Monday, February 8, 2010
In my dystopia, the kind and merciful policy makers of the future will give each person five years of retirement before sending them peacefully to the end or the next stage of the journey, depending on one’s theology. In this world, workers can retire at any age they want, health permitting, and then enjoy five years of social security and medicare before relinquishing their claim to a share of the earth’s (and the state’s) limited resources.
If the population trends and projections cited by John Allen are correct, we are in for a rocky future on many fronts. Allen (p. 144) says that “[a]fter leveling out at 9 billion sometime around 2050, the population of the planet will begin to fall, and will do so with increasing momentum throughout the rest of the century.” This will be a world-wide phenomenon as the global south’s fertility drop below the replacement level of 2.1, joining the 43% of the world’s population that already lives in countries with below replacement level fertility. Allen discusses the world-wide phenomenon, but I’ll restrict my opening remarks to the United States.
A few fast facts (or projections):
· Hispanic fertility rates in the U.S. are 2.3 compared to 1.8 for non-Hispanic whites.
· The median age in the U.S. will rise from 30 in 1950 to 41 in 2050.
· By 2050, there will be 16 million more Americans 65 and above than 14 and below.
· “In 1955, America had nine workers for every retiree. Today the ratio is 3.3 to 1, and it will fall to 2 to 1 by 2035” (p. 155)(About the time I’m ready to hang it up, if I remain healthy that long).
· “By 2020, 1.2 million Americans aged 65 and older will have no living children, siblings, or spouses.” (p.158).
Questions and comments about the law, lawyering, and legal education in light of the “new demography”:
· What role can and should lawyers, including Catholic lawyers, play in creatively responding to the fiscal and more broadly economic crisis that will result from the graying of America?
· How can law schools help current students to see and prepare for their roles in responding to the coming fiscal and more broadly economic crisis?
· Immigration will continue to be an issue although as Allen points out, as population growth in the global south slows and eventually reverses itself, there may be less potential immigrants to replace the current American workforce and thereby support our current retirees. Will and should we view Muslim immigration into Europe the same as Hispanic immigration into the U.S. or are there good reasons to distinguish the two cases?
· How will the changing racial or ethnic make-up of the United States effect our culture, including our legal culture?
· It is likely that we will need more lawyers doing pro bono work on behalf of the elderly poor who might have legal needs distinct from other impoverished populations.
· In light of globalization, lawyers will also be called to think about all these issues on a global as well as local scale.
· How should we deal with what I suspect will be an incredible loneliness of those who have no family? (Not really a legal question, but one on my mind).
Concluding thoughts. This chapter has been, for me, the most depressing so far, especially as I think about the future for my four children who are all in their 20’s. Social upheaval and dislocation are bound to occur as a result of the “new demography.” Our economic system requires growth and the opening of new markets. Declining and aging populations don’t bode well for a robust economic future. (I’m not an economist, so I’d appreciate any correction to my intuitions). Our welfare state (as small as it is compared to some other states) will be crushed, I would think, under the weight of an aging population. We will need bright, young creative minds, to help navigate these uncharted waters. Catholics, including Catholic lawyers, can play an instrumental role. At the quotidian level, I suspect that the loss of community contributed greatly to the current crisis, and I know that Catholics and others are working creatively in law and other disciplines to foster community, be it in the new urbanism or a revitalized agrarianism. Can and how might the law be used to encourage healthy communities where child bearing and child rearing are once again attractive choices?
Comments are open, and I would appreciate your thoughts.