2014 February 16 Sunday
The Demographic Crunch Of The Talented

South Korea is near its economic peak.

South Korea’s working-age population is falling by 1.2% annually – the fastest decline among OECD countries.

South Korea has been on an amazing economic tear. But the most talented are having the fewest kids. They are going to lose their economic vitality just as Japan has done. An older and shrinking population isn't going to work insanely hard to make their industries world winners.

Modern economies provide incentives to put work ahead of reproduction, especially for the most talented. This boosts growth and profits in the short term at the expense of the long term.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 February 16 08:50 PM 

Wolf-Dog said at February 16, 2014 11:07 PM:

The reason the skilled people don't want to have more than one child per family is because they know that raising children according to their high standards is not only very expensive (even for the upper class) but also very time consuming. So they choose to have less than 2 children per upper class family in average.

But science and technology can certainly change this in the future. Computerized schooling will cut down the expensive private school bills (some private school tuition fees are similar to private university tuition fees), and there will also be a lot of robotized help to take care of children when parents are at work. In addition, science will make pregnancy less difficult for women (without even having to keep the fertilized eggs in a laboratory.)

Moreover, as robotic science and software become more advanced, within 50 years, most of the production and even software development itself will become automated. By the end of this century software assisted production and development will be very much like Skynet. This progress will come to the rescue long before shortage of talent becomes a problem because the extinction of talented workers is only 1-2 % per years, and within 30 years science and automation will compensate.

The main problem I see is that in order to feed all these robots, an abundant source of cheap energy must be developed. This new energy is nuclear energy, but it must be made safe and effective. It turns out that thorium reactors are capable of burning all the long tern nuclear waste, and this means that even if we use only 1 % of the entire thorium reserves in the world, this would be enough energy for 20,000 years for every kind of energy need. But because this new energy is not being developed fast enough (this is due to laziness and irresponsibility), it is possible that the lack of energy will actually first cause not a shortage of people but a surplus of people, leading to WW III. So everything will depend on whether new energy is developed or not, within a few decades: if this is developed, then WW III can be prevented.

21st Amendment Absolutist said at February 17, 2014 3:29 AM:

If private schooling is mainly about status signalling and separating oneself from undesirables as is often said, the tuition won't go down much even if the teachers are computers. I think Steve Sailer is onto something when he suggests that the price of real estate is the important factor in affordable family formation. Both South Korea and Japan are heavily urbanized and have insane rents right? Where computers will help is making telecommuting the norm so that more young couples can afford to live in the suburbs or countryside where there are bigger, cheaper houses, and fewer NAMs or the Asian equivalent. But then again Silicon Valley and the NE corridor still dominate the US tech industry don't they?

bob sykes said at February 17, 2014 4:27 AM:

Based on reaction time studies, some psychologists believe that the IQ of whites in Britain and other European countries has fallen by 15 points (one standard deviation) over the last 100 to 150 years. Also, a number of people who write on technological issues believe that there has been no major technological breakthrough in the las 40 years or so, that we are merely finding new applications for long-established inventions.

One wonders if this could possibly be true.

Abelard Lindsey said at February 17, 2014 8:51 AM:

Not only are there higher expectations, and therefor costs, for the more intelligent people to raise kids in the economic status they expect, I think more intelligent people simply less interested in interacting with kids, in general. I think this is an additional reason why they have fewer, or no, kids. Automation and radical life extension will be the game changers here over the next few decades. But timing is the key. Will we get biological immortality in time to prevent the dysgenic decay? This is the social reason why SENS needs support, both financial and political.

The lack of fundamental technology breakthroughs in the past 40 years parallels the growth of government-funding and bureacratization of scientific research. Future breakthroughs (SENS life extension, fusion power, Mach effect propulsion and wormholes???) can only come from private science, not government-funded big science.

Wolf-Dog said at February 17, 2014 2:54 PM:

"The lack of fundamental technology breakthroughs in the past 40 years..."

