By Eric Peters, CIO of One River Asset Management
“How long to dispose of a body before it smells,” Brian Walshe asked Google. “What is the rate of decomposition of a body found in a plastic bag compared to on a surface in the woods,” was another query that law enforcement retrieved from some faceless server, a virtual witness to his horrific crime.
He did not ask, but should have, “Are Google queries retrievable by the FBI.” Instead, he typed 20 questions you definitely should not Google if you want to get away with murder [see here].
On China’s Baidu, queries for baby strollers fell 17% last year and are -41% since 2018. Searches for baby bottles are down by one-third since 2018. But queries for elderly care homes surged 800% last year, faceless servers bearing witness to China’s profound demographic challenge.
China’s population surged from 540mm in 1949 to 969mm in 1980 when the One Child policy was introduced. And still, the population climbed inexorably to over 1.41bln in 2021. But in 2022, deaths exceeded births by 850k. UN demographers see China’s population contracting by 100mm by 2050.
You could imagine Xi secretly typing, “What is the rate of decline of a nation that shrinks and ages before becoming wealthy.”
Japan hit “peak people” in 2011 at 127.4mm. Demographers see it shrinking to 97mm by 2050. Russia is in utter demographic collapse. And you could imagine Putin secretly typing, “How long can a nation remain intact without enough young men to fight.”
Europe is on the ageing, shrinking path too, but unlike China, Russia and Japan, immigration still tempers its demographic decline. It’s easy to imagine countless European leaders typing, “How to assimilate the waves of refugees needed to sustain the economy while retaining your culture.”
Such demographic decline has never happened across the major global economies. How this impacts geopolitics, economies, and markets remains uncertain.
There is no back-test for this. The US continues to be the outlier, growing, albeit slowly. And let’s hope Biden is typing, “How to reverse the opioid/fentanyl/diabetes public health catastrophe that has lowered US life expectancy.”
And in India, Google searches for baby bottles jumped 22% last year, while queries for cribs surged 500%.