The depopulation of Japan

by on July 11, 2016 at 12:06 am in Current Affairs, Economics, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

Though demographers have long anticipated the transformation Japan is now facing, the country only now seems to be sobering up to the epic metamorphosis at hand.

Police and firefighters are grappling with the safety hazards of a growing number of vacant buildings. Transportation authorities are discussing which roads and bus lines are worth maintaining and cutting those they can no longer justify. Aging small-business owners and farmers are having trouble finding successors to take over their enterprises. Each year, the nation is shuttering 500 schools.

“Now, in every area — land planning, urban planning, economic planning — every branch of government is trying to do what they can,” said Reiko Hayashi, a researcher at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

And how bad is it likely to be?

Now, the country has begun a white-knuckle ride in which it will shed about one-third of its population — 40 million people — by 2060, experts predict. In 30 years, 39% of Japan’s population will be 65 or older.

If the United States experienced a similar population contraction, it would be like losing every single inhabitant of California, New York, Texas and Florida — more than 100 million people.

The country may become more like a Miyazaki movie:

A bigger issue now is wildlife: The village’s population has become so sparse that wild bears, boars and deer are roaming the streets with increasing frequency.

Here is the Julie Makinen story, via Jake Seliger.  Alternatively, here is a Shanu Athiparambath article on the crowdedness of Mumbai.

1 spandrell July 11, 2016 at 12:30 am

Population hasn’t dropped very fast yet, so the sparsely populated villages haven’t died out; the young people have left.

Should we fill all the villages with immigrants? Would they stay? Of course not.

So why is the article conflating two different issues? Low fertility is a big issue. Rural migration to the cities is a completely issue. But of course the only way to add dramatic flair to the “depopulation of Japan” is to compare it to some old mountain village.

The country isn’t doing nothing serious to promote childbirth; so it follows that the bureaucrats at Kasumigaseki actually look forward to a 60 million people Japan. They might have a point; it’ll be a rough ride though, when people find out they won’t get their pensions.

2 Cliff July 11, 2016 at 8:46 am

Pittsburgh suffered a pretty large population loss and now is a great place to live. All the amenities of a city without the crowding.

3 Yancey Ward July 11, 2016 at 12:06 pm

Give it time. Pittsburgh still hasn’t reached Philadelphia’s demography, but it is on trend to do so within 50 years or so.

4 Taeyoung July 11, 2016 at 5:01 pm

“Should we fill all the villages with immigrants? Would they stay? Of course not.”

Would they stay? Sure — that’s why after Japan experimented with immigration, and the people did not like the result, the government had to pay the immigrants to leave. Honestly, it’s a peaceful, well-run country with decent schools and, to a first approximation, no violent crime — compared to 99% of the rest of the world, that’s like paradise on earth, even if you’re stuck living in a pokey rural hamlet. But the Japanese tried immigration and found the stresses of living next to lots of people from radically different cultures distasteful, so the government is probably not going to adopt “massive immigration” as a solution.

5 Sam Haysom July 11, 2016 at 8:01 pm

He means they wouldn’t stay in those small towns.

6 Oatmeal Activist July 11, 2016 at 10:22 pm

Japan may wish to remain a well-run country with decent schools and no violent crime, which would eliminate the mass immigration ponzi scheme as a solution.

7 stephan July 11, 2016 at 12:32 am

That explains the Fermi paradox. Advanced civilizations fail to reproduce and die out.

8 msgkings July 11, 2016 at 1:52 pm

Not far from what may be the truth: advanced civs perhaps just go virtual and do not need to expand outward.

9 Lord Action July 11, 2016 at 2:15 pm

Assuming there’s no limit on maximum density. There might be. Certainly there are practical issues when you start approaching the limits of everyday matter, and another set that arise when you start approaching the Planck length. And god-knows-what in between. There’s also the holographic principle to contend with.

I believe this is why Robin Hanson speculates on limits to growth even in his Em-world.

10 JWatts July 11, 2016 at 3:57 pm

“…when you start approaching the Planck length.”

Which would involve numbers that most humans can’t even begin to conceptualize.

11 Lord Action July 11, 2016 at 4:47 pm

The Fermi Paradox is all about numbers most humans can’t even begin to conceptualize. 🙂

That’s why “All advanced civilizations do X uniformly” is not a good solution to the paradox, without an extremely compelling reason for why there can’t be any exceptions.

12 stephan July 11, 2016 at 6:38 pm

I was speaking kind of in jest since I don’t believe there are other advanced civilizations in the Milky Way, the Local Group, the Virgo Supercluster or likely even the entire universe.

Still it’s an interesting scenario; robots take over not because of some nefarious plan of acquiring sentience but because they have to, since humans disappearing from lack of reproduction.

13 NickG July 12, 2016 at 2:40 am

>robots take over not because of some nefarious plan of acquiring sentience but because they have to, since humans disappearing from lack of reproduction.<

The pathetic fallacy.

