Why China’s Shrinking Population Is a Big Deal – Counting the Social, Economic and Political Costs of an Aging, Smaller Society

Yves here. Articles like this are maddening. They take the view that demographic growth is necessary, when global population was largely static for prior to the Industrial Revolution. Moreover, given natural resource limits, it would behoove advanced and middle income economies to adapt to no/negative population growth. It has also been no secret that China had a demographic crunch coming, so it finally having arrived should not be treated as earth-shattering news.

In fact, the results of the US census in 2000 were a surprise. Demographers had expected the US to show little to no population growth. They had not allowed for a big immigrant influx, and then higher Hispanic birth rates.

And the article weirdly underplays how China can adapt. It acts as if it having a manufacturing-oriented economy is a negative. Your humble blogger has pointed out that many clients and contacts have said they sent manufacturing offshore even though the economic case was weak (and remember, the supposed advantage was cheap labor). They could have gotten the cost savings domestically but the fad was offshoring and no one wanted to seem like a management dinosaur.

So if China has labor-intensive activities (likely less so than stereotyped; China has been moving up the value chain for over a decade), more automation can address increasing labor scarcity and costs. Other routes are to encourage more to work after normal retirement age, even if part time, and of course bring in immigrants.

In fact, thanks to Covid, the US may be closer to China’s fate than we think. IM Doc quoted a story that reported that in his state had more deaths than births from July 2021 to July 2022 per US Census data. This is the first time that has ever occurred since his state started keeping that information. 23 other states reported more deaths than births over that period, and the US as a whole showed only a 0.4% increase, including 1 million immigrants. My trusty calculator says o.4% of a 331.9 million population is 1.33 million. So US population growth overall is at stall speed.

As IM Doc remarked:

In the article it states that 23 states are having similar numbers for deaths and births. Not exactly how it was presented yesterday [in an online Grand Rounds discussion] – “so far 24 states have reported their numbers – and EVERY SINGLE REPORTED STATE so far is having the same thing – the birth rate is down – and the all cause mortality is very much up.”

What is concerning to the epidemiologist that was talking to us yesterday is that the actual relative rate in each state of both deaths and births is right about the same number in all reporting states. This would not be expected in any kind of infectious disease problem – or at least it has never happened in history – they tend to have a lot more scatter. No – this is something else – something exogenous.

As I have been telling you all for months – there are significant issues with young women – and with miscarriages – finally, the numbers are coming in to make me realize that I am not losing my marbles. The ICD 10 codes for primary amenorrhea and for mid-trimester abortions are through the roof from historical patterns. Also mentioned was the fact that there is a sudden drop off being noticed by fertility clinics in number and motility of sperm. NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE BEING STEADFASTLY COMPILED ON A FEDERAL LEVEL – so this is at times like the blind leading the blind….

The all cause mortality – estimated about 5-10% have to do with COVID – and that is a stretch – mostly COVID deaths for 2021 an 2022 have been older patients near terminus anyway. No – the ICD codes for pulmonary embolus, acute coronary syndromes, sudden cardiac death, strokes, suicide, drug OD, and various cancers seem to be the cause – and the cancers that are skyrocketing are leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and solid endocrine and neuroendocrine tumors…

It is going to be very interesting to see the numbers from all the other states that have yet to come in.

We were repeatedly assured this was completely unprecedented and was very concerning. The fact this is happening in multiple other states is also deeply concerning.

Guys, I am getting deeply worried about what I am seeing and hearing. We are beginning to have severe manpower shortage issues in almost every industry. Just getting a plumber is a weeks-long ordeal. And just from my observation, we do not seem to have a lot of people sitting around living on govt handouts as presented in the media.

Shorter: the underlying assumption of this piece, that the US is in a considerably different demographic situation than China, may be inaccurate.

By Feng Wang, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Irvine. Originally published at The Conversation

Throughout much of recorded human history, China has boasted the largest population in the world – and until recently, by some margin.

So news that the Chinese population is now in decline, and will sometime later this year be surpassed by that of India, is big news even if long predicted.

