Twenty-five to fifty year projections of relative economic strength based on demographics have one key assumption that (I hope!) isn’t really safe to make:
Older people will always lack health and vigor relative to younger people.
This assumes in turn long-term stagnation in the advancement of medical technology.
If we’re the least bit optimistic about our future, we’ll tend to regard such pronouncement as being about as reliable as 25 or 50 year projections made in 1900 about the quantity of horse droppings littering the streets of our cities.
If the projections are valid, and anti-aging treatments don’t get developed over the next fifty years, then most people reading this are pretty much screwed. Even a continuing absence of such treatments over 25 years would be a very disturbing sign that long-term stagnation is the order of the day.
But let’s assume that National Health Care never comes to pass, and a working anti-aging treatment successfully runs the FDA gauntlet (or gets developed overseas by researchers that have more latitude in playing with stem cells). What then do current demographic trends portend?
Predictions based on the age distribution in a population get turned on their heads. Having lots of older people becomes an advantage: they’ve got their youthful vigor back, plus lots of experience. Age demographics will tend to favor Europe, Japan, China, et al, rather than the United States, especially if they get the treatment first.
Of course, it won’t be a complete reversal. As it stands, older people are a positive burden on the younger people, while with anti-aging treatment, younger people will be productive, only less so than older people, so extra younger people in places like the United States won’t be a drag on the economy the way extra older people in places like Europe and Japan are projected to be in the absence of anti-aging treatments. Proportions won’t be as important as sheer numbers, where we’ll still be in good shape, or economic freedom and attraction of talent, where we’ll probably be relatively better for the foreseeable future.
But, either the aging of our trading partners and competitors will at some point end up working to their relative advantage, rather than ours, or you and I have significantly less than a century to live, and will not get a stay of execution.