Simultaneous Elderly Overpopulation, Youth Depopulation & The Impact on Economic Growth:
Strangely, the world is suffering from two seemingly opposite trends…overpopulation and depopulation in concert. The overpopulation is due to the increased longevity of elderly lifespans vs. depopulation of young populations due to collapsing birthrates. The depopulation is among most under 25yr old populations (except Africa) and among many under 45yr old populations.
So, the old are living decades longer than a generation ago but their adult children are having far fewer children. The economics of this is a complete game changer and is unlike any time previously in the history of mankind. None of the models ever accounted for a shrinking young population absent income, savings, or job opportunity vs. massive growth in the old with a vast majority reliant on government programs in their generally underfunded retirements (apart from a minority of retirees who are wildly “overfunded”). There are literally hundreds of reasons for the longer lifespans and lower birthrates…but that’s for another day. This is simply a look at what is and what is likely to be absent a goal-seeked happy ending.
In a short yet economically valid manner, every person is a unit of consumption. The greater the number of people and the greater the purchasing power, the greater the growth in consumption. So, if one wanted to gauge economic growth, (growth in consumption driving economic growth), multiply the annual change in population by purchasing power (wages, savings) per capita. Regarding wage growth, I hold wages flat as from a consumption standpoint, wage growth is basically offset by inflation. Of course, there is another lever beyond this which central banks are feverishly torqueing; substituting the lower interest rates of ZIRP and NIRP to boost consumption from a flagging base of population growth. (There is one more boost to consumption, huge increases in social transfer payments primarily among the advanced economies…but while noted, these are a story for another day.)
The chart below is total annual population growth broken down by OECD nations (33 wealthiest nations…representing 1.3 billion people, OECD members), BRIICS (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China, S. Africa…representing 3.4 billion people), and the RoW (Rest of the World…representing about 3 billion people). Takeaways – 1) total annual population growth peaked in 1988 and has been decelerating since falling 13% & now down 12m/yr from peak. 2) Growth has been shifting away from the BRIICS to the RoW.
Below, global annual total population change vs. under 45 annual population change broken down by OECD, BRIICS, and the Rest of World. What should be clear…1) under 45 population growth has fallen by nearly 60% & is down 44m/yr from peak growth. 2) All under 45 population growth (net) is among the poorer nations of the Rest of the World. Growth has shifted from rich to middle to poor nations and from young to old. Those with little income, savings, and/or access to credit can’t consume much. Elderly on fixed incomes, declining vitality, and credit averse won’t consume much. Clearly, the impact of the slowing and shifting population growth on slowing growth of consumption should be easily understood.
Global annual population growth by GDP per capita. OECD nations given an average of $40k per capita, BRIICS $15k per capita, and the RoW $8k per capita (below). Annual growth in consumption peaked in 1989 and has been falling since…of course this is unadjusted for the big impact that credit has to increase real consumption.
Global annual under 45 population growth by GDP per capita further broken down by growth among OECD, BRIICS, & RoW (below). The deceleration of global GDP per capita is entirely among the under 45 OECD and BRIICS which have nearly entirely ceased. The only under 45 growth in consumption is among the decelerating RoW.
Below, 0-64yr/old annual global population growth vs. 0-64yr/old population growth among combined OECD, China, Brazil, and Russia vs global debt growth. The surge in debt since 1988 coinciding with the collapse of growth among the wealth OECD and aspiring BRIICS (growth has fallen from 30m/yr to 3m/yr (90% decline) and growth among the RoW has entirely stalled since ’88 at +55m/yr. The central bank response to take interest rates to ZIRP (and now NIRP) has been an attempt to maintain consumption growth against declining population growth. Only central bankers know what they’ll do as under 65yr/old populations begin outright shrinking nearly everywhere but Africa?!?
A look at annual global populations; young vs. old (below). The 0-5yr/old population has stalled but nowhere near so for the 75+yr/old population. In 1950 there were ten “babes” for every 75+yr/old…by 2050, the two groups are estimated to be 1:1 but this estimate is likely to be far too optimistic if economic conditions continue deteriorating.
US 20-59yr/old annual population growth vs. the Federal Reserves FFR (%) and US total debt (below). Federal Reserve actions have been and remain a simple (ultimately unwinnable) fight vs. the decelerating growth among the core US population since the early 1980’s. The great recession of 2008-’09 shouldn’t be a shocker given the sharp 20-59yr/old population growth deceleration culminating in ’07.
Below, Japan’s 20-59yr/old annual population growth vs. BOJ interest rate and Japanese federal debt. Japan’s annual core population turned negative in ’00 and interest rates hit ZIRP and debt creation took off. Japan’s plan to monetize likely well in excess of 100% and maybe ultimately 1,000% or 10,000% of GDP is a curious solution which may lead to an eventual hiccup which leaves Japanese society in absolute chaos (2nd chart below). But if it were only Japan that had this plan…but alas, it is the same for all major central banks presently or eventually facing depopulation. (Debt in chart below is denominated in Yen, not dollars).
Below, Germany’s 20-59yr/old annual population change vs. debt to GDP. Germany’s 20-59yr/old population turned negative in ’94 but the implementation of the Euro and Euro wide market (with the Maastrich treaty in 1992 and implementation Euro area wide in 1999) quintupled Germany’s available export base under a now common currency (2nd chart below). The impact was a stay of execution for Germany but a grinding, terminal cancer for the remainder of the Euro area.
Below, China’s annual 20-59yr/old population change, Bank of China interest rates, and China total debt growth. Annual Chinese core population growth has collapsed since ’08 by 90% and will turn negative in 2018 and remain increasingly negative for decades thereafter. The insane Chinese debt ramp to offset the declining population growth has no possible means to resolve in any manner but catastrophe.
***Noteworthy, despite China’s recent elimination of it’s “one child policy”, it should be noted that China’s birthrates are higher than Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan, and many EU nations…none of whom have any policies restricting births and most with policies to encourage higher fertility. The elimination of the “one child” policy in China is unlikely to have significant impact…family finances and struggling economies are far more likely to determine family formation in China and world-over.***
An economic and financial system premised on perpetual growth was bound to run into trouble (what do you do when you have taken a wrong turn?…apparently just keep going!). The inevitable deceleration of population growth was the trigger that turned central bankers into pushers offering ever cheaper credit. The lower rates drove unsustainable rates of consumption absent even further rate cuts and likewise drove overcapacity which likewise needed even lower rates. But negative rates of NIRP are simply no longer under the heading of capitalism (a market that doesn’t value capital likely isn’t capitalism?!?). When we’ve clearly changed “ism’s”…we’ve crossed the Rubicon.
What happens as population growth turns to population decline is honestly and literally a complete and total game changer. A flat to declining number of buyers and consumers opposite ramping elderly sellers plus their unfunded liabilities is a problem with no happy resolutions. Currencies (what will constitute “money”), “free-markets”, and perhaps the basis of civilization hang in the balance of the transition from high population growth to potential outright depopulation.
I believe this is the correct lens through which to view and understand why growth is perpetually weakening, why commodity overcapacity and slowing demand will only accelerate, why the Treasury market continues to see “buying” despite the near total absence of buyers (Treasury Mystery), why equities are a “buy” (but for all the wrong reasons), and why precious metal valuations are so extremely suspect in the face of a monetary onslaught.