June 15, 2011

WORLD: Aging, Not Overpopulation…

Foreign Policy Journal - United States / Special Reports / June 15, 2011

Aging, Not Overpopulation…

By Johan Galtung,
Transcend Media Service

Aging, not overpopulation, will be the dominant tendency of the twenty-first century demography, writes Gérard François Dumont in Le Monde Diplomatique in June 2011.

In 1900, the world population was 1.6 billion. It reached 6.1 billion in 2000 and is heading for an estimated 9.1 billion in 2050. But even if all of them moved to the United States of America, the population density would be lower than the Paris region. Then, if the fertility stabilizes, so may the population, and with low fertility–also due to aging–the world population may decrease, like Portugal today.

In 1950, China had 22 percent of the world population, Africa 9 percent, and India 15 percent. Today, the figures are 20, 15 and 18 percent, respectively. They are expected to be 16, 22 and 18 percent by 2050. India will surpass China with 1.5 billion vs. 941 million in the year 2100, according to the UN.

It means more poverty in India, as it seems incapable of handling the caste issue.[1] And Africa, already past one billion, would overtake both, meaning less poverty if rich Africa liberates itself from Western neo-colonialism.

Let us consider the growth of the aged (geronto-growth). People above sixty-five years of age were 5.2 percent of the world population in 1950. The figure rose to 7.6 percent in 2010 and is expected to be 16.2 percent in 2050. The median age is moving up from 24 (1950) to 29 (2010) and to 38 (2050). In absolute terms, it means an increase among old-age citizens from 130 million (1950) to a projected figure of nearly 1.5 billion (2050). The balance between the overall population and the old varies not only from country to country, but also changes due to migration. However, the worldwide trend is clear.

Aging is often seen as a problem – ever more retired people, producing nothing, only consuming, seen as carriers of diseases increasingly expensive to treat.

To this author, “retired” for nearly fifteen years and yet more productive than ever, the notion of “compulsory retirement” seems nothing but legitimation of grotesque structural violence. It is the tyranny of the middle-aged.

The young and middle-aged members of society wanting to deny people older than themselves money-making jobs is like denying women education and work outside their homes. Ageism works like sexism and racism. True, older people, like women, may be physically less strong – but with automation and growth of the financial sector, that factor matters less. Rather, the problem is finding jobs for men with muscles and little else. For them, a bad answer is the military for war, possibly a reason for the increasing brutality and stupidity of that institution.

The overall living age has increased from 37 years in 1900 to 69 years in 2010. Morbidity is yielding to mental disorders. And that touches the heart of the matter.

“Jobs” are standard operating procedures for money-making, and may be dirty, dangerous, humiliating, boring, taxing on the body, mind and spirit. On the other hand, “work” is creative self-realization and inner human development, socially useful; networking is good for social development. The idiotic measure of growth perpetrated on us by economists calculates “added monetized market value” only, but none of the inner human, or outer social, growth, positive or negative. Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are good indicators of Nature Destruction (ND). We base our economies on work for the few on the top, and jobs for the many lower down. The system squeezes tired human lemons through alienating jobs so that throwing them away as “retired” may look like a blessing.

So the first conclusion is to promote a shift from jobs to work. Self-employment may play a key role in expanding the latter. The second conclusion is work for everybody, regardless of race, gender and age. From the brutality of a sudden cut from a 100 percent to a zero percent productive life – often in one day. Many transition formulas can be envisaged and flexibility is increasing (from five to three to one day a week, and so on). The larger the age span in an organization, the more useful the inter-generational dialogue there will be between experience and wisdom and the knowledge of freshly-minted MBAs and PhDs.

The third conclusion is that people work for pleasure, for challenges to their creativity, for real participation as opposed to the fake one on the golf course. Work is a fine mode of living.

[1] In an excellent article “Quality of Life: India vs. China”, New York Review of Books, May 12, 2011, Amartya Sen does not mention caste problems.

Johan Galtung (photograph above) is a distinguished scholar, founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies and of TRANSCEND International (www.transcend.org), a conflict resolution network.

Source: Foreign Policy Journal