Britain is fed up, bitter, and practically broke – and it’s all going to get worse

Welcome to gerontocratic Britain. Sir Paul McCartney, 80, was the star attraction at the once youthful but now desperately middle-aged Glastonbury. Sir Elton John, 75, filled Hyde Park last weekend. The state pension is shooting up, financed by a tax raid on the young. The latest Census revealed that we are plunging into a catastrophic baby bust.

The young and not so young are demoralized, downcast and have gone on baby strike, and not merely because they paid the price for protecting their elders from covid. As the number of 90-year olds reaches an all-time high, there are 264,650 fewer under-fours than a decade ago, a 7.6 per cent slump. How many schools will need to shut, replaced by care homes and retirement villages? The signs are unmissable: Britain is a society that is losing trust in the future, and is increasingly terrified of its present.

The graying of everything, the dissipation of a defined youth culture, means that we are now peering into a precipice of demographic, economic, social and cultural decline. There will be fewer successful start-ups, less innovation, less reform and no more cool Britannia. Worst of all, we are facing a fiscal calamity, massively higher taxes and permanent economic stasis. Yes, of course, the gap can continue to be plugged by immigration, but will the public accept this indefinitely?

There are upsides to an aging population. Older people are wise: they have lived through political and economic cycles and are better able to place events in a longer-term context. They are less likely to be fooled into buying into a shiny new ideology or to fall foul of some political confidence trickster. There is a great value to experience that uber-youthful societies, in their revolutionary zeal and impatience, tend to overlook.

The old, whose income is contingent on a benign political and economic environment, are a powerful enforcer of political stability. They will continue to defeat Corbynites and oppose the kinds of wealth taxes that would cripple the economy. Their desire for higher interest rates will solve many of the problems of the past 15-20 years: tighter money will tackle inflation, send house prices lower, puncture bubbles and purge the economy of zombie firms.

Yet the aging of our population is now happening for the wrong reasons. The problem is obviously not that there are too many older people: it is that there are too few children. There are now more over-65s (11.1 million) than under-15s (10.4 million), a dramatic reversal on 10 years ago.

A society with fewer children is inevitably more risk-averse. This is partly biological: elevated testosterone, progesterone and estrogen levels in teenagers results in volatile, emotional responses. In extreme, this can lead to war and violence; it also means that younger people are willing to take risks, to create new businesses, to innovate, to think the unthinkable. They have little to lose and are desperate to win. Silicon Valley was created by the young, not by the middle aged.

As Paul Morland points out in Tomorrow’s People, the relative size of younger and older cohorts determines not just a country’s demographic center of gravity but also its culture. An aging population constrains the young directly and indirectly. Nightclubs have been shutting for years, well before Covid, and at a much faster rate than the decline in the proportion of younger people. When the old dominate a society, or reach a certain critical mass, the young themselves begin to act as if they too were older. They watch netflix rather than go out.

The era of radical youth culture, Morland argues, was born with the baby boomers, a huge, incredibly influential cohort of teenagers and young adults, and has faded away with their ageing. For better or for worse, an obsession with YouTubers and TikTok is incomparable in significance to the rock and roll and sexual revolutions of the 1960s.

All of this is terrible news for the welfare state, invented when societies were youthful. In 1889, when Bismarck introduced his state pension, he set the retirement age at 70, even though life expectancy in Germany was around 39 at the time, according to Statista, an extraordinary con. Only the very fortunate would ever see a payout; today, the benefit is almost universal, triggering huge costs.

The aging population has also made the NHS untenable: it is madness to think that the state, unaided by private insurance, can meet the exploding costs of the oldest population in history. It is crazier to believe governments can guarantee nobody will need to sell their homes to pay for care. We are also going to have to spend a lot more on defence. What will give? Will VAT hit 25 per cent, or national insurance rise and rise again? The economy would collapse.

There is no simple explanation for the global baby bust. Populations are aging rapidly almost everywhere, whether countries are developed or still emerging, and the number of children as a proportion of the population is falling almost universally, usually to well below replacement levels. This applies to countries with generous maternity and paternity laws as well as those without, to those that subsidize child care or not.

Britain’s extortionate house prices are so extreme that they are undoubtedly a factor, but the birth rate isn’t noticeably higher in parts of the country that are more affordable, or even in countries where housing is cheaper. There appear to be much greater forces at play, including increasing education, secularization and urbanization, as well as frustration: polls demonstrate that women often want more children than they are having.

But what is clear is that the situation in Britain is being exacerbated by younger people believing that society is rigged against them. Lockdowns were a calamity. Wages are depressed, higher education too expensive, housing obviously disastrous and it feels to many as if the old are too powerful, that their privileges – triple locked pensions, free bus passes and the rest – are being extracted from young workers.

It is no wonder that they are depressed, turning to the far-Left, embracing a demented woke ideology that pits groups and genders against one another, and even the kind of extreme green death-cultery which advocates zero children. The young need to be cut a deal, or else Britain will be overwhelmed by a demographic and fiscal tsunami.


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