The short-term impact of this disaster will push Japan into recession. The rebuilding efforts over the coming years will create a positive GDP figure, but will not do anything to benefit Japan over the long haul. The billions designated to rebuild will be money not invested in a more beneficial manner. The linear thinkers conclude that over the long-term Japan will be OK. These people are ignoring the double D’s – Debt and Demographics. When Japan entered its two decades of recession and experienced the Kobe earthquake in 1995, its government debt stood at 52% of GDP. Today it stands at 225% of GDP. Twenty one years ago, the Japanese population was still relatively young, with only 12% of the population over 65 years old. The population of Japan peaked in 2004 and now is in relentless decline. Over 23% of the population is over 65 and the median age is 45 years old. For comparison, the median age in the U.S. is 37 years old, with only 13% over 65. The projection portion of the chart below paints a picture of death. The population of Japan is aging rapidly and will decline by 4.4 million, or 3.5% in the next ten years.
The question I pose to the mainstream thinkers is, “How can a country with a rapidly aging population and nearly one quarter of its population over 65 years old generate the necessary dynamic enthusiasm for rebuilding a shattered country?” Youthful enthusiasm and hope for a brighter future is essential to any enormous rebuilding effort. Japan does not have it in them. News reports already indicate a lethargic and seemingly insufficient response by emergency workers. The devastation seems to have overwhelmed this aging country. The psychological impact of this type of natural disaster will likely have two phases. Psychology professor Magda Osman describes the expected human response:
“After a disaster, typically small communities become incredibly co-operative and pull together to help each other and start the rebuilding process. There’s an immediate response where people start to take control of the situation, begin to deal with it and assess and respond to the devastation around them. The problem is that we aren’t very good at calculating the long-term effects of disasters. After about two months of re-building and cleaning up we tend to experience a second major slump when we realize the full severity of the situation in the longer term. This is what we need to be wary of because this triggers severe depression.”
This would be the normal response of a traumatized populace. An aged populace is likely to experience worse depression and not bounce back from this tragedy.
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