Magazine

Looking Beyond An Aging Population


"Global aging" (Special Report, Jan. 31) was interesting and well-researched, but it exaggerates a minor, long-term problem that is dwarfed by a more pressing labor-force problem -- a lack of jobs. Given the current 10% or higher unemployment rate in Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development countries (mainly those facing the aging problem) and the largely stagnant economic growth in these countries except for the U.S., an aging workforce is hardly a short-term or long-term threat to national well-being.

The EU now keeps 10% or more of its productive and younger workers idle and encourages its older workers to retire in their mid-50s because of a labor-supply surplus and a lack of jobs. The U.S. doesn't exactly face a labor shortage, either.

John Reeder

Arlington, Va.

The article "A nation of dropouts?" ("Global aging," Special Report, Jan. 31) rightly claims that 40% of India's children drop out of school before they're 10 years old. But it is wrong to state that one-third of the rest graduate. Less than 4% of India's population graduate from its colleges. The numbers appear a lot larger because we are a larger nation. The crisis facing India is far more serious than most people imagine.

R.N. Bhaskr, Chairman

E-Convergence Technologies Ltd.

Bombay

"Productivity can make up the gap" (Special Report, Jan. 31) suggests that Japan's enhanced productivity would compensate for its rapidly decreasing workforce. The possibility of real recovery of the strongest manufacturing industries of the 1980s seems slim or hopeless for the foreseeable future. The latest booming recovery of digital consumer electronics appears to have finished in a momentous bubble. Japan's information- technology industry unchangeably continues to construct blast furnaces and power plants. It continues to produce and sell all kinds of similar products without creating any originality in corporate governance and products by the principle of "choosing and selecting." It is unable to create its own original corporate structures among global multinationals, such as Samsung Group, or amid speedy and nimble secondary-equipment manufacturers, such as foundries in Taiwan and lowest-cost assemblers in China.

Akira Chimura

Abiko, Japan

Productivity can make up the gap in aging societies, but chief economist Michael J. Mandel minimizes the improvement that is required in some cases. Japan, Britain, and the U.S. are either above or at the level of consistently improving the productivity required to double income per person in the referenced time frame. However, to state that France needs "only a few tenths" of a percent when in fact it would need a 20% improvement from the historical rate understates the magnitude of the task. Likewise, the needed German growth is "only a half a percentage point," he says, which is in fact an improvement by one-third (33%). Without some drastic actions, these rates appear far from achievable.

Steven Bragg

Norman, Okla.

Re "This steelmaker is red-hot" (Asian Business, Jan. 31): We could scarcely believe your editorial team could overlook such a glaring lapse in the photograph accompanying the article on Japanese steel. Defying the laws of physics, the ladle in the picture is inverted -- and seems akin to the fortunes of Japanese steelmakers.

Koushik De

Asian Institute of Management

Manila

Editor's note: The photograph was inadvertently inverted in production.

"Why you lost all that money," (Books, Jan. 31) your review of Charles Gasparino's book Blood on the Street, does not appear to view the widespread corporate malfeasance of the '90s against the wider historical context in which it flourished. The fall of communism as an alternative political and economic system in the early '90s removed the fears and concerns that had dictated a more caring social policy while restraining predatory capitalism in the West. A glaring example of that change is the current dismantling of the Social Security systems in the U.S., Britain, and even in Russia, where citizens have been invited to fend for themselves. This trend is likely to intensify.

Have we learned something from the events of the '90s? Unlikely. Are we going to lose more money? You bet!

Antonio Albert

London

Re "Let the retail wars begin" (Asian Business, Jan. 24): Good for the retail war! Sometimes it is hard to decide where to go shopping -- the local-brand supermarket Wuhan Zhongbai Group Co., only seven minutes away on foot, or the Lotus Centre, owned by the CP Group, 20 minutes via a free bus in front of my door. I also live near a collection of world-famous retailers: Metro, PriceSmart (PSMT), Gome, B&Q, and another home-improvement retailer, Home-Mart, which belongs to Shanghai Bailian Group.

Actually, the war began in 1998 in Wuhan, one of China's major cities, with a population of 7.28 million, when Carrefour, Metro, and CP Group entered the local market. For residents, the retail war is a good thing because it brings prices down and service levels up.

Wendy Niu

Beijing


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