14 Phillip July 11, 2016 at 12:40 am

What’s described in the article is mostly a consequence of urbanization, not depopulation. Japanese rural areas have been losing people to the major urban centers like Tokyo and Osaka for many decades, and the economic prospects are now worse with agricultural liberalization. If the Japanese population were growing at the US rate, you’d observe much the same thing.

15 Cooper July 11, 2016 at 12:59 pm

If fertility rates were higher, there would be a large enough surplus of young people to both migrate to the city and maintain stable populations in rural areas.

Rural New England had lots of migration to the mill towns in the 1800s but the little farming communities didn’t die out because there was such a surplus of children every year that they could afford to send a comparatively large fraction of their young people out of town.

16 JonFraz July 12, 2016 at 1:55 pm

In many parts of the US rural areas are suffering a slow (or even not so slow) population drain. Generally due to the lack of gainful employment in those places. Unless a rural community is close enough to a metropolitan area that it can serve as a bedroom community for the more misanthropic sort; or it is in a resort area; or there’s some sort of government facility (military, prison etc.) close at hand such towns are fated to become ghost towns. Nothing to do with fertility rates. Everything to do with jobs, and the lack thereof.

17 Floccina July 14, 2016 at 9:38 am

Per acre crop yields are growing faster than world population so I expect the trend to continue.

18 Urso July 15, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Yes, you’ll see the same thing in Kansas farming villages. But these people aren’t dying out, they’re moving to Wichita & Overland Park.

19 Stephen Smith July 11, 2016 at 12:41 am

The depopulation of most of the country is being accelerated by the fact that Tokyo is still growing pretty quickly. From 2000 to 2015, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (roughly the same share of the region as NYC’s five boroughs and Greater London) grew from 12.06 million people to 13.49 million, or 12% – twice as fast as NYC over the same period (6%), although not as fast as London (21% from 2001 to 2015).

20 Jason Bayz July 11, 2016 at 12:45 am

“Police and firefighters are grappling with the safety hazards of a growing number of vacant buildings. Transportation authorities are discussing which roads and bus lines are worth maintaining and cutting those they can no longer justify. Aging small-business owners and farmers are having trouble finding successors to take over their enterprises. Each year, the nation is shuttering 500 schools.”

Compare to the problems in America, high housing prices since there aren’t enough buildings* and the freeways being clogged with cars. Maybe they can learn from Detroit how to handle the abandoned building problem. But don’t tell them how Detroit became what it is. Wouldn’t want them to get any ideas.

*NIMBYism is the main cause of this problem, but a growing population is no help.

“In Hara-izumi, there’s no worry about an influx of foreigners. There are no immigrants here, nor the prospect of any. A bigger issue now is wildlife: The village’s population has become so sparse that wild bears, boars and deer are roaming the streets with increasing frequency.

Well, even if Japan does lose 40 million people, it will still have double the population of California with a similar land area. Maybe they can learn from California how to deal with such sparsity.

21 Mark Thorson July 11, 2016 at 9:53 am

The comparison by area is misleading. California has huge tracts of flat land suitable for farming and building. Japan is extremely mountainous with very little flat land, so the population is crammed into a much smaller area than they would be if they lived in California.

22 JonFraz July 12, 2016 at 1:57 pm

Re: high housing prices since there aren’t enough buildings*

Actually, there’s plenty of housing– just not where large numbers of people want to live.

23 Joan July 11, 2016 at 1:09 am

How much of the productivity gap shown 2 posts ago is due aging populations being less productive.

24 Millian July 11, 2016 at 3:48 am

But the UK is quite young, while Italy is quite old.

25 Steve Sailer July 11, 2016 at 1:26 am

Fortunately, the U.N. demographers are currently forecasting that the population of Tanzania will grow to 299,133,000 in 2100, so in the global picture, everything is fine.

26 prior_test2 July 11, 2016 at 2:14 am

The World Bank, admittedly using data from 2012, disagrees – ‘With the current fertility and mortality rates, Tanzania’s population is projected to reach 100 million in 2035 and 200 million by the end of this century.’

That source also notes that various major factors have led to that growth – ‘Tanzania has experienced an exceptionally high population growth – from 11 million in 1963 to over 45 million in 2012. Among the factors that have contributed to this increase –one of the fastest in the world– is the falling mortality rate. Life expectancy in Tanzania has increased over the past two decades from 50 to 58 years.’

Further, as with all demographic projections, there are a number of assumptions made, one of the major ones being the number of children women will have in the future. As noted by the World Bank, Tanzania currently stands out in its region – ‘In addition, Tanzanian women have continued to have many children (5.4 per woman in 2010), which is higher than Kenya and Rwanda (4.6) as well as other sub-Saharan countries with the exception of Uganda.
Since 1991, this rate has only declined by 13 percent in Tanzania against 26 and 31 percent in Rwanda and Kenya, respectively.’

27 Cooper July 11, 2016 at 1:02 pm

Tanzania is 50% larger than France by land area. France is one of the largest food exporters in the world.

