No Babies, No Future

Japan, and Eventually, Us

Rating: 3.00

What happens when there aren’t enough young people to take care of all the old people? The answer’s kind of scary. Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

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Eric Metaxas

Taro Aso, Japan’s finance minister, has only been on the job for a month but he’s already stirred up enough controversy to last a lifetime.

In January, he made headlines around the world when he told a panel on social security reforms that the elderly should be permitted to “hurry up and die.” That is the kind of comment that both causes great offense and hits too close to home.

It hits too close to home because much of Japan’s ever-more-dire fiscal problems can be traced to the country’s demographics. But the problem lies at the beginning of life, not the end.

To put Aso’s comments in context, there are several things you need to know about Japanese demographics and its economic impact. First of all, nearly a quarter of Japan’s population is over sixty-five. That percentage is projected to rise to nearly 40 percent by 2050.

Also, forty percent of Japanese households today receive cash payments, virtually all of which go to those over the age of 65. And “households” increasingly consist of single elderly persons living and, increasingly, dying alone: nearly 10 percent of Japanese households today – 4.6 million in total – fit this description.

The cost of caring for its elderly is a large part of why Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio is an astounding 229 percent, nearly 2½ times that of the United States.

As the economist Herbert Stein famously said, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop,” and Japan’s borrowing money to care for a rapidly-aging population cannot go on forever.

The question is: How will it stop? Calling elderly patients unable to feed themselves “tube people” and saying that “the problem won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die” is not only offensive and cruel, it misses an important point: Japan is getting older because the Japanese have stopped having children.

The “worker to retiree ratio” measures how many people are in the workforce, stimulating the economy and paying taxes for every retired person. For the United States, a relatively young country with lots of immigrants, the ratio is about 4.5 to 1. Japan’s is 2.6 to 1 and it’s projected to be 1.2 to 1 by 2050.

There are two ways you can increase the ratio: Have more kids and/or admit more immigrants. Japan, which values homogeneity, won’t do the latter and are not doing the former: The average Japanese woman gives birth to one child at around thirty, and stops.

Japan’s fiscal-demographic trap is not the result of some law of nature—it’s the product of culture. For a host of reasons, the Japanese placed having and rearing children near the bottom of their “to do” list.

Japan is only leading the way in this regard. Nineteen countries, including Germany and South Korea, have lower fertility rates than Japan. Singapore’s rate is forty percent lower than Japan’s.

Here in the USA, our worker-to-retiree ratio is projected to be the same in 2050 as Japan’s is today.

The economic consequences of declining fertility rates are no secret. Yet, telling people they should have more children these days is only slightly less popular than urging the elderly to “hurry up and die.”

Oh, by the way, the U.S. fertility rate is now below replacement level. But of course that’s okay, because no government official here would ever say the elderly should hurry up and die. Right?

Further Reading and Information

Top Japanese Official Urges Elderly to ‘Hurry up and Die'
Akiko Fujita | abcnews.com | January 23, 2013

List of sovereign states and dependent territories by fertility rate


Given the unhealthy and unnatural ways we produce our food, one could argue we are already stretching sustainability even in the rich comfortable west.

We make most of our processed foods out of corn because it's easiest to grow. Never mind how bad it is for us. Also we force feed our live stock that same processed corn and have them live shoulder to shoulder to each other. This of course makes them get sick more, so we pump them full of antibiotics, which then leads to germs resistant to that in our meat.

And we do all this because other wise our food would cost 3-5 times as much. I think it's very arguable we might already be stretching the limits.

Again, I don't have an answer, maybe there is none short of when the Lord himself comes to set things right. But not having a solutions doesn't mean I can't see the problem.

-The Bechtloff
Reconciling opposite points of view
The Bechtloff says this is a finite planet, and it cannot support a population that grows without bounds forever. Ed Murray says we must grow, or we will die. Caz says that we are nowhere near the limit of sustainability of population. All three are correct. How can this be?

