THE BLOG

Are We Getting Too Old?

08/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

BACKGROUND

I am currently featuring Eternal Life in my daily report, which is Chapter 2 of Simple Solutions for Humanity. Globally, almost 60 million die each year. This total could well drop by a huge fraction if the aging gene is found and checked. Developed countries are already getting old. Eternal Life could become a real problem.

As an early step, look for a full court press in the U.S. Congress on health. I expect some sensible action here, especially with the arrival of Al Franken. No, not because he is the medical savior, but because he is now the 60th Democrat in the U.S. Senate.

However, wait till they need to later re-look at retirement, as the 65 age requirement was enacted in 1935 when the life expectancy was 62. Yes, in 1983 an adjustment was made to increase this age to 67 by 2027, but by then the life expectancy will be 82. There is a significant disconnect here with reality, but this condition is also encouraged by a private sector desiring better educated and cheaper youth over less productive and expensive elders.

POPULATION

While the world population today is 6.8 billion (click to get current number), you might find interest in how we came to be. It is estimated that there have been about 100 billion of us since a little more than 150,000 years ago when Homo sapiens appeared. Halfway into our existence, about 74,000 years ago, we almost went extinct when Mt. Toba, another Sumatran volcano, erupted, keeping the world "dark" for six years. Our population dropped to, perhaps 1,000. As recently as 10,000 BC, there might still have only been a thousand of us, or maybe as much as 10,000. There are no census reports. Estimates vary, but there were probably several hundred thousand humans around the time of Jesus Christ in the Year Zero.

The first billion was reached in 1804, second in 1927, fourth in 1974 and the next doubling to 8 billion is expected to occur in 2025. Nine billion is now looming for around 2050 or later. We might never reach 10 billion for reasons to be presented. However, considering resource availability, the ideal world population should certainly be far less than the current 6.8 billion. Some doomsdayers say it is already too late.

Our population reached two peaks: 2.2% annual growth in 1963 and 163 million births about a decade ago, now already down to 137 million/year. This growth rate, fortunately, has been halved today.

China has the highest population with 1.3 billion, India is #2 at 1.1 billion (but will overtake China by 2030), Europe is #3 with 0.5 billion and the USA #4 with 0.3 billion. India will gain #1 status in two decades. In 1900, Africa had 8% of the people and Europe had 24%. In 2150, the prediction is that Africa will have 24% and Europe 5%.

ARE WE GETTING TOO OLD?

The answer is yes for developed countries, and here is what is happening. Much of Europe is already experiencing negative population growth. Russia, at 140 million today, will drop to 110 million in 2050. Japan, now at 127 million, will sink below 100 million in 2050. Interestingly enough, the U.S. is still growing, 40% of this by immigration. Hmm, that border issue? Maybe we do need more youth. Our superpower status should be completely unchallenged by mid century because even China, because of their current birth control policy, will get old before becoming rich.

Thus, another huge economic crisis is looming because, for developed countries, in the 80's, 5 workers supported a retired person. This has dropped to 4:1 and will crash to 2.2:1 in 2050. The current Economist has a special report on aging populations, and much of the following is extracted from that feature.

Let's look at China, for if they get serious about one child per family, this individual will have two parents and four grandparents to support, or 1:6. Note that this ratio has reversed. Of course, China does not have that strict a policy and some of the grandparents will not be around. In any case, the ratio could well be less than 1:1. The two countries we most toss around as current and future enemies, China and Russia, will thus have huge internal problems over the next few decades. The time might now already be at hand to shift our lopsided national security expenses toward more humanitarian pursuits in anticipation of their decline. Iran and North Korea will not stimulate a nuclear winter.

Yes, we still are wrestling with our economy, and coming down the pike are Peak Oil and Global Warming. If the American Clean Energy and Security Act is a sign of how effectively we are considering these issues, I shudder to think what will happen to aging, for more than half of our population will be older than 50 by 2025. In particular, watch out for AARP (formerly known as the American Associated of Retired Persons).

The whole point of the above is that decisions on retirement age must be made, if not now, very soon, or the politics of the situation will make necessary decisions impossible. Oh, Eternal Life? Never mind.