Ever since the rise of Japan as a technological hyperpower in the second half of the twentieth century, it has been apparent that if ‘the future’ is being realised anywhere, it is East Asia: from the latest trends in communications to the robotisation of large sectors of the workforce, the world looks upon that region as a kind of oracle.
Therefore, the results of a new study authored by Seoul’s National Assembly Research Service into demographic trends in South Korea should be of interest to a wider audience beyond Korea’s borders. It posits that this digitally-defined, highly-industrialised nation of over fifty million people will be extinct by 2750, and that a number of its major cities will see their last-ever newborns grace the planet at some point in the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth centuries. More tangibly, South Korea will contract to a nation of just twenty million human inhabitants well within a century – a decline of over 60% on the present-day population.
Arguably the key reason why this report is so important is that is highlights the ‘irrationality’ of ‘rationality’, or at least some aspects of the hypermodern societies that virtually all countries are aiming to march towards. Universal education, urbanisation, economic specialisation and massive technological advances seem to be yielding populations which regard the basic business of self-replication as too expensive, messy and lacking in utility to bother with; but the net result is a much-reduced population which – ceteris paribus – can drastically reduce a nation’s standing in the world.
As a quick perusal of global geopolitics and economics will tell even the casual observer that demography does matter. The reason that China and India have large multinationals and SMEs alike dribbling insensibly is the same reason that they largely (though often quite wrongly) overlook countries with otherwise similar economic profiles such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Small European republics with similar birth rate patterns to South Korea and Japan risk resembling otherwise insignificant open-air museums à la Slavenka Drakulić’s memorable Euroskansen formulation. Policymakers everywhere would do well to consider the implications of this particular aspect of hypermodernity – or their successors in future generations might not have many compatriots left to discuss this issue with.