100 million people in Tanzania would have the same population density as modern day mainland France. Is it really so hard to believe that a population of that size would be sustainable?

28 Jamie_NYC July 11, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Yes. Haiti may have the same population density as Switzerland, but it ain’t Switzerland…

29 Steve Sailer July 11, 2016 at 6:21 pm

The combination of soil and rainfall in most of Tanzania is not favorable for high productivity agriculture.

But, anyway, the more likely outcome of high human fertility in Tanzania is not Malthusian starvation but, instead, scores of millions of smartphone-equipped Tanzanians moving to Europe or America. Even if technological allow 200+ million Tanzanians to feed themselves in Tanzania, why wouldn’t many, many millions prefer to move to Europe or America if Europeans or Americans feel it would be immoral and racist to stop them?

30 Irving July 12, 2016 at 11:53 am

Well, we’ll see how things turn out, especially with the rapidly increasing urbanization of Africa. In Ethiopia’s only major city, Addis Ababa, birthrates are already well below replacement, at 1.6 or so per woman.

31 Irving July 12, 2016 at 11:54 am

According to this source, birth rates in Addis Ababa are 1.5:

32 asdfG July 12, 2016 at 2:43 pm

The darkies are coming, the darkies are coming!

33 Floccina July 14, 2016 at 9:49 am

The plant breeders are working on all of that.

34 tjamesjones July 12, 2016 at 12:16 pm

oh 200 mill, well that’s a whole different story.

35 RM July 11, 2016 at 1:37 am

The question is when will Russia and China start fighting over it.

36 Nc July 11, 2016 at 10:39 am

Well Russian has exact the same problem, but the Chinese, of course they could put their old people there

37 Art Deco July 11, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Not precisely. Russia’s had a partial recovery in fertility over the last 20 years and now sits at the European (1.6 tfr). Japan’s is on the order of 1.3 or thereabouts (and Japan’s been below replacement levels for 40 years; Russia fell below replacement levels around the time the Soviet economy began to tank, ca. 1987).

38 msgkings July 11, 2016 at 1:54 pm

So 29 years for Russia.

This is a worldwide thing folks, and not going to reverse.

39 Lord Action July 11, 2016 at 2:03 pm

You’ve said this before, but it’s reversing already. Japanese fertility, for example, has been rising for about a decade.

Evolution makes it impossible for this to continue for a long time. The major shocks to fertility, bringing women into the workforce and the invention of good contraception have happened and can’t happen again.

Expect higher developed world fertility in 2050 and much higher developed world fertility in 2100. The developing world will go through the shocks, and then it will recover too.

40 msgkings July 11, 2016 at 2:18 pm

I hope you are right. I’m skeptical. Where I may be overly pessimistic is to believe fertility will keep plummeting. Maybe it does level off at some lower rate….but I suppose if we eventually make our way to a 2.1 TFR and it stabilizes there, that works well.

41 Lord Action July 11, 2016 at 2:28 pm

I guess I don’t see why it will settle on 2.1 except in the very, very long run. I expect we’ll blow right through 2.1 until we run into actual trouble.

42 Careless July 11, 2016 at 8:46 pm

Not to clear on how evolution works, are you msg

43 Careless July 11, 2016 at 8:46 pm


44 msgkings July 11, 2016 at 9:46 pm

Not too clear on how advanced sentience and birth control short circuit evolution, are you Careless?

Humans are well beyond animals, and theories of evolution that make sense regarding animals and plants do not work the same with human intelligence. There’s a reason the fittest human males do not have hundreds of children, as they would if they were lower mammals.

45 Careless July 11, 2016 at 10:37 pm

So you’re confused on how human animals and “lower” mammals work.

Humans exhibit voluntarily variable fertility. We vary genetically in ways that affect our fertility, and that’s all that’s being selected for in most of the world these days.

No non-eusocial female mammal, no matter how “low,” has hundreds of offspring.

46 mrmandias July 12, 2016 at 6:52 am

Thankfully, evolution never lets species or subpopulations go extinct.

47 Lord Action July 12, 2016 at 10:43 am

“There’s a reason the fittest human males do not have hundreds of children, as they would if they were lower mammals.”

No. The fittest males today have perhaps 5 or 10 children. The least fit have none. So the transformation will take a couple of generations – it won’t be overnight.

The old strategy for having lots of children, become famous, rich, or powerful and sleep with lots of women has been made obsolete by birth control. Now you have to convince women to skip the birth control and keep the children, which is a lot harder. It’s not just a matter of appealing to their impulses at a party. This runs a bit counter to most intuition as to “fitness.”

FWIW, fertility just needs to be heritable for this to be inevitable. It doesn’t have to actually be genetic, even though it probably is.

48 msgkings July 12, 2016 at 11:52 am

The fittest males today do not have even 5-10 kids. They have 2-4. Tom Brady, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Sam Walton, you name it.

