Grey Tyranny

Picture this: an elderly couple retire and start spending a lot more time at home. Their house is next to an elementary school. Now there during the day, they get annoyed by the noise of children playing during recess. They are also bothered by the school’s annual sports day with all its cheering, music and loudspeaker announcements.

They start lodging complaints, demanding that the school stop having Sports Days and keep those bloody kids quiet in the playground.

Of course, you know this must have happened at least once, somewhere, because the world is wide and a diversity of people live in it.

However, would it surprise you to know that this happens so often in Japan that it has become a trope?

The median age in Japan in 48.6, dead oldest in the world. While other countries have lower birth rates, Japan’s rate has been low for so long that people have started becoming unaccustomed to seeing or hearing children. They frown at a fussing baby on the train, sigh when the toddler next door chucks a tanty, make teeth-sucking sounds when someone at a meeting under the age of 40 suggests an innovation like setting up a website for bookings or phasing out the fax machine.

Not only are the old disproportionately numerous, they also vote more consistently than any other group. They dominate society.

This has effects.

Slicing the pie

The number one priority of the old is to maintain the national pension AT ALL COSTS. They usually have no other investments to fall back on and limited financial literacy, so the pension is all they have. The consequence of this is rising taxes, even on young families, limited spending on other areas like education, and a national debt that is at 266% of GDP, far and away the highest of any developed country. In second place is Greece with Teutonically frugal debt ratio of just 177% of GDP.

Consider this while keeping unrelated Western problems in higher education out of your mind: despite having record low numbers of 18-year-olds as a percentage of the population, the country still can’t afford to subsidize universities enough for poor, capable students to attend. There are Japanese people smart enough to be software engineers or accountants who are stuck working retail or doing menial work in factories. This in an economically declining country where starting your own business is hard, and where the trades are mostly not lucrative.

Such was the situation of the alleged Abe assassin. His mum gave the family fortune to the Moonies, thus robbing him of further education and basically any chance of having a family or a decent life.

Another example: in some prefectures, having a baby (the birth, pre-natal checks etc.) is not covered by national health insurance because it is not a sickness. Medical expenses for having one baby can total over USD $5,000.

“Have more babies, young citizens! And pay for ’em, ya fuckers.”

You know where the health budget is being spent.

Japan’s low birth rate is the ultimate cause of its falling wages and budget constrictions. Yes, the old are seizing a greater slice of the pie, but the unborrowed part of that pie is itself shrinking.

This situation creates a vicious circle: tightened circumstances for younger people make it even harder for them to have children, which further increases societal aging.

The Covid connection

Another pertinent issue has been Covidian policies. People still wear masks everywhere because they fear the glares of their seniors if they do not. This will further reduce birth rates as social skills have collapsed among the young, with teenagers now least keen to take off their masks as they are unaccustomed to showing their faces in public.

Imagine being 15 years old and having not shown your face outside the home since elementary school.

It will take a command from the top to make people remove the masks, like the Emperor’s public announcement on NHK radio to surrender in 1945, but this would be unpopular with you-know-who so it probably won’t come any time soon. The situation may be the same five years from now. Maybe twenty years from now.

Old people in Japan mostly want to live out the rest of their days in peace, quiet and safety. What happens after they die is someone else’s problem. The young are struggling, you say? Well, we struggled too!

The nation is fading away, apparently too top-heavy and inert to survive.

A global trend

But this article is not about Japan. It is about the global emergence of a Grey Tyranny. The Land of the Rising Sun is, as usual, the canary.

Across the developed world, societies are aging and the centre of gravity for political power is becoming concentrated among older generations. We can see this at a glance in the US, where the average age of a Congressman is about 60 and the average age of a President is about 120.

While many of the individuals in charge are still of the Silent Generation, Boomers have electoral might.

To take another example of Grey Tyranny, consider Australia. For a long time, ultra-low interest rates have effectively transferred wealth from young to old. Homeowners (mostly older) have massive tax and pension benefits compared to renters, and this pushes their house prices higher still, thus locking out an increasing percentage of the young.

