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.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 6:00 am and is filed under Demography, Social trends. Tagged: Japan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.