Population panel draws line in sand

Experts suggest Japan take stand at 100 million in child-rearing boost

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

To save Japan from a looming demographic crisis linked to its shrinking population, a goal of maintaining the nation’s population at around 100 million for the next 50 years should be set by allocating more of the social security budget to help child-rearing households instead of the elderly, an advisory panel to the prime minster said in an interim report Tuesday.

If the panel’s final report is adopted, it will be the first time the government has set a numerical population target.

But the panel, which is tasked with projecting Japan’s future and proposing policy options to the prime minister, did not recommend that more foreigners be brought in to offset the expected drop in the population.

The panel’s conclusion is likely to affect the long-term economic growth strategies Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing to announce in June. The revamped set of deregulatory vows and subsidies for promoting economic growth, will represent a new version of the “third arrow” of his deflation-busting program dubbed “Abenomics.”

Whether a drastic easing of immigration policy will be included in the growth strategies has been drawing public attention.

Panel head Akio Mimura, head of Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told reporters that no national consensus has been formed on immigration, which is the reason why it decided not to recommend that immigrants be allowed to come to Japan to live and work.

The members, however, agreed to promote the idea of allowing larger numbers of foreign professionals to enter, Mimura said.

“I don’t think a national consensus has been formed yet to approve (more) immigrants. Instead we should first make as much effort as we can by trying to raise the birthrate,” he said.

For now, the panel does not intend to discuss promoting the use of large numbers of immigrants to make up for the predicted dent in the population, Mimura said.

It has been estimated that Japan’s population will shrink by 31.9 percent to 86.7 million in 2060 from 127.3 million in 2013. The ratio of elderly, defined as those 65 or older, is expected to surge to 39.9 percent of the population from 25.1 percent during that time.

Such a drastic demographic change will reduce the size of Japan’s working population and gross national product, while at the same time placing an increasingly heavy financial burden on the younger generations, whose taxes support seniors dependent on pension benefits and medical and nursing insurance.

“If we don’t do anything, an extremely difficult future will be waiting for us,” Mimura told a news conference after Tuesday’s panel session. “It would be difficult for Japan to maintain economic growth, and people’s quality of life would deteriorate, too,” he said.

The chairman also stressed that if the government and the people start taking action immediately, such as by allocating more of the social security budget to child-rearing households and changing men’s attitudes toward working women, Japan will be able to narrowly maintain a population of 100 million over the next five decades.

This road, however, appears to be a rocky one. According to a simulation by the Cabinet Office, for Japan to maintain the 100 million level, the total fertility rate — a key indicator of birth trends in a given year — must recover to 2.07 by 2030, from the current 1.41.

Japan’s TFR has fallen for the past three decades, although it rebounded slightly to 1.41 in 2012. To boost it to 2.07 will not be an easy task, Mimura admitted.

The TFR is defined as the number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime if she were to live through her reproductive years and bear children in line with age-specific birthrates in a given year

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    “Whether a drastic easing of immigration policy will be included in the growth strategies has been drawing public attention.”

    Immigration won’t help because you have a welfare state whereby more money would have to be taken out of everyone’s paychecks to subsidize the influx.

    “Such a drastic demographic change will reduce the size of Japan’s working population and gross national product, while at the same time placing an increasingly heavy financial burden on the younger generations, whose taxes support seniors dependent on pension benefits and medical and nursing insurance.”

    It’s not their burden if they stop working and reaching, as more and more men are. The suicide rate, the increasing number of soshoku men, the growing number of hikikomori, the fewer and fewer reliable company jobs combined with the desire for flexibility that the new generation has…all of these things and more add up into those who 40 years ago might be willing to carry the load, but now won’t ever reach their maximum potential: and good for them, they are rejecting their socially expected status as financial tools.

    “The TFR is defined as the number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime if she were to live through her reproductive years and bear children in line with age-specific birthrates in a given year”

    Isn’t it nice an “equal” when both genders get to be considered numbers whom are supposed to make life choices to save the country? Whether a woman has kids or not is no business of the state’s. Nor is whether she works or not.

