Ja­pan is dy­ing

Business Mirror - - OPINION -

THE hu­man race has al­ways been faced with cat­a­strophic sit­u­a­tions that have of­ten al­tered the course of his­tory. The Black Death, or bubonic plague epi­demic of the mid-14th cen­tury, killed as many as 200 mil­lion peo­ple across Asia, in­clud­ing tak­ing out 30 per­cent of the Euro­pean pop­u­la­tion.

The feu­dal sys­tem and serf­dom was dealt a death­blow as an eco­nomic sys­tem by the plague. There were not enough work­ers left to till the fields and to buy fin­ished goods. Work­ers now de­manded wages, and not just food on the ta­ble, in re­turn for their la­bor.

Ev­ery turn of a cen­tury has seen fore­casts of the end of the world. In the 1950s and 1960s global nu­clear war was the dooms­day pre­dic­tion. We have now pro­gressed to “global warm­ing” and “cli­mate change” as the threat to life on planet Earth as we know it.

In the 1970s the fear of over­pop­u­la­tion putting the world on a course to ex­tinc­tion seemed ra­tio­nal at the time. Lim­ited re­sources placed against a po­ten­tially un­lim­ited hu­man pop­u­la­tion is an ar­gu­ment that is dif­fi­cult to dis­miss. We know now that the greater prob­lem may be the dis­tri­bu­tion of the re­sources rather than the amount.

How­ever, many na­tions are fac­ing po­ten­tial “ex­tinc­tion” be­cause their pop­u­la­tions are shrink­ing.

For a na­tion to main­tain a sta­ble pop­u­la­tion, the re­place­ment rate needs to be at a min­i­mum of 2.1 chil­dren per woman. In­ter­est­ingly, as of 2010, nearly 50 per­cent of the world pop­u­la­tion lives in na­tions with sub­re­place­ment fer­til­ity.

Th­ese na­tions are able to main­tain their pop­u­la­tion num­bers through im­mi­gra­tion into the coun­try. How­ever, Ja­pan is show­ing a dis­as­trous pop­u­la­tion growth and sub­se­quent de­mo­graphic trends into the fu­ture.

Ja­pan’s fer­til­ity rate is only 1.4 chil­dren per woman, and this de­clin­ing fer­til­ity rate has been a trend for two decades. Now that trend is catch­ing up with Ja­pan, as the lat­est census shows that the pop­u­la­tion de­clined by nearly 1 mil­lion be­tween 2010 and 2015.

This is the first time in mod­ern his­tory that Ja­pan’s pop­u­la­tion has de­creased. It has been clear for some time that Ja­pan was in trou­ble. Pop­u­la­tion growth peaked in 1950 and has fallen con­tin­u­ously since 1975. By 2011 it had hit zero growth.

As life span in­creases and fewer ba­bies are born, the pop­u­la­tion also ages. Five per­cent of Filipinos are age 65 and over. Less than 15 per­cent of Amer­i­cans are in the 65- plus age group. Cur­rently, over 30 per­cent of Ja­panese are se­nior cit­i­zens.

Re­duced pop­u­la­tion growth has been a con­cern since ear­li­est times. The Greek his­to­rian Polybius blamed the de­cline of the Hel­lenis­tic world on low fer­til­ity rates. He wrote in his His­to­ries that “in our time all Greece was vis­ited by a dearth of chil­dren and gen­er­ally a de­cay of pop­u­la­tion, ow­ing to which the cities were de­nuded of in­hab­i­tants, and a fail­ure of pro­duc­tive­ness re­sulted, though there were no long- con­tin­ued wars or se­ri­ous pesti­lences among us.” This de­scribes 21st- cen­tury Ja­pan.

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