility peaked in the industrialized world many years ago because the lands are full. Allowing immigration has been a mistake.

A contracting population is clearly a big problem for the capital class. It's bad for stock and bond holders, employers of labor, politicians, and I guess people who made poor retirement preparations. But I don't buy that it's a problem for workers Joe and Jane Blow. They eventually get cheap, high quality housing, and are more inclined to start a family.

Anyway, I also think the various futurist techno fantasies are wrong. Unless liquid thorium reactors or such-like come online next month we're entering an age of permanently escalating energy and food costs. Technology still runs on energy. The Jetsons future of electric cars and soylent for growing billions is not going to happen. The future for most is bicycles with rice and beans.

Allowing immigration has been a mistake.

Yeah, I got mine. Fuck all those foreigners whose ancestors didn't get here fast enough.

It's a nation, not a charity operation.

Who's asking you to pay for anything?

If you're concerned about the purity of your nation there's no need to be a stereotypical liberal about it either. Allow me to present a policy package that costs the state basically nothing and improves the lives of many not currently within the borders of your state.

1. Move from jus soli to jus sanguinus; no one without a parent who is a citizen of the state automatically becomes a citizen.

2. Any foreigner convicted of any crime gets deported. One may wish to have different visa categories for foreigners of a higher class/who have more money. The big thing is that it be clear that begging, petty theft and homelessness are deportable offences.

3. After five years you can either go home with all the money you paid in taxes/social security minus an actuarial average of your cost to the state or you can stay and forfeit it. South Korea does something roughly similar and it works pretty well at discouraging settlement.

If you're feeling really humanitarian you can allow third generation non-citizen residents over 30 an opportunity to naturalise.

In many countries we are not allowed to effect this policy. Instead the government lets as many low-quality labour as they want on whatever terms and then turn a blind eye on it.

We should invent a huge space water boiler; this way we can warm up nothern coasts of Canada and Russia and get nearly unlimited beach front.

In Stanislaw Lem's book the main character lived on Greenland warmed up from space to allow subtropical climate. I guess this idea will cause any environmentally-aware hipster from California to have a heart attack.

I follow your argument. I will note though that Japan is already land- and natural resources-bound in ways the United States has never had to struggle with. It's a smallish island nation with lots of mountainous (difficult to farm) terrain. I believe Japan has not been able to feed itself without imports for ages. If there is anywhere downsizing population might make sense, it would be there.

Hong Kong and Singapore are much worse when it comes to feeding themself yet they have no problem doing so. In practice, they are the richest.

Russia has infinite resources of growing food which is only constrained by the fact that it's not very profitable. Nobody it the world wants food so badly to pay for in same kind of money they cough up for oil.

Food is not the constraint, neither is living space.

Hong Kong and Singapore have land borders. Japan does not, making them more vulnerable than usual.

Russia doesn't grow an infinite amount of food, because most of the rest of the world can supply itself with food. If the USA's domestic food production dropped to zero, growing food in Russia would get profitable very quickly.

> If your life raft is sinking, do you try to patch it, or do you throw someone overboard? Your instinctual answer says a lot about the type of person you are.

You try to patch it, but it also makes a lot of sense to stop bringing more people onboard. Lowering birth rates is an example of the latter, not of throwing people overboard.

A positive contribution to society and a positive contribution to the planet aren't necessarily the same. Sure, more intellectuals mean faster societal development. That doesn't take away from the pressure an increased population places on our limited natural resources.

GP isn't saying "we should have more intellectuals", he/she is saying "we should have more people because that way we get more intellectuals". IMHO it's a big difference.

Honest question: What population do you find excessive and too much for the Earth to be able to sustain it?. By the way, Japan is not throwing people to the sea, just not replacing the ones that pass away, quite a big difference IMHO.

Morally, yes there's a huge difference. In terms of long-term economic, technological, and societal impact? Not really.

> Density is GOOD — it leads to cross-pollination of ideas and the advancement of the world.

How much density is needed to make progress? At which point too much density becomes a danger and what kind of danger?

