Confronting Demographic Change

Confronting Demographic Change is the title of a two day conference currently being organised by Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimir Spidla. The emphasis of the conference is on gender and family impact issues.

You can find a background briefing paper here.

This is also an interesting presentation.

Here’s a summary of the objectives. It’s very ‘commission speak’ of course, but at least it marks a growing recognition of the problems we are all going to face. I’m also intrigued by something: “Demographic changes, globalisation and rapid technological change are the three major challenges facing Europe today”. I’m intrigued to know when the hell they figured this out, especially since (if for globalisation you read China) it is something I have been arguing for over five years now, in this precise combination.
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The Low-Fertility Trap

I suppose by-now every right thinking and reasonably well read adult knows what the ‘poverty-trap’ is, even if most of us aren’t too clear about what there is to do about it. Being stuck in one of these traps could be thought to be like being stuck in a (not necessarily very deep) well with a slimy surround wall. The more you struggle to get out, the harder it gets: your strength disippates, and the walls get to be even more slippery. This could also be called a negative feedback loop.

Well now there is the suggestion that something similar may exist in the world of fertility. As Wolfgang Lutz suggests in this power point presentation, the critical level may be 1.5. No society which has fallen below this level has -to date – returned above it. (Many thanks here to commenter CapTvK who sent me the link).
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Life Expectancy in East and West Germany

After so many days of posting topics related one way or another with death, perhaps it is better to get back to life. One good excuse for doing this could be the 25th International Population Conference organised by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population and which opened yesterday in Tours, France.

You can find the full conference agenda here, and there are topics to suit all tastes for those who are interested.

Over the next few days I’ll post on one or two of the workshop topics which catch my eye, and today it’s a paper by German-based researcher Marc Luy, entitled “A new hypothesis for explaining the mortality gap between eastern and western Germany” (Only extended abstract available online at present).
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Nothing to see here but (more) death and destruction

I?m grateful for the thought (and the information and the links) that have gone into recent posts by my co-blogger Edward. I find myself disagreeing with him about only one thing: That the London bombing will (or should) lead to a major change in the way we see things, or to the West?s anti-terror strategy in particular.

I certainly don?t support aspect of Western leaders? anti-terror strategy, although I?ve been a proponent of a global war on terror since 2001. (I think the war in Iraq has turned out pretty disastrously, for instance.) So yes, I think something should change. I?m just not sure what the London bombings have to do with it.
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You’d Better Move On

The papers this morning seem to be all full of ‘gloomy’ articles whose principal theme is that Europe has finally been plunged into a grave crisis by this weeks summit.

“People will tell you next that Europe is not in a crisis,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who holds the EU presidency, said after a two-day summit ended in acrimony. “It is in a deep crisis.”

As someone who is ‘crisis prone’ I would have imagined I would share that feeling. Somehow I don’t.

Some reasons why.
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No Answers Only Questions

One person who could rightly claim to know more about global ageing and its possible consequences than anyone else in the business is the German Director of the Manheim Research Institute for the Economics of Ageing Axel B?rsch-Supan. If there’s a conference being organised, he seems to be there. Actually his comments at both these meet-ups are well worth reading in and of themselves (here, and here).

In a sense B?rsch-Supan is almost uniquely qualified to express opinions on the topic since he has both devoted a large part of his professional career to studying the question, and he lives and works in a society which is already reeling under the impact. As he says:

“Today?s Germany has essentially the demographic structure that the United States will reach in a quarter of a century. The dependency ratio (the ratio of persons aged 65 and over to those aged from 20 to 59) is at 28 percent, and it will reach 75 percent in 2075, if we dare project that far. Almost one-fifth of the German population today are aged 65 and over. One quarter are aged 60 and over, which is relevant because the average retirement age in Germany is 59.5 years. Thus, in this sense the United States is not ?entering largely uncharted territory,? …. Rather, they can look to Europe?in particular to Germany and Italy?to see what will happen in the United States.”

I mention B?rsch-Supan because he serves as a good pretext for going over where we are to date with the issue. As he says himself. watching demography change is rather like watching a glacier melt, on a day-to-day basis it’s hard to see that anything is happening, but over time the impact is important.

One of his recent papers has the intriguing title: “Global Ageing: Issues, Answers, More Questions“. It is a good up-to-date review of the ‘state of the art’, and a quick examination of the points he makes probably serves as a good starting point, since I can’t help thinking, in the case of global ageing, it isn’t so much what we know that matters, it’s what we don’t know.

So here we go, a review of what we “know”, what we think we know, and what we don’t know:
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Changing Perspectives On Immigration.

Views of immigration are changing. Back in the mists of time, when I first came to the conclusion that ongoing demographic changes were going to be important, the voices in favour of a reconsideration of immigration policy were few and far between. Perhaps the first and most notable of these voices was the UN population division. Now things are different, and a series of recent international conferences and reports highlighting the positive advantages of immigration as an economic motor only serve to underline the fact that discussion of this important topic is very much back on the agenda.
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China’s Currency and Trade

Currency traders around the globe lazily staring into their screens must have found themselves transfixed last Friday when the flatline indicating the value of the Chinese yuan (or renminbi if you prefer) suddenly jumped to life. And so it was that during a brief 20 minute interval the yuan surged to a level of 8.270 to the dollar from the hypnotic and seemingly eternal value of 8.276. Now 6 thousandths of a dollar isn’t really a very big deal, but it is the sheer fact that it happened that is causing all the fuss.
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Change in Germany

John Kornblum, former US Ambassador in Berlin, knows a thing or two about Germany from his forty years’ acquaintance with the country.

In a nation traumatized by violent upheavals, voters seem to demand an emotional insurance policy before accepting change. This insurance must promise that new methods will not undermine the social and economic stability, which is so important to their special postwar sense of self.

New ideas must be sold as not really changing anything. Change must be seen as a method of strengthening stability, not as a new way of doing things. German politicians have become adept at making new ideas sound like old ones. In the words of Konrad Adenauer: ?No experiments.?

A current example of this phenomenon is the tone of political and economic writing in Germany. With a few notable exceptions, authors focus on the inevitability of collapse. Germany?s economy is destined to decline, the Chinese will rule the world, and America is finished as a great power.

There are few grand visions for a new future. Instead, readers are warned that if they do not move quickly, their comfortable world will collapse around them. Motivation is negative rather than positive.

However strange this discussion may sound to outsiders, it seems to be serving an important purpose within Germany. Belief in the old stability is wearing away. As 2004 comes to an end, the most important question is not whether there is going to be change, but how it will come and which direction it will take.

The whole essay is here. I think the part about undertaking significant change while maintaining the whole time that nothing is changing is particularly accurate.

When I was doing more transatlantic bridge-building, I used a sports metaphor.
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