Detroit is bankrupt. Foreign Policy is openly wondering whether, if Detroit were a country, it would qualify as a failed state. It's a near thing. There is talk of recovery in the country at large, but it's in hushed whispers, and confidence is low. It should be. The gerontocracy that has monopolized the world's largest economies continues to shell salvo after salvo of "business as usual" at a crisis that has exposed major fundamental flaws in the global economy, with the special audacity of criticizing today's young for their sloth, cynicism, and disaffection.
If we're cynical, we come by it honestly. Look no further than Japan, long the darling of demographic apocalypse. The country, according to Foreign Affairs, is headlining the cost of "letting the elderly rule politics." Between 1985 and today, writes Alexandra Harney, "the percentage of the Japanese population over 65 rose from a tenth to nearly a quarter. By 2060, that figure will rise to nearly 40 percent. And by that point, Japan's population will have shrunk from around 128 million to less than 100 million people." This is in a country where public debt levels are expected to hit 240 percent of GDP next year. For context, Greece—which has basically been put to the torch of E.U. austerity just to stay solvent—recorded a 2012 debt-to-GDP ratio of 156.9 percent.
This is our the demographic bomb: the double whammy of what happens when the tax base shrinks, while public entitlements—health care, retirement pensions—skyrocket.
You might think that given the severity of this crisis, now is the time to spend on families and children, but you would be wrong. You would be wrong because parents and children largely no longer control the levers of political power. Democracies target voters. Over the last three decades the percentage of Japanese voters over 60 has more than doubled, to 44 percent. The share of the Japanese voters in their twenties has fallen to 13 percent.
Japan's problems are extreme, but they are also instructive. In 2011 the Canadian median age was 39.9 years. In 1971 the median age was 26.2. Seniors are our fastest growing age group, and together with increased life expectancy it is estimated that by 2051 one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65.
I've just finished changing jobs, which included moving what I can only call a shadowy pension plan, discussed in hushed whispers with millennials like myself. The sullen realism of legal assurances are little comfort to those of us who can do the math: outnumbered, out financed, and outvoted. State entitlements will be long bankrupt by the time my hairs turn grey. The realism of the recession also lives large in the private sector imagination of the young: the iron cage of the logic of liquidity demands sacrifice to keep the market flowing, its losses absorbed, written off, nationalized.
The anxieties of the young in silver democracies are neither imaginary nor unprecedented. Cynical, you call us? Detroit is our inheritance.
How will Canada's population grow in the coming decades? View this animated population pyramid from Statistics Canada to see for yourself.