Japan has a problem that is likely to face most of the developed world soon enough – underpopulation. That’s not to say that there aren’t enough people in Japan, there are plenty. The problem the Japanese face is not having enough children. They have the lowest young-to-elderly population ratio in the world.

With the current population hovering around 150 million people, Without an abundance of young people in the work place, a crucial factor in the stability of social programs providing assistant to the elderly, Japan will have to choose between the dangerous path of humanely phasing out those government assistance program or finding a way to increase birthrates amongst native Japanese (like Poland and Russia are attempting) while battling to assimilate immigrants into one of the least welcoming populations in the world.

However they decide to go about solving their population crisis, and many local governments in Japan have already begun to take steps to battle it, it would serve the Western world to watch them carefully. The West, after all, will be confronted with the same set of problems a decade or two after Japan, with many of the same stumbling blocks.

With birthrates falling across Europe, government assistance and pension programs already beginning to strain the fiscal solvency of government budgets, and record numbers of immigrants struggling to find a place to fit into countries like France, Britain and Italy, Western Europe will have to find some way to restore a more sustainable proportion of youths.

Most Western European countries have birthrates well below 2.05 children per woman, the necessary rate to sustain a steady population as the elderly make their way off this mortal coil. Some dip as low as 1.5. Europe’s solution, by and large, has been to bring in immigrants from either Turkey or from former colonies. The resulting tensions have been displayed front and center, from the angry complaints of immigrants and immigrants’ children to the resurfacing of neo-Facists in countries like Germany, aiming to “keep Germany German”.

Even if Japan can’t solve its current population problems, the rest of us can learn from their mistakes, and hopefully their successes, as we spend the next century trying to square the problems confronting the modern, developed nation state.

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