Friday, September 18, 2015

The world in the year 2100

In another 85 years, the world will be a very different place. Some nations are already shrinking and have much further to go, while others will grow dramatically. The world powers in economic and military strength are going to change. New stars will rise. Old stars will fade. So I thought it might be interesting to see how Australia might look by the year 2100, compared with some of our major trading partners or world powers.

Think how different the world was 100 years ago. The United Kingdom was an undisputed world power with a global empire that included Australia. The United States was not yet remotely a world power. Russia was still ruled by the Tsars, China was still a largely feudal empire and Japan was ruled by Emperors. From that period to now, the world population has risen by over 400%, with the fastest period of growth in the mid-1960s to 1970s.  Population growth in most advanced economies is now slowing to below replacement rate, with aging populations and fertility levels falling to less than half their 1960 levels. The clever people at the UN Population Division crunch the numbers on a regular and very detailed basis and their predictions in the past have been pretty much spot on. According to these experts, and assuming no Third World Wars or global pandemics, here’s a glimpse into the future…

 Australia’s population will rise from around 24 million now to about 33 million by 2050 and to 42 million by 2100. That might sound like a lot but an extra 20 million of us over the next 85 years is a minor statistical error in global terms, although given recent trends we could be a world stand out with 85 Prime Ministers in as many years.

What many people don’t seem to appreciate is that China’s population is at its virtual peak, and is about to start shrinking.  China will peak at around 1.415 billion people in 2030 and by 2050 there will be nearly 70 million less Chinese than at this peak. By 2100, there will be 372 million fewer Chinese than today and over 410 million less than the peak in 2030. They are also aging faster than their workforce can keep up with, although on the plus side, there is still plenty of room for productivity growth in China. Their current GDP Per capita is USD $7,500, compared to nearly USD $62,000 in Australia. (World Bank data).

Japan is forecast to have a steadily declining population. By 2050, it will have shrunk by 19 million people (that’s getting close to the current population of Australia) and by 2100 it will have shrunk by more than 43 million people. Those inflated real estate prices might be under pressure, which could do all sorts of things to the economy’s capital backing. They’re already reasonably productive and with a rapidly aging population, it looks like the land of setting – not rising – sun for them.  

Germany’s population is also in gradual decline. There will be roughly 5 million fewer Germans by 2050 and by 2100 there will be 17.5 million fewer Germans than today. All those empty beer halls! Little wonder the Germans are happy to accept large numbers of Syrian refugees – they have a highly productive economy but will have fewer people to keep it running.

India takes over from China as the world’s most populous nation within the next five years or so. By 2050 they will have added nearly 400 million more people. Their population peaks in 2070 at 1.75 billion (give or take an Australia or two) and declines to around 1.66 billion by 2100 – which is still some 355 million more than today. India has massive potential for productivity growth with a current GDP per capita of only USD $1,630 – which is 2.5% of Australia’s. They have a western democratic system of government but seem to have adopted the least efficient aspects of western bureaucracy with few of the benefits. If they can resolve their governance failings and modernise their economy, India may well be a new world super power by 2100. If you have kids in primary school today, maybe getting them to learn the Hindi language is not a bad idea. At least they’ll be able to follow all those Bollywood movies.

Our northern neighbour Indonesia has ten times Australia’s current population and this will rise by another 64 million by 2050. Their population will plateau from around 2060 and by 2100 will have decreased marginally from their 2065 peak to 313.6 million. Indonesia also has potential for productivity growth with a per capita GDP of only USD $3,500 but it’s not clear yet what is going to lift their economy nor how they are going to go about it.

Dear Old Blighty just keeps chugging along with its population steadily rising from todays 64 million to just over 75 million by 2050 and reaching 82.37 million by 2100. By this time there might be enough of them to field a decent rugby team. They’re a strong economy with per capita GDP of USD $45,600 but this is highly concentrated on London. Any glitch in London’s world financial HQ status could spell all sorts of problems in the future.

The United States will add another 100 million people by around 2070. (See my friend Joel Kotkin’s book ‘The Next 100 Million’ for what this mean for the USA.). Representing a third of the world’s economy, it’s difficult to see how the USA will lose any of its economic muscle over time. With a GDP per capita of $54,630, they just need their economy to begin firing again and for US consumers to open their wallets to stimulate rapid economic recovery – not just in the US but countries that rely on it. Another friend Dr Doug McTaggart has always maintained that the health of the US consumer has a far reaching impact on world economies and I for one believe him.

Do svidaniya comrades. Russia will shrink by 15 million people by 2050 and by 2100 will have shrunk by 26 million – equivalent to shrinking by a whole Australia today. But our Russian friends only let go of communism in relatively recent times and have much further to go in modernising their economy. They have abundant natural resources and with a per capita GDP of around USD $13,000 it isn’t hard to imagine the Russians still remaining an economic and military power by the turn of the next century.

