Germany’s Demographic Cliff [Chart]
Why Europe’s largest economy could be destined to be the next Japan
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
Last week’s chart showed that the world is turning Japanese with tales of economic malaise, extreme monetary policy, and negative rates. Germany, with its 5-yr government bond currently trading at a -0.33% yield, is no exception to this story.
However, negative yields are not the only concern that the country has in common with Japan. It’s the overall demographic picture that is worrying, and it could have a big effect on Germany’s economic future as well as the tough choices that must be made today.
Germany is the most populous and productive economy in Europe, with 80 million people and a GDP of almost $4 trillion. It’s also the world’s third largest exporter, and that’s why it had the largest trade surplus globally in 2014 with $285 billion.
For all of its economic power, Germany has a key weakness that could potentially be its Achilles heel: it’s projected that Germany’s population will decline significantly over the coming decades, and the ratio of workers to dependents will become one of the worst in the world.
Every year, there are 8.4 births and 11.3 deaths per 1,000 people in Germany. The way this plays out over time is that the percentage of Germans under 15 will fall to 13% of the population by 2050, while the amount of people over 60 years old is to rise to 39%.
In the future, it is likely that there will not be enough youth or workers in the country. As Baby Boomers retire, there will be a larger burden placed on those paying into the government’s social safety net and other programs. Further, this widening gap will also mean a significant loss of experience, skill, and know-how in the workforce that will create coinciding economic challenges for the population.
In many Western nations, immigration plays a key role in keeping a population with low birth rates to be sustainable. However, in Germany’s case, both the high and low immigration scenarios look dire for future numbers. Germany’s state statistical authority currently projects a “high immigration” trend resulting in a drop to 73.1 million people by 2060, while a low-end estimate sees the population falling all the way to 67.6 million.
The U.N. projects that one in every six Germans will be over 80 years old by 2050. Are Germans comfortable with their nation remaining on this path?
If yes, then they must also be comfortable with a significant decrease in Germany’s economic role in the future. The country will almost certainly be on a more level stage with the U.K. and France, and it will have a diminished place on the world stage as Asia and Africa continue their rise. Tax rates will surge as a decreasing amount of workers pay into the system, and economic growth could stall in such a way that Germany has its own “Lost Decade”.
If no, then Germans must accept that there is only one realistic way to combat this trend: to open the immigration floodgates even more. While this is not what many Germans want to hear, especially as the current migrant and refugee crisis progresses, it is an option that must be weighed with careful consideration.
Either way, there are difficult choices to be made. How Germany proceeds with this question has implications both today and tomorrow on cultural, economic, and political levels.
What’s At Risk: An 18-Month View of a Post-COVID World
The WEF surveyed 347 risk analysts to uncover the most likely post-pandemic threats—and no area from the economy to the environment is untouched.
What’s At Risk: An 18-Month View of a Post-COVID World
As the world continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, no part of society seems to be left unscathed. Fears are surmounting around the economy’s health, and dramatic changes in life as we know it are also underway.
In today’s graphic, we use data from a World Economic Forum survey of 347 risk analysts on how they rank the likelihood of major risks we face in the aftermath of the pandemic.
What are the most likely risks for the world over the next year and a half?
The Most Likely Risks
In the report, a “risk” is defined as an uncertain event or condition with the potential for significant negative impacts on various countries and industries. The 31 risks have been grouped into five major categories:
- Economic: 10 risks
- Societal: 9 risks
- Geopolitical: 6 risks
- Technological: 4 risks
- Environmental: 2 risks
Among these, risk analysts rank economic factors high on their list, but the far-reaching impacts of the remaining factors are not to be overlooked either. Let’s dive deeper into each category.
