In the year 2030 the average baby boomer (that’s me) turns 75. Millennials will be entering menopause.
More important, labor of all kinds will be in short supply.
I’ve talked before about the talent shortage. Programmers and scientists can name their price. Locking the door to emigrating talent is economic suicide.
But the same problem will also exist with ordinary labor.
We’re not accustomed to this, as a society. We’re accustomed to treating working people are fungible. Business has systematically removed the working man’s safety net over the last decade, with barely a murmur. Gig workers must buy their own health insurance, their own retirement, their own education. They pay for their own vacations, so they don’t take them.
This works fine when there are plenty of workers around, but there aren’t anymore. Most nations face a demographic cliff. Japan has already gone over the edge, along with its economy. The U.S. and China are falling over together. We think of people from Asia, Africa and Latin America as hordes, invaders. They’re our future.
Who’s going to wipe your ass when you’re in the nursing home? Who is going to pick your fruit and cook your meals?
I don’t have any grandchildren. That’s true for many Baby Boomers. By 2030 it may be too late for my daughter, and that will be her choice. It takes $250,000 to raise a kid in the U.S. today, and many millennials still can’t take care of themselves. Young gig workers live with mom and dad. They don’t like it. I don’t blame them.
But this isn’t just something that’s going to happen 50 years from now. It’s happening right now. Nations in the global south are gaining in power because they have talented young people. They’re a resource that’s going to be increasingly husbanded. We won’t be able to stay off the demographic cliff by just opening the door anymore.
This may be the greatest long-term damage the Trump years have wrought. Our reputation is in tatters. We can’t import the talent we need. We’re aging out instead of growing.
I have been writing about this, off and on, for 20 years now. My friend Martin Bayne, who has been in a nursing home for almost 20 years due to Parkinson’s, warned me. More and more of us will need home health care. More and more of us will need nursing care. No one has done anything about it.
Where’s it going to come from?
More important is this. What business needs to grow isn’t money so much as talent. Great businesses are built on the brains of people who are young, scrappy, and hungry. Most of America’s great new businesses were started or are now run by immigrants. Satya Nadella runs Microsoft, Sundar Pichai runs Google. Jensen Huang built Nvidia, and Lisa Su has rebuilt AMD.
American businesses, by contrast, have become sclerotic, bureaucratic, lazy, and stupid. Randall Stephenson of AT&T and Virginia Rometty of IBM prioritized dividends over the cloud. Jeff Immelt destroyed GE in just 15 years at the helm.
One thing I’ve learned over the last decade is that investors also change as we age. This is transforming the capital markets.
You care about capital gains when you’re young and may call the broker your “bookie.” You take more risks when you know that going broke isn’t fatal.
At 65, I’m worried about getting income from my money, worried about whether it will last to the end of my life. Multiply these changing attitudes by the tens of millions, and you can see investors preferring stocks like AT&T, which still has a dividend yielding 7%, over fast-growing Nvidia.
American voters, and American business, have been terribly short-sighted in this century. Greed, racism, religious bigotry, and nationalism, while comforting, are the luxuries we can least afford if we’re to save the planet. They’re impossible to justify if our economy is going to keep growing, and if our children are going to have anything like the lifestyle we’ve enjoyed.
My parents were the Greatest Generation. My generation is the Greediest Generation. We hated our parents as children. Our children will come to hate us as they mature.
But this is the choice we’ve made. Don’t expect any sympathy, Trumpy. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.