The European migrant crisis has given rise to one very persistent argument; namely that Europe, and especially Germany, desperately requires migrants to make up for the declining workforce and to fund European pensions for the elderly. Beforehand, it was discussed that Europe hardly needs to import its workforce from the Africa or the Middle East, since millions of Greeks, Spaniards and Italians are unemployed, but there’s another dimension to be addressed.
Europe is supposed to have lost both its fertility and the ability to reverse this trend, which is why migrants are now being presented as those who might fill the gap.
It is an excuse, not an argument
Surprisingly, one did hear this argument from politicians until after the migrants had started arriving en masse and people started to question if it was really such a great idea to allow millions of them into Europe. The ageing population argument seems to have come as an ad hoc excuse. Suddenly our politicians proclaimed that this was a major issue and that the newly arrived were the perfect solution.
Why the slow response?
The decline in birth rates had been occurring for decades. Since the 1970s it has been below replacement rate (approximately 2.3 children per woman) and governments were well aware of this. Why didn’t they recognize the problem then, as they do now? They could, for example, have made it easier to immigrate from anywhere in the world if you were able to get a job in Germany. They could have promoted controlled immigration decades ago.
Why not support native German families?
They could also have supported German families in having more children. Europeans generally want more children than they are having, but various external reasons limit them from having them. The desire is there, but high tax pressure, poor access to home-ownership, high student loan debts and costs associated with having children are all factors reducing the fertility rate. Only the rich who have the money to support a big family, and the poor who live under government assistance regardless, are the ones having big families. The middle class either postpones parenthood until it is too late or they have just one or two children. The German government has had decades to address this issue and return to a stable fertility rate able to support the ageing populations.
Is Europe overpopulated?
At the same time, there are still voices saying it is a good thing that Europe’s population is in decline. They say Europe is overcrowded and overpopulated, and the European ecological footprint is much bigger than that of a less well off person in the third world. Thus there are those claiming that to battle climate change, Europe needs to have fewer children. This way of thinking was most prominent up until a few years ago, but suddenly the sentiment faded as the migrant crisis intensified.
The black plague
One might also wonder, how big of a problem is it to have a shrinking population. It has happened to Europe at least once before, during the pestilence of the 14th century, the black plague. The result entailed an increase in living standard and wages. The lands and capital, the natural resources of the continent, all had to be shared with fewer people. It became easier to feed Europe and the living standards overall improved. According to some historians, this is what allowed the renaissance to blossom. There would without a doubt be declines in home prices if the current European population declined, making it easier for young families to acquire a home rather than a small apartment.
Europe’s core problem: the pension system itself is flawed
The final part of the ageing population argument goes as follows; there will be many elderly people that need to be maintained with an ever-shrinking group of working-age people. In other words, we need the income taxes generated by the working population to fund the subsidies and pensions for the elderly.
The problem is correctly stated, but the solution is a bit of a stretch. This would mean that European societies would from now on need permanent immigration to maintain their elderly, possibly adding to the already existing social disharmonies, while the measure has yet to even prove itself effective.
On the other hand, Europe could admit that the pension system itself is deeply flawed. The concept of requiring an ever-growing population simply to sustain the expenses of the elderly population wasn’t always accepted as a fact life the way it is now.
The original pension system was one in which people would chip in for their own expenses and pensions at old age during their working lives. It didn’t actually require the next generation to help out.
Unless this core problem is addressed, it is quite nonsensical to present millions upon millions of low-skilled workers, with a different culture and language as a solution. Especially when it’s not even proven that they will chip in more than they would cost.
European leaders refuse to acknowledge the core of the problem. They will speak in absolutes and claim that ”we need these migrants” without elaborating on how this will work, without considering the impact and side-effects of such immigration and without any debate on whether it will work and how many would really be needed.
They seem scarcely interested in finding the best solution for the core problem. They seem more attuned to using the ageing population argument in a gratuitous and intellectually lazy way to deflect criticism. They attempt to equate being against open-borders to being economically illiterate, while at the same time closing the option for any intelligent discussion on the matter.
European leaders created an excuse for their policies, and present it as an argument.