As a scholar of Chinese demographics, I know that the figures released by Chinese government on Jan. 17, 2023, showing that for the first time in six decades, deaths in the previous year outnumbered births is no mere blip. While that previous year of shrinkage, 1961 – during the Great Leap Forward economic failure, in which an estimated 30 million people died of starvation – represented a deviation from the trend, 2022 is a pivot. It is the onset of what is likely to be a long-term decline. By the end of the century, the Chinese population is expected to shrink by 45%, according to the United Nations. And that is under the assumption that China maintains its current fertility rate of around 1.3 children per couple, which it may not.

This decline in numbers will spur a trend that already concerns demographers in China: a rapidly aging society. By 2040, around a quarter of the Chinese population is predicted to be over the age of 65.

In short, this is a seismic shift. It will have huge symbolic and substantive impacts on China in three main areas.


In the space of 40 years, China has largely completed a historic transformation from an agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing and the service industry. This has been accompanied by increases in the standard of living and income levels. But the Chinese government has long recognized that the country can no longer rely on the labor-intensive economic growth model of the past. Technological advances and competition from countries that can provide a cheaper workforce such as Vietnam and India have rendered this old model largely obsolete.

This historical turning point in China’s population trend serves as a further wake-up call to move the country’s model more quickly to a post-manufacturing, post-industrial economy – an aging, shrinking population does not fit the purposes of a labor-intensive economic model.

As to what it means for China’s economy, and that of the world, population decline and an aging society will certainly provide Beijing with short-term and long-term challenges. In short, it means there will be fewer workers able to feed the economy and spur further economic growth on one side of the ledger; on the other, a growing post-work population will need potentially costly support.

It is perhaps no coincidence then that 2022, as well as being a pivotal year for China in terms of demographics, also saw one of the worst economic performances the country has experienced since 1976, according to data released on Jan. 17.


The rising share of elderly people in China’s population is more than an economic issue – it will also reshape Chinese society. Many of these elderly people only have one child, due to the one-child policy in place for three and a half decades before being relaxed in 2016.

The large number of aging parents with only one child to rely on for support will likely impose severe constraints – not least for the elderly parents, who will need financial support. They will also need emotional and social support for longer as a result of extended life expectancy.

It will also impose constraints on those children themselves, who will need to fulfill obligations to their career, provide for their own children and support their elderly parents simultaneously.

Responsibility will fall on the Chinese government to provide adequate health care and pensions. But unlike in Western democracies that have by now had many decades to develop social safety nets, the speed of the demographic and economic change in China has meant that Beijing struggled to keep pace.

As China’s economy underwent rapid growth after 2000, the Chinese government responded by investing tremendously in education and health care facilities, as well as extending universal pension coverage. But the demographic shift was so rapid that it meant that political reforms to improve the safety net were always playing catch-up. Even with the vast expansion in coverage, the country’s health care system is still highly inefficient, unequally distributed and inadequate given the growing need.

Similarly, social pension systems are highly segmented and unequally distributed.


How the Chinese government responds to the challenges presented by this dramatic demographic shift will be key. Failure to live up to the expectations of the public in its response could result in a crisis for the Chinese Communist Party, whose legitimacy is tied closely to economic growth. Any economic decline could have severe consequences for the Chinese Communist Party. It will also be judged on how well the state is able to fix its social support system.

Indeed, there is already a strong case to be made that the Chinese government has moved too slowly. The one-child policy that played a significant role in the slowing growth, and now decline, in population was a government policy for more than three decades. It has been known since the 1990s that the Chinese fertility rate was too low to sustain current population numbers. Yet it was only in 2016 that Beijing acted and relaxed the policy to allow more couples to have a second, and then in 2021 a third, child.

This action to spur population growth, or at least slow its decline, came too late to prevent China from soon losing its crown as the world’s largest nation. Loss of prestige is one thing though, the political impact of any economic downturn resulting from a shrinking population is quite another.

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  1. Louis Fyne

    –that the US is in a considerably different demographic situation than China, may be inaccurate.—

    Native-born US population fertility has been ~2 since the mid-1980’s. US population growth is driven wholly by immigration and the fertility of 1st generation immigrants.

