Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More babies please

The world is sitting on a number of timebombs:

  • global warming
  • the end of oil
  • limits on food supply
The three issues above are all linked in some way to the Earth's ever - expanding population.  In Eastern Europe, however, we have a different type of demographic problem:
  • The old are living longer due to improved medicine
  • Some of the young are emigrating due to the lack of opportunities at home
  • The young who remain in the country are having very small families, as they can't afford too many children
The upshot is that Eastern European populations are rapidly declining and rapidly aging (and Moldova is no exception).  Over the next few decades, smaller and smaller generations of workers will be expected to support larger and larger generations of pensioners.  If left unaddressed, there will be open conflict between generations; we are already seeing elections won on the basis of unaffordable pension increase 'bribes'.

As populations decline, villages and towns will continue to empty out and fields will be left unattended, a crime in a hungry world.  Services such as schooling and medical care may become uneconomic in certain locations due to a lack of demand.

Governments around the region need to respond positively to these challenges, for example:
  • Mechanised, commercial, labour-extensive agriculture needs to be promoted as an alternative to traditional, labour intensive peasant farming.
  • The healthy elderly need to be encouraged to work beyond normal retirement age
  • Working age people need to be encouraged to save for their own retirements, so as to not put the burden of support onto their own children.
Above all, governments need to have an active population policy designed to both maintain a stable population and a good proportion of younger people.  They need to do all the can to keep young people from emigrating (e.g. by providing top quality educational and working opportunities at home).  They need to do all they can to encourage two or three children families (e.g. by providing free or cheap all-day childcare through schools and kindergartens, or by giving tax breaks to families).  They need to consider immigration from poorer, "younger" countries in Asia or Africa.

The problem with policies such as those set out above is that they only bear fruit in the long-term, when the generation of politicians who enacted them is long gone.  There is little to gain politically from telling people they need to save, for example.  One good way of counteracting this is by establishing a common position among all major political forces on long term issues.  In this way there is shared responsibility and long-term demographics don't become a political football.

Do we have politicians with the necessary foresight and character?

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