I doubt you can guess where my book The Demographic Cliff is doing best. It isn’t the United States. It’s not even Australia, where I’ve also had extensive media coverage.
No, it’s in South Korea of all places. All I’ve done there is speak at two (albeit large) financial conferences and done a few newspaper interviews. But for some reason, what I have to say resonates with those people.
So when I was invited to speak at the 16th World Knowledge Forum in Seoul, I said yes… despite the fact that it’s a grueling trip to go there for four days. I’m talking serious jet lag.
This is a major conference. It attracts all sorts of attendees outside of Korea. Maeil Business Newspaper, South Korea’s main business daily, puts on the event. Its chairman, Chang Dae-whan, was the acting prime minister of South Korea in 2002.
There were over 100 speakers and panelists. Some of them come with a high profile, like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, NYU economist Noriel Roubini and billionaire John Paul Dejoria. All were leading entrepreneurs, academics, or political types.
I was on one of the first panels, “Megatrends 2050,” where I got to meet and speak with two people I respect.
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The first was Don Tapscott. Don wrote The Digital Economy about 20 years ago.
I was surprised when he reminded me how old the book was.
He didn’t just look at the superficial changes. We all know a digital economy means more people working on computers.
No – Don covered the implications of a huge paradigm shift, the unprecedented effect of an economy run through a screen. The book sits on my shelf and comes highly recommended.
The second was Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder of Airbnb, the website through which people run bed and breakfasts out of their homes. Readers know I’ve dedicated entire writings to this staple of the Sharing Economy. It was a real treat to take the stage with him.
I covered another important development – the “Tiger Economies,” named for their fierce and rapid progress to developed nation status. They are Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.
This is a daunting task that few nations achieve. Most assume emerging countries like China, India and Brazil will become as rich as developed countries. My research shows they haven’t and won’t – not even close.
That’s why the handful that have achieved this rare feat are named after the tiger. There is no creature more feared and admired in Asia.
That made sitting on my next panel difficult, where I discussed the impacts of South Korea’s demographic trends.
The bad – South Korea is aging just as fast as Japan, the demographic junkyard of the world, and Germany, which I’ve warned has the worst demographics in Europe in the coming decade.
The country’s peak may come later than other developed nations. But its fall from glory will be all the more severe. Especially given that I predict the next global crisis will come well before its demographic peek. China’s fall will also hit them hard. South Korea exports 50% of its GDP – higher than any developed country in the world – with China a leading consumer.
Others on the panel, such as Professor Eugenia Kalnay, discussed the significance of climate change. She said we need clear global standards that do not allow countries like China to cheat by polluting so much to save costs. I agreed – a lot. She was surprised by how much.
Still others discussed the potential for a unified North and South Korea.
This was another great idea! Eventually Korea will have to come up with some solution to handle its demographic decline. It has few options for attracting substantial immigration. Unlike Singapore, it lacks a large English-speaking population connecting it to the rest of the developed world.
I had an hour-long talk with Chairman Dae-whan. He’s the author of One Asia Momentum, which imagines an economic block in Asia similar to the one in Europe. I was impressed with his vision for both Korea and Asia.
I like South Korea. I’ve visited on two other occasions. It’s an impressive country and Seoul a beautiful and modern city. South Korea was never on my bucket list, nor those of most people I know. But my wife and I enjoyed it very much.
We’ve stayed before at the Banyan Tree, located at the most scenic point on a small mountain overlooking the old city. We were sold by the large hot tub in the middle of the oversized bedroom – a 180-degree view. Its interior décor was a bit dated, but that was part of the charm.
Just below was the Shilla, the hotel where the conference was held. It’s likely the best and most modern hotel in Seoul, fitting for a large convention like this.
In a couple days I’m heading to meet Andy Pancholi, a cycle expert out of London, and also speak at the Elite Investor Summit. After that, another on my bucket list – Marrakesh, Morocco.
Traveling, speaking – it doesn’t get better than this.
Follow me on Twitter @harrydentjr