    And even with the US avoiding China’s fate for 35 years with respect to labor availiability, the US still managed to hollow out its industrial base and (arguably) move down the value chain of production—or at least have a bizarro-world bifurcated economy with an elite services sector but a manufacturing base that isn’t even self-sufficient with refrigerator production.

    Population growth is neither necesseary, nor sufficient, to balanced economic growth

    Certainly is bizzare that so many pundits are offering a one-variable (population) take on economic growth

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its been a while since I’ve looked through the figures, but to some extent the US has always been somewhat of an outlier in population terms as a developed nation, even excluding immigration impacts. Average family size has up to quite recent times has been significantly higher than in equivalent European or Asian countries even when matching ethnicity and income per cohort. Or put another way, second or third generation Swedish American women have usually had more children than Swedish women.

      There may be cultural reasons for this (perennial American optimism about the future?), but one key reason demographers have usually pointed to is the ‘flexible’ US job market. One thing countries with particularly low birthrates seem to have in common, whether in Asia or Europe, has been a toxic mix of poor government childcare support along with rigid labor structures which has made it very difficult for women to take career breaks during their years of peak fertility. The US has many problems for families, but for the most part its significantly easier for a family to change jobs/careers flexibly compared to the typical Korean or Italian white collar worker.

      I suspect that any past advantage the US has had in this is now gone for all sorts of reasons which I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate upon, so American women, single or as a couple, face the same problems as elsewhere. There may still be a significant generational momentum behind, say, catholic or muslim immigrants having more children than their contemporaries, but I doubt this effect would last too long.

      One ‘unknown’ I think is the impact of technology on jobs. An obvious answer to lowered population is to mechanise a lot of work and push the remaining young people into more productive (socially and economically) employment. But if you look at countries most advanced along the demographic collapse what you often see is an increasing division between the ‘productive elites’ who get these new, high pay, high productive jobs, while if anything mechanisation undermines those below average. Japan, South Korea, Italy, and many east European countries are facing this problem of having a shortage of workers while also seeing a significant proportion of workers simply fall out of meaningful employment.

      It may be of course that AI will mean that formerly ‘high productivity/high wage’ sectors will end up in the same boat as former factory workers, even while the economy is officially short of workers. Its all a sign of chronically misaligned jobs markets which if you believe the economics textbooks, isn’t supposed to happen in capitalism or free markets.

  2. timbers

    “Guys, I am getting deeply worried about what I am seeing and hearing. We are beginning to have severe manpower shortage issues in almost every industry. Just getting a plumber is a weeks-long ordeal.”

    I took me about 4-5 years to find a seasoned plumber who could do not small but not huge jobs one needs from time to time. During which time I sampled chain outfits like Roto-Rooter (overpriced and limited in what they do) and local plumbers like a Brazilian probably recent immigrant who fitted my copper pipe with the new all the rage flexible plastic piping that didn’t last and looks horrible but in fairness might be OK for homes that don’t already the older traditional copper piping as they don’t seem to marry well. Having finally arrived at a good experienced all around plumber, he is his 60’s and may be retired next time I need him.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Personally, I don’t believe the worsening inability to get a plumber is due to an overall labor shortage or too few people – it’s due to the fact that occupations like plumbing have been disparaged for decades. We’ve been told the jawbz of the future involve “learning to code” for a very long time now. We see entrepreneurs encouraged to start businesses and they’re glorified as they become nearly instant billionaires on paper at least, and you don’t get to be a billionaire from plumbing.

      I really dislike the narrative that a population decrease is somehow going to be disastrous. I see that touted all the time in my state with its aging population – we’ll need immigrants to take care of us when we’re old because the children have all moved away. That strikes me as more than a little racist coming from the liberal goodthinkers, who in my area are largely white, and the immigrants are largely not. And, disastrous for whom exactly? It certainly won’t be disastrous for all the bears and loons and deer and raccoons and all the other animals whose populations have plummeted due to humanity encroaching on their turf. It might be a relatively small inconvenience for some people for about a generation or two in the grand scheme of things.