I guess that there might be already some answers to these question. And in my opinion it IS important that we start talking about this. Because the only discussion that I hear until now is that many countries have not enough children (e.g. Japan, Russia, Germany, Italy - just to name few that I have seen in print media in Europe) which is seen as a danger. But talking about socially and psychologically positive solutions how to better distribute population density - nobody is speaking about this. I guess that one of the reasons is because we still think in national boundaries. But this is not the only one. I think the deeper reasons might be more on an instinctive level? I do not know, but I find it good that we start talking about un-growth of population instead just having a taboo.

Throwing people overboard is analogous to killing. Not reproducing isn't killing. Bad analogy. Look at it more like we're on a cruise liner lost eternally at sea. Sure, there's a garden on deck that supplies food, but it only supplies enough for X people. And the fuel is limited. Wait, that's not really metaphorical at all. That's almost the literal situation earth faces.

But, yeah, patch the raft. And stop having 4 kids.

Good luck trying to convince people. I think that Malthusianism just makes sense to people instinctively, and that counts for much more than the fact that it's been proven incorrect over and over again. Even though doom and gloom about things like "overpopulation" have been debunked time and again by people like Julian Simon ("The Ultimate Resource") you'll never convince people who've bought into it to change their minds.

Here's the problem I see with both population decline and life extension: lots of research indicates that the creative peak happens from 20-40 or so. Geniuses rarely continue to be the same level of productive after that. In other words, progress is probably better served by giving two people the chance to live 50 years than one person the chance to live 100, though resource consumption is about the same. An aging society, one without new generations of people with new ideas, is not a vital and creative one. Progress is served by turnover.

> Here's the problem I see with both population decline and life extension: lots of research indicates that the creative peak happens from 20-40 or so.

I'm not sure that's as clear as you think it is. There's a number of issues and confounds which mean that simply plotting age vs achievement can be very misleading. Check out "Age and Outstanding Achievement: What do We Know After a Century of Research?" http://www.resources.emartin.net/blog/docs/AgeAchievement.pd... , Simonton 1988

I get a DNS lookup failure for that domain. It looks like the correct URL is http://resources.emartin.net/blog/docs/AgeAchievement.pdf

This comment upsets me.

How pretentious to define what people should do with their lives and how long they should live based on some loosely defined "progress". Society doesn't have a moral obligation of pumping out geniuses. People live because that's a natural right.

Besides, not many things in life are more valuable than sitting down and having a chat with someone 70, 80, 90 years old. It's wisdom you won't find on Google.

I'm not saying what people should do with their lives. I'm pointing out a counterpoint to the usual cheerleading about life extension. It'll be a world in which things change more slowly. Definitely in terms of social progress, but potentially also in terms of scientific progress.

Part of life extension is restoring neuroplasticity. If medical science advances to the point where we can cure cancer along with all the other diseases of aging, rejuvenating the brain ought to be doable too.

>lots of research indicates that the creative peak happens from 20-40 or so

Is that a social or physiological phenomenon?

I always assumed the great thinkers became less prolific as they voluntarily moved into other stages of life, like finding a mate and starting a family, and hence had less time to commit to intellectual pursuits.

But if, on average, we live longer and healthier lives (healthier is not guaranteed), then our creative lives might last longer too.

It could be that creativity doesn't have as much to do with age and health as we think, and is more related to being new in a fascinating field. If we live longer we'd have more opportunities to be new with a large number of years in front of us. You can see this effect in the small when you get excited about a new programming language or industry.

Probably lots of other effects on creativity beyond mere youth. Said the old guy.

Its not a matter of health. You can give a 65 year old the brain of a 20 year old, but you can't give him back his naive unindoctrinated view of the world. And the sheer wonderment of childhood and adolescence is something you can never recapture. I have a 1 year old. There are expressions of joy you will only ever see on the face of a 1 year old, because for them the most mundane experiences are nonetheless firsts. Similarly, you only experience anything for the first time no matter how long you live. And I think there is a tremendous creative energy arising from those firsts.

I'm partial to the idea that geniuses have one or two great ideas in them per lifetime, regardless of how long that life lasts. Given 150 years of life, I don't think Picasso would invent cubism then something else.

> but you can't give him back his naive unindoctrinated view of the world.

Exactly the point of my second paragraph. With enough years in front, it can be worth starting completely over again, and gain the possibility of that childlike wonder and enthusiasm. Maybe school -> genius career -> kids and married life -> school -> completely new genius career.

With a long enough healthy life to go, it can be worthwhile to start completely over, rather than hunkering down and preparing for the decline.