A selfish generation?

Are the world’s current crop of senior citizens more selfish than the kindly old folk of yore, who devoted all their time to doting on grandchildren and running Country Women’s Association lamington drives?

If you have any figures to back it up I’ll have a look, but my assumption is no. People in general are selfish, always have been, always will be. They vote for what they want. Sometimes they want something for someone else because if feels good, like allowing in more refugees who will live in cities far away, but in the end they put themselves first. See: history.

Older people have likely not become more selfish; there are just more of them (and they vote more) so their concerns tend to crowd out those of others.

This is a novel historical situation. Previously in democracies, political power lay with younger groups.

The tyranny of the young

The title ‘Grey Tyranny’ might have captured your attention, but couldn’t we logically claim that earlier eras were in the thrall of a ‘Youth Tyranny’?

Take the Boomers. In Australia, they were such a large demographic that they’ve been well-served all the way through. They got free university education, then reintroduced tuition fees once they came into power. They got nice superannuation arrangements allowing them to retire in their 50s, which they dismantled for the Gen-Xs coming up behind them. Now that they are old, the government continues to bend to their will.

Perhaps old people once saw the innovations of the 1970s as a domination of a younger generation too numerically superior to repress, and felt helpless watching the upturning of their own values and social conventions.

Returning to those Japanese people now dependent on public pensions: why didn’t earlier governments set up a more sustainable retirement system back when that generation was in its prime working years, incentivizing citizens to save more for themselves? Well, because that generation was a big, powerful group back then, too.

As we discussed previously, governments rarely take on difficult, important tasks from which there is little personal reward.

It could be worse

While current demographics are unprecedented, there is another case where an older generation threw a younger generation under the bus.

It’s hard to discuss modern problems without mentioning World War One for context.

In that absurd conflict of hubris and stupidity, an older generation thought it would be a good idea to take a large chunk of its youth and throw them into a meatgrinder in the name of national pride. For some countries (including Australia), the dent this carnage left in the population pyramid could be seen for decades.

Europe never recovered.

However, Churchill was 40 in 1914. Wilhelm II was 55, the Tsar was 46 and Woodrow Wilson was 58. This was an atrocity committed by the middle-aged against those in their fighting years.

I’m not sure if this is a case of generational power or more to do with the particular individuals in control at that time. In any case, let us be glad that our present oldies are only impoverishing the young, not actually murdering them.

The future

Trees don’t grow to the sky.

Present demographic trends will give way to future trends. It is unlikely that birth rates will continue to decline at present rates all the way down to zero then stay there until humans become extinct. These things are likely cyclical.

Most of the world can look to Japan to see its immediate future: ossification, indebtedness, declining standards of living and resentment from the young. Some countries will soften this with immigration, but as will be discussed in a future post, this cannot be a panacea. Self-funded retirement also helps, though for most countries that needs to have been set up long ago.

As for Japan itself, and our own longer-term future? It’s very hard to say. The present situation appears unsustainable, but it also appeared unsustainable in 2003 and here we are.

If Japan keeps chugging along, we have hope. If it goes pear-shaped, that’s a bad sign for everyone else..



  1. luisman · January 25

    I believe this started around 1870-90, when Otto von Bismarck socialized the social contract and many western countries followed one way or another. Before, people were aware, that their only social insurance is their own family, and if this fails, they would be dependent on churchian welfare. With this shift, the state became the welfare provider and grew constantly, as the demand for welfare is always unlimited. Politicians will not change that, since it’s their main source of power.
    Why, as a potential parent, would you shoulder all the cost for your kids, if the social contract has changed, and you could force other peoples kids to pay your pension? There are of course religious reasons, lifestyle reasons, emotional reasons etc. to have kids, but financial reasons to NOT have kids became ever more dominant.