      I’ve argued for years that the reason people are so afraid of a population drop is that they won’t have enough other people to wipe their posteriors for them. They have become inured to pressing a button on their phone and having some factotum come running for whatever it is they need Well, as we’ve seen recently in links, there is really an app for using the can now, too, so better get that Alexa enabled commode before it’s too late.

      The solution is not more people for ever and ever. We need to get back to the basics, and encourage people to become electricians and plumbers and carpenters again and not expect that these jobs will be done cheaply by desperate immigrants. We need to get rid of the oversupply of useless businesses – just how many fast food outlets does one medium sized town need anyway? We need to stop destabilizing other countries and throwing their economies into turmoil. And we need policies that reduce economic inequality here, so that families are not broken apart and have to live hundreds or thousands of miles apart just to find work.

      In short, more people need to pick up a hammer themselves and learn how to use it, and they need to be compensated well for it.

      1. Hayek's Heelbiter

        I love the fact that the “vast basket of deplorables” grow our food, transport our goods, and yep, fix our pipes. Maybe the people that coined and repeated that phrase should fix their own pipes.

  3. Patrick M P Donnelly

    Wealth affects birth rates. I raised 5 children with my wife. We were poor because of the costs. Very few choices.

    That was a while ago.

    Now, the marketing has taken over. ‘Greed is good’ etc. Tax transfers for chidren have recently begun again in the USA.

    Automation is becoming semi intelligent, now that so many can ‘code’. Labour scarcity increase wages. These cycles are usually caused by debt booms and busts.

    What matters most is the make up of the demos. So few young people, who have been led up that proverbial garden path, must now be chivvied into paying taxes to support the increasing numbers of aged.

    Thankfully, no one has decided to enact biowarfare on a demographic basis yet. Or have they?

  4. Adrian D.

    @IM “As I have been telling you all for months – there are significant issues with young women – and with miscarriages…”. Your “something endogenous” couldn’t perhaps be anything to do with an agent that produces menstrual irregularities in half the women who take it could it?


  5. disc_writes

    In Italy we have ultralow natality, and it sucks. Nothing gets repaired, nothing new gets started. On the streets you only see people above 50. The best things happened in the 1960s, and now Lollobrigida and Pavarotti are dead, and gen-X’ers and younger basically missed the boat.

    There is this general feeling that everything can only get worse, day after day, and that there is no place for you if you are < 40. Many people emigrate just to get rid of this general asphyxiating feeling.

    One time I was visiting (from the Netherlands, where I live) and my then 7-year old son saw a child – he was suprised, because he thought that there were no children in Italy. He had never seen one before.

    Life will go on for the Chinese, but the dynamic country that took the world by storm in the past 40 years will fade away.

    Yves, global population was largely static for prior to the Industrial Revolution because of short life spans. The average woman would have 5 children. Today's low natality is unprecedented and basically means the end of the affected cultures.

    1. Kouros

      It was high mortality rates among children, not shorter life spans. The maximum lifespan has not increased.

    2. hunkerdown

      I see a more causal explanation in the state’s progressive incapacity for autonomous action on behalf of the public interest, an interest that, under neoliberalism, does not really exist.

      1. disc_writes

        So you are saying that the collective funk in Italy is not so much caused by demographics, but by the weakening of the state under neoliberalism?

        It’s possible, and no social phenomenon has a single cause.

        But neoliberalism is everywhere – in the West, at least – and Italy’s problem are fairly unique. Also, the Italian state was never particularly strong, and things always tended to happen despite the politicians, not thanks to them.

        This article about the Italian malaise is 16 years old, but is still germane. Things have only gotten worse since then:

        1. hunkerdown

          I’m saying it’s a more causal explanation, and that your explanation merely continues a 350-year prolonged rehearsal of a totalitarian Protestant political-religious narrative. The “average lifespan” argument is a marker of intellectual dishonesty and group membership.

    3. BlakeFelix

      While that may be a factor, I suspect that the lack of maintenance and cool new stuff would more have less to do with too many old guys and more to do with too much old guys bunga bunga and EU and financial IMF nonsense. If they had raised a bunch of kids and educated and housed them properly they would likely have a better labor force, but that would come at the cost of environmental degradation and have taken a lot of work and competence and money. I didn’t notice Italy sucking the last time I was there, although I really don’t remember kids. That said I mostly remember lots of kids from third world countries, Niger has an average age of 14 and I would bet it’s junkier than Italy.

