Fear of change seems to be the dominant emotion amongst a lot of the elderly. Mixed in with a strong dose of suspicion of difference. Which is not entirely surprising given how very changed and different the world today is compared to the world of their childhood.
There are, of course, plenty of people who strongly buck the trend and who remain radical and keenly interested in new developments throughout their lives. Indeed Bernie Saunders and Jeremy Corbyn are providing us with very good adverts for the ability of people to remain radical regardless of age. There are also plenty of horrible young white supremicists with remarkably bigoted attitudes.
Nevertheless the trend is clear. A society which contains a high proportion of old people is likely to be much more conservative than one which is young. We saw this in the UK during the 60s when the baby boomer generation reached their teens. At that stage They were radical, adventurous and keen to see the white heat of technology moving forward and keen to enjoy new ideas, new freedoms and new cultures. A disappointing proportion of that adventurous generation is now full of nostalgia, doesn’t like modern music, and voted for Brexit in the hope that it would turn back the clock.
Fortunately the odds are heavily stacked in favour of the young. The rapid increase in population across the globe has resulted in an exceptionally high proportion of young people. Since that increase is expected to slow down significantly it is highly likely that the world will never be as young again.
The average age of the entire population of the world is only 30.9. In many countries it is dramatically lower. In Uganda, for example, it is only 15.8. That is a staggering statistic. Societies where the median age is so very young are going to have a strong tendency towards embracing the new. Provided, of course, that the young can wrest enough power from the elderly to push their societies forward.
It looks very different in countries where people are a lot older and there are few young people. In Russia the average age is 42.3. That goes an awful long way towards explaining why Putin continues to remain in power. It is easier to persuade people who have lived through a lot of chaos to vote for order – even if it comes at the price of seeing your country being run by a bunch of gangsters. In Japan the average age is 48.3 and there are far too few young people entering the working population in order to support the elderly who want to retire. That’s the price of shutting out immigration for decades.
In the UK the average age is 41.3 and in the States it is 39.3. Which tips the balance somewhat in favour of conservatism but not so strongly that it is impossible for those with young and optimistic ideas to win out.
As I see the countries which have been used to being the richest in the world face some hard choices and some even harder struggles. Fear of change could dominate the next few decades. An ageing and more conservative society could try to protect its privileges by shutting out competition, building walls and ignoring the need for a huge shift in technology towards renewable energy and renewable products.
If that happens then those societies are almost certain to enter a period of relative and probably absolute decline as they are quickly overtaken by the technology, the enterprise and the sheer energy of younger societies who are keen to embrace the future.
Alternatively enough of the people who live there will decide to challenge themselves to adapt our ways of thinking, our economy and our technology and embrace change. We either equip ourselves with modern industry and jobs that depend on high science content and high creative content or we fall badly behind.
This is the great irony of all the nostalgia that lies behind all this talk of Brexit sovereignty or making America great again. The more we allow ourselves to embrace all that nonsense the more we are guaranteed to decline.
Whilst Britain has been putting its intellectual energies into staring at its own navel and obsessing about Brexit I rather suspect that the young people of the world and the businesses they have set up have been doing something more constructive.