Your point about birth control is what I’m talking about. ‘Evolution’ in this context doesn’t work in the modern age with humans. I’m not saying the worldwide plunge in fertility won’t eventually level off, but it won’t be because ‘evolution’. A child can be born in an increasingly rare family of 6 siblings, so maybe they have some ‘fertility genes’ or whatever….and then grow up and not get married, or decide to not have kids, for reasons that come from the higher cognitive function which massively overrides genetic impulses. It’s why the evo psych stuff is overblown, males are ‘genetically hardwired’ to screw every female they possibly can. Civilized human males get married. (Most) animals don’t.

So again, the evolutionary argument about human fertility in the age of birth control and conscious family planning doesn’t make scientific sense, and revealed preference shows that all human societies (except outliers like Amish, Mormons, orthodox Jews, etc) reduce fertility as they get more affluent and healthy. The only question is will this process level out or just keep going. I’ll let you have the final word.

49 Lord Action July 12, 2016 at 12:34 pm

You misunderstand fitness. Those people are not fit in an evolutionary sense. Maybe Walton is; he has four kids, I think. But whatever has made them outliers in achieving wealth has not made them outliers in achieving genetic success.

Brady, for example, is not evolutionarily particularly fit. He has two kids. He married the wrong women and has the wrong job. He’s just at replacement. If you took away birth control, he’d have a bunch of illegitimate children, but he doesn’t and won’t in the modern world. Biologically, he’s pursued an obsolete strategy. Being the best quarterback ever just doesn’t help that much anymore. Fitness, in an evolutionary sense, is not synonymous with “good” or “famous.”

I’m not sure I understand why you think evolution can’t work when it has something to do with brains. People vary in their inclination towards children and capability for having them. That much seems obvious. Those that are more inclined to children will have more. Those more capable, say because they’re better at staying married, will have more. (Tendency to divorce is heritable: Those heritable features that increase child count will increase in frequency relative to others. Pretty soon, they’ll be all that’s left.

50 Lord Action July 12, 2016 at 12:41 pm

“He married the wrong women and has the wrong job.”

Nothing against Gisele, it’s just that she’s serious about a career that’s incompatible with having a lot of kids.

51 msgkings July 12, 2016 at 1:25 pm

OK one more comment then I’m done….I think we’re talking past each other. My point is that ‘fit’ or not, the men and women today all over the world increasingly CHOOSE to have fewer kids, or no kids. This is different from ‘evolution’. Choice short circuits the whole thing. This is a simple fact. Whether that will reverse is speculation. Right now I got the numbers on my side.

You even said yourself, if there were no birth control Brady would have more kids. I agree 100%. That’s a pretty big deal, but I guess we just see it differently. Those who choose to have more kids will do so, sure. The thing is, the numbers show that there aren’t very many of those people in wealthy places.

Also, this:

52 JonFraz July 12, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Re: fertility just needs to be heritable for this to be inevitable. It doesn’t have to actually be genetic, even though it probably is.

But it isn’t– except at the limit of persons who are incapable of conceiving because of genetically-determined physiological traits (which are thus selected against). And when you throw in the voluntary component then it really isn’t. People chose not to have children due to an array of environmental and circumstantial factors, not because of any genetic factors. Even religious groups that privilege childbearing (e.g., the LDS) are seeing fewer children born because of some of those factors– notably the fact that it’s become very expensive to raise children in anything like a middle class life style.

53 Lord Action July 12, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Fitness is child count. Or maybe grandchild count, as you have to at least raise them to reproduce. To the extent that choice influences child count, expect heavy evolutionary pressure on whatever determines that choice.

Regarding numbers, obviously at a national level the numbers are on my side as birth rates continue to rise in post-bust nations. As for the wealthy, I can offer anecdote and links, but I don’t know that it’s studied. The saying “three is the new two, and five is the new three” is common enough.

My personal observation is that families have become bimodal. You’ve got the 0-1 kids set (a lot of these are because of divorces) and you’ve got the 3-5 kid set. But the people I’m looking at are fairly wealthy, so it’s hard for me to say how national a trend this is.

54 Lord Action July 12, 2016 at 2:07 pm

“not because of any genetic factors. ”

I just gave a link showing marriage and divorce are in large part genetic. To the extent that getting married leads to more kids and getting divorced leads to fewer, fertility rates will be genetic because of the same factors.

This is just a simple example; I’d expect the full genetic explanation of fertility to be very complex.

55 Lord Action July 12, 2016 at 2:11 pm

I don’t see how the voluntary component – the choice part of this – is any argument against the influence of evolution.

People aren’t blank slates. They appear to differ in important factors related to this choice such as how much they want children, how capable they are of running a stable marriage, how early they can pair bond, how important family is to them relative to other things, and how well they handle birth control. I’d expect massive evolutionary pressure on all this stuff. Evolutionary pressure that didn’t exist or existed in a very different form prior to birth control and high degrees of wealth.