    Why would a modern Japanese want to carry this weight? They didn’t create the social insurance system that is bankrupting the country. There won’t be any money left in the treasury when the young want to retire, so this notion of “we all pay into it” is bunk. The payment is going only one way. The old generation created this system to benefit themselves. It was done emotionally to assuage their own fear of impermanence, and morally in the name of “protecting the poor”; and we can all see what the actual results are of these fears.

    If the young were not enslaved to the old, it wouldn’t matter what the demographics looked like, cause you would have had to have saved for your own retirement.

    “The chairman also stressed that if the government and the people start taking action immediately, such as…changing men’s attitudes toward working women.”

    Did he also mention changing women’s attitudes towards working? If not, why not? If so, why isn’t that included in this article? Is it only fashionable to shame men? I mean, the government is already trying to push more women into working — because so few of them are. So why can’t this be named openly?

    The posters around public schools, the 仕事しよう billboards featuring smiling female-only faces, the SDF ads with women in uniform (carefully made up to appear as if they are not made up, cause we can’t sell something that isn’t “cute” right?), are not working — just like all the other social engineering they attempted and will attempt in the future.

    Everyone is going to do exactly what they want to do.

    • Mark Garrett

      Well said, particularly the part about the seniors creating the current system to benefit themselves. Those same elders are the ones creating this perceived crisis.

    • Fayt Strife

      Immigration can work if you do it like Canada and Australia they both have welfare states and they have some of the highest ,migration rates in the world. Immigration only because an issue when you allow in too many unskilled immigrants or ignore illegal immigrants. Japan could allow mass immigration as a temporary fix.

      But it would change the culture of Japan even if immigrants assimilated and learned Japanese their would still be customs and practices they would bring from their country of birth.

      Japan wouldn’t have to deal with much illegal immigration because it’s an island. I listed Australia because it’s an island and Canada shares a border with north pole and the US. Neither of those countries have to deal with illegal immigration and they allow immigrants in based on skill only.

      That is the only way that countries with welfare states can allow immigration so the immigrants pay more into the system then they take out.

      But I don’t see Japan allowing mass immigration ever. I don’t think Japanese people would put up with that many people that are too different from them moving to Japan.Japan could even change their immigration laws but would discrimination foreigners go away? I don’t think it would (but most countries have an issue with discrimination against a group or class of people).

      • urashimajoe

        Another question is why skilled immigrants would want to put up with Japan. With so many disincentives (language barriers, housing discrimination, bad work environments, small houses) there needs to be something to lure them, but convenience and good public transport is not enough. I get the feeling the elites still think Japan is a desirable destination for outsiders, while it is getting to the point now that other developed areas in Asia are much more appealing for both lifestyle and work.

      • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

        Abe seems to think foreign workers are going to temporarily come to the rescue then get the hell out and like it.

        If he wants that, Japan could just take another trip to Pearl Harbor.

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni

    A drop in Fertility Ratio in Japan may not be entirely due to whatsoever social / economic / cultural reasons. This very unfortunate nation is facing many hideous hazards caused by radio active environmental pollution for generations together: right from Hiroshima- Nagasaki atomic explosions to Fukushima disaster!

    • Starviking

      These incidents didn’t and do not cover a sufficient area of Japan to be the cause of any decrease in fertility. There is also no evidence of such environmental issues affecting fertility.

  • happyjapan

    “If we don’t do anything, an extremely difficult future will be waiting for us,” Mimura told a news conference after Tuesday’s panel session. “It would be difficult for Japan to maintain economic growth, and people’s quality of life would deteriorate, too,” he said.
    What planet is this guy living on? Japan’s demographics have been heading this way for decades. It’s far too late to do anything meaningful about the inevitable slide back to third world status, and the elites know it. Abenomics was an excercise in ringfencing wealth among the business/political/criminal clans that control the country, with bribes kept in place to garner support from the old fogeys sitting pretty with their massive pensions and payments and to hell with the young and poor. The country is finished and it’s an increasingly oppresve and demanding place to bring up children. if you have kids, get out and give them a future.

