“I think ageing demographics is a bigger issue in China than people think. And the problems it creates should be become evident as early as 2016.” – Stan Druckenmiller, a 2013 quote
Over the last year, we’ve been very skeptical of the near-term potential for robust global economic growth.
The media narrative throughout 2015 was that U.S. rates were on the rise, and that the American economy would finally normalize post-crisis. Stock and real estate prices reached record highs on this optimism, and many pundits expected growth and interest rates to return to more traditional levels.
Over the last few months, we’ve noticed that this narrative has changed significantly. Even though the U.S. is doing “okay” for growth, the global economy is now more entwined than ever. It’s more challenging than ever before for one economy to prop up the rest during stagnation.
Markets this year got off to their worst-ever start after jitters from China rippled through international markets. Oil has continued its plunge and is now trading near $30/bbl. Manufacturing is slowing in the United States. Europe and Japan are going nowhere, and the amount of global debt is starting to signal alarm bells.
Finally, media and investors are accepting the idea that things may not normalize the way they “should”. Instead, the question has become more fundamental: are there even any bright spots in the first place?
A major drive of this un-growth is demographics, or the changing composition of population over time.
Today’s animation, which covers the change in populations over 100 years for the most populous countries, is a starting place for this.
The first point of interest is that by about the year 2000, all European countries dropped out of the rankings. At the beginning of the animation, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy were all there. Birth rates have declined to the lowest in the world, which establishes immigration as the only potential option for economic growth. With the recent events in Paris and the current backlash against Middle Eastern immigrants, this Catch-22 becomes even more interesting and important.
Germany, in particular, faces a crucial demographic cliff. We aim to cover this in the very near future, since the country is an important engine for Europe.
Another major point of interest, as we referenced in the opening quote, is the changing demographics of China. In the next decade or so, China’s population will stop growing altogether – and then it will start shrinking. This is the predictable aftermath of China’s one-child policy for many decades. The country still has a giant portion of the population that will continue to move up the ladder economically, but we will be looking at what these circumstances could mean as they loom closer.
Lastly, the rise of India and Nigeria can’t be understated in importance. Both are home to the fastest growing cities in the world. Nigeria will pass the U.S. to become the third largest country in the world by population in the coming decades, and India could be the world’s next China.