Departing for New Hampshire in November 2010, Sen. Judd Gregg, the fiscal conservative President Obama wanted in his Cabinet, blurted an inconvenient truth: "This nation is on a course where if we don't do something about it, get ... fiscal policy (under control), we're Greece."
The remark was regarded as hyperbole. But Gregg had a point. For though Greece, measured by the size of her economy, is only 2 to 3 percent of the EU or the U.S. economy, she is a microcosm of the West.
Consider the demography.
According to the most recent revision of the U.N.'s "World Population Prospects," Greece in 2010 had 11.2 million people.
More than 24 percent were 60 or above, more than 18 percent 65 or older. Three percent were 80 or above. And, every year, for every nine Greeks who are born, 10 Greeks die.
Greece is slowly passing away.
Fast forward to 2050.
Greece's population will have fallen by 300,000 to 10.8 million. The median age will have risen by eight years to 49.5. Half the population will be 50 or older. More critically, the share of Greece's population 60 or older will be 37.4 percent, with 31.3 percent over 65. One in nine Greeks will be over 80.
If Athens is breaking under the weight of early retirement and pensions for seniors today, her situation will be horrendous by mid-century.
Where, in 2010, there were four Greeks under 60 for every Greek over 60, by 2050, there will only be 1.7 Greeks under 60 for every Greek over 60.
Conclusion: The retirement age must rise, and pension benefits fall, or Greece collapses.
What of the possibility of a new baby boom? Not likely, given that the fertility rate in Greece has been below replacement levels for three decades and is today only two-thirds of that needed to replace the present population.
Indeed, by 2050, the fertility rate of Greek women will have been below zero population growth for 80 years. One wonders: How can the U.N. estimate that Greece's population will fall only 3 percent by then? Is the U.N. assuming mass immigration from the Muslim world?
But what does Greece have to do with the rest of Europe, or with us?
Only this. The median age of all of Europe is rising, and the demographic numbers for Greece look positively rosy alongside those of the east, where population declines in the tens of millions are projected for Russia and Ukraine. And outside Iceland and Albania, not one nation of Europe has a fertility rate sufficient to maintain its population. Those that are projected to grow, like Britain, have to be relying on Third World immigrants and their higher birth rate.