In part two of this series, I examine global demographic trends and take an initial look at the implications for global GDP growth, and by extension, the outlook for the current world-system of debt-money, as defined in part 1.
The general demographic trend over the last 500 years, and particularly so since the mid 1700s has been one of inexorable, exponential population growth. During this time the world-system of debt-money has evolved to it’s current level from very weak and inauspicious beginnings in the early 1500s. My contention is that population growth has been the trend which has sustained this world system, and that this driving trend is now abating with significant consequences for the world-system.
Many people make the mistake of reviewing total world population growth graphs, and see an ever upward trend, when in fact what really matters to the current world-system is not absolute population numbers, but the growth in population. It is growth in population year on year that provides more grist for the debt mill, and ensures that productivity increases year on year sufficient to replay the interest outstanding on the current money supply.
Another important fact most people miss when looking at demographic trends, is that the only population growth that directly sustains the world-system is growth of population within the monetary economy, or more specifically, those individuals earning a wage and eligible for bank loans. New money is created by the banks when they make new loans. It is imperative that the system always has more outstanding in new loans than loans currently due, since otherwise there will not be enough new money to pay off the original money supply plus the interest owing on it. So economic growth is required to sustain the system – and population growth is the most crucial element of economic growth, followed by productivity improvements via technology and better social organisation.
Therefore, the vast majority of recent world population growth which has been in the least developed nations on earth – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and in the less developed Asian regions cannot immediately contribute to sustaining the debt-money pyramid since it takes considerable time to integrate the teeming masses in the third world into the monetary economy. Indeed recent progress in this regard has been very slow – certainly far slower than the third world population growth rate, due to a whole host of developmental problems, many of which have been caused indirectly or directly by the actions of developed nations. For this reason the west has found it necessary to appropriate the resources of third world nations to sustain western consumers of debt, rather than focussing on lettnig the third world nations develop in their own time – it would simply take too long to be of any utility in keeping the debt flowing.
So to summarise, the population demographic we are most interested in is the demographics of the world monetary economy, which are shown in the figure below (I had trouble adding the image so please follow the link).
The blue and light red lines represent the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of the ‘developed’ and ‘less developed’ world respectively. Developed in this context can be taken to mean the western nations including the US, Japan and some parts of east Asia. Less Developed includes India, China, Brazil and so forth. The yellow and green lines are the TFR of the two regions respectively, but moved forward in time by 30 years. The dark red line is a weighted average of the developed and less developed TFR advanced by 30 years, with the developed TFR contributing at 400% the rate of the less developed TFR to the monetary economy.
Note the sharp and relatively simultaneous fall in fertility for both the developed and less developed worlds in the 1960-1975 time frame. This is the origin of the ‘baby bust’ generation that followed the boom generation. A TFR below 2.1 (births per woman) will result in a falling population, and a TFR above 2.1 in a rising population. 2.1 births per woman is termed the ‘replacement rate’. The period around 1950-1960 represents the origin of the baby boomers. It should be obvious from the graph firstly that the growth of the population of the monetary economy has crashed since the 1970s, during which time the birth rate in the less developed world (mostly Asia) has also fallen sharply partly but by no means entirely as a result of China’s one-child policy.
Now, from birth it takes on average 30 years for an individual to enter the most productive phase of their working life, during which time they either contribute to labour input, borrowing, savings or both. If we recall that the world system requires an expansion of debt to continue functioning and that the market for new debt is significantly determined by new workers entering the market for housing, personal loans, business loans and so forth (and specifically, a larger number of new workers and debt-victims than existed previously is required, in order to take up the burden of interest on the money supply) , then we can see that a low in the groweth the productive population of the monetary economy represented by a low point the the monetary economy TFR curve shown in dark red, represents a point of maximum danger for the economy. The figure shows two periods of significant decline within the overall downward trend – one from 1995 to 2010, and another from 2015 to 2025. Note also that it takes a period of time equal to the average loan life-span for changes in the input of labour and new loan creation to manifest themselves in their effects on the economy. The recent low point in the monetary economy TFR corresponds roughly with the 2001 downturn and also with the recent credit bust of 2008.The developed economy productive worker TFR actually falls below the replacement rate just about the year 2000.