Why quantum computing, neural computing, photonic computing are non-fundamental technological breakthroughs? Internet is a fundamental breakthrough that dramatically accelerates all R & D. Computerized courses are only at the level of infancy, and this will dramatically change education both at the elementary and advanced levels, leading to far more affordable, are more available and immensely superior education for everyone. Human genome, is a fundamental improvement in diagnosis and also cure development. The new quantum chemistry software packages that are being developed, are already accelerating the development of new drugs at the fundamental level, so that experimental chemistry will no longer be like mixing test tubes in a laboratory, but running entirely mathematical simulation programs to calculate the exact outcome of creating hypothetical molecules.

Thus what you said is only partially true: there IS a lot of junk technology that is clouding the environment, and a lot of fundamental breakthroughs are seen as superficial, but the ones who are in the know, the leading engineers are very aware of which breakthroughs are very useful and which ones are not.

Bhopal said at February 17, 2014 4:08 PM:

As long as they stay Korean, they'll be OK. Get any blacks, hispanics, subcontinentals, watch out...

Check it out said at February 17, 2014 5:06 PM:

While Americans talk about creating robots, Cuba has just come up with 4 cancer vaccines. Isn't that amazing? That's real progress for humans to wish for.

Who'd've thought of it. Cuba.

But hey, let's continue wishing for that robotic, high-skilled, elitist, alienated, sci-fi futuristic society for the lazy. There really is a fucken world out there we don't pay much attention to.

Cancer vaccine.

Well, thank you Cuba.

Randall Parker said at February 17, 2014 6:27 PM:

Check it out,

American scientists have created cancer vaccines many times. The vaccines have performed poorly. Why? Because cancers secrete stuff that turns off the immune cells in their vicinity. How can they do that? They have all the genes that can suppress immune response. Cancer cells have our genes. They mutate to turn on those genes. Creating cancer vaccines against cancer antigens is not hard. Creating cancer vaccines that work is very hard.

Also, the immune system ages. It has already been demonstrated that influenza vaccines work very poorly in the elderly - the people most likely to get cancer. So that is obstacle #2 (figured out by researchers at Wake Forest U in the USA) in the way of an effective anti-cancer vaccine. Gotta rejuvenate the immune system. Rejuvenating the immune system would cut the incidence of cancer by enabling the immune system to kill some cancer cells before they mutated immune suppressing genes.


Smart people overestimate their need to provide a good environment for smart kids. So they over-invest in upbringing. I doubt there is much we can do to change their misunderstandings as long as the tabula rasa secular religion reigns supreme.

21st Amendment Absolutist,

The current trend is for the upper classes to migrate back into cities and drive out the lower classes with higher rents and aggressive policing. I wonder how many people manage to work remotely. In my experience not too many. I do much higher bandwidth communication with people sitting next to me than with people sitting 100 feet away and the communications rate drops further when they are one building over and still much lower further away. Video conferencing helps. But it is never impromptu. The impromptu chats when you run into someone or have lunch with them are incredibly important.

My advice for those who want to succeed: put yourself in very close proximity to the best and hardest working minds.

refuguist said at February 17, 2014 8:16 PM:

Mr. Parker,

A tangentially related question: based on your experience leading teams in programming, how many hours worked per week, per worker, usually maximizes good quality output? Are these talented people who don't have time for kids actually maximizing their output, or are they working excessively for the purpose of signalling?

Randall Parker said at February 17, 2014 8:36 PM:


It depends.

How do you spend the time? If you spend time doing lots of drudge work that has low educational value then that is far less likely to be worth it. If you take on an extra assignment on weekends to, say, build a simple machine learning model then at the minimum you get the skills and experience even if the company isn't going to reward you. Ask yourself what you get aside from credit for the work with the management.

Working for signalling: If the company does not put much effort into measuring real output then what the people are doing might just be signaling. But it also depends on what you are doing. Suppose you write an app all by yourself so that it is clear it is your output. That is more likely to get your credit than if you do more of your group's work on the same app. You might be able to find ways to do stuff that makes your own credit for your work clearer.