  6. Glen

    Somehow I’m sorta convinced that China’s government has an idea of how demographics work and that their population is in decline is not news to them. And all the wide eyed lecturing on how China is gonna disappear and America and the West will be ascendant once again that I keep hearing sounds more like sweet lies told between members of the Davos elites.

    So there’s going to be less people – that, in the very big picture, is probably a good thing. (Let’s hope this happens by everybody having long happy lives, not because the four horseman run rampant.) But it means shortages of labor are a given, and companies that treat workers like replaceable widgets are very likely to not have a good future. And countries that make their middle class disappear are also not likely to have a good future.

    The real question is – will the billionaire elites at Davos that run the world figure this out in time? I actually doubt that; they seem clueless about the future:

    The rich and powerful flocked to Davos via private jet to discuss climate change, study finds

    1. Tony Wright

      If we do not continue to reduce human birthrates the four horsemen will continue to run rampant. These are the inevitable ecological consequences of overpopulation by any species – even we arrogant humans who think we are smart enough to kick these cans down the road for ever. Conflict, disease, famine and now anthropogenic climate change are all ratcheting up, and all our avaricious can kicking means that we are causing the increasing extinction of other species on the planet.
      Voluntary control and reduction of our own population and adopting economic models and practices that value quality rather than quantity are the only viable solution to the situation.

  7. PlutoniumKun

    As Yves says, its infuriating that economists don’t recognize that a shrinking population is both essential for our future and a good thing in the long run unless you believe in eternal unstoppable growth to infinity. The problem of course is transitioning from an economic model based on a constant input of young, hardworking people into one where we create fewer jobs from necessity, but make sure that those jobs are actually productive in a real sense.

    Its been no secret of course that even allowing for the self imposed ‘blip’ of the one child policy, Chinese demographics have been broadly following those of all the other middle to high income Asian nations, and as such this is expected. In fact, a decline in working age population started a decade ago. Its also likely that even these figures are lagging – plenty of demographers think that the accepted figures in most countries, especially developing countries, lag the actual demographic transition by a decade or so.

    But what does it mean for China? For several decades, Chinese policymakers have emphasised the importance of getting to high income status before the demographic crunch hits. It looks like they have failed at this objective, so they will have to deal with it. Japan is (in its own way) dealing with it, albeit from a far higher level of development. South Korea and Taiwan are currently at a crossroads as both are facing a massive demographic crash – but again, both are more developed than China so have more available options.

    A key problem for China is not that the population (or even the working population) is falling – this, after all, was the whole point of the one child policy – it is that China now rapidly hitting a point where it will have very unfavourable ratios of retired people to working people. The huge – and I mean really huge – problem is not output or productivity, but that a very large proportion of Chinese people have tied their wealth and pensions up into a domestic property market which is now stalled, and is almost certainly in steep decline. Its impossible to see rising house values nationally when the number of young home buyers or renters is falling. A lot of Chinese people are seeing a huge chunk taken out of their life savings at precisely the wrong time.

    There are ways out – the problem is that they may be politically unfeasible. The government could, for example, follow a policy of pushing the population to the high productivity coastal cities as a growth engine while running down the population of rust belt and rural areas in a planned manner. But the political power of the ‘poorer’ parts of China probably makes this impossible. Likewise, a planned deconstruction of the vast amount of polluting, out of date industrial plant around the country could be managed as part of a transition to a greener economy and turning away from a constant cycle of internal investment would be a win-win in many sense. The problem is, this has been advocated for years now (including by Xi himself to some degree or other), but there has been little real progress on the ground.

    Of course, the big unknown is covid. Maybe it will just run through and kill a lot of old people (whisper it, this is good for the economy). But of course we know the impacts are likely to go much deeper.

    In simple terms, existing Chinese economic policy and a demographic crash are not compatible. They will have to change course. It will be interesting (in a ‘may you live in interesting times’ way) to see how they deal with it.

