If you haven't seen former CIA director Herbert Meyer's take on the state of the world, you really should - it's one of the most interesting things I've read in a long time. While it wildly oversimplifies the strategic thinking behind America's conduct in Iraq it contains some fascinating demographic insights. Some of the choicest snippets:
"The world's most effective birth control device is money. As society creates a middle class and women move into the workforce, birth rates drop. Having large families is incompatible with middle class living. The quickest way to drop the birth rate is through rapid economic development."
"Because Japan has a very different society than Europe, they refuse to import workers. Instead, they are just shutting down. Japan has already closed 2000 schools, and is closing them down at the rate of 300 per year."
"Make sure the demographics of your business are attuned to where the action is. For example, you don't want to be a baby food company in Europe or Japan. Demographics are much underrated as an indicator of where the opportunities are. Businesses need customers. Go where the customers are."
It would be only a slight stretch to say that the upshot of Meyer's analysis is that rather than embark on the expense and inconvenience of bringing up children the ageing populations of the developed world are simply selling off their countries to inbound workers in return for the promise of lifetime pensions and healthcare. Also, because perceptions of wealth and poverty are relative, as it becomes increasingly normal not to procreate those who choose to do so will find themselves relatively impoverished compared to the observable childless norm. It's an extraordinary picture of a vicious circle of demographic decline with no clear way out.