China has no Pension or Health Care Benefits for their Rapidly Aging Population unlike in the West

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

The Chinese economy is cooling off.  Worse, they have some even more bad news in their future (see Ageing China: Changes and challenges by Damian Grammaticas posted 9/20/2012 on BBC News China).

Life expectancy in China today rivals that in the West – it is one of this country’s impressive advances. Except China has not yet built a social safety net to provide pensions, affordable healthcare or homes for all its elderly.

Yet another reason why the Chinese economy is outpacing those in the West.  While Europe and the United States have suffered from the effects of an aging population China hasn’t.  At least, not yet.  While those in the West keep raising taxes and selling sovereign debt to pay for pensions and health care for the elderly and retired China has been growing their economy and using its proceeds to buy the sovereign debt of those Western nations.

So what is it like living in a nation without a social safety net?

“We don’t get a government pension because I never paid taxes. We don’t have any savings,” he says.

Because he has children and a wife, he does not qualify for a place in a care home – only those without relatives are eligible.

Of Henan’s 8.5 million elderly, just 2% are cared for in nursing homes. So Niu Yubiao and his wife fend for themselves.

The couple have seven grown-up children. But like other young people in the area, they have left home to look for work. Niu Yubiao has no idea where they are.

The reason why they don’t have any savings is not because they are greedy and materialistic.  It’s because they live in abject poverty.  And barely earn enough to survive.  This is what it’s like in China once you leave the modern cities on the coast.  The economic miracle of China has not reached the impoverished masses in their interior.

Today, there are 180 million Chinese aged over 60, just over 13% of the population. That will double to 360 million in fewer than 20 years, when China will have more retirees than the entire population of the US.

By the middle of the century, their ranks will soar again to 480 million.

China is ageing so fast that a process that took up to a century in the West will happen in the coming 30 years here. And as the ranks of the elderly swells, the working-age population is starting to shrink…

China’s incredible economic growth has been built on its vast, cheap labour supply. But the numbers entering the workforce have started falling. China’s birthrate has collapsed – at its peak in the mid-1980s 25 million babies were born every year. Now there are about 15 million births a year. The dramatic drop is the result of a richer, developing society and of the one-child policy…

Currently, China funds only meagre pensions, and there are six workers paying taxes for each retiree – in 20 years’ time, there will be just two workers for every pensioner.

This is the current problem in the advanced economies in the West.  A declining population growth rate following the post-World War II baby boom is bankrupting their nations.  For those social safety net programs the Chinese don’t have were implemented in these Western countries before the baby boom turned into a baby bust.  Now the elderly generations in these nations grow faster than the younger generations.  More seniors are retiring and consuming government-provided pensions and health care while fewer are entering the workforce to replace them and pay the taxes to fund these programs.  So they have increasing government expenditures at a time of declining government revenue.  Thanks to a lower population growth rate.  Which has overwhelmed governments.  Causing greater budget deficits and soaring levels of debt.

As bad as things are in the Western countries what’s waiting for China is of such a massive scale that one shudders to think what will happen.  For even if China continues to enjoy high economic growth their aging population will bankrupt them.  Either by caring for the elderly.  Or by driving up labor costs and/or labor unrest as their baby bust fails to replace those leaving the workforce.  Bringing that economic juggernaut to a crashing halt.

But the scenario is even bleaker.   For they have driven much of their economy with artificial economic growth.  Fueled by Keynesian policies.  Artificially low interest rates.  And government interference into the private sector.  Much like what gave the U.S. the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession.  And much like what gave the Japanese their asset bubble and their Lost Decade.  For all demand-side stimulative growth (i.e., Keynesian growth) ends in Great Recessions or Lost Decades.  Because this kind of growth is inflationary.  And when you inflate asset values you make asset bubbles.  Which ultimately burst.  And when they do they bring down those inflated values to market prices.  The longer those inflationary policies were in place the higher those asset values soared and the more painful the deflationary fall.  Just ask anyone in Japan.  Or in the U.S. with an underwater mortgage.

So China has some unpleasantness in their future.  Perhaps a deflationary spiral.  Along with an accelerated aging population.  Either one by itself is bad.  But together it could be more than the Chinese economy can handle.  And the fallout of any Chinese crash will ripple through every other nation’s economy.  Where we all will feel it.  And suffer the consequences.  Because we are all Keynesians, too.  At least, the economic policies of our governments are.  And when China can no longer buy U.S. sovereign debt there will be no more deficit spending.  Just massive spending cuts.  Or, if they choose to simply print money, massive post World War I Germany inflation.  Where it will take a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread.  Like in post World War I Germany.

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