Get off of my lawn! Welcome to Planet Elderly

As I look back on 2016, several patterns stand out.  Consider the recent Brexit vote in the UK.  Millennials in the UK were strongly in favor of staying in the EU.  They might dream of studying in Italy or working in France.  They like vibrant cosmopolitan cities, and may have friends who are from the immigrant community. When you are young, nationalism is the furthest thing from your mind—the world seems like a big adventure.  (Yes, I’m old, but at least I can still recall what it was like to be young.)  Even though the younger voters were overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit, it passed by almost 4 points, based on strong support among the far more numerous elderly voters.

For years we’ve been told that demographics is destiny, and that America was going to inevitably become a browner country.  Obama said that just a few days ago.  But these pundits missed an equally momentous demographic change, which seems to be affecting politics even more dramatically. The world is aging rapidly. In the 21st century, the world will become dominated by the old for the first time in human history.  This may create a demographic split on values going forward:

Liberalism  —  authoritarianism

Cosmopolitanism — xenophobia

Optimism — fear

Change — tradition

Reform — reaction

The elderly voters will dominate—pushing politics to the right.

Japan already has a “silver democracy” where 60% of the electorate are over 55, and a far higher percentage of actual voters are over 55.  Hillary won the 18 to 44 year olds by a Reaganesque landslide of 14%, whereas Trump won the (more numerous) 45 and older voters by about 8%.  Pot legalization in Arizona failed due to opposition from the elderly.  (I believe the combined age of Trump and Hillary was the highest in US presidential election history–can someone confirm?)

Going forward, an important issue will be how voters change as they grow older.  I suspect they will become more conservative on some issues (economics, crime) but less willing to change on others (pot, gay marriage).  It depends how their views have been shaped by life experience.

At the international level, part of the friction will be between a young Muslim world, and a rapidly aging Western, Hindu and Chinese world.  That will ramp up the level of bigotry on both sides, as compared to if the average ages in each group were similar.

While the elderly tend to be nationalistic, they are also risk averse.  So they oppose total war.  Instead, wars will continue to be fought in developing countries.

It goes without saying that it will be increasingly difficult to cut entitlements aimed at the elderly.  I’m less confident in predicting monetary policy, as Abe won in Japan on a promise of increasing inflation.  For now, I think 2% inflation continues to be the most likely outcome (a view shared by the markets.)

Also keep in mind that we are in the early stages of this demographic transition. The bulk of the Baby Boomers have not yet reached 65, so the proportion of elderly will continue to grow rapidly for many years.  The 45-64 years olds were just as likely to vote for Trump as the 65 and older group.  The big issue is what happens to the politics of 30 to 44 year olds as they move into the over 45 group.

Although immigrants will make up an increasing proportion of the US and European population, non-immigrants will be older, and will continue to have a disproportionate influence on politics.

The elderly are more likely to be NIMBYs—hence the post title.  Bad news for millennials seeking a place to live.

Overall, however, 2016 was not a bad year.  Although the global rise of nationalism is certainly very discouraging, the big story continues to be the boom in China and IndoAsia, the best thing that has ever happened.

PS.  I first tried to coin the term ‘IndoAsia‘ about 3 years ago.  Now Goldman Sachs seems interested in the idea, but has not yet adopted my name for the group.  (Developing countries between Pakistan and the Philippines, with the core region being India to Indonesia.  Well over 2 billion people.)

PPS.  Merry Christmas to all my Christian readers and Happy New Year to everyone.  Blogging will be spotty over the holidays.


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44 Responses to “Get off of my lawn! Welcome to Planet Elderly”

  1. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    24. December 2016 at 07:32

    Actusl libertarians would support the decentralization of political power, not centralization as per globalism.

  2. Gravatar of flow5 flow5
    24. December 2016 at 07:49

    “The world is aging rapidly”
    ——–

    My old man will be 92 in Feb. He holds 2nd place in the world in the 200 meters (but wasn’t working out). He can sand bag with the 20 year olds. He thins out his own trees in his forest. He’s still sharper than practicing physicians.

  3. Gravatar of H_WASSHOI H_WASSHOI
    24. December 2016 at 08:24

    Merry Christmas

  4. Gravatar of Peter Peter
    24. December 2016 at 08:33

    Seems like they are the oldest pair.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2016/07/14/clinton-and-trump-are-the-oldest-candidates-ever-no-one-seems-to-care

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. December 2016 at 09:38

    Flow5, My stepfather is 92, and still plays handball. Strong as an ox.

    Wasshoi, Merry Christmas to you too.

    Thanks Peter.