That a finite planet cannot sustain a potentially infinite population is trivially obvious. I remember reading decades ago a science (and science fiction) writer (I think it was Isaac Asimov) saying that if we make the most optimistic estimates about the number of Earth-like planets (capable of sustaining life) in the known universe, and if we ignore the enormous periods of time it would take for space ships to travel, at less than the speed of light, to distant galaxies, and if we were to migrate to other planets (presumably unpopulated) as we run out of room and resources on this one, the amount of time it would take for the human race to overpopulate all the planets in the known universe, with its hundreds of billions of galaxies each containing hundreds of billions of stars, was around ten thousand years. I don't recall whether he said 8,000 or 11,000, but either way, it was around that number. You can argue whether that estimate was one, two, or three orders of magnitude off, but it is clearly a finite number.

Malthus made a similar point about the Earth about 200 years ago. He also realized that growth was necessary but unsustainable. He argued that wars and famines would inevitably happen from time to time as we approach the limits of sustainability.

Is that the answer? In the long run, no. All of these statements describe what is true in the natural. What atheists like Dr. Ehrlich don't take into account is the second coming. While we may be nowhere near the limit of sustainability, there are many people suffering from lack of resources in Africa, India, and elsewhere as he observed. But this is because of a very poor overall distribution of existing resources by a sinful human race. I recall reading that, when we went into Somalia to try to feed the hungry, there were other countries in Africa with worse cases of famine, but we didn't go there because they didn't make the news. And besides, attempts to feed starving people in many countries fail because the food is intercepted by warlords and merchants who confiscate it to sell it to the highest bidder.

But long before the limits of sustainability, even with a perfect distribution system, are reached, we believers know that God will intervene at the second coming of Christ and renovate the world. Furthermore, at the end of the Millennium, there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth (Revelation 21:1). There is some indication that the new Earth will be a lot larger than this one, because the New Jerusalem is described as not only 1500 miles wide and 1500 miles long, but 1500 miles tall (Revelation 21:16)! On the present Earth, the people in the higher stories would run out of air. But maybe that's okay, because the inhabitants of that city won't need air. And they won't run out of room because "they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Matthew 22:30), so they won't be having children. Furthermore, we won't have to worry about running out of room or resources in the universe, although "of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end" (Isaiah 9:7). Whether this is because God will continually create more planets, or make the new Earth bigger, or the universe (the new Heaven) will be infinite, one way or another God will take care of it. And that is the bottom line.
overpopulation is a myth (google it)
We aren't even close to the world being overpopulated. When you actually get down to hard numbers (current/projected population, landspace, food production, better technology, etc.) it becomes clear that overpopulation is a slogan without substance. But it's a popular idea, made famous by Paul Ehrlich in the 20th century, whose "prophesies" of catastrophe haven't even come close (but that never shut him up).
Nations that do not grow die.

That is a fact.

Europeans are feeling the pinch too.
This is what happens when you have abortion. This is what happens when you allow same sex marriage and the like.

The State always has a stake in the nuclear family because it's the way humans organize ourselves and produce the next generation.

What happens if there are not enough folks being born to do the work?

And what happens if there is not enough work to do?

Telling older folks to die is crass and inhuman.
it is a finite planet.
I'm not saying I'm totally on board with the zero population crowd but only a fool can't see they have a point.

This is a finite planet with only a finite amount of resources and renewable resources only renew so fast. God may have made us higher than the other creatures but we are still bound by the same natural laws and that means there is a finite number of human beings this planet can sustain. You can argue what that number is and how close we are to it, but it doesn't seem arguable that that number is infinity.

I'm not saying I have a solution to population problems, but for us Christians to argue human populations can continue to grow without consequences is foolish beyond words.

-The Bechtloff
Can you explain further on the population issue. Cause i dont understand , tome young people aren't mature enough and im speaking foe my self and others . Im only 19. To Us young folks we can't afford having kids because there is a high cost of living for just a singel person. It's not like back in my grandparents day at all and nothing is simple anymore. So I believe there are more just one factor why Japan has an older population.
The sacrificial Lamm
The question at the end of the commentary couldn't possibly be a subtle reference to former CO Governor Richard D. Lamm's proclamation in 1984 that "We've got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life." (New York Times, March 29, 1984), could it? Of course not!