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Painful Truth: Tech for an aging society

Our economy and our aging population need to focus on science and research

Over the Christmas holidays, I messed up my back a bit, to the point that I had to consult a doctor.

I’m now fine, but it’s a reminder that I’m getting older. Activities I once took for granted like lifting heavy things, consuming caffeine after 9 p.m., and eating half a pizza in a sitting, which would have been fairly simple at age 20, are no longer such a good idea at twice that and then some.

In this, I’m in the same boat as our entire country.

We’re aging rapidly here in Canada, partly thanks to demographic bulge (the Baby Boom generation are hitting retirement, with an impact similar to a battering ram) and partly due to the fact that our total fertility rate (TFR) has been well under the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman for half a century.

This means there are now more people over 65 than under 15 in this country. What this means from an economic perspective is fewer people working, more people working on their golf game (and drawing various government benefits, like OAS and health services).

This has caused a bit of a low-key panic for years among economists and pundits, who worry that there won’t be enough working people to support the non-working ones.

Two basic solutions have been proposed for this issue:

1) Get people to have more babies

2) Increase immigration rates

The problem with the first is that it’s been tried in a lot of countries (Canada is far from alone) and it just doesn’t work. Even if we could, doubling the birth rate now would give us lots of other problems in the future – overcrowded schools and daycares for a start.

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The government seems to have settled on the second, aiming for immigration levels well above 400,000 people per year over the next several years.

I have my doubts about whether this will actually work; we’re going to be competing with many other countries for immigrants over the next 20 years. I’m not sure of our ability to do that.

So what do we do about our economy?

Well, we could pursue other kinds of economic growth.

Canada has a heavily resource-dependent economy, even now. We’ve barely begun tapping the potential of high tech, high value industries.

There are places where we’ve gained a foothold – film and TV, videogame studios, and we still have an important part to play in the increasingly complex auto manufacturing world.

But if we want to decouple our economic growth from our population growth – and we will have to – we need to encourage research and science, develop new industries, and increase automation across multiple sectors of society.

Canadians who want to take part in new industries and do high-level research too often vanish over the border, headed for Silicon Valley or big U.S. or European universities. To grow Canada’s economy, we need to invest in education, innovation, and technology. And then we can stop worrying about counting kids.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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