The country that records the most astonishing growth over the period to 2100 is Nigeria. The forecasts are that the current population of 182 million will rise to over 398 million by 2050 – that’s double – and by 2100 will reach 753 million – which is almost double again and more than four times their current size. Many of the African nations show enormous growth over this period but Nigeria is the stand out. They have low productivity (per capita GDP USD $3,100) and often unstable systems of government. It’s difficult to see this being even a moderately prosperous future, unless those Nigerian loan scams are actually making a lot more money than anyone thought. The whole African story is something worthy of a lot more detailed study because that continent is going to continue growing at rates which far exceed the rest of the world. Something for another day.

What’s it all mean?

The only thing that’s certain is that the world economic order we know today is going to be vastly different in the future. Demography is going to play a significant part in that but, in reality, it’s impossible to predict much of anything beyond the likely population numbers. Will countries like Nigeria follow the Chinese path to rising economic prosperity, or fall further into poverty? Who knows? There’s another metric in all this which is aging and those countries with a younger demographic may well fare better than nations that find their relatively small working population struggling to support a much larger, dependent aged cohort. For nations like Japan, which is both shrinking and aging and with no immediately obvious path to lift economic output, this isn’t a pretty scenario.

And Australia? I think Donald Horne summed it up nicely in 1964: “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people's ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

China’s people shortage

Lately there’s been much attention on the fortunes of Australia’s major trading partner – China – and with good reason. But very little of that attention has focussed on a problem that’s potentially much bigger than a ‘crash’ in China’s economic growth to ‘just’ 4% or 5% GDP.

China, population one thousand four hundred million people, may not have enough people. What? Seriously? The world’s most populated nation, with such a rapid rate of population growth that it infamously introduced a “one child” policy under the Communist regime to keep its population in check, and it may not have enough people? 

In truth, China actually has plenty of people. But thanks in part to the impact of the one child policy on its demography, it is fast going to find itself with a shortage of working age people relative to the number of young and elderly who will rely on those of working age for their taxes and other forms of support.

Source: CEIC, Morgan Stanley Research. Source: Supplied

Introduced in the late 1970s, the one child policy was an experiment in totalitarian control. China’s birth rate fell from over 5 to just over 1.5 compared with a birth rate of 2.2 needed for any nation to sustain its population numbers.  Most of that fall in fertility however occurred before the one child policy took effect, as the country began its transition from a rural economy where large families were an economic necessity to an increasingly urban economy where large families are hard to house. Chinese families over time have also shown a preference for boys over girls: again because of perceived economic benefit. In 2014, there were 100 female babies to every 114 males, well out of kilter. Sadly, infanticide is a factor. This also works against higher rates of population growth.

China’s rate of population growth peaked at around 2.74% in 1970. It has fallen rapidly since then and today stands at around 0.61%.  The prediction is that this will fall to zero by around 2030 from which point on the total population of China will be in decline. 

The one child policy was officially relaxed in 2013 so that most couples are now allowed a second child but the impact on China’s working age population from this rapid deceleration of population growth is already being felt. Last year, China’s working age population fell by 3.7 million people: the third successive year of falls. And the falls are set to grow: according to a report by Business Spectator, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences claims that between 2020 and 2030 the Chinese labour force will fall by almost 8 million every year, and from 2030 to 2050 it will fall by 8.35 million, every year. 

Think of what all this means for a moment. We’ve been told of a miracle economy, rapidly urbanising and spewing out upwardly mobile middle class consumers at rates we can’t comprehend. But at the same time, the working population is shrinking, and that rate of shrinkage is set to increase significantly. Not only that but our perception of China is that of a fast growing population. But the facts are that China is about to stop growing and start shrinking within the next ten to fifteen years. We are currently seeing China at its historic biggest.

This can only mean that for China to continue to grow its economy at solid rates of expansion, it will need to do so on the back of rapid gains in in productivity from a shrinking labour force. Increasing urbanisation may help drive productivity and greater value adding as the economy increasingly transitions from rural production to an urban manufacturing and services economy, but it’s hard to ignore the demographic picture.

The saving grace on this is the Chinese are far more resilient and independent than we Australians. This might sound an odd way to describe a Communist nation but the sorts of welfare systems we have put in place in Australia are alien to the Chinese. They are far more likely to support extended family (parents and grandparents as a minimum) without state welfare reliance. This is a cultural value which transcends politics. Their work ethic, family ethic and savings ethic are humbling by Australian standards. Which means that while this sort of demographic trend would be poison for Australia, it is not necessarily quite so poisonous for China.

Ironically, Australia faces a similar demographic problem in the future, as ageing baby boomers and Gen Xers become increasingly reliant on a shrinking pool of working age Gen Ys and millennials to pay for very generous taxpayer funded pension and health benefits. There is a marked difference in scale between the two countries but I am betting that the cultural values of the Chinese will see their economy survive this demographic time bomb, while Australia may sink under the weight of its numerically much smaller burden. If we can’t even manage to agree to a $5 co-payment for free GP visits, how will we have the foresight to get our health and welfare systems into check before the inevitable demographic shift begins to be felt here in earnest?