Thursday, 28 April 2011

Japan's Aging Society - Is It Really a Problem?

A dear old lady that I teach asked me today to write a model answer for the Aiken test that she is studying for. I’ve done this plenty of times before for other classes. It struck me I could do an alternative one for Trippy Traveller. The Eiken test is incessantly writing questions about the pension problem and the aging society in Japan and so I thought it a good topic for my Eiken model answer. Here it is.

It is a fact that now Japan has the oldest society in the world, meaning the average age is higher than any other country. The Japanese media is the same as the European media in trying to set an agenda in there reporting of this fact. They see an aging society as a ‘problem’. This is looking at the phenomenon in simplistic economic terms. The thinking goes that if too many people are retired than the government cannot raise enough taxes to pay for the pension system.

The media in Japan fail to mention that the world is all ready over populated and that Japan has the highest concentration of people in the world. They espouse trying to increase the birth rate: the thinking being that more young people equals more taxes equals more pension money. This is stupid logic. All these imaginary young people are also going to get old and the ‘problem’ will only get bigger; besides the world is already struggling to feed itself. Water supplies are running perilously low – in 25 years demand for water will outstrip the supply.

Imagine another 20 million people were added to the Japanese population that is already nudging the 130 million mark. That’s 20 million more stupid consumers who will no doubt buy cars and consumer products wrapped in plastic. The environmental cost will be immense. More rubbish, more pollution as well as more crowding. Believing that the answer is having more people is the same as believing that the only way out of debt is to borrow more money.

When you are in debt you have to change your lifestyle to reduce your outgoings. You must prioritize and cut out the frivolous. The Japanese must do the same. First they must cut out the cancer that is their media, their education system and their retarded political system and then they must focus on using their resources in the most effective way possible.

The focus of the media is on tax. That is a nicely emotive topic. It is a subject that affects everyone and is related to something everyone can understand – money. The middle class hate paying more taxes. They already pay more than they can afford. The middle class are so worried about paying more tax to look after old people in Japan that they are even toying with the heretical notion of bringing in millions of Indonesians and Filipinos to wipe the bums of the old and make up the short fall in tax revenues. This is pure heresy because the Japanese (as part of their religious credo) believe they are a homogeneous (or dare I say it ‘pure’) race. Risking the taboo will remain forever theoretical in Japan. No government would actually do this.

Instead why not simply reduce government and government spending. Not only are government offices over-staffed, but they are also only averagely productive. Get old people to work for the government for free. And why not spend less on building roads to nowhere, culture centres with no culture, and the countless other concrete projects that pork barreling politicians love? Deduct from the revenues the pension money and then spend the rest on the most urgent stuff.

I am no doubt not the first to notice that governments pull out their wallets for banks and big businesses that are in trouble faster than a hooker drops her panties; but when it comes to paying for their old citizenry they bitch about the cost and talk about how they can’t keep paying what is due to the people.

Why not pay the Mickey Mouse army they have in Japan less? Give them less toys.

Education, pensions and health care must and should come first; at the end of the list should come politicians, bureaucrats and soldiers.

People live longer, thus they can contribute to society for longer. There are more ways to contribute to the welfare of your compatriots than by simply paying taxes.

Rather than imposing an arbitrary age upon the individual as to when he or she is deemed superfluous to the economic life of a country maybe they should be judged on their performance. If you can do your job and you don’t want to retire then why not continue working? If someone is in his late 30s and keeps scoring goals for his team and country why tell him to hang up his boots?

And if a person retires from a job it doesn’t mean they retire from society. People in their 50s, 60s and 70s can still do other work to contribute. They can volunteer. They can work for their local community. They could even do jobs (for free or a minimal wage) that were done by the more able bodied. This would reduce the budget of local authorities. There are masses of jobs in Japan that involve standing around and waving a flag or light saber. Why are these people being paid tax payers money to do this when there are legions of old people who could do it for nothing?

It’s not just grudge work that the elderly can do either. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge to offer. They could work in education, in social work and in care work. Why not get the fairly old to look after the really old?

By re-training the old they that can be empowered to help. Nobody wants to be a burden. Giving the old a way to justify themselves in the eyes of society is the answer. The media are implicitly saying that the elderly are bringing down the country’s economy. If people thought that the elderly were actually helping to maintain the general welfare and economic health of the country the problem would immediately disappear.

What is stopping this from happening is institutionalization. The average Japanese man spends all his life being told what to do. Ever since childhood free time is discouraged. The group ethic is elevated. You work for the company 10 hours a day and when you get home you shut off entirely. Have dinner, watch the idiot box, have a bath and go to bed. At the weekend you are a good citizen by consuming – go to the shops, go to the golf course, waste petrol driving around: just waste the money you have earned. It is an unreflective working life that once it has ended leaves a man in a vegetative state. Having been told what to do for so long, a salary man or a factory worker or a construction worker cannot plan his own time. He cannot for the life of him think what to do with the free time that retirement has given him, other than to consume, watch TV and continue to get up at 5am. It is my opinion that one original thought is worth more than a life time of getting up early.

From the bottom up Japanese people must adapt to the fact that they are getting older. They must stop relying on their politicians – who frankly are clueless. Rather they must work together to make things work and to change the policies of those in charge.

Everyone in Japan knows that local governments between January and April go crazy by spending money on resurfacing roads and re-painting white lines and doing a million unnecessary public works just to make sure they spend their entire budget. Otherwise they will be punished the following financial year with a smaller budget. The fact that everyone agrees this is stupid but nothing changes is indicative of the wider problem.

Why not get somebody to run for office that proposes a policy whereby those local authorities that save money will be rewarded in the future, and those authorities that spend their budgets will be punished with smaller budgets the following year?

There is a yawning gap in Japan between what the people think and what the government does. The average turnout for the last election (April 2011) was about 25%. The electorate obviously doesn’t like any of the political parties. They are not given anything worth voting for. After the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster any politician that made the central tenant of their campaign the phasing out of nuclear power in Japan would surely have garnered plenty of votes. Instead the main political parties side stepped this issue. It wouldn’t surprise me if the media didn’t start banging on about the dangers of an aging society just to divert attention from the fact that the country is slowly but surely being poisoned by radioactivity.

The people of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain are rousing from their slumber, what will it take for the Japanese to do the same?

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