    • urashimajoe

      Ten years ago a local consul general came to our university to speak with us. We were able to ask a few questions, and somebody wanted to know what Japan could do about the aging population. His reply was “robots”. Still waiting on that.

  • Tony

    The government is stuck when it comes to immigration. Immigrants aren’t learning Japanese and the government shouldn’t have to lower language standards. Maybe they should invest/create a Japanese language organization similar to the Alliance Française.

    • itoshima2012

      Very good idea!

  • ErikKengaard

    A smaller population, in time, will lead to improved quality of life.

    • Mark Garrett

      Exactly! Why all the doom and gloom over a shrinking population?
      At some point the ration of children to elderly will level out and Japan will find its new baseline. Will it be a bit rough for the next generation or two? Maybe, but many would say it already is.

      • Marvin Mots

        Yes, exactly. The biggest problem in the entire world today is too many people. The biggest problem of Japan is too many people. Japanese will eventually have an extremely high quality of life with much less people after getting over this transition stage. The concern of less “GDP” reflects a sick worship of “GDP” is a small flipside to the bigger issue of the biggest problem. Also, the countryside here in Ehime Pref. and other areas is very welcoming to building families. Eventually jobs will come here and Japan will find a new and better balance with nature, probably ahead of the rest of the world. The stupid fascination with GDP is the real error. Bigger is definitely not better particularly in an age of limiting resources and the need to harmonize with natural resources,

      • Mark Garrett

        You hit the nail on the head. This ridiculous infatuation with GDP as some kind of measure of success is really frustrating. Bigger does not equal better.

  • David White

    It seems Abe is intent on removing the kinds of economic barriers that were intended to protect existing Japanese businesses while preventing other Japanese citizens from starting and growing they own businesses. Looking across at Hong Kong, it is obvious that economic freedom prevails. Hong Kong is busy and active on an insane basis.

  • Mark Garrett

    There aren’t fewer children because Japanese are worried about their future. It’s simply because Japanese aren’t getting married in the same numbers and when they do they’re not as interested in having children right away. In an agrarian society where children are needed to help plant, grow, and sow the crops, of course families are larger. In a developed country filled with distractions like TVs, video games, easier and more efficient transportation, etc., there just isn’t the same desire to get tied down with kids.

  • Christian Hermansen

    “How to organise a country with a shrinking population so as few as possible get hurt during the period of adjustments,” that is the question. Many studies have demonstrated the world as such needs less people. At the beginning of the 20th century, Japan needed more space to feed its growing population so it expanded overseas. Back then the population was about a third of the current size. Agriculture has improved, but we still hear how unable Japan is to feed itself. Therefore, even 100 million are too many if they, and the rest of the world, shall be able to lead a life without fear of want and war. Instead of spending too many resources of keeping the population up, Japan should become a world leader in “how to organise a country with a shrinking population so as few as possible get hurt during the period of adjustments.”

  • Fayt Strife

    Why would their need to be more housing space with a falling or stable population. Their talking about raising the fertility rate from 1.41 to 2.06 children per women that isn’t radical it’s common sense. It shouldn’t require much more housing because 2.1 is what’s needed to keep population numbers stable. If anything getting it 2.1 would just make fewer abandoned housing and more more housing.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    The government is not thinking about them for that reason. They are thinking about how to best cultivate human beings as social tools to facilitate meeting the budget that they refuse to cut. The young are increasingly rejecting this notion of a “family life”, because they disagree that it’s good for them.

  • lasolitaria

    “The children need to know that the Japanese Government is thinking of
    them and wants to help them have a good family life and future”.
    How sick is this?