Watching C-Span this morning I was struck by some statements from Thomas Saving, one of the mandated "independent" Trustees of the Social Security and Medicaid Trust Fund (the other half of the Board is basically the president's cabinet). Along with the news that these entitlement programs are moving this year from paying for themselves to funding from other revenues, Dr. Saving estimated that, whereas Social Security costs about five percent of the total federal budget today, by 2020 that figure would be closer to twenty percent. Of course the Bush administration is hostile to Social Security, and these prospects could change for the better if a new administration took better care of the fund (just as they changed radically for the worse after the election of 2000). But what struck me was this analysis from Dr. Saving about how to cure the chronic problem. "We need lots of young, well-trained, healthy people," he said. This younger generation could pay into the fund enough to keep it solvent. But with lower fertility rates in the "industrialized world," this will require: immigration. In fact (the punch line), Saving predicted a shortage of immigrants within fifteen years. Countries will be bidding on desirable immigrant populations to make up for demographic labor shortages.
Meanwhile, today the New York Times reports that Toyota sold more vehicles worldwide in the first quarter of 2007 than any other automaker, including General Motors. General Motors has sold more vehicles worldwide than any other manufacturer, continuously, since 1931. We're supposed to be amazed by the symbolism of the eclipse of the old manufacturing goliath, but count me as amazed that General Motors was once so mighty that it took until now to be overtaken by trends that started decades ago. I never would have guessed that GM was outselling every other manufacturer, quarter after quarter, all these years. If you had told me that two or three Asian companies were doing better, and even throw in a European or two, I would have believed it. That's because financially speaking, that number or so were doing better.
What is the connection between these two items?