Japanese Official Apologizes for Telling Truth About Shrinking Population

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A "Kinsley gaffe" -- named after political commentator Michael Kinsley who elaborated on the subject -- is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. Specifically, in the words of Mr. Kinsley, a gaffe has occurred when the statement is "some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say."

The concept of the Kinsley gaffe has now crossed the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese finance minister, Taro Aso, has apologized for pointing out the obvious: Japan's shrinking population is due to the fact that people aren't having enough children.

The headline in the New York Times is (perhaps inadvertently) amusing: "Official Apologizes After Blaming Childless People for Japan's Shrinking Population." What, exactly, is there to apologize for? This is so glaringly indisputable that even Captain Obvious could have made that observation. It's like blaming bank robbers for causing bank robberies.

So, Mr. Aso committed a classic Kinsley gaffe. He said something that was obviously true, but he wasn't supposed to say it, possibly because it's a touchy subject in Japan.

The Incredible Shrinking Japan

Contrary to popular wisdom, the world is neither overpopulated nor growing out of control. There are no precise consensus figures, but many demographers believe that, sometime in the 2100s, the world population will hit a peak (maybe around 11 billion) and then begin to decline.

Population growth until 2100 will not occur evenly. Some countries, notably in Africa, will gain many more people. But several countries, mostly in Europe, will shrink. The map below, provided by Our World in Data, depicts this projection:

Of course, these projections are based on models, and small tweaks to the assumptions that underlie them can greatly influence the predicted outcomes. A new book called Empty Planet argues that increasing female literacy rates will rapidly bring down population growth to such an extent that humanity will begin shrinking this century. The authors write, a little too gloomily in my opinion, "In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline... Once that decline begins, it will never end."

Japan is already preparing for this eventuality. That's one reason why Japan is crazy for robots. In the United States, we view them with suspicion, seeing them as soulless job stealers. In Japan, they are seen as saviors; there won't be enough people to do all the work that needs to be done (e.g., taking care of the elderly), so robots can help fill in.

On the downside, there's a budding sex robot industry in Japan, which probably isn't helping the population problem.