Japan from the inside out

An oasis in the desert of ignorance

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 5, 2012

IT’S an ironclad law that’s almost mathematical in its inverse proportionality: The more a commentator buncomizes with faux insight about the Japanese decline, the less that commentator actually knows about Japan. Now here’s an example that demonstrates the theorem works both ways. Gerald Curtis, a professor of political science at Columbia University, director of the Toyota Research Program at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, and the senior research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, thinks the declinist debate is a diversion.

He starts out with some much-needed common sense:

Japan is declining in some respects and in other important ways it is not declining at all. It is well known that Japan’s relative standing in the hierarchy of the world’s economies has declined. Japan as number one has given way to a Japan that is number three. But would you prefer to live in the number two economy China or the number three economy Japan? If you think about living standards and the quality of the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat, the health care and other social services you receive, and the number of years you can expect to live, the answer is obvious: better to live in a “declining” Japan than in a rising China.

More pertinent to the decline issue, is Japan’s diminished stature as an economic superpower really a matter of decline or the consequence of the ability of other countries to grow richer? The share of global GNP occupied by both the United States and Japan has declined thanks to the ability of other countries to emerge from abject poverty. That is good news not only for the people of those countries but for the United States and Japan as well, who have access to inexpensively priced goods and new markets for their exports.

It’s tempting to just copy and paste the whole thing:

The declinist narrative exaggerates Japan’s economic so-called decline because it fails to take into account the one indisputable aspect of Japan’s decline which is the decline of the number of Japanese. Has Japan’s economy performed notably worse than other advanced economies over the past twenty years? No, especially if you compare GDP growth per capita or per employee. Over two decades of “stagnation” Japan has grown, living standards have continued to increase and unemployment has been kept low.

Prof. Curtis is also aware of what so many people who presume to pontificate about Japan aren’t:

What about something we might call the nation’s social health. In terms of social cohesion, sense of community, and general civility, the Tohoku disaster showed the world how strong Japan is. Whatever political problems were revealed by the government response to the Tohoku tragedy, they pale by comparison with the self-discipline, restraint, outpouring of goodwill, and cooperation that Japanese people showed each other—and the welcoming attitude with which they greeted foreign assistance. And it is not only in rural areas like the Tohoku disaster zone in which these social bonds are strong. In urban Japan as well, cleanliness, low crime rates, and basic good manners still make Japanese cities like Tokyo some of the world’s most comfortable, civilized places to live.

The only problem he sees is demography, but he points out that Japan is by no means alone.

Demography may be robbing Japan of some of its vitality. Japan seems tired which should not be so surprising seeing that it is becoming more and more a country of older people; alas, elderly people tend to get tired. But this too is hardly a uniquely Japanese problem. Immigration brings vitality to the United States but most countries in Europe as well as South Korea, China, and many others face a demographic reality similar to Japan’s.

You’ve hit the link and read the whole thing? Good, because this is an excellent opportunity to mention one of my theories: people might be misunderstanding what’s happening with demographic decline. The cosmos naturally seeks the due mean, and extremes will always be balanced out.

The demographic decline might just be part of the ongoing process of survival of the fittest. Those people without the ability to protect themselves from predators, develop hunting skills, or recognize dangers and potentially fatal situations did not pass their genes on to later generations. The genes of those without the physical resiliency to withstand fatal bacteria also were not delivered to the future. All of us alive today are descended from stock capable of surviving massive plagues, which have continued into modern times. For example:

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe” the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster.

Nowadays, saber-toothed tigers do not spring on us from out of the bushes, and improvements in medical science continue to extend our lifespans. Those who now do not pass their genes on to the next generation are the people blase about the brass tacks of life, whom modern society has rendered psychologically ill-equipped to follow the biological imperative of reproduction. It makes no difference whether the diversion is the contemporary manifestation of café society, computer games, Twitter addiction, or outré pastimes; they are all a divergent path.

When the due mean has been reached and the extremes balanced, most of the people then alive will be those who have demonstrated yet another facet of the fitness for survival.

