Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 19, 2011
“The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”
- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776
ONE criticism often leveled at Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party when it was in power, and at the Koizumi government in particular, was that its policies resulted in a rise in irregular employment. That criticism was one weapon in the arsenal of the Democratic Party when it was in the opposition. The labor unions that provide the party with their largest organizational support also provided the ammunition.
Here’s the English-language version of a post from Kan Naoto’s blog, dated 21 December 2005:
“Yesterday I listened to labor union executives talk about the problem of irregular employment, which they have been grappling with for many years. There has been a sharp increase in irregular employment, including part-time work, labor seconding, and temporary work. The number of irregular workers in the labor force has reached 15 million, or 30% of the total. This increase has been particularly steep among young people who have just left high school or college, the so-called freeters.
“Many of those with irregular employment work for low wages. Even those who work full-time are treated as if they are part-time employees. The income of single mothers is often below that of the poverty level. There are people who make billions of yen trading stocks on the Internet. But what are we to do about today’s situation, when many people have incomes less JPY 3 million, or less than even 2 million? This is an important issue that the Democratic Party must deal with.”
So how has the Democratic Party dealt with this important issue since it took power and it became time to walk instead of talk? The government helpfully publishes a labor force survey, and here are some of the statistics they offer on the percentage of irregular workers.
33.4%: The July – September quarter in 2006, the end of the Koizumi government
35.5%: The highest percentage on record, for FY 2007, when Abe and Fukuda were in office.
33.0%: The January – March quarter in 2009, during the Aso government
34.1%: The July – September quarter in 2009, the end of the Aso government
34.9%: The October – December quarter in 2010, the second quarter with the Kan government in charge
35.5%: The January – March quarter in 2011, matching the record high, with the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima (the earthquake/tsunami region) excluded.
One can understand why Mr. Kan’s preferred policy option was to use the rhetoric of class warfare. That’s a lot less work than studying the nexus of human behavior, psychology, and money, commonly known as economics, and realizing there is next to nothing any government can do to move those statistics in a positive direction without a multitude of negative repercussions.
How much more psychologically comfy it is to ignore the other problems created by the ramifications of the preferred political solution (unemployment, higher prices, less business competition) than to admit the assumptions of a lifetime are just as screwy now as the day one became infatuated with them. Besides, what better way is there to work off grudges than to get even with the stand-ins for the source of them?
Working single mothers everywhere bring home a slice or two short of a rasher of bacon, but most of them are working single mothers because that was their choice. Almost all of the people who are both single and mothers are classified in that particular category for two reasons: Divorce — and the majority of divorces, by a large margin, are initiated by women — or childbirth without marriage.
The official explanation for people unable or unwilling to repair the leaky faucets of their lives is “bad luck”.
The soupçon of the population standing with a basket under the money tree in the Internet stock trading orchard after scarfing down a picnic of pâté de foie gras and grinding their designer heels into the noses of the workers are able to fire up their barbecues with rolled-up banknotes because that was their choice. Well, to an extent, anyway: profits of that type in financial markets are guaranteed to no one. But they still chose to intensively study stock market investment, to invest a substantial amount of their time during the day every day to follow the market and economic news, and to invest their own money in an enterprise with no guarantee of future success, even for those with past success.
The official explanation for people who decided to use their time in productive ways instead of flipping open their cell phones every 30 minutes with elaborately decorated fingernails is “privileged”.
At this point, it’s worth repeating the question first asked by Thomas Sowell: Is the person who has spent years in school goofing off, acting up, or fighting — squandering the tens of thousands of dollars that the taxpayers have spent on his education — supposed to end up with his income aligned with that of the person who spent those same years studying to acquire knowledge and skills that would later be valuable to himself and to society at large?
Books have been written about the changes that technology wrought to the industrial structure, the pointlessness of politicians thinking that meddling in the micro will improve the macro, as well as the futility of examining individual statistics out of context.
The least we can do here is recognize that the government’s current silence about these statistics demonstrates that the DPJ wasn’t talking about a change of government as a way to change the ratio, but was instead talking about a change in the ratio as a way to change the government.
More on freeters from a few years ago.