EDIT: Anyway, y'all better hope so, because you're all mostly going to live much longer than we elders do, whether you like it or not. Stay sharp.

Essentially, I don't find your progression plausible. I don't think someone, even a genius, is going to approach a second career as effectively as the first, not after having accumulated a lifetime of preconceptions, biases, attitudes, conclusions, and dogma. I doubt even most geniuses have a second wind of genius in them, whether or not they live 50 years longer than they do now.

Since we haven't commonly lived longer than we do now I don't think we can assume that they way it's been is the way it's always going to be.

> a lifetime of preconceptions, biases, attitudes, conclusions, and dogma.

You left out wisdom, experience and perception.

Probably this is the exception that proves your rule but:


In countries where fertility rate is much under 2.0, people tend to have two opinions on demographics:

1) If you don't have enough (read: a lot of) money then don't have children. If you're not ready to spend all your time on children while still making enough money then don't have children. If you're not the model family then don't have children. If we think you're not the best parent possible then don't have children. You better not have your children too late and certainly not too early. And yes, we're going to take your child away the first moment we suspect something from above violated.

2) People are so damn selfish, they don't understand that their prime happiness is their children, they spend their lives on themself and so we're all going to die as a nation and as an economy.

Surprisingly enough we often see both at the same time in one individual. More often than not.

People's individual choices don't always line up with their beliefs about what the country as a whole should do.

I am told BART was approved by a whole lot of voters who liked the idea of everybody else using BART, so they could have less traffic on the roads. Nobody was voting for BART so they could use it themselves. (Or so the story goes).

I also think of this problem as about an elective one.

Imagine you have half voters over 65.

Why would they care about innovation or ecology or whatever common good? They would only care about getting their cut of social security. This way they can easily throw a society off the cliff if it happens tomorrow. They don't care about tomorrow.

Yeah, and they also like to tell youth how to live their life. Especially in the areas themself can no longer do anything. This can lead to repressive and suffocating societal changes.

Are you an idiot? Are you seriously suggesting that just because someone is over 65 they stop giving a shit about the planet, society and/or the greater good?

1. Overcrowding in Japan is largely due to such a large percentage of the population congregating in Tokyo. If the Japanese economy (and thus population) were more decentralized, this wouldn't be such a big problem.

2. A lot of the reasons for the high cost of living has to do with protectionism. For example, the rice farmer lobby benefits from very high tariffs on imported rice. Most of the rice farmers are old men, so more young people (or the existing young people being more politically engaged) could actually help fix this problem.

With regard to #2, Japan has a food security problem that will be alleviated by a lower population. Cramming more people in and becoming even more vulnerable to a disruption in shipping is an obviously bad idea.

It's the "Children of Men" solution to the automation/jobs crisis.

And yet: something that bothers me about that book/movie is that its portrayal of the labor/immigration dynamics seems exactly backward.

Without a fresh supply of young workers, but with all the factories/tools/capital/housing that supported a larger population, the benefit of incremental workers becomes gigantic.

The winning regions in such a scenario would be those that welcome massive immigration to maintain production.

Even assuming some xenophobic fear arising from the uniqueness of the zero-fertility situation, nations like the UK or US, that already have the benefit of worldwide adoption of its language (and cultural exports), and functioning beachhead immigrant communities of all types, would in such a scenario be most likely to recognize that immigrants could soften the pains of a population-shortage.

Keeping immigrants out would require even more of the dwindling population wasted on 'guard labor', and even more empty buildings/communities and idle factories. And to the extent that there are culture clashes – there's now plenty of space to congregate in voluntarily-segregated communities, but still within the same national boundaries for easier trade.

So while I loved a lot about the 'Children of Men' story/movie, its economics were all wrong.


"Japan has the world's oldest population, with a median age of 46 years, an average lifespan of 84, and a quarter of the population over 65. "

That is a very old population!

This comes without surprise. A higher median age for any population is usually indicative of higher quality of life.

There's a good TedTalks video on the subject. There's also a good book called Common Wealth written by Jeff Sachs that covers this.

an aging population means GDP will decline!

Ziss is unspeakable! Ziss is an unmitigated disaster for corporate profits!

GDP uber alles!

Ve must force japan to take in immigrants! For ze sake of corporate profits! GDP uber alles!

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