I woke up to the news the South Korea’s population has fallen for the first time in its history. Wars and famines have been just as prevalent in the country’s history as anywhere else, but it turns out that demographics is the thing that really counts. An ageing population who choose to avoid having too many children is enough to bring down the population in a way that disease, starvation and conflict rarely succeed in doing.

This is part of a worldwide pattern. As humans become rich they change their lifestyles and find that they no longer need the large families that they used to. At the moment there is enough poverty around to ensure that population growth will continue for the planet as a whole for decades to come. But it is already easy to conceive of a world where the number of humans isn’t going up but down.

This will lead to some considerable changes in attitudes. At the moment people living in rich countries are not on the whole particularly keen on the arrival of people from poor countries. Nobody welcomes competition for resources and there is always something of a clash between cultures when they mix. Racism is the extreme form of this, but only the most liberal of people positively welcome large numbers of people they don’t know arriving in their neighbourhoods.

But looked at from an economic point of view, immigration looks completely different. If your population are getting older and fewer in number they are not going to consume or produce as much. For that you need youngsters. So if you are South Korea your economic indices are going to look much better if you can bring some working age people in from abroad. And the same goes for all other countries large and small. It may well be that the time isn’t too far off when countries will compete with each other to attract as many migrants as possible.

That will be quite a big change.


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