In 2017, the top 1% of Americans earned a record amount of money. That year, the average income of someone in the 99th percentile was a whopping $492,311. As a result, income inequality has come into the fray as a major point of discussion in recent years. Specifically, Bernie Sanders has focused on it heavily, arguing that the divide is too great. Many others disagree. One fact, however, complicates the income inequality debate: as the rich are getting richer, so are the poor.
By Ian Brzeski | United States
Around the world, horrendous atrocities keep happening and people keep turning a blind eye. We focus on the little problems rather than the larger grand scheme of things.
Life in the Unites States is not as bad as it could be. Our problems are far less problematic than those throughout the world. The average low-income American is far better off than King Louis XIV and John Rockefeller ever were. Humanity has progressed tremendously in recent times, yet we still have the audacity to complain about every little thing. We complain about problems that don’t even carry weight compared to other problems such as how:
- There is a lack of diversity amongst many “top” companies
- Our president is a “racist, xenophobic, misogynist pig”
- Social media companies should be censoring Alex Jones and other conservatives
- plastic straws should be banned (despite how only 1% of plastic pollution in the world comes from the United States and only a fraction of that comes from straws)
For God’s sake, there are more pressing concerns than the ones I just listed. People around the globe are dying at the hands of the United States government. Just the other day a Saudi led airstrike, backed by the United States, killed dozens of Yemeni children on a school bus. The airstrike killed kids on their way to school without any warning. This is utterly detestable. Where is the outrage?
People are quick to work themselves up if Trump says something controversial. But how come when the United States backed Saudi government bombs innocent civilians and children in Yemen you barely hear about it? Don’t even say that the death of these children is a result of collateral damage. We should never consider human lives as collateral damage. I’m not saying that the concerns I listed aren’t problematic, but when comparing the problem of the murder of innocent children to the to the “problem” of income inequality in the workforce it’s clear which one should take preference over the other.
When I turn on the news all that anybody can talk about is Donald Trump. It’s either how Trump is awful because of racism or the greatest because our economy is booming. Nobody ever talks about how he’s currently the head of a government that is supporting Saudi Arabia who is practically committing a genocide against Yemen. The United States along with the U.K. is in a coalition with Saudi Arabia which provides them with weapons, fuel, and other forms of support so they can continue to terrorize Yemen.
This is sickening and nobody is doing anything about it. People would rather smear Trump for racist or sexist comments. Give me a break. How is getting Trump impeached for being subjectively a bad person and for kissing up to Putin more important than the human rights violations happening in Yemen? How is any of that more important than the thousands upon thousands of bombs we drop in the Middle East per year, killing loads of innocent lives? I’m sick of people disliking Trump for all of the wrong reasons.
The strategy of “bombing the shit” out of countries is not unique to Trump and it dates back to Harry Truman who is mainly remembered for dropping atomic bombs on Japan, injuring and killing hundreds of thousands of people. Republicans and Democrats have consistently been dropping bombs in other countries since World War II and people aren’t realizing that it happens under both parties. Obama dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 and has bombed the most countries since World War II. Trump has also been dropping bombs at unprecedented levels. Having a booming economy is never an excuse for these mass murders ever taking place. All of this is absolutely monstrous and it doesn’t seem that people care at all. We keep electing these mass murderers.
People need to wake up and realize that the mainstream politicians simply don’t care. All the recent presidents have been puppets to the establishment and the track record shows. If people were half as outraged with the establishment and their wrongdoings as they are with their other minuscule problems, maybe we can stop these massacres from taking place.
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By Joshua D. Glawson | United States
Income inequality exists in the world as a necessary characteristic of money and economics itself. If money is a measurement of the value one brings to the market, naturally there will be differences in income. If that money was inherited or gifted, it still shows a measure of someone’s value preceding the new owner. As a matter of trade, some businesses or individuals will benefit greater than others based on many varying factors and combinations of these factors such as, but not limited to, location, production costs, selling prices, customer service, convenience, and so forth. Sometimes one’s success can equally be based on luck or happenstance in relation to others competing for the same business. No matter the case, markets are naturally unequal, and that is okay.
In a state of nature, resources and abilities are also unequal. Some people live in areas of plenty of clean water, have the right access to metals, good climates for year round agriculture, etc. Some people are also stronger, more attractive, smarter,and work harder.
These are all dependent on either decisions of choice or genetics that play a crucial role giving luck or disadvantage to individuals’ varying situations. How one deals with that given hand is what makes the biggest difference to their success and producing more bringing greater value to them as an individual. So, whether it is in the state of nature producing inequality from one’s genetics and location, or their success and hard work within a marketplace, inequalities will naturally and necessarily exist as a fact of the world and human nature.
In fact, mankind’s nature is that of being poor and destitute. We are not born with strength to survive on our own, we are not born with fur to protect us from the weather, and we are not born with the immediate cognitive ability to take care of ourselves in a world full of danger. We are born into whatever life our parents had prepared before us and are humbly submitted to their care and direction, or to that of whom takes care of us. Humans were not born with a world of comfort, we had to make it, and we continue to work towards making it more comfortable for ourselves individually.