  8. orlbucfan

    I read an excellent (for the source) article and comment thread on just this very topic in the NYT yesterday. I also recall reading somewhere that pollution/climate poisoning is affecting the quality of male sperm. That quality is declining. No surprise there. You can bet it is happening with the female egg, too.

  9. antidlc

    “IM Doc quoted a story that reported that in his state had more births than deaths from July 2021 to July 2022 per US Census data. “

    In the article it states that 23 states are having similar numbers for deaths and births. Not exactly how it was presented yesterday [in an online Grand Rounds discussion] – “so far 24 states have reported their numbers – and EVERY SINGLE REPORTED STATE so far is having the same thing – the birth rate is down – and the all cause mortality is very much up.”

    I’ll admit my reading comprehension right now is not at 100%, but should the first statement read “more deaths than births”, not “more births than deaths”?

  10. diptherio

    Think I found a typo…or I’m really not getting something.

    IM Doc quoted a story that reported that in his state had more births than deaths from July 2021 to July 2022 per US Census data.

    That should be “more deaths than births,” right?

  11. Matthew G. Saroff

    I know that demographers wring their hands about a declining population, but there are a couple of things to consider.

    The first is that the most extreme population decrease ever recorded in the west, about 50% from the Black Death, resulted in skyrocketing standard of living and productivity and reduced inequality.

    Population declines produce misery only for the top 1%, who have to pay the peons more.

    The second is that there is a strong argument that the population is already beyond the carrying capacity of the earth.

      1. Matthew G. Saroff

        I agree that what happened in the past does not necessarily show what will happen in the future.

        That being said the hand wringing from demographers on this has no historical basis at all.

    1. Felix_47

      I read somewhere that when the population decreases the GDP per person increases. That is why Japan has not had such an erosion of standard of living. I suspect US GDP numbers are juiced by RE, law, unnecessary medical care, the insurance industry, defense and bureaucracy. With all the fluff taken out US GDP is probably lower than China’s. The Chinese might not have reached the level they want but they are ahead of the US I suspect. They do not have tent cities of homeless as far as I know. Tax policy would solve a lot of this. Redistribution would enable higher consumption and therefore more economic activity per capital.

  12. Ghost in the Machine

    The perspective of mainstream economists will be viewed as insane in the future history books (hopefully there are future history books). It is the idea we are separate from our supporting ecosystems (instead of being part of them) that is the fatal act of hubris. Population decline from low birth rates is one of the kinder correctives to our predicament. As the Italian commenter above notes, these societies may be less dynamic (in our current system anyway), but the alternatives are the horsemen. The other kinder corrective is cutting way back on consumption in the rich countries, as well as, all the world rich.

    We are seeing some of what IM Doc is talking about in the scientific literature, but his picture is much more dire. Is this stuff making Grand Rounds but not yet through the painfully long publishing process? The obvious question in light of previous discussion on this site is how much of this mortality and morbidity is due to post covid infection complications and how much is vaccine problems. I can see the the vaccine produced spikes causing heart problems, but not the cancers. And certainly Covid infection, its cell death and spikes in many organs as well as immune degradation, is worse. The cancer seems potentially from Covid-induced immune dsyregulation. Overall, it seems to me that while vaccines may be causing some of these problems and deaths, I would expect most to be the result of Covid. I did notice the link in the ‘links’ that stated cancer deaths were down. Are these new cancers not yet leading to deaths? If the picture painted by IM Doc is accurate, and I am inclined to believe it is, this can be ignored only so much longer by the elite, even an elite who views everyone else as disposable. It is going to start to effect even their precious economy and wealth.

    1. Rainlover

      “Are these new cancers not yet leading to deaths?”

      Speaking from personal experience, blood cancers have a long tail because there are many different treatments for them. Most common is a stem cell transplant, which can add years to a patient’s life. After that there are many chemotherapy options, plus, since this is a growing field, new treatments are in constant development. Monoclonal antibody treatments are big right now and the next big thing is CAR-T cells where your T-cells are extracted and trained to attack the T-cells that have been immobilized by your disease. Bottom line, if people are just now being diagnosed, you won’t see the deaths until 5-10 years in future. Big bonus for the cancer industry. /s

  13. Allegheny

    Yes, China is indeed in demographic decline as current demographic statistics show that by the year 2050 China’s population will have shrunk to 650 million or less. Replacement births have declined significantly as China adopted the industrial model and combined with the 1 child model the net result is population shrinkage.