  6. Gravatar of dw dw
    24. December 2016 at 09:47

    merry chistmas, and happy holidays to one and all

  7. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    24. December 2016 at 09:50

    Sumner blathers about subjects he knows nothing about, not unlike his real job. Somehow growing older is equated with conservatism, but there’s no evidence for this. And this: “I first tried to coin the term ‘IndoAsia‘ about 3 years ago” – what a awkward term, how about this neologism: ‘AfroIndoAsiaEuroLatinoNorthAmerica (plus French Polynesia)’? AIAELNA+FP. Like BRIC but better.

  8. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    24. December 2016 at 10:43

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/23/upshot/how-the-obama-coalition-crumbled-leaving-an-opening-for-trump.html?_r=0

    Adjusted for race, the age partisan voting gap was smaller in 2016 than in 2012 and nearly the same size in 2012 as in 2008. White 18-29s went for Trump.

    Ted Cruz was the candidate in the GOP primary whose support depended most on the young. John Kasich was the candidate in the GOP primary whose vote depended least on the young.

    “can someone confirm?)”

    -Of major party candidates, yes.

  9. Gravatar of Steve F Steve F
    24. December 2016 at 11:02

    I support the growing nationalism.

    Americanism has been arguably the most beneficial set of ideals in human history. Multiculturalism doesn’t work.

  10. Gravatar of Steve F Steve F
    24. December 2016 at 11:03

    Trump would have won the youth vote in a landslide if youths weren’t so easily manipulated by lies.

  11. Gravatar of Steve F Steve F
    24. December 2016 at 11:05

    That said, everybody else is very easily manipulated by lies as well.

  12. Gravatar of Will LS Will LS
    24. December 2016 at 11:38

    As a young person, I’m hoping people are going to come to their senses and reject this surge in nationalism. Merry Christmas!

  13. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    24. December 2016 at 13:57

    Why will the Muslim world be (a lot) younger than the Hindu world?

  14. Gravatar of Jared Jared
    24. December 2016 at 14:27

    Middle eastern countries are already experiencing a falling fertility rate. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are around 2 children per woman. The real distinction in the future will be between Subsaharan Africa and the rest of the world.

  15. Gravatar of Michael Michael
    24. December 2016 at 15:08

    “they will become more conservative on some issues (economics, crime) but less willing to change on others (pot, gay marriage)”
    Does this read as intended? Heads I win, tails you lose. The bizarre thing is, I can’t really guess what exactly you did mean to say. Closer to where you yourself stand now maybe?

    Happy Chanukkah everybody

  16. Gravatar of Eric Eric
    24. December 2016 at 16:23

    @Michael #24

    Yes, he means that they will change (to be more conservative) on some issues, but not change (and so remain liberal) on others.

    (I assume the confusion came from the choice of words, “unwilling to change”, which sounds like it means “conservative” but in this case meant “will stay liberal”.)

  17. Gravatar of Vaidas Urba Vaidas Urba
    24. December 2016 at 16:29

    Merry Christmas!

    Here is CNBC on Nominal Christmas Present Targeting:

    http://www.cnbc.com/2013/12/24/the-economics-of-christmas-a-holiday-satire.html?page=1

  18. Gravatar of B Cole B Cole
    24. December 2016 at 16:37

    Happy holidays everyone and remember to print more money. There is nothing to fear but fear itself (and tight money). And property zoning.

  19. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    24. December 2016 at 17:26

    Jimmy Carter beat Ronald Reagan among 18-29 yr olds. Many of those Carter voters have matured into Trump voters it seems.

  20. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    24. December 2016 at 17:37

    This doesn’t bode well for “educating” the young Wisconsinites:

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison is offering a course next semester called “The Problem of Whiteness,” and it’s not sitting well with a Republican legislator.

    Wisconsin Rep. Dave Murphy, who is also the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, has asked the university to cancel the course, saying it prompts racial division.

    “I am extremely concerned that UW-Madison finds it appropriate to teach a course called, ‘The Problem of Whiteness,’ with the premise that white people are racist,” Murphy said in a statement this week.

    “If UW-Madison stands with this professor, I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison,” he wrote.

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/23/health/college-course-white-controversy-irpt-trnd/index.html

  21. Gravatar of Art Deco Art Deco
    24. December 2016 at 18:52

    The young will grow older. Ordinary people, unlike college faculty, do not commonly suffer from arrested development.

  22. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    24. December 2016 at 18:53


    Clinton and Trump are the oldest candidates ever. No one seems to care.

    I cared a lot, I even wrote about it in the comment section several times. Many people don’t realize this but Trump got the same birth year as George H. Bush and Bill Clinton. Bernie Sanders is even older and the really funny thing is that mega grandpa Sanders was the least competent candidate of all three nevertheless he was the real champion of the youth. So much to the “wisdom” of the youth. Young people are not wise at all. They certainly lack life experience.


    Merry Christmas to all my Christian readers and Happy New Year

    Is this politically correct enough? Is it really a New Year for everyone? Aren’t quite some people (for example Muslims, Jews, and some Asians) using different calendars?

