Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
The line that really jumped out at me from the Wednesday, April 16, 2014 Japan Times story “Population off a third year; 25% are elderly” was that “Any suggestion of opening its borders to young workers who could help plug the population gap provokes strong reactions among the public.” Oh, really? It sounds like a dubious assertion to me, on a par with all the other dubious canards spewed out by the government to justify itself.
It is easy to become confused and to distrust analyses of Japan’s aging and shrinking population. First of all, it’s neither news nor unexpected. Second, it is easy to forecast diametrically opposite outcomes of the situation: long-term burdens modified by short-term gains. The question is, which will prevail, the gains or the burdens?
I am always thinking about revenue stream. The aging population means more elderly expenditure, and the population decline affected by the low birth rate outpaced by the elderly death rate means a drying up revenue stream. Every day there are fewer and fewer people to pay monies to the government to satisfy the government’s obligations and ambitions. I think that speaks against courting big projects like World Cups and Olympic Games.
Isn’t there a short-term financial windfall? While income tax, pension and health insurance revenue are decreasing with shrinking numbers, the release of the deceased elderly’s lifetime savings and other assets coupled with the collection of death/inheritance taxes means a significant simultaneous infusion of revenue into the economy and government accounting books. While the aging population is currently driving up medical, long-term care, social pension and welfare costs those higher expenditures will not be perpetual. We will be over the Baby Boomer hump one day. We will reach the end of the arc of rising financial burdens and shrinking workforce and the population will eventually stabilize at a lower level. Then everything will be fine. No? In the meantime, Japan will muddle through with longsuffering perseverance the way it always does. It’s a muddling country.
Published on Thursday, April 24, 2014 as “Muddling past the boomer bump.”
Of course, industry and government’s bumbling-fumbling handling of the Fukushima nuclear power plant/radiation crisis is a textbook example of the Japanese habit of muddling through. In that situation, like the population situation, there is no plan. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re making it up as they go along. That’s how Japan is. I think there's a name for it in Japanese.