The Case For (Limited) Expansion of Immigration To JapanKat Callahan (鮎川きお)3/16/14 12:55am5018EditPromoteShare to KinjaGo to permalinkJapan is in financial trouble. If major changes to policy are not made soon, Japan will be unable to meet social welfare obligations to its own citizens—and to the immigrants who have paid diligently into its social systems. One of the ways that Japan can change its course in the immediate is by altering both its legal policies and cultural acceptance of larger (although not large) scale immigration.AdvertisementAs a country devoted to government administration and protection of healthcare and retirement income, Japan's rapidly ageing and yet declining population is straining social insurance schemes. Too many pensioners, too many medical demands, too few (and increasingly fewer) taxpayers. Is this the vindication of Japan's burgeoning Reaganites/Thatcherites, who argue that state directed social welfare nets are demonstrably doomed to failure? Or might the key be found in Japan's often undiscussed, often invisible immigrant class?What's the problem?To find the answer we need to look at the flaw in Japan's social model. This flaw, far from being inherent to socialist economic systems is one to be found in modern capitalist systems as well. It is a flaw not inherent to either, but rather one which infects our current thinking on economic philosophy worldwide: the assumption of infinite growth, especially in terms of population. The problem is not to be found in state directed social services but rather in the idea that population growth will continue to provide taxpayers. In far less regulated mixed economies, like the United States, the emphasis is on the idea that population growth will continue to provide consumers. Both taxpayers and consumers can be thought of as one single economic concept: payers. Therefore this is not a conceptualisation difference between socialism and capitalism, but in fact a conceptualisation which current socialist and capitalist industries share. So if this is the flaw, does that mean that growth is impossible, or perhaps not the best metric for determining an economic system... or still further, does it mean that growth is bad? I don't think so.AdvertisementDespite claims by xenophobes to be found in some western countries like the United States or Australia, or even France and Germany, immigration is good when looked at as part of growth being good. If growth is good, and growth is desirous, then immigration cannot be bad. There can be better or worse degrees of immigration, but immigration as a whole cannot be bad.The claims of "they're taking our jobs, they're using all of our social services" are silly. But why? Because social services assume, fundamentally, that those using social services are often (although not always) those least capable of paying into the system. This isn't a flaw, as is often cited by laissez-faire proponents, it's a feature. Social services are designed to be social safety nets. The services "catch" those that "fall" out of the more unregulated aspects of the economy (private industry employment, for the most part) and lack the resources to otherwise survive until finding another way to enter the economy as a net contributor. One of the oddest issues with the Japanese economy is that of stagnation and depressed prices. Japan may seem to be one of the most expensive places on Earth, and that is because it is. However, it is actually significantly less expensive today than it was in the 90s prior to the Japanese economic bubble bursting. Japan is a nation of savers, not debtors, and certainly not investors in futures, commodities, or stocks. Japanese do invest in bonds, but these are government issued and this is how most of Japan's debt exists: owed largely to ourselves. I count because I also invest, taxes and pension and otherwise, in Japan. But social services only exist when people pay into them, and are still largely seen as "benefits." Opportunities to pay into a system which will support you because you have a stable income.SponsoredToo many young Japanese no longer have a stable income or never even had one, and this depression on Japanese wages is starting to affect immigrants to Japan, whether temporary or permanent. As a foreign language teacher, I have seen my salary drop from 270,000 yen a month (let's just us a 1:100 ratio for now, as it has fluctuated over the time I have been in Japan from slightly below to slightly above, $2700, and so on) to 250,000 yen a month, to 230,000 yen a month... And yet my experience has gone up tremendously. And I still have to contribute to taxes and pension. Sure, they're adjusted down a bit, but not by much.Why has this happened? Japan has been hit hard by what we in trade unionist circles call "the casualisation of work." The casualisation of work is really about eliminating full time workers for as-needed or "flexible" scheduling. A really good overview is available from Answers.com:AdvertisementCasualisation of a workforce is the reduction in full or part time employees and their replacement with employees who are called in on an as-needed or casual basis. This can reduce the employees working conditions by reducing the commitment from the employer to them, and giving the employer opportunities to control them by reducing their hours. Casual workers can be more difficult for employers to manage as they have no guarantee of finding available employees at any time, but they have the advantage of only employing people when they have the work for them.Prior to early 2000s, Japan had a much different system in place. The standard was jobs for life. After a ridiculously hard schooling system (a system I am intimately familiar with, having taught in almost all levels of it from pre-school to junior high school and visits to various high schools) with exams for entrance into high school and even tougher exams for entrance into university, the four years of university were seen as an almost-vacation. If you got into the right school and did a minimum level of job hunting (or were recruited, for the top schools like Tokyo University, Kyoto University, Waseda University, or Keio University), then you had it made. No longer anymore, starting in the mid-2000s, and into the time I moved to Japan (May of 2008), an entire "lost generation" of under-employed university students now exist. Although hiring has seen a rebound of sorts since 2010, it has always been Japanese practice to hire, just as they did before the mid-2000s, fresh graduates. The "lost generation" is seen as too old to start out in entry level positions. This is the reason why the "lost generation" has become known as the "lost generation." Japanese business practices simply do not know how to deal (or perhaps represent an unwillingness to deal) with slightly less moldable, less impressionable employees. The members of the lost generation are seen as potential threats to intra-office harmony because they have been corrupted by years of employment, under-employment, or in some cases no employment during the preceding seven or eight years.AdvertisementThis is an entire generation which will enter old age without having paid much or not at all into the healthcare or pension services which should, hypothetically, exist to take care of their needs. The social insurance schemes are already stretched thin with the amount senior citizens drawing on funds faster than they can be replenished. Although many of them did contribute to the systems when they were younger, many of them did not. And as medical technology combined with generally good health of Japanese elderly, what was contributed was never expected cover the long lives Japanese citizens and permanent residents are living. When the "lost generation" enters into retirement age, there will be very little they have contributed there to take care of them. And they will live even longer.Why Immigration?The health of an economy depends upon the ability of currency to circulate, but it is a balancing act. Money must circulate fast enough to keep prices from falling which eliminates profit, but not too fast, lest that lead to inflation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was hoping to eliminate Japanese deflation by increasing the money supply, but that just causes inflation while not necessarily creating circulation. What does it mean to "increase the money supply?" Well, in this case, it probably means releasing stored money held in the Bank of Japan, but it could literally mean printing more money. The idea here is that the "new" money (either released or printed) can then be used to pay for government expenditures through Bank of Japan loans to Tokyo or loaned out to banks to be loaned out again to individuals. Employees, defense spending (which Abe is for, but that's another topic entirely), infrastructure... That money will, in theory, then come out into the economy as the employees, contractors, and subcontractors go buy stuff. So what's the problem with Abe's plan? As stated, Japanese people save. One of the few booming industries in Japan has been in second hand goods. Japan still has a cultural devaluation of second hand goods and so resale shops can buy low, sell relatively low still, and make rather large amounts of profits. Yet this actually hurts an economy where no new goods are being introduced, because those jobs are gone. But it does allow people to keep consuming at a much lower price point and save the rest.