The aging population problem.
Today (ignore blog date, I'm catching up, I think it was late feb 04) the federal government announced a strategy to combat the aging population problems faced in Australia at the moment. Their solution: encourage older people & mothers to stay in the work force. I have no real problems with the concept of encouraging people to stay on in the work force past 65, as I believe 65 is merely an arbitrary number & has little real bearing on a persons fitness or willingness to work, in much the same way as being 18 has little real bearing on whether someone is mature enough to drink alcohol, watch R-rated movies, smoke or even vote. The issue I have with the governments statement is the way in which they have lumped in their industrial relations reforms as though they are the only way to stimulate the economy. I also believe that they have managed to de-value various forms of unpaid work such as being a primary carer of one or more children. The problem with unpaid work is that it is unpaid, & consequently doesn't contribute to our GDP, even worse, it can't be taxed. The governments solution is to force these naughty unpaid workers into the work force so that they can hire child care workers to take care of their children, employ a domestic cleaning service to clean their floors and wash & iron their clothes and eat out at a restaurant every meal. All which is above board & taxable. yes Mr. Howard, this would boost the economy, the GDP would achieve record heights & bean counters everywhere would be ecstatic. But what would be the social impact of such an economically ideal society be? It seems to me that the government hasn't put much thought into why the aging population occurred in the first place. Their are a number of factors behind the aging population problem & I don't have the time or the inclination to go into them all now, but one of them & certainly not the least is that more & more women are choosing to place career before procreation. Now before I start getting hate mail from well-meaning feminists, I fully agree that every woman should have the right to choose a career over raising children, just as every man should have the right to choose to stay home and be the primary care giver for the children. The fact that more men don't make this choice is a complex socio-economic problem that indicates that we still live in a sexist society, but I'm afraid that discussion is well beyond the scope of this article. The issue at hand is that fertility rates in Australia are dropping because both partners are concentrating on their careers & don't have time to look after children. If we encourage mothers (or for that matter the few fathers electing to be primary care givers) to get back into the work force instead of performing all this hideous unpaid work, then we will be discouraging even further those few people left who are actually doing something about our falling population. The effects of this will only be seen 20-30 years down the track when fertility rates have plummeted even further & there is a drive to encourage people over 85 to stay on in the work force, & the government proposes dropping the minimum working age to 7 "to ensure economic growth". This is to say nothing of the social cohesion problems that would result from the deregulated labor market forcing parents to work longer hours having less quality time with their children & being worn out from working so hard when they actually do get some time with their children. Child care can look after & even educate a child but nothing can replace the influence on a childs life of a loving parent.
There are other ways to stimulate economic growth that do not incur this catch-22 problem.