Some people are able to do more than others at progressing out of their given situations. However, just because one person does better does not mean someone else is doing worse because of that success, it simply means the one doing better is, well, doing better. In an economy, this is reflecting the concept that the marketplace and economy, as a whole, is dynamic, not static.
Many of the advocates of combating the so-called “immorality” of income inequality do so based on the model of a static economy. This is likened to a pie, where there is only a limited amount of financial resources, and when one person takes a large slice of the pie, it leaves others with less. In short, the people who believe in a static economy model believe there is a limited amount of capital, labor, and resources.
There is, indeed, a natural limitation of resources such as land, materials, food, etc. Capital and labor, on the other hand, are both nearly innumerable in the right hands, especially when it comes to human capital – that is the human skill set and knowledge one has and is able to teach to others. It is for human capital that most people go to school: to learn, to make more of their reason, and to better their capacity to make do with the world around them.
Because of this ability to learn, retain and spread knowledge, and to do more with what is around, the economy is not static, but rather dynamic. Economies are constantly changing through human capital and trade. They are never static. It is better to see the economy as a constantly growing and shrinking, pulsating, pie where human capital and trade are adding and removing the slices while filling in the empty spaces. The economy expands and contracts, there are booms and busts, fat years and skinny years, all with “winners” and “losers” in trade.
When in competition with one another, there is growth in the marketplace, providing more for people to benefit from and consume. What individuals gain from competition in the marketplace is their ‘fair share’ if it was acquired without coercion. This is the essential part of human flourishing, i.e. capitalism. ‘Capitalism,’ better yet ‘free trade’ or more specifically ‘laissez faire capitalism,’ is the free and voluntary exchange of goods and services.
Capitalism, or whatever is nearing capitalism, has done more for the betterment of humanity than any other system; it is mankind’s greatest creation and strength. Not only does it provide the necessary goods and services most lacking or most desired, but it also enables the exchange of ideas through a ‘marketplace of ideas.’ This means good products, bad products, good ideas, and bad ideas, all competing against one another, so to speak.
Wherever there is competition, the differences in wins and losses are easily recognizable, and this is the actuality of ‘income inequality,’ as it pertains to economics. There are those that consume, those that produce, and those that act in a mix of the two. If one is unsuccessfully producing, producing very little, or producing nothing at all, for purchase in the marketplace, their financial prosperity will tend to dwindle.
Yet, when someone does well, it does not necessarily mean someone else will not also do well in the same marketplace or area. Nevertheless, this ‘competition’ is not for a limited amount of potential capital, or money, it is the competition for what is already there and what can be potentially made. If the market is filled with too much excess of currency, the currency is inflated and worth much less. Money must be earned and exchanged to produce wealth and enrich the marketplace; investments also count as earning income.
Generally speaking financial success requires a few key principles. Among these are capital, taking risks, investing, hard work, patience, diligence, and good business sense. Opportunities arise from ability and effort, along with economic freedom (Don Watkins, Yaron Brook, Equal is Unfair, New York, 2016, 114). In fact, to maintain wealth is rather difficult for individuals and generations of families.
Unlike what capitalism naysayers might believe, the wealthy tend to not stay wealthy, and their accumulated income does not stay within families very long. According to Spanish economist and professor of economics, Dr. Juan Ramon Rallo, “three decades are sufficient to lose almost everything,” and the world’s wealthiest people in the 1980s are no longer on the Forbes list, nor is anyone from their family (Juan Ramon Rallo, Anti-Piketty, 2017, 31-35). So, Rallo points out that the wealthy are not getting wealthier.
No matter the case of idealistic capitalism bringing wealth into fruition in the marketplace, some people do in fact establish and gain wealth through other means. The most significant and obtrusive way some are gaming the system of economics is through the coercive powers of government, e.g. cronyism, rent-seeking, labor unions, coercive monopolies, etc.
As the work of James M. Buchanan and his contribution to political choice theory demonstrates, the vast majority of individuals, in the worlds of public and private sectors, do what benefits themselves the most. This is to say that politicians in the public sector do what will enrich themselves just as much as those in the private sector. Simply taking someone from the business world and putting them into the political world does not remove their horns to produce hallows, nor vice versa. The biggest difference with the political and private sectors is that in the private sector losses are easily felt and remedied; whereas in the political sphere, everyone pays the cost of bad politicians and it usually goes unpunished and without remedy for a very long time.
The marketplace is still providing more for individuals and fighting abject poverty throughout the world by allocating the costs of labor to lower socioeconomic regions of the world. Lower costs for labor help to create the same goods with lower sells prices, while simultaneously helping to relieve the problems associated with extreme poverty.
According to research by Dr. Mark J. Perry at The American Enterprise Institute, a study of home appliances from 1981 to 2013 shows that appliances are “cheaper, better, and more energy efficient” at an increasing rate (Mark J. Perry, AEI, 2015). As for fighting against abject poverty, in 1990 nearly “47% of the world population lived on less than a dollar a day,” and by 2012 only 22% of the world population survived off less than an income of $1.25 per day, which was equivalent to $1 per day in 1990. That is nearly 700 million people pulled out of abject poverty and into better living conditions (Jean-Philippe Delsol, Anti-Piketty, 2017, 8).