Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ageing Population and Waiting Strategically

As I read this article from the Economist yesterday, I was thinking of the entry I made in this blog a couple of days ago. In the background the government seem to take every available opportunity to remind us that we need a sufficiently youthful population to maintain a demographic pyramid that would ensure vibrancy here. Today it was Teo Chee Hean turn to nag us on it.

Japan is in an unfortunate position. It may be self inflicted but we might also blame it on their culture. This real time experiment would help people elsewhere to be clearer what an ageing population mean. It would help to persuade and change minds.

We do not want to be a lesson to others of what not to do. We had navigated ourselves relatively successfully by avoiding the mistakes of others. We will not always be in this fortuitous position.

Early this morning when everyone else was still asleep I made these notes as preparation of a NaviMap on an ageing population. I was comparing the impoverished past with the time when we become a rich and hectic society.

As a kid the older generation were sometimes careless with what they say within our earshot. I remember I got that bad feeling that adults saw us as their pension plans. Therefore the more kids you have the bigger the pension you will enjoy. Nobody cares about over populating the earth.

As an adult, I realized that most marriages revolve not around love but money and assets even if marriages we entered into with love. We humans are a very confused bunch.

No wonder Jesus spent so much time talking about money.

In our time, finance is the ultimate substitute for any product or service including the pension. When we are able to accumulate enough financial assets for our retirement, children will be born not for old age security but for their own sake. Obviously there would be fewer kids born. As families look after their financial interests, the larger interest of society to sustain itself economically is lost. Since most people feel only their jobs or business is their problem and the wider economy is for the government to worry about, the constant cajoling to have more children for all our sake will not work. People are selfish. Now nobody cares about a shrinking population.

I see the narrow interest of the family and the economy are never aligned but it is far easier to reduce births than increase them. We can however unattractive the idea is top up with immigration and assimilation. Huge countries like China do not have this option.

Just as it took Fukushima for the Germans to oppose nuclear power, often the more prescient among us must understand the limits of persuasion and wait of real troubles elsewhere to move the unconvinced along the direction we need to go. We should be wise about how fast we grow or progress. At our present level of development, top speed may be the top ranked bad idea. Like the Tao, we must develop a sense of timing from a deep appreciation of the structure and forces around us.

The Tao-inclined Zhuge Liang waited for the East Wind. Strategic waiting is a skill we must develop for tiny price taking Singapore.

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