Also, scoring points with management isn't the only way to score points. You can score points with the most talented other developers and then a few years from now they can recommend you at wherever they end up. You are far more likely to be rewarded from a job switch than from the current job given how most employers work. Plus, if you can collaborate with the best you can learn more from them than only what you can figure out yourself.

My experience is that companies whose main product is software are better places to work because they see increase in the asset value of the software as the major goal. Avoid manufacturing companies. Avoid computer companies that see their main product as hardware with software added (even though their perceptions could be the opposite of the reality). Companies that have software as their end all and be all are the best ones for software developers (with rare exceptions).

Furthermore, be at a company which can get more value out of the absolutely best software.

If you manager is less smart than you then you have a problem. If your co-workers are also less smart than you then you have an even bigger problem. If your company thinks its main job isn't software your problem is bigger still. If your company is in a declining industry then you have a problem. Ask yourself where your company and industry will be 10 years from now. Behave accordingly.

Wolf-Dog said at February 18, 2014 12:24 AM:

RP: " I wonder how many people manage to work remotely. In my experience not too many. I do much higher bandwidth communication with people sitting next to me than with people sitting 100 feet away and the communications rate drops further when they are one building over and still much lower further away. Video conferencing helps. But it is never impromptu. The impromptu chats when you run into someone or have lunch with them are incredibly important.
My advice for those who want to succeed: put yourself in very close proximity to the best and hardest working minds."

So far communications technology and the internet are still at the level of infancy. It is not just the bandwidth but the lack of interactive software (between people for team work at the creative level) that is the problem. But if you compare the situation to 1994, current communication is relatively very advanced in comparison. We can extrapolate that by 2040, the interactive capabilities of communication software will be such that in many areas team work will be far more effective when the people are all glued to their computers than when they are talking face to face: even from inside the same room, scientists, engineers, or business managers will be better off using their advanced software to "talk to each other" by coordinating their work on screen, than talking face to face in the traditional sense. For example, in the case of complex software development, dozens of programmers will be far more able to write and improvise their object-oriented software package while talking to each other, but most of the "talking" will be non-verbal, it will be symbolic and diagrammatic, it will involve drawing object-oriented diagrams on screen to discuss how each member of the team will be compartmentalized in the tasks that will ultimately be combined as team work, how the combination will be coherent in the end, etc. Much deeper ways of thinking will be possible by electronic communication, when the email software becomes more advanced for the profession.

Being at the proximity of the best minds is a privilege that can only be earned by being at the same intellectual level as those superior minds, because they will not find the time to talk to you otherwise. A super company will hire only the best people to be in the same department as these superior minds. But in the future, the super minds will also reach each other by email also, as they will notice who is thinking at their level, geography will not matter anymore. But again, the futuristic email will be a much more advanced thing in 2040, and by future standards the current Microsoft Office, Microsoft Source-Safe, Visual Studio, Powerpoint, or an interactive searchable PDF file, will look like a telegram from the 19th century. Thus life will be more meritocratic in the future, at least at the intellectual level, even though some people might get more money without deserving it as much as smarter people.

Wolf-Dog said at February 18, 2014 7:58 PM:

But here is an interesting article about something that can severely slow down innovation in telecommunication. The Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman says that there is a worsening trend towards monopoly formation in internet infrastructures:

"In fact, a number of experts — like Susan Crawford of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, whose recent book “Captive Audience” bears directly on this case — have argued that the power of giant telecommunication companies has stifled innovation, putting the United States increasingly behind other advanced countries. "
(In this article Krugman also discusses the acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Comcast.)

In said at March 6, 2014 5:57 PM:

My experience is that companies whose main product is software are better places to work because they see increase in the asset value of the software as the major goal.

Curious - why does that fact make software companies better to work for vs. manufacturing or something else?


Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Web parapundit.com
Go Read More Posts On ParaPundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©