56 Lord Action July 12, 2016 at 2:20 pm

Oh, here we go:

Highly educated female fertility is up 50% in the US since its nadir in the 90s. It’s nice to see a study say it, but just look around any fancy town and it’ll be obvious.

57 JonFraz July 13, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Re: Regarding numbers, obviously at a national level the numbers are on my side as birth rates continue to rise in post-bust nations.

What rise? There have been a some fluctuations up (and also down) but that’s about it.

Re: I just gave a link showing marriage and divorce are in large part genetic.

That link is well-fermented BS. You might as post a link “proving” the Ptolemaic Solar System or Aristotelian physics. Humans are not mindless automata, and while people are indeed not “blank slates”, and there is likely to be some genetic influence on top level things (e.g., religiosity, agressivenesss, addiction succeptibility, etc.) how such things play out in the real world is strongly mediated by a myriad factors, including good old dumb luck or the lack thereof. Besides which there is no isomorphism between marriage and reproduction: people have kids outside of wedlock; people who marry may have no children.
Reality is incredibly sensitive to contingency. Rerun life and history, tinkering with very slight things along the way, and you will get radically different results.

58 Floccina July 14, 2016 at 10:08 am

The future belongs to Anabaptists and Hasidic Jews.

59 RM July 11, 2016 at 1:41 am

Could it be made into habitat for endangered wildlife from Russia and China?

60 A C July 11, 2016 at 6:04 am

Like rich people?

61 Nicholas July 11, 2016 at 1:49 am

I hoped this obsessional equating national virility with population size would have died out with the age of mass military mobilisations, but no.

A place like Britain, for instance, is massively overpopulated, with housing shortages and massively expensive property values, pressure on natural environments etc. We have an age of great potential advances in productivity thanks to new technologies. We also have pressures relating to unease about immigration, and – arguably – bloated states that have continued expanding decade after decade.

Might a bit of depopulation actually be good for it? Yes, there’ll be problems relating to an ageing population in the short/medium term, but those problems will also force a rethink of things such as retirements and working lives, along with a greater push for higher productivity and more widespread adoption of technological solutions.

Instead, the economists and many politicians seem to view a country’s population like a fire, needing a constant input of new material to keep it going.

62 prior_test2 July 11, 2016 at 2:35 am

Dean Baker is one economist who constantly points this out.

He also notes that as population declines in Japan, the value of workers will increase – a desirable state for employees, though obviously less so for employers who will obviously need to pay higher wages or go out of business. A reversal of the state of affairs considered normal over the last generation in the U.S.

63 dan1111 July 11, 2016 at 3:45 am

Britain is not “massively overpopulated”. 2.3% of England is built on (And Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are much emptier than that). Even just outside London you’ll find mile after mile of rural farmland.

High housing prices in Britain are caused by restrictions on building and development.

64 Pshrnk July 11, 2016 at 10:27 am

And reasonable housing prices are easy to find in the North.

65 joe July 11, 2016 at 7:25 am

Yes, it’s as if raw GDP is more important than GDP per capita

66 dan1111 July 11, 2016 at 7:39 am

If one in ten people randomly disappeared, you would probably end up with about the same GDP per capita. But if your population declines 10% because of a low birth rate, it is a very different story. You have an ageing population with fewer people working, which reduces productivity per capita (while also increasing the need for expensive services like medical care).

67 Cooper July 11, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Worth remembering that debts are fixed in aggregate terms and do not adjust based on population size.

Rapid labor force growth in the post war years helped reduce the burden of the WW2 debts on a per capita basis. Without the Baby Boom, it would have been much tougher for national governments to remain solvent.

68 dan1111 July 12, 2016 at 3:37 am

Yeah, and a lot of infrastructure is hard to scale down with population, too. If a city’s population drops by half, you can’t just close half the roads, discontinue half the bus routes, etc. Because the people are still distributed throughout the whole city, just less densely.

69 JonFraz July 12, 2016 at 2:08 pm

But there’s some large buffers in most (all?) societies that mitigate those problems. For one thing in most societies there are significant numbers of non-elderly, able-bodied adults not in the work force. And, also “young” elderly who are still able to work. If wages rise due to a worker shortage then some of those non-workers will enter the workforce attracted by the higher wages– we saw this happen. briefly, in the late 90s here in the US. And if wages do rise then tax receipts for retirement programs also increase.

70 derek July 11, 2016 at 10:02 am

It isn’t GDP per capita, it is fixed costs. Pensions are typically set up where there are more contributors than retirees, the more the better. Infrastructure maintenance costs are not per capita, they are fixed with fewer taxpayers.

In the local school district there was a major fuss because four schools were closed. They get funding per student, and there are fewer students. The funding per student gets increased year on year, but fewer students means less money, hence school closures.

The Japanese fiscal situation is that money lent to government through various means now is being withdrawn by retired people.

Smaller population is not a problem in itself. The problem is the assumptions of governments that the ability to increase spending and borrowing ad infinitum is being challenged. Stimulus injections essentially mean old people get their pension checks.

