Friday, July 17, 2009

Peevish about demographics

I have noticed a spate of alarmist articles about the demographics of population aging lately. A recent special report in The Economist magazine is typical of this subgenre of horror writing. Forsaking British reserve, the Economist immediately sounds its warning:

"STOP thinking for a moment about deep recession, trillion-dollar rescue packages and mounting job losses. Instead, contemplate the prospect of slow growth and low productivity, rising public spending and labour shortages. These are the problems of ageing populations, and if they sound comparatively mild, think again."

The report explains that the world's population is graying because people are living much longer than they used to and, even more important, people are having far fewer children. The world will soon be awash with ancient, cranky pensioners -- you can't spell "geriatric" without "irate" -- cared for by the relatively small cohort of their overworked, impoverished children. Images of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine come to mind: old Morlocks attended by young Eloi.

Every demographic article has some variation on the statement: All the people who will be 70 in 2020 are already alive. Yes, Mr. Handwringing Journalist, we soon-to-be geezers, who will have provoked this impending demographic imbalance by our exaggerated lifespans and our parsimonious reproduction, already walk among you, like the insidious Pod People in the 1950s horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We are here, we are organized, we are poised to remake the world into our own retirement community. We will prevail.

I for one will be a benign master. As long as all my whims are gratified and the chrome on my walker is kept nicely polished, the whippersnappers need not fear my wrath.