  14. polar donkey

    I can give a local example of declining population on infrastructure. Memphis Light Gas and Water has had either flat or declining number of customers for 20 years. The city’s growth model was annexation til they ran out of suburbs to annex. MLGW has not been able to reinvest in it’s infrastructure, which becomes a bigger and bigger problem since smaller revenue streams for reinvestment. So now we get broken water mains and boil water notices when it gets cold for a couple days. Every time there is a bad thunderstorm thousands of people loose power. Trees don’t trimmed and limbs fall. Customers asked why haven’t we run the power line underground by now. MLGW said it would have cost a billion dollars over the past 20 years. 25 years ago, we didn’t have nearly the numbers of power outages and we never had boil water orders. Everything is degrading, except the $400 million asked to refurbish a 20 year old basketball arena.

    1. Fudu

      tbf, the grizzlies have been playing really well and triple J and Ja are both generational talents – what’s a couple days without electricity for an opportunity to win the nba finals

  15. Phichibe

    The demographer/geographer Peter Zeihan has been writing on this for a while now and has some excellent YT vids on the subject. There is compelling reason to believe that China’s population is in fact 100,000,000 fewer than the 1.4 billion it’s reported for the last decade. Zeihan makes two points in particular: first, the missing 100 million are all from the below 40 year old cohorts because the 1 child policy started in 1979; second, the proportion of the missing who would have been girls and women is substantially greater than 50%, perhaps as high as 75%. Zeihan and the academics he cites believe that China’s population will be halved well before 2100.

    All the population increases going forward are from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Not even Latin America has surging populations anymore. The projections for European nations are staggering. Germany, Spain, Italy all have projections of decline worse than China’s. There’s an obvious solution here and that is unprecedented immigration from the global South but Europeans, like most peoples historically, are unlikely to welcome such demographic tides. However, like King Canute, they will be unlikely to control that particular tide. Consider this projection: Nigeria alone is expected to hit 800,000,000 by the end of the century, maybe decades before that. I saw a BBC report from Uganda about chimpanzee-human conflict as poor farmers encroach on state-designated wildlife reserves; there are numerous reports of chimpanzees killing human children, which I find implausible but in any case will serve to impel violence against the apes, or should I say more violence against them. I’m afraid that the fauna of Africa and Asia will be casualties of this population growth and 2100 will see fewer apes, cats, hippos, etc than anyone expects.

    As for the worrying health signals coming from the Covid pandemic, I absolutely am not surprised. I think it’s consistent with the rise in auto-immune diseases in th 20th century. The decline in sperm counts was first highlighted by the English crime novelist P.D. James back in the early 90s in one of her few non-fiction books, and as far as I know the situation has only worsened. As Yves as repeatedly alluded to in these sort of discussions on NC, the sci-fi novelist William Gibson has a three book series centered on a projected 21st century dominated by the effects of a convergence of ominous trends that he dubbed the Jackpot. Everything in this excellent essay is consistent with this.

    I think looking back in a hundred years analysts will find many culprits, not a few of them humans like the oil executives who funded and then squashed early research in CO2 on the climate, but more generally they will identify the hubris that impelled humans to construct unbelievably complicated systems with insufficient understanding of the dynamics of these systems and especially their fragility. Nassim Talib’s recent book on what he calls antifragility is timely but may be too late. Imagine the hidden tangles of the financial system that only became apparent in the GFC, but scaled up by a hundred fold. Our entire civilization rests on desperately weak and poorly understood foundations, be it our industrial agriculture, our chemical mediations of nature, or even AI.

    This is not going to end well for those who survive the Jackpot.


    1. deplorado

      Zeihan may or may not be right about China’s population, and at some past point I was a fan, but I have seen him spouting BS and enjoying the sound of his own talking too much to take him seriously.