Looking slightly further back, it is also possible to observe a major down trend bottoming in the late 1970s, the might be partly correlated with the severe recessions of this period.
If we now mentally zoom out such that our time-scale incorporates the full period from 1500 onwards, we see a picture of exponential growth of the population of the world population up until the period some 3 years after the end of WWII. This trend has seen world TFR being strongly positive and quite stable in the 3-5 births per woman range and hence population growth has been exponential due to the compounding effect of growth, until the last 50 odd years during which growth has levelled out drastically. The UN population division predicts that the world population as a whole (this figure now includes the whole world including the least developed regions) will peak in 2050 and afterwards decline, only to level out around 2300. Note that this means that the peak population of the world monetary economy is peaking about now (or may have already peaked), since only a fraction of the population of less developed nations participate in the monetary economy. According to the UN, after the peak we might expect a period of population decline that lasts two centuries.
It is my thesis that it is mainly (but not entirely) the increase in population rather than productivity growth that has sustained the debt-money, never-ending growth world system to date since the green revolution and population explosion of the 18th century, and that the recent significant moderation of the population of the monetary economy is partly responsible for the current problems in the global economy, and that the continuing moderation and eventual decline of this monetary population is going to result in a series of rolling recessions, and possibly destroy this world system altogether over a period of some 50 years from now. Further exacerbating factors can be seen in the form of:
global wage arbitrage, which is accelerating the rate of convergence between the most developed and developing economies. Most people think of convergence as a process of the third world cathing up. The reality is that we shall meet them in the middle – which is what markets are all about!
Ageing societies such as Germany and Japan exhibit huge decreases in domestic consumption due to the increasing need to save for old age. An ageing nation is a global market that is retrenching for good, hurting the exports of other younger nations. Many Asian nations such as Korea, Singapore, China will join the Germans and Japanese in being ageing societies within 25 years.
Relentlessly increasing lifespans, resulting in higher social costs for the elderly.
The contraction in growth rates is superimposed on an increase in actual population of about 3 billion between now and 2050, putting extra pressure on already strained natural resources.
After 2050, a declining world population and therefore a sustained period of economic contraction, or at least stagnant growth – not seen for over half a century – is going to turn many of the accepted economic rules on their head. Remember that the whole of the dismal science has been constructed in the last 300 years of the ‘population bull market’. Few see the coming crash during a bull run.
The next article will look in more detail at the economics of ageing societies and depopulation, along with some further ruminations on other interacting factors such as the information economy. Contrary to what the reader may take from this article my overall conclusion will be one of opportunity for humanity rather than damnation, however I shall attempt to show that a rather different world-system and cultural attitudes will be required to gain a positive outcome from population growth moderation.
Before that I shall leave one more idea for you to ponder. Recall how our developed world TFR curves started downward in the late 1960’s? Looking at the 30-year adjusted developed TFR, we see that boomers born in the 50s are entering their productive phase in the 80’s. Prior to this there is a new-worker bust as the generation born durnig WWII moves into their thirties. Afterwards the generation following the boomers – the baby bust generation born in the 70’s results in another worker-bust around 2000.
Perhaps the incontrovertible fact of the shrinking populatio of the monetary economy is correlated with the birth of fiat money after 1971. Perhaps the chronic inflation that has caused middle class incomes to stagnate for the last 30 years partly a deliberate or accidental response to the suddenly impaired population growth fundamentals of the debt-money system? In fact the debt-money world system can be sustained simply by constantly inflating the money supply sufficiently to account for falling GDP growth.
No-one can deny the huge leaps in technological productivity that have been developed over the last 30 years. So what else is it that is sucking the real growth away?
 The reasons for fertility decline are well covered in the literature so I don’t intend to address the reasons why in this article, instead I shall focus on consequences.
 I shall take a further look at the effect of labour arbitrage in the next article.