The survey reveals that economic fallout poses the most likely threat in the near future, dominating four of the top five risks overall. With job losses felt the world over, a prolonged recession has 68.6% of experts feeling worried.
|#1||Prolonged recession of the global economy||68.6%|
|#2||Surge in bankruptcies (big firms and SMEs) and a wave of industry consolidation||56.8%|
|#3||Failure of industries or sectors in certain countries to properly recover||55.9%|
|#4||High levels of structural unemployment (especially youth)||49.3%|
|#6||Weakening of fiscal positions in major economies||45.8%|
|#7||Protracted disruption of global supply chains||42.1%|
|#8||Economic collapse of an emerging market or developing economy||38.0%|
|#16||Sharp increase in inflation globally||20.2%|
|#20||Massive capital outflows and slowdown in foreign direct investment||17.9%|
|#21||Sharp underfunding of retirement due to pension fund devaluation||17.6%|
The pandemic has accelerated structural change in the global economic system, but this does not come without consequences. As central banks offer trillions of dollars worth in response packages and policies, this may inadvertently burden countries with even more debt.
Another concern is that COVID-19 is now hitting developing economies hard, critically stalling the progress they’ve been making on the world stage. For this reason, 38% of the survey respondents anticipate this may cause these markets to collapse.
High on everyone’s mind is also the possibility of another COVID-19 outbreak, despite global efforts to flatten the curve of infections.
|#10||Another global outbreak of COVID-19 or different infectious disease||30.8%|
|#13||Governmental retention of emergency powers and/or erosion of civil liberties||23.3%|
|#14||Exacerbation of mental health issues||21.9%|
|#15||Fresh surge in inequality and social divisions||21.3%|
|#18||Anger with political leaders and distrust of government||18.4%|
|#23||Weakened capacity or collapse of national social security systems||16.4%|
|#24||Healthcare becomes prohibitively expensive or ineffective||14.7%|
|#26||Failure of education and training systems to adapt to a protracted crisis||12.1%|
|#30||Spike in anti-business sentiment||3.2%|
With many countries moving to reopen, a few more intertwined risks come into play. 21.3% of analysts believe social inequality will be worsened, while 16.4% predict that national social safety nets could be under pressure.
Further restrictions on trade and travel movements are an alarm bell for 48.7% of risk analysts—these relationships were already fraught to begin with.
|#5||Tighter restrictions on the cross-border movement of people and goods||48.7%|
|#12||Exploitation of COVID-19 crisis for geopolitical advantage||24.2%|
|#17||Humanitarian crises exacerbated by reduction in foreign aid||19.6%|
|#22||Nationalization of strategic industries in certain countries||17.0%|
|#27||Failure to support and invest in multilateral organizations for global crisis response||7.8%|
|#31||Exacerbation of long-standing military conflicts||2.3%|
In fact, global trade could drop sharply by 13-32% while foreign direct investment (FDI) is projected to decline by an additional 30-40% in 2020.
The drop in foreign aid could also put even more stress on existing humanitarian issues, such as food insecurity in conflict-ridden parts of the world.
Technology has enabled a significant number of people to cope with the impact and spread of COVID-19. An increased dependence on digital tools has enabled wide-scale remote working for business—but for many more without this option, this accelerated adoption has hindered rather than helped.
|#9||Cyberattacks and data fraud due to sustained shift in working patterns||37.8%|
|#11||Additional unemployment from accelerated workforce automation||24.8%|
|#25||Abrupt adoption and regulation of technologies (e.g. e-voting, telemedicine, surveillance)||13.8%|
|#28||Breakdown of IT infrastructure and networks||6.9%|
Over a third of the surveyed risk analysts see the emergence of cyberattacks due to remote working as a rising concern. Another near 25% see the threat of rapid automation as a drawback, especially for those in occupations that do not allow for remote work.
Last but certainly not least, COVID-19 is also potentially halting progress on climate action. While there were initial drops in pollution and emissions due to lockdown, some estimate there could be a severe bounce-back effect on the environment as economies reboot.
|#19||Higher risk of failing to invest enough in climate resilience and adaptation||18.2%|
|#29||Sharp erosion of global decarbonization efforts||4.6%|
As a result of the more immediate concerns, sustainability may take a back seat. But with environmental issues considered the biggest global risk this year, these delayed investments and missed climate targets could put the Earth further behind on action.
Which Risks Are of the Greatest Concern?
The risk analysts were also asked which of these risks they considered to be of the greatest concern for the world. The responses to this metric varied, with societal and geopolitical factors taking on more importance.
In particular, concerns around another disease outbreak weighed highly at 40.1%, and tighter cross-border movement came in at 34%.
