The world is undergoing a major population shift that will reshape economic development for decades.
That’s the view of the World Bank and the IMF, which this week challenged world leaders to adapt their policies to a new reality that combines dramatic demographic trends with a movement of people that’s only just begun.
The immediate impact of this mass migration is played out on our rolling news, but the long-term view gives grounds for optimism.
“With the right set of policies, this era of demographic change can be an engine of economic growth,” said World Bank group president, Jim Yong Kim.
This presents an understandable challenge to politicians who tend not to think much further ahead than the next election, but the facts are stark.
More than 90 per cent of global poverty is concentrated in low-income countries with a young population, while more than three-quarters of global growth is generated in richer nations with rising life expectancies.
Against this backdrop, the movement of people becomes not just understandable, but predictable. In Sub-Saharan Africa, now suffering from a withdrawal of Chinese investment and fragile economies, the median age is just 18.
Europe’s focus might be on refugees, but the conditions facilitating a surge in economic migration are undeniable. Many identify Germany’s openness to refugees as a response to its looming demographic pressures.
By 2030, in EU countries, there will be around 2.5 people of working age for every pensioner.
Faced with this reality, European nations would do well to heed the World Bank’s advice that “freer cross-border flows of trade, investment, and people can help manage demographic imbalances”.
It’s an issue that dwarfs domestic debate over migrant caps and towers above the kind of short-sightedness demonstrated by our home secretary’s recent speech in which she sought to sow fear over the prospects of a changing society.
Thankfully, others are more intelligent in their assessment of the forces at play. For a start, the Adam Smith Institute, which has long campaigned on the benefits of migration to states facing demographic pressures, has proposed policies aimed at supporting just such a movement.
There are no quick fixes. Debate will rage, but it’s a debate that must be had.