The fallacy of a “world aging problem”

Recently I came across this article on immigration in Japan. The article is about an Indonesian nurse named Maria Fransiska who has spent the past couple of years working in Japan, but who is likely to have to return to her native country because of difficult obstacles to foreign immigration:

Despite facing an imminent labor shortage as its population ages, Japan has done little to open itself up to immigration. In fact, as Ms. Fransiska and many others have discovered, the government is doing the opposite, actively encouraging both foreign workers and foreign graduates of its universities and professional schools to return home while protecting tiny interest groups — in the case of Ms. Fransiska, a local nursing association afraid that an influx of foreign nurses would lower industry salaries…

Experts say increased immigration provides one obvious remedy to Japan’s two decades of lethargic economic growth. But instead of accepting young workers, however — and along with them, fresh ideas — Tokyo seems to have resigned itself to a demographic crisis that threatens to stunt the country’s economic growth, hamper efforts to deal with its chronic budget deficits and bankrupt its social security system.

Immigration is a touchy subject with multiple dimensions: economic, cultural, public service and tax, human rights, etc. It’s a subject that can be delved into and discussed over volumes. But one key element of the broader subject is what is often called “the world’s aging problem” or “the global aging problem”.

Social scientists and doomsday pundits like to point to alarming patterns of aging in Japan and also several other industrialized countries (like Germany), which thanks to longer life spans and reduced fertility rates have populations that are rapidly getting older. Over the years, these societies have fewer and fewer working-age individuals and more and more older people in need of care.

I certainly don’t disagree that this problem exists, or even with the phrase “aging problem” to describe countries like Japan, Germany, etc. But to call this a global problem is nonsense. What I see rather is the willingness to blatantly ignore what should be an easy solution: let more people from the countries experiencing population booms (lots of able-bodied young people willing to work) come over to the aging countries and lend a hand.

Unfortunately, the world speaks different languages, has different cultures, etc. This is real obstacle that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But where is the fine line between acknowledging real costs to assimilating others and racism and xenophobia?

This is not to pick on the Japanese. Though I have never been to Japan, I’m pretty sure Japanese people aren’t somehow appreciably more prejudiced than other societies. In fact, what Baha’u’llah (and ‘Abdu’l-Baha after him) so eloquently described was an entire human race mired in disunity, selfishness, and nationalism, which only through turning its collective face to the unifying power of God’s love could it escape its terrible fate.

“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens” is Baha’u’llah’s oft-repeated utterance. God forbid that this should become an empty platitude rather than a real solution to real problems. It starts with love, sacrifice, and care for others regardless of what language they speak or what passport they have. Then you’ll notice that many of the so-called crises of the world seem to effortlessly melt away.

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2 thoughts on “The fallacy of a “world aging problem”

  1. I fundamentally agree, but the problem is getting from point A to point B. Of course we envision a world without borders. But how do you actually get there without serious disruption? I really don’t know and I don’t think anyone does. I guess the only answer is that it takes time. How much time we actually have is another question (like, do we really have the luxury of taking this process so slowly given problems like climate change, for instance, that are set to produce so many refugees in the near future). Certainly accelerating the pace wouldn’t hurt.

  2. Unless I’m mistaken, the example of Japan is also complicated by that country’s “lost generation.” While it’s accurate to say the country’s median age is rising, the rising age is difficult to consider independently of the extended period of slow Japanese growth. My understanding is that, much like the blister of Americans who’ve been unable to successfully enter the labor market in the past 3 years, Japan has plenty of indigenous young people who are un- or underemployed, so the question of utilitarian immigration is somewhat hairier than what you’ve presented.

    I don’t mean to be disagreeable. Perhaps my point is there’s a larger question here that relates to how sovereign nations choose to allocate the resources under their jurisdiction. Should Japan allow more immigrants to lower nurses’ salaries? Should American multinationals off-shore jobs in ways that would raise many people out of global poverty while limiting domestic options to escape relative poverty? Such questions are above my pay grade.

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