71 Taeyoung July 11, 2016 at 5:34 pm

One of the things I wonder about is the extent to which Japan can supplement its GDP with earnings overseas. After all, Japanese entities own a lot of income-generating assets overseas, so that income could conceivably make its way back home. Really, if the solution is to get foreigners to generate the income for you to pay off your debts and support your lifestyle, do those foreigners really have to live next door? Can’t you just build a factory overseas, employ a bunch of natives (you know, from the US or Mexico or one of the other dark places of the earth), and use the profits to buy whatever you need to keep things running at home?

On the one hand, I know companies don’t want to have to repatriate money to the home office where they can be taxed (although I don’t know how Japanese taxation works in that regard). But on the other hand, I feel like patriotic appeals probably work a bit better on Japanese managers than on US managers.

Sure there’s still the problem of providing care for the elderly at home, but that’s what robots are for.

72 Chip July 11, 2016 at 3:04 am

Japan is starting from a position of very high population density. Much of the islands is steeply mountainous and not very liveable.

Personally, this story have me some pleasure because I like the idea of rewilding and the re-creation of pleasant places to live, especially compared to the urban and suburban blight that has ruined places I love in England and Canada.

And I can’t help thinking we will find an equilibrium as technology makes a smaller workforce acceptable, even ideal, and less population stress sees people willing to have more kids.

73 derek July 11, 2016 at 10:05 am

I totally agree. I love where I live with the open empty spaces and limited population. It is a pleasure to have bears and deer strolling through our yard.

Being lazy, I’ll assume that government expenditures of Japanese governments at all levels are increasing year on year. That is the problem.

74 TSB July 11, 2016 at 3:46 am

“And how bad is it likely to be?

“If the United States experienced a similar population contraction, it would be like losing every single inhabitant of California, New York, Texas and Florida — more than 100 million people.”

So, mostly good then? (Lyle Lovett excepted.)

75 joe July 11, 2016 at 7:22 am

I agree. I was sort of hoping that by the time I reached my age the U.S. population would have started a gradual decline but instead we’re growing by 250,000 a month with no end in sight. It’s depressing actually.

76 dan1111 July 11, 2016 at 7:40 am

I suggest you go live in one of the many parts of the U.S. where population is declining. I doubt you will find it non-depressing though.

77 8 July 11, 2016 at 9:32 am

Fertility is falling because of the depression.

78 msgkings July 11, 2016 at 1:57 pm

Fertility has been falling for decades, try again.

79 Lord Action July 11, 2016 at 2:09 pm

US fertility had been on a slight upslope since about 1975. It fell in response to the financial crisis. It’s obvious if you look at a graph.

80 JWatts July 11, 2016 at 4:00 pm

“Fertility has been falling for decades, try again.”

That’s wrong. The US fertility rating has been rising for decades.

81 JWatts July 11, 2016 at 4:01 pm

However, there is certainly a short term recession related dip.

82 msgkings July 11, 2016 at 5:32 pm

So Ross Douthat was incorrect when he wrote yesterday in the NYT that “the US birthrate is scraping its 1970s-era lows”?

83 Lord Action July 11, 2016 at 9:22 pm

It’s at least very misleading if he didn’t mention the crisis. US fertility hasn’t been falling for decades. It’s been rising for decades. A sharp drop in 09 that took away a lot of that progress. That doesn’t fit the “low fertility is what smart people do” narrative. It fits the “oh crap I lost my job and my house I’m postponing kids” narrative. Now, those people will probably never make up for lost time, but there’s no reason to think the reasoning will propagate to today’s young adults.

84 Axa July 11, 2016 at 5:56 am

Closing schools…..unlike Italy and Greece with even lower fertility rate.

85 rayward July 11, 2016 at 7:08 am

Demographers project (the mid-range projection) that in the second half of this century, China’s population will decline by 400 million. That’s the entire population of the US! I suspect that demographers’ ability to predict the future is no better than economists’ ability to predict the future. Human beings have been conditioned to reproduce. In the ancient world, every woman needed to give birth to at least 7 or 8 children just to maintain the population of the tribe, death in childbirth being so common; indeed, the life of a woman in the ancient world has been described as one of sex, birth, death, and decay. Is it any wonder that religion is so obsessed with reproduction, with objections to anything that would limit reproduction, with practices and traditions that would limit the role of women to reproduction, and that Malthus was considered a heretic. Who are you going to believe: demographers and religious fanatics or Malthus? Sex, birth, death, and decay. What a life!

86 joe July 11, 2016 at 7:14 am

As more things become automated I have a feeling Japan will be in a much better position than the rest of the world by 2060. Japan will still look like Japan and the United States will look more like Brazil.

87 jerseycityjoan July 12, 2016 at 7:15 pm

I am with you.

The worries that countries have that have too many vs. too few people seem to be almost laughably different — especially when the country with too few people is a First World nation.

I can only assume that future Americans will look back and wish that they too lived in a country of 200-300 million people instead of a country of 500+ million.