On the bright side, many experts are also looking to this recovery trajectory as an opportunity for a “great reset” of our global systems.
This is a virus that doesn’t respect borders: it crosses borders. And as long as it is in full strength in any part of the world, it’s affecting everybody else. So it requires global cooperation to deal with it.
——Gita Gopinath, IMF Chief Economist
Vegetarianism: Tapping Into the Meatless Revolution
This graphic unearths the origins of the meatless revolution, while exploring how the $1.8 trillion meat market is responding to the threat of disruption.
Vegetarianism: Tapping into the Meatless Revolution
The way people choose and consume their food is changing, and it’s encouraging a sweeping shift from animal-based to plant-based food products.
Whether it’s from the perspective of environmental impact, cruelty to animals, or health benefits, meatless diets are quickly becoming a new normal for people around the world—but where did it all begin?
Today’s infographic unearths the origins of vegetarianism and explores how the industry erupted into a lucrative web of sub-categories that are whetting the appetite of investors the world over.
The Origins of the Meat-Free Diet
Taking a holistic view of vegetarianism, there are several different diets that people typically adhere to. A vegetarian for example, doesn’t eat meat but still consumes animal products such as dairy and eggs. On the other hand, a vegan eats a strictly plant-based diet.
With 70% of the global population now reducing their meat intake, veganism has become a lifestyle choice for many. By 2026, the global market is projected to be worth over $24 billion.
While this seems like a relatively new phenomenon, the meatless revolution has been quietly building for almost two centuries.
- 1847: The first vegetarian society is formed in England
- 1898: The world’s first vegetarian restaurant opens in Switzerland
- 1944: The term “vegan” is coined
- 1994: The first World Vegan Day is introduced
- 2014: Influential breakout documentary Cowspiracy is released
- 2017: 6% of the entire U.S. population claim to be vegan
- 2018: Roughly 8% of the global population claim to eat plant-based
- 2020: Acceptance of plant-based diets by both the medical community and general public is at an all-time high
Although vegetarian and vegan diets were once heavily stigmatized, global support is now growing.
Towards a Plant-Based Future
Today, people in dozens of countries are making big strides towards plant-based lifestyles.
China, for example, introduced guidelines to help its population of 1.3 billion people reduce their meat consumption by 50%. These ambitious goals will be driven by consumer’s growing understanding of the positive impacts of eating less meat, such as:
- Health benefits
According to the American Heart Association, reducing meat intake could reduce the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.
- Environmental impact
Animal agriculture creates more greenhouse gases than the world’s entire transportation systems combined, but shifting to a plant-based diet could significantly reduce this problem.
- Animal welfare
Roughly two thirds of the 70 billion animals farmed annually are cramped in close quarters and given heavy medication. Plant-based diets eliminate animal suffering while lowering demand for other animal food products.
In fact, if more people commit to embracing a plant-based lifestyle, it could result in up to $31 trillion—or 13% of global GDP—in savings for the economy.
Big Players Fight For a Piece of the Pie
Given the newfound consumer demand for meat alternatives, it’s no surprise that global companies are clamouring to enter the market.
Many established food companies such as Nestlé and Danone are either advancing their own formula for plant-based proteins, or acquiring companies with existing experience.
Meanwhile, fast food chain McDonald’s features vegan products as permanent staple on their menu, and report an 80% uplift in customers buying these products in certain countries.
Big Meat Shifts Gears
As new players in the space attempt to cut into the $1.8 trillion global meat market, big meat companies are responding in kind.
Tycoons such as Tyson Foods and Cargill are placing bets on plant-based startups and filling shelves with their own plant-based products.
But while plant-based products created by traditional meat companies may appeal to less rigid flexitarians, vegans and vegetarians may not accept them so readily due to their strong ethics.
Food For Thought
Along with the uncertainty of how these products will be received, there are other challenges that the market must overcome in order to be considered truly accessible. For instance, plant-based alternatives boast higher price points than their predecessor’s products, which may deter consumers from entering en masse.
Regardless, it is clear that the shift to plant-based diets is a disruptive force that could change the food industry over the long term. Early movers are dangling a golden carrot in front of investors—but will they take a bite?
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