November 07, 2011

Old World

A problem far more serious than today’s trade imbalances, trillion-dollar rescue packages, and long unemployment lines lies on the near horizon: the prospect of slow growth, low productivity, soaring public spending, and labor shortages – all due to aging populations.

The scale of the problem is immense. With the share of people over 60 set to double by 2050, the IMF calculates that the cost of aging-related spending on pensions and health care alone will be ten times that of the recent financial crisis. And, barring massive natural or man-made disasters, there is no escape: every one of those people has already been born.

Not all countries will be affected in the same way, of course – but all will have to adapt. For example, while most developing countries do not yet have to worry about aging, the absolute number of older people there will more than triple by 2050 – in many cases with little or nothing in the way of a state-funded welfare net. And in the rapidly aging rich countries of Asia and Europe, an epic generational showdown looms over ballooning entitlements as governments seek to prevent a fiscal blowout.

Old World, available exclusively from Project Syndicate, focuses leading economic, political, and scientific minds on what may be the most far-reaching question of our time: What will a significantly older world look like socially, economically, politically, and – perhaps most importantly to aging people – medically?


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