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, too.

  23. Gravatar of Cove99 Cove99
    25. December 2016 at 07:38

    I think you mean W not H Bush

  24. Gravatar of Cornflour Cornflour
    25. December 2016 at 07:40

    For those interested in demography and international politics, I’d like to recommend David Goldman’s book “How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too).” The book is written or the layman, rather than professional demographers, economists, or political scientists. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but just so you know …

    Among other useful things, Goldman points out that most of the Islamic world is not only aging, but also impoverished. What we’re seeing there is not the wave of the future, but the crash of the past. Yes, that’s an extreme oversimplification, but writing history in a blog comment has its hazards.

    P.S. I’d guess that most “Money Illusion” readers have seen some of Hans Rosling’s amazing videos on demography, statistics, health, income, democracy, etc. If not, here’s a link to one https://www.gapminder.org/videos/200-years-that-changed-the-world/

  25. Gravatar of DDawg DDawg
    25. December 2016 at 07:49

    Age has to be behind race, religion and education. Probably behind gender too…That makes it 5th place as a way to predict voting behavior.

  26. Gravatar of d d
    25. December 2016 at 12:58

    is democracy dying?

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/12/23/democracy-is-dying-as-technocrats-watch/

  27. Gravatar of d d
    25. December 2016 at 13:02

    have we recreated the 1800s?
    http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2016/12/charles-dickens-on-seeing-the-poor.html

    only now its the US in the 21st century?

  28. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    25. December 2016 at 14:29

    @Cove99
    The article I read said it was George H., but you are right it should have been Bill Clinton and W, thank you for your hint. For some reason this changes my perception of Trump’s age quite a lot. Trump is still the oldest President ever but he stops being a total Methuselah. Reagan comes very close as well, he became President about two weeks before his 70th birthday.

  29. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    25. December 2016 at 14:42

    A couple of quibbles. I think ageing is mainly important to the extent it leads to lower trend growth. Europe swung towards authoritarianism in the 1930s when it was much younger but growth was slow or negative. I think the Trump and Brexit votes occurred for similar reasons. Also, why would older voters – especially those over 65 – support protectionism? They have 20 years of consumption (and little work) ahead of them!

    Merry Christmas everyone. I was born a notional Hindu but socialised to expect presents from childhood, so Christmas has always been something to celebrate. Don’t understand why anyone would seek to undermine a national occasion of family time, parties and gift-giving.

  30. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    26. December 2016 at 08:10

    Philo, Higher birth rate.

    Michael, That was poorly worded on my part, see Eric’s explanation.

    Art, That’s right, the young will eventually come to their senses and reject gay marriage. Serously, the young are more likely to be the first to understand the need for progressive change. Older reactionaries like you are the one’s that history will judge harshly.

  31. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    26. December 2016 at 09:03

    Yes Scott, and this is why we probably won’t see as much drug legalization as we’d like until many of the elderly die, or at least are no longer voting. I doubt 70 and 80 year-olds will be leading the charge to make everything from cocaine to Oxycontin available OTC.

    By the way, I suspect that making Rx drugs OTC would, itself lower drug prices, although other reforms would be needed as well.

  32. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    26. December 2016 at 10:02

    I pulled some birth rates by country from the http://www.listofcountriesoftheworld.com/birthrate.html website. India’s birthrate (Nepal is also Hindu) seems to be about in the middle of the birthrates for Muslim countries. (U.S. added at the bottom for comparison.)

    Gaza Strip 38.90
    Iraq 31.44
    West Bank 30.99
    *Nepal* 30.46
    Bangladesh 29.36
    Saudi Arabia 29.10
    Pakistan 27.57
    Tajikistan 27.33
    Syria 27.19
    Uzbekistan 26.46
    Turkmenistan 25.36
    Kyrgyzstan 23.08
    *India 22.69*
    Malaysia 22.65
    Egypt 22.53
    Kuwait 21.95
    Morocco 21.64
    Jordan 20.69
    Indonesia 19.65
    Brunei 18.56
    Lebanon 18.08
    Bahrain 17.53
    Azerbaijan 17.47
    Algeria 17.11
    Iran 16.57
    Turkey 16.40
    Kazakhstan 16.23
    United Arab Emirates 16.09
    Qatar 15.56
    Tunisia 15.54
    {United States 14.16}

  33. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    26. December 2016 at 18:47

    And there is a substantial Hindu minority in Sri Lanka; birthrate: 17.0.

  34. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    27. December 2016 at 09:56

    Scott and flow5: My dad is 99. He’s in great shape mentally, and good physically (he walks with a cane, but still goes to the gym twice a week), helps around the house, etc. He just had his 10 year wedding anniversary… she just turned 85 this September, so he’s a cradle robber.