We have made unthinking assumptions and choices about immigration, employment and population growth that will turn out to be criminally wrong. And we won’t have to live with the consequences. It’s so unfair.

88 anon July 11, 2016 at 8:21 am

If Japan becomes a new frontier, I would think kids would feel it, have big frontier families. Hardly there yet.

89 Brian Donohue July 11, 2016 at 9:01 am

Yeah, my gut is that fertility will ultimately respond, but it’s a long pipeline. The current cohorts in the pipeline for future reproduction are small- Japan’s population is gonna drop pretty significantly for a while. Also, babies don’t give you immediate economic payback.

90 Lord Action July 11, 2016 at 10:07 am

Japanese fertility has been rising for 10 years. They’re going to be fine long-term. As you say, though, it is a long pipeline and they’ll experience some trouble on the way.

91 Lord Action July 11, 2016 at 10:09 am

That’s three separate links, which were supposed to be on separate lines…

92 Psmith July 11, 2016 at 8:51 am

“Political eminentoes”
Man, I love Hinglish.

93 Shanu Athiparambath July 11, 2016 at 9:12 am

That’s from Mencken. It’s not Hinglish.

94 Psmith July 11, 2016 at 10:37 am

Son of a bitch, you’re absolutely right. I stand corrected.

95 dearieme July 11, 2016 at 8:52 am

“it would be like losing every single inhabitant of California, New York, Texas and Florida”: careful! That might become a popular proposition.

96 Benjamin Cole July 11, 2016 at 9:17 am

Bears in the streets. Japan has a lot of bears? Who knew?

But then, supposedly, wild pigs can not be eradicated in Texas, and are growing in population too. Pig meat tastes good anyway. The problem is, the pigs are smarter than the hunters and rarely get shot.

97 Pshrnk July 11, 2016 at 10:37 am

I assure you that with more Chinese immigrants Texas would be rid of their wild hog problem.

98 Mr. Econotarian July 11, 2016 at 6:57 pm

I’ve seen coyotes on the streets of urban LA! (no immigration joke, I’m talking about actual coyotes that come down from the hills)

99 Ron July 11, 2016 at 9:29 am

Why do Asian countries have the lowest brithrates of all? My controversial theory: Asian women have been exposed to international media, which has exposed how unmasculine the men of their race are.

100 buddyglass July 11, 2016 at 9:59 am

How dumb. Cambodia has a TFR of 2.7. Viet Nam and China have a TFR of 1.7. Japan is at 1.4. South Korea and Singapore are at 1.2. Are the men in the former so much more “masculine” than the men in the latter two? Sweden has a TFR of 1.9. Poland is at 1.3. Are Swedish men (the land of social democracy and gender equality) really that much more masculine than the Poles?

Japan’s problem is threefold:

1. It’s wealthy.
2. It’s largely areligious. Nobody perceives him or herself to have a “duty” to reproduce. Motherhood isn’t regarded with special reverence.
3. Its culture is highly materialistic and places extreme value on industriousness, both of which result in children being seen as an inconvenience.

What’s interesting to me is that S. Korea also has an even lower TFR despite being significantly more religious than Japan. So maybe #2 isn’t a big factor.

101 Ricardo July 11, 2016 at 10:11 am

Japan’s total fertility rate is close to those of Italy, Greece, and Romania among others according to the CIA World Factbook and the World Bank. Low fertility is not a predominantly “Asian” phenomenon although the places that sit at the very bottom in terms of fertility are the ultra-densely populated and urbanized states and territories of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea.

102 asdf July 11, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Crowding is a big part of the issue. People in cities have had lower TFR forever. You can go back to 1200 AD and see London is a population sink.

I’d say the issues related to fertility are complex, some are discussed in the comments here. Given the crowding in certain Asian countries low TFR may be very difficult but also unavoidable/has some upsides. Low TFR is mainly worrisome when you have immigration creating population replacement issues, but Japan doesn’t have immigration.

103 Tyler R July 11, 2016 at 1:57 pm

Immigration is the key when thinking about the Japanese context. Most central/western European nations are at or below replacement levels but have a constant stream of immigrants to keep the population growing. Japan doesn’t have immigration, not because its government is unwilling, but because its society is unwilling. Having lived in Japan, it is very difficult (read: impossible) for an immigrant to be integrated into Japanese society, especially if said immigrant is not married to a native.

As has been argued in many of the comments, population decline may not be a bad thing for Japan. But to me a more interesting question is: How many people are there in the world who would like to live in Japan, but who don’t think that it’s worth trying to navigate Japanese society?

104 Floccina July 14, 2016 at 11:10 am

I think the crowding works in that it makes a woman perceive that there are better men available and not to settle.

105 Cooper July 11, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Ridiculous and racist comment.

A much more plausible theory is that raising children in a competitive environment like modern urban Asia requires a comparatively large investment while government services are limited/non-existent.

It’s an economic question. The return to investing X in one child is higher than investing X/N in N number of children.

