Tuesday, 16 December 2014

We know what happens when a developed nation has no immigration


We know the answer to this because of Japan - here's a report in New Geography:

Japan’s working-age population (15-64) peaked in 1995, while the United States’ has grown 21% since then. The projections for Japan are alarming: its working-age population will drop from 79 million today to less than 52 million in 2050, according to the Stanford Institute on Longevity.

Since hitting a peak of 128 million in 2010, Japan’s overall population has dropped three years in a row. These trends all but guarantee the long-term decline of the Japanese economy and its society.

Bear in mind that Japan's population is 127 million today - it will fall but the precise figures are hard to predict because of longevity. The New Geography article sets out some of the consequences:

...by 2020, adult diapers are projected to outsell the infant kind. By 2040, the country will have more people over 80 than under 15, according to U.N. projections. By 2060, the number of Japanese is expected to fall from 127 million today to about 87 million, of whom almost 40% will be 65 or older.

Put simply Japan can't afford to do this. It can barely afford the cost of health and care today. And this is the reason why Japan's economy is struggling. Moreover, it points to the reason why the UK, Germany and the USA stand an outside chance of affording health and social care costs at least for the time being. We have had relatively open borders allowing us to maintain the size of our working age populations - without this immigration we would be facing the same time bomb as Japan faces.

It's not just a fiscal time bomb it's a social one too:

Japan’s grim demography is also leading to tragic ends for some elderly. With fewer children to take care of elderly parents, there has been a rising incidence of what the Japanese call kodokushi, or “lonely deaths” among the aged, unmarried, and childless. Given the current trends, this can only become more commonplace over time.



asquith said...

That much is true. And I am more liberal on migration than most people in this country. I've known too many people seeking a better life or fleeing unmentionable horrors to simply hate them en masse, Clacton-style.

(As a side note, the time has come to admit refugees from Islamic State's savagery, a practical and symbolic deed to help that should have been done some time ago).

And I value their contribution to the economy and to, for instance, living in and renovating properties in Stoke that would otherwise be empty (which "Pathfinder", in their wisdom, would rather have demolished because they don't believe people are incapable of living in homes that haven't been purpose-built by clever architechts).

At the same time, though, Japan is only an extreme case of a worldwide trend. Migrants will themselves grow old and die. That Pole and his English love went down the isle last month, and their only child might end up giving them no grandchildren, and then what?

It's obviously good that people are living longer, and I consider it good that family sizes are beginning to fall as awareness of contraception grows. In most places outside sub-Saharan Africa, including a large part of the world, the trend is beginning and will be well away by 2100. (This includes many Muslim countries which have plunging fertility rates).

Japan, from what I can see, has made a relatively good job of dealing with a rapidly ageing society of the kind we can expect to see in Europe, then America, then in all sorts of places.

It is happening more slowly here thanks to things such as the enterprising eastern Europeans who are here, but the same business is going on- one thinks of the fact that there haven't actually been NHS cuts, but everyone thinks there have, because rising demand means that the same level of spending inevitably delivers worse outcomes.

I "welcomed" (as in admired the political courage of a cruel necessity) the raising of the pension age. It is the stupidest and most self-defeating populism of all to lower it, as France has tried to do. One does not simply live into an unfunded old age, and this isn't Lloyd George's day, is it?

That is the reckoning we all must come to in this day and age.

Bucko said...

So a developed nation needs immigration to keep it's economy afloat? In that case, the immigrants can only come from countries who will no longer be able to develop their own economies due to migration.

Eventually it will all level itself out I presume.

Chris Oakley said...

Are you arguing continued population growth as the only sustainable way of running a society? The Japanese problem is arguably the consequence of an earlier population boom rather than a lack of immigration. That boom made Japan an expensive place to live and, depending on your politics, overcrowded. That led to falling birth rates and the current demography. Japan could have balanced the books by encouraging immigration but that would have added to its well documented issues with population. It would still have been expensive and crowded but with a more diverse population. I am not sure how that would be helpful. Sorry to use the P word again but it is connected to personal freedom. So too of course is the right to free movement.

Simon Cooke said...

Not arguing for population growth or even unlimited immigration. Merely observing that indigenous populations in most developed nations have fertility rates below replacement levels. Some (Italy and Sweden for example) very significantly below those levels. We could resolve the problem by encouraging more babies but we haven't done that - instead we've imported new people.

In the end this causes an imbalance (arguably it is doing so in Eastern Europe where population decline is significant). Still my observation - we'd be in a far worse state had we not had any immigration remains valid.

Curmudgeon said...

No immigration at all vs the free-for-all immigration of the past 15 years is a bit a straw man, though.

Continually importing ever more migrants to pay the healthcare costs of an ageing population is ultimately an unsustainable Ponzi scheme.

I'd be happy to see enough immigration to maintain the population level (preferably the 2000 figure rather than 2014) but no more.

Jonathan Bagley said...

My view is the same as Curmudgeon's. The alternative is a Ponzi scheme. There is no avoiding that. And with any Ponzi scheme, the sooner you stop it, however undesirable it may seem, the better. In 55 years, the hundreds of thousands of recent net immigrants will be in their 80s and 90s.

Anonymous said...

Can't afford it? Of course they can. As could we and any other rich nation. We'd just need to have less of other things.

Anonymous said...

Not necessarily. Might be better to put it off for a while.