      What I didn’t see commented anywhere is, why is everyone assuming China’s govt wouldn’t take effective measures to increase TFT to say, replacement level, when they decide it is necessary. Such measures have had an impact in Hungary, Russia and probably other places, and Im sure China can do it better than just about any other country. Do we know if they are doing it already?

      1. Alan F

        China started encouraging more kids per couple several years ago, around 2017-18 if I remember correctly. So far the effect seems minimal. There are several possible reasons:
        -simple social inertia
        -uncertainty that the CCP won’t reverse course again and punish 2-child families
        -extremely high cost of raising children, despite nominal “Communist” society
        -imbalance in sex ratio, such that all available women are paired or have reasons not to pair
        -limited economic growth so that young men have limited prospects
        -very high employment rate among young women (this reduces birth rates, regardless of whether you think it’s a good or neutral thing otherwise)

        Hungary has had some very modest success while really pulling out all the stops to encourage breeding. Hungary has avoided many of the western European afflictions but still benefits from a decent market economy post-communism.

        Russia doesn’t seem to be having as much success, for various reasons that may include more social sickness and more hangover from a longer period of more severe communism. Environmental pollution may also be an issue.

        Both Hungary and Russia are also promoting Christianity (in their views of it) along with this, and Christian values that include raising of children and avoiding birth control. While China has completely distinct ancient cultural values relating to children, there is no promotion of Christianity so this isn’t working in China’s favor either.

        Continued decline in Chinese population looks just as inevitable now as its growth looked five or more decades ago.

        1. KD

          I think China should convert to Orthodoxy, not so much on theological grounds, but for the political flexibility of the Bishops.

        2. Hayek's Heelbiter

          And as Bielka, my friend from Moscow, frequently said, “All Russian men are algolics.” Loved her pronunciation!

  16. KD

    I’ll try again, eating my comments.

    Great Powers require large (relative) population in order to field large armies and project force regionally and globally. Not just cannon fodder but industrial workers. Nation-State generally prefer being Great Powers, if they can achieve it, because it confers the greatest security, you are not dependent on other nations for your survival. So long as you have governments, you are going to have pressure for population growth for national security reasons, putting aside economic issues.

    Thinking about this issue, the possible way out is if the future lies in automated military platforms, e.g. robot armies, navies, air forces, and automated manufacturing. This would eliminate the need for population largely, but my guess is that the result usher in the worst form of tecno-autocracy ever imagined. You never have to worry about disloyalty or a coup attempt from a robot, so you can concentrate power extremely narrowly. . . and I’m sure the people deemed non-value added would not stick around for long.

    1. Alan F

      This would eliminate the need for population largely, but my guess is that the result usher in the worst form of tecno-autocracy ever imagined.

      Agreed, and perhaps the scariest alternative future other than total extinction. Maybe even worse than extinction. Some portion of the elites seem to have their sights set on this though.

      1. KD

        I find myself trapped between naturalism and Buddhism. Naturalism says that stuff works based on natural laws and cycles, and is pretty deterministic. No reason to believe humans and human civilizations are any less subject to cycles and patterns determined by impersonal forces that don’t necessarily end well. Lemmings, voles, people. Likewise, we do seem to be karmically trapped in this vicious cycle of suffering, where are efforts to make things better just backfire in the end.

  17. Kouros

    Hopefully more will follow.

    As for the economists, the Ponzi scheme they are supporting might end up blowing in their faces.

    And no, not every oldie out there needs to have her/his ass cleaned. These are a minority. Plus, a good attachable bide to the toilet seat can help a lot!

    I also rejoice to the idea of unachieved profits and profit losses from many investments (albeit here I decry Pension Funds) due to population shrinkage. Oh, so much available housing out there! I hope Black Rock will choke in their investments in the housing market in the US and Europe!

    Maybe fisheries and megafauna will rebound… It is their Earth too… and we were such bad stewards. I am still surprised that God has not yet punished humanity for this failure, which seems orders of magnitude greater than other sins, that were nevertheless quite harshly punished.

  18. skippy

    Gosh this sorta reminds me of an old NC post about Island Gigantism. Anywho is more than not likely one thing, but a cornucopia of past and present factors, of which a big one from a social issue is the cost of having kids whilst getting your individual potential on in a market society.

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