Driving on dipped headlines

Rafael Puyol. Professor. IE Business School

10 December 2008

Immigration and an ageing population are both issues that need to placed under the spotlight, but switching on that light is proving difficult in the current economic situation.

In times of crisis people find it difficult to drive on full beam, to analyse things calmly and in perspective, with the attention to detail required for important matters. Take the two things that will have the greatest impact on our future: ageing and immigration, currently being tackled using dipped headlights, providing a view of only short-term effects rather than mid and long term results.

The short-term considers the matter of immigration as if it involved only two opposite standpoints, namely whether it should be permitted or not. And, as things are not going well for anyone, the balance of the dilemma leans towards those who are against, those who uphold the need for strict controls and the return of foreigners to their countries of origin. However, the approach to immigration cannot be based exclusively on the present situation. It is important to look at the future evolution of population and the labour market to realise that more immigrants will be necessary in the future. Hence, the question is not whether or not we should have immigration, but rather, since it is very necessary, in knowing how many immigrants we are going to need and what type.

The consequences of ageing constitute another of the issues that are not being looked at using sufficient light, as if it were a phenomenon that could be avoided or postponed. It cannot. Once again, the ageing of our population is not a matter of yes or no, but rather of how. When the baby boomers reach retirement age (in just over 10 years’ time), the ageing factor will require solutions for the payment of people and other social expenses.

With immigration we have gone from welcoming immigrants with open arms to regarding them as interlopers, and the way we are tackling ageing is taking us down the same negative road.

We need to take a broader look at both phenomena with better light. Only then will what we have to do become clear.

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