Youth is wasted on the young

I've been doing a lot of research on the problems of America's aging society, so it's funny for me to hear the development officials here stressing out because Cambodia's population is too young. A third of all Cambodians are under the age of fifteen. My first instinct, after agonizing about extended retirements, is to say "And this is a problem?" but demographic bulges can be difficult anywhere they come. No one here knows quite what they are going to do all these new people when they enter the workforce. The garment industry is the only significant industrial employer, and it only employs about 300,000 a year (though it probably supports 5-10 times that number). It cannot absorb this enormous demographic bulge by itself, but it's very unclear where else they can go--besides to other countries.

One odd side effect of the demographic bulge is that apparently, there is relatively little interest in the Khmer Rouge tribunal; as one source put it, "The OJ Simpson got more attention than this thing is attracting." Older people are intensely interested, not to say overjoyed. But most of the population is too young to remember the genocide, and apparently there is a tendency to deny that it can have been as bad as their parents say. That's a natural impulse, to be sure; did my mother really hike to school through snow drifts over her head? But in this case, it is eroding the public clamor for long-overdue justice.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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