106 Agra Brum July 11, 2016 at 8:30 pm

Because they are crowded and are not traditionally Christian, and so don’t have the same stigma with birth control or sex education that you see in the United States. So people living in small, crowded urban environments make the rational decision to limit the number of children.

107 JonFraz July 12, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Even in the US there’s little stigma left to birth control, not even among Catholics who widely disregard their church’s teaching on the matter. Where you find this sort of thing is mostly in fringe fundamentalist groups. Even the famous pro-natalist LDS does not have a blanket ban on contraception.

108 buddyglass July 11, 2016 at 9:44 am

One would think with the “culture that is Japan” and the example of Detroit, the Japanese would have come up with a plan for an “orderly draw-down” of its population.

Force people to move away from sparsely populated areas so that they’re not cut off from public services (e.g. transportation, utilities, etc.) Turn vacant areas into parks. Etc.

109 Taeyoung July 11, 2016 at 5:25 pm

“Force people to move away from sparsely populated areas so that they’re not cut off from public services (e.g. transportation, utilities, etc.) Turn vacant areas into parks. Etc.”

That . . . isn’t that more or less what they’re doing anyway? The reason sparsely populated areas are sparsely populated is because all the young people (and middle aged people) have moved to the large cities. Once the remaining residents die off (in, a decade or two), the regional rail company will shut down the station for good, and they’ll probably turn it into wilderness parks or something.

I think the big shift we see will be reallocating funds from operating all the dinky lines out in the rural areas (at a massive loss) towards building out the transit infrastructure in the second tier cities, like Hiroshima or Aomori. Relatedly, Japan continues to build out the Shinkansen pretty aggressively — they just linked up the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa on the west coast last year and are continuing to extend it further to join up with the Tokaido Shinkansen further west — and I think those sorts of transportation links will be critical to sustaining mid-size population centers outside of Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya.

110 GoneWithTheWind July 11, 2016 at 10:24 am

Funny, I see this as a good thing. Japan is not a large island/country and would be far more pleasant with even half the present population. Africa, India and China should follow suit.

111 Keith July 11, 2016 at 10:58 am

Those places are following suit, or soon will be.

112 Careless July 11, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Or are Africa

113 msgkings July 12, 2016 at 11:58 am

Even Africa, you’ll see. Already happening in most of it.

114 IVV July 11, 2016 at 11:48 am

My wife is from Saxony, in the former East Germany, and we’ve witnessed a similar trend there, over the years. The major cities of Dresden and Leipzig have remained vibrant and have rebuilt much into its own formerly crumbling infrastructure as people and investment flock there. The countryside, on the other hand, has emptied of young people, and fertility rates are low. I’d say places like Pittsburgh have done a far better job at handing their demographic shift than rural Saxony, though.

Due to falling property prices, we’ve considered purchasing a (recently abandoned) villa in a remote spa village, but there’s really little future in it. The area’s economy is going to continue to decrease as people leave and don’t return. We certainly couldn’t buy the villa as an investment.

115 Dirt July 11, 2016 at 11:52 am

So it seems to me the key question is “population growth for what?”

116 Justin Kelly July 11, 2016 at 12:02 pm

To shoulder the debt burden created by previous generations. Its too hard to inflate that away with a shrinking population.

117 Justin Kelly July 11, 2016 at 12:04 pm

…oh then you’ve got the multiplier effect, I wonder how much of the deflation Japan is fighting comes form the decreased multiplier of having fewer people.

118 Massimo Heitor July 11, 2016 at 12:00 pm

According to Wikipedia, Japan’s population density is 337 people/km^2, which is very high by world standards and this accounts for uninhabitable mountains.

119 Cooper July 11, 2016 at 1:16 pm

72% of Japan consists of some kind of uninhabitable mountain range.

Only 28% of the country is flat enough to live on.

120 athEIst July 11, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Japan’s population density….. accounts for uninhabitable mountains!
Notify the geologists. Not since sea-floor spreading has such a innovative idea been proposed.

121 Mr. Econotarian July 11, 2016 at 7:00 pm
122 A B July 11, 2016 at 2:34 pm

Q: Are there any pockets of highly religious family oriented Japanese? The equivalent of Ultra-Orthodox Jews, but Shinto?

123 stalin July 11, 2016 at 3:07 pm

The Japanese like to think big. A bridge from Mexico to Japan(one way only) seems a win-win. Not to worry about that Japanese culture thing, it will take a while to submerge that, but it can be accomplished with all that vibrancy and diversity.

124 Dan Hanson July 11, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Clearly Japan needs to spend more money on infrastructure to stimulate their economy. The problem with their last stimulus was that 2 trillion was really too small to make a difference. A few more roads and bridges are just what a shrinking population needs.

125 Mr. Econotarian July 11, 2016 at 7:01 pm

Dan, are you working with Paul Krugman on this stimulus plan?

126 dan1111 July 12, 2016 at 8:15 am

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a window.

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