    😂

  35. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    27. December 2016 at 09:58

    … he’s OK with gay marriage too BTW.

  36. Gravatar of Cooper Cooper
    27. December 2016 at 16:22

    Birth rates alone do not tell the whole story. We should really look at estimated lifetime fertility rates.

    Saudi Arabia has twice the birth rate of the United States but its estimated fertility rate is only 2.7 children per woman and falling rapidly. The US fertility rate is about 1.85 (32% lower than Saudi Arabia’s, not 50% lower).

    That tells us that once the current youth bulge subsides, the birth rate will fall off significantly in many Middle Eastern countries with high birth rates.

    The 2000 update of “Limits to Growth” forecast that Saudi Arabia’s population would soar to 80 million people by 2030. This will NOT happen. Current trends suggest the figure will be slightly below 40 million.

    Unless something radical changes, it’s extremely unlikely that Saudi Arabia will ever have 80 million residents.

  37. Gravatar of A Definite Beta Guy A Definite Beta Guy
    28. December 2016 at 06:36

    Exactly how economically conservative do you think the Bernie Sanders generation will become? And why do you think they will not become more measurably conservative on OTHER dimensions?

    Mrs. ADBG went to the Obama inauguration and voted for Trump. She’s still in favor of gay marriage, sure, but she now is much more concerned about “good schools.” She’s quite concerned about how the illegal immigrants and BLM activists paraded about the DNC platform like Jesus reborn might affect the “good schools.”

    So she’s definitely become more conservative economically, but socially as well, even if that doesn’t include opposition to gay marriage.

  38. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    28. December 2016 at 09:45

    US kids age 10-20 are extremely racist and extremely tribal. The western education system is wired against racism and tribalism, specifically white tribalism/racism, and it is the ultimate taboo, yet the students still aggressively prefer their own ethnic groups, more overtly in non-white students. I’ve socialized with teachers as an adult peer, and many have remarked that after massive coordinated efforts to mix children by race and downplay race, the kids are still overtly racist.

    I actually don’t doubt that on polls, younger people will choose the poll choice aligned with Cosmopolitan policy, as that’s what has been drilled into their heads and drilled into their culture. But their personal choices are anything but cosmopolitan. They are as racist as ever.

    Also, young people tend to prefer aggressive redistribution and ridiculous left wing economics.

  39. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. December 2016 at 09:49

    Philo, You have to hold region constant. For instance, the birth rate of Muslims in India is much higher than the birth rate of Hindus in India. Pakistan and Bangladesh also have a higher birth rate. Or compare Indonesia to non-Muslim East Asia. Or north and south Nigeria.

    Beta, It seems to me that paying taxes makes people more conservative. Also, many people have less sympathy for the poor as they get older, because they recall when middle class people lacked many of the things the poor take for granted. Ask old people if cell phones and cable tv are necessities.

  40. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. December 2016 at 09:50

    Massimo, You said:

    “US kids age 10-20 are extremely racist and extremely tribal.”

    That’s just silly.

  41. Gravatar of james elizondo james elizondo
    28. December 2016 at 10:06

    “PPS. Merry Christmas to all my Christian readers and Happy New Year to everyone. Blogging will be spotty over the holidays.”

    I’m a new atheist and celebrated Christmas this year. I justified it saying it was family tradition. Do you find it odd for atheist to celebrate christmas?

  42. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    28. December 2016 at 12:11

    Sumner is making future projections based on current birth rate data. The big caveat is that birth rate patterns can drastically change in unpredictable ways so long term projections can be wrong.

    Yasir Arafat famously promised ultimate victory over Jews by demographics, “The womb of the Arab woman is my strongest weapon.” The Jews had the willpower to tell the cosmopolitan types to get lost, embraced the nationalist taboos, organized social birth rate demographic engineering programs, raised the Jewish birthrates against all odds and predictions and suppressed the Arab birth rate within Israel. Western media now warns the Jews of overpopulation problems, but suspiciously doesn’t warn Bangladesh or Sub Saharan Africa of overpopulation.

    “That’s just silly. [regarding US kids being racist/tribal]”

    Arguably, humans are silly. Even non-human animals area silly. Dogs prefer to pack with other dogs over cats/goats/sheep/elephants. Mother nature would choose anti-cosmopolitan policy responses on a survey.

  43. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    28. December 2016 at 12:32

    “Do you find it odd for atheist to celebrate christmas?”

    Most people in US + Canada + Europe who celebrate Christmas are atheist or secular. Western civilization has a Judeo-Christian basis and that is present everywhere beyond obvious things like Christmas. Our university system began as tools to teach Christian theology. Or system of law and morality has Christian roots.

  44. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. December 2016 at 13:22

    James, You asked:

    “Do you find it odd for atheist to celebrate christmas?”

    No, because Christmas is not a Christian holiday, it’s been around for thousands of years.

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