The Incredible Shrinking Woman

Experienced debaters are familiar with the Latin term reductio ad absurdum. This is a tactic in which your opponent’s proposition is disproven by taking it to a logical extreme—or reducing it to the absurd.

For example, the statement that “Stocks always rise over the long run” or that “Over the long run, the economy will heal itself” can be countered with John Maynard Keynes quote that “In the long run, we are all dead.” Likewise, the common supply-side argument that lowering taxes always leads to increased tax revenues can be reduced to the absurd by offering to lower the tax rate to zero.

In continuing themes we have written about extensively in recent months—falling birthrates and decline of the traditional family in much of Asia and Europe—the venerable Economist decided to engage in a little reductio ad absurdum by forecasting when the female population of assorted countries will simply disappear. (See chart)


The Economist writes,

According to the United Nations, in 83 countries and territories around the world, women will not have enough daughters to replace themselves unless their fertility rates rise. In Hong Kong, for example, a cohort of 1,000 women is now expected to give birth to just 547 daughters. If nothing changed, those 547 daughters would be succeeded by 299 daughters of their own, and so on.

Extrapolating wildly, it would take only 25 generations for Hong Kong’s female population to shrink from 3.75m to just one. Given that Hong Kong’s average age of childbearing is 31.4 years, the territory would expect to see the birth of its last woman in the year 2798. By the same unflinching logic, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and Spain will not see out the next millennium. Even China has only 1,500 years left. See “The Last Woman, and the End of History

This is absurd, of course. These countries will not “disappear.” The native populations of many countries may indeed be replaced by immigrants or even foreign invaders, but Hong Kong is not going to be an empty ghost town in the year 2798 inhabited by a single Chinese woman.

The Economist knows this. The purpose of the article is not to predict the end of humanity but rather to drive home an important point—population shrinkage, which is already occurring in Japan, Russia, and parts of Europe, is a reality with which future generations will have to contend. In a modern economy, this means fewer consumers to sell your products to and fewer taxpayers to support the retirement needs of a large, elderly population.

The implications are not pretty. Even in the best case scenario, these countries are looking at the kind of sluggish economic growth that Japan has experienced for the better part of the past twenty years. And I’m not talking about the year 3000. I’m talking about now.

From here, the scenarios only get uglier. Who will care for the legions of sick and elderly? Will the cherished Western values of respect for human life be tossed out the window due to cold, hard economic reality? Will lower-income elderly patients be quietly euthanized for want of funds to care for them? On a bigger picture level, what are the geopolitical implications for these countries? How can you you expect to project power and influence when you lack the manpower to enforce it?

No one reading this article is likely to be around to find out, but the thoughts are disturbing nonetheless.

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