    Liked by 2 people

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  3. Stefan · January 25

    In the future, when there is abundant and free housing and infrastructure, it will be interesting to see which cults and groups will repopulate different areas of the globe. I bet some subpopulations like the Amish in the Americas, Kashketniki (cap wearers) in Ukraine, Hutterites in Tasmania have already undergone some evolutionary selection for childbearing. The good news if I’m right – the woke left will disappear by itself, it will just take a few generations for nature to do its job.
    On a slightly different topic, I think the Plaza accords were a political tradeoff for Japan’s neo-isolationism. Their politicians and media (FT is Japanese for example) managed to persuade the Anglo-Saxons that they (Japan) were tricked, screwed in the 90-es, and are now in decline. Sorry, I can’t parrot this – Japan is cleaner, nicer, and wealthier than before and unlike the US, its hi-tech industry has not been hollowed out despite its close distance to China and other Asian nations. Booming nuclear industry, heavy machine industries, electronics, world-class engineering, no green craziness – they are just left alone and do everything to keep the myth of a declining country alive, to avoid the Eye of Sauron staring at them again from across the Pacific. The issue is, lots of economists look through the lenses of GDP and it is not always good (i.e. I buy a coffee in Melbourne for 5$ and contribute 5$ to the GDP here, while someone else buys coffee for 0.20$ in Egypt for example, and contributes 0.20$ to the GDP there, but at the end, we both just drink a coffee).
    Japanese government debt, unlike in other countries, is held almost entirely by the big Japanese industry groups who will never sell it (they are the government, in some ways), or else the rebel Keiretsu will be dissolved and sold to competitors – it has happened in the past.
    So back to the greying – as you mentioned, no politician will do anything that will cost him votes, so why would anyone want to confront the oldies? And on a personal level, many politicians that are in high positions are closer to retirement than to Uni and their friends and families as well – they are natural allies to the greys.
    And to change the topic again, I think there is a probability the Chinese commies are deliberately crashing their Real estate market there, as to combat fertility decline. Last year they also forbade sluttiness on social media and forbade private tutoring lessons, as those were draining the budgets of ordinary Chinese. Perhaps they have a list of measures. How they will do it without angering party officials on many levels, who are real estate investors is a show to watch – I am genuinely interested in how this will play out. It is not just money in a planned economy, so there is a chance this measure to succeed – we’ll see.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · January 26

      I agree with a lot of this, especially that the unique nature of Japan’s debt that makes it different to any other country.
      However, I can confirm that Japan’s economy really is declining and life is gradually getting materially worse for most people. Wages are not keeping up inflation, taxes are rising and an increasing proportion of workers are in casual positions.
      The minimum wage is about USD $8 and a lot of people without a university education earn about that, even into middle age.
      At this rate, it will become the cleanest, safest, most convenient Third World country.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kentucky Gent · January 26

        “At this rate, it will become the cleanest, safest, most convenient Third World country.”

        My understanding is, Japan was just that when the first Europeans arrived. It must be true, because I read it in the novel “Shogun”.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Maniac · January 25

    More like “selfless generation.”
    Many young adults aren’t having kids because they know they don’t have the resources or endurance it takes to raise them. They’re reading the headlines, too.
    Bringing kids into the world in its current state is ludicrous.


  5. TechieDude · January 25

    The end era silents and early boomers still running the show in the US breaks the ‘fourth turning’ model, and everything points to a WW1 style catastrophy. only this time with more debt than known in the history of the universe, and a fractured woke, diverse culture.
    You think people are going to buy war bonds and donate their metal to the effort? yeah.
    Into this we have a generation of late boomers/early GenX that hasn’t saved much of anything.
    I know more than a few geezers at church that are very comfortably retired. More than a few had their own businesses, but most have pensions that companies used to provide. For every one of these, I probably know 2-3 that are early sixties and have no earthly idea how they are going to retire, if at all. Captain Capitolism did a video on this sometime ago in response to the number of 59 year olds asking him how to prepare for retirement. The answer is, you won’t.
    That’s going to be Japan on steriods here.

    Liked by 2 people

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