Am I wrong? Perhaps, but it is likely that none of us will be around long enough to see that process work itself out.


* Prof. Curtis is considered in some quarters to be one of the Japan Handlers.

* He wrote this post as a guest of the regular blogger, Sheila A. Smith. Considering what she’s offered in the past, it’s a pity he can’t replace her permanently.

4 Responses to “An oasis in the desert of ignorance”

  1. toadold said

    In the studies of population decline the reasoning of why is still pretty much theoretical. Correlation not always related to causation in the studies. One theory is that the decline is caused by the relativelack of disposable income in the hands of people of child bearing age, those under 30 for the most part, coupled with the addition of child rearing costs added by governments that are supposedly for the benefit of children, unionized educators in position of authority to overcharge for example. Young people will reserve what little cash they have on anodynes for the pain and loneliness of their existence, working two temporary and part time jobs, living with their parents. If they have full time jobs they spend a lot of time trying to keep it. Things will change win the long Keynesian experiment in centralized financial control and fiat currency is ended…..until people forget and start it up again in a time of prosperity.

  2. Andrew S. Mooney said

    “The demographic decline might just be part of the ongoing process of survival of the fittest.”

    Well, not really: The demographics of massive families involve the idea that for a brief period – One generation or so – it is not too much of an evident, upfront burden to have one extra child. In the event of the family finances becoming tight, they don’t have anymore, but in the event of the conjecture being correct, that one extra child becomes another and another and another, because with industrialisation, a working man’s rising income and a psychological legacy-culture involving thrift, there is plenty of money in real terms for a huge boom of the population, that then stabilises when incomes stop rising : As they nowadays have.

    In Victorian Britain, huge families were the norm/average at all levels, but they were matched by huge mortality rates. You were either wealthy or lucky if one of your children didn’t die when under the age of ten, and “average” involved about four of them. Japanese and Korean families in this period were similarly enormous. When industrialisation occurs, it doesn’t even involve medical care inhibiting Malthusianism, it involves individual thrift and rising incomes permitting more children, and incomes in the Victorian period, even for the poor, rose steadily right up until the 1880’s where they stopped due to outside reasons.

    Contraception being unreliable, it is also not too much of a burden as a woman *who does not want any more children* to tolerate the occasional prostitute or a mistress, as he’s the one earning a living and the alternative carries too much risk.

    The psychological aspect of “thrift” or living on little, is evident where I write in the UK, in that recent black immigrants from Africa often live in conditions that I would be charged with war crimes if I wished upon a population of white people, and there is an army of social workers happy to greet them as they fail in a modern society. They put up with it and have huge families because it is better than Africa. West Indian blacks, by contrast, who came to Britain earlier, usually have families that are smaller, because the psychological aspect of their upbringing in the UK means that they have a developed world sensibility,

    “Nowadays, saber-toothed tigers do not spring on us from out of the bushes, and improvements in medical science continue to extend our lifespans. Those who now do not pass their genes on to the next generation are the people blase about the brass tacks of life, whom modern society has rendered psychologically ill-equipped to follow the biological imperative of reproduction.”

    Go fuck yourself you bossy misanthrope. Sat in splendid isolation with your students, writing something like that is disgraceful. Those people who, when confronted with the sheer number of demands in respect to having children in “civilized” countries nowadays, lack the opportunity to have children, are likely more understanding of the issues than you are : Demands such as….

    Bomb proof “IsoFix” car seats for each of them instead of a booster cushion and a seatbelt,
    Government approved babysitters,
    The special foods for the “whatever” intolerant,
    The branded clothes – No “Hand Me Downs” either, as that demonstrates that you are poor.
    The education paid for through private classes that the useless teaching unions don’t provide,
    The toys, for which the Japanese can be thanked, *ne plus ultra* in hawking overpriced plastic trash,
    The fact you can’t use the television as an inexpensive babysitter like our parents could, because it is full of violent psychologically upsetting garbage at all hours of the day,
    The fashion in which you are not allowed to drink around them,
    Smoke around them,
    Shout at them when the misbehave,
    Smack them if they are really misbehaving,
    Swear in their presence, even when under duress, and not even at them,
    or Leave Them Unattended For Even A Minute. (Look up the story of Kate and Gerry McCann.)

    …because such things are all signs of irresponsibility, that does not see them living with a relative, but instead merits their detention in a government carehome that is later discovered to be run by paedophiles.

    …And god help you if you need to move and they have to change schools because that will traumatize them for life…All of these things are inducements to not have more than one. Any more is masochism. These things, literally or psychologically, inhibit your natural inclinations towards working to elevate your income, and so lower the birth rate.

    Statistically, in a population that is above replacement level, the majority of the population have an older sibling. A final, societal brake upon the birth rate is therefore connected to witnessing what happens when that older sibling acquires children. They become “Parents.” They cease to be human beings, and quickly descend into insomia-accelerated decrepitude, mostly as a consequence of dealing with Western society’s expectations of them, all of which conveniently involve them both being parents and both of them working themselves half to death. Who would want to bother?

    When you consider that most Japanese women become housewives, and this is considered a shame by some commentators, it is instructive to consider who is doing the insuiation. They probably don’t have children (plural) and understand how much work children, plural, involves. There are not many economies of scale when you have more than one, so why bother? “It was exhausting the first time and it will be again…And my husband now has to pay for the juku classes.”

    Or is that cynical?

  3. Do the mathematics said

    One sure fact we are now aware of the world over is that the surest way of decreasing reproduction rates is educating and giving rights to women, something Japan has done relatively well.

    How do we equate educated women with being “psychologically ill-equipped”?

    Presumably the only “good equipment” the original author consider women ought have are big hips, big breasts, bare feet and to be good in the kitchen?

    Although I do not condone the unnecessarily harsh vulgarity of the response immediately above, I am dumbfounded by the statement regarding the “biological imperative of reproduction”.

    Are we not ought of the 19th Century or is this the start of a Catholic backlash in Japan? (Thankfully unlikely as they rightfully killed them off 400 years ago, and the Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists have gotten better established since).

    It seems modern civilisation has questioning whether it is an imperative and decided it is not. Why would it even be an imperative for humanity to persist and continue to increase and expand? Arguably a world without humanity would be a better place, or at least settle into a far more stable sustainable existence. We are a plague, pestilence and a war onto all other species.

    It’s true that there seems to be evidence that species modify or moderate their levels according to their environment, perhaps Japan’s rise to its 120 million population was an artificial blip based on patterns evolved during earlier periods the author documents, and the decline to a sustainable level of population is natural response that should be accepted, encouraged and managed … not artificially padded back up via immigration merely to satisfy those obsessed with economic league tables.

    Let’s work out what Japan’s ability to naturally support a population is, and work back to that figure as quickly as possible.

    Putting aside that for a long time there was no conscious awareness of the connection between fornication and reproduction, I would argue that human reproduction is not a biological imperative but boils down to mainly two factors; firstly, a male inability to control their sensual gratification and, secondly, a socio-economic tool of domination beyond mere survival as per religious exhortation to “go forth and multiply”, i.e. outnumber and out-soldier your territorial competitors a strategy encouraged by everyone from Moses to Hitler.

    Japan is a goldfish that during the bubble got far too big for its bowl and now would be best served by contracting on all fronts. The government should support it.

    Who the hell cares about maintaining a position in some meaningless to most people economic league table? Far better being able to produce enough food to feed one’s own population and as Japan’s ability to do that is limited, so too should the population be to match it.

  4. Tony said

    @Do the math, Could you make a more spurious comparison? You said “It’s true that there seems to be evidence that species modify or moderate their levels according to their environment,…” Well, for all animals that may be true but hardly so when discussing human populations who can not only generate their own food but are also able to go much greater distances to catch it in bulk, store it and transport it. Besides, how is that evidence working out in countries such India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan?

    You should have just read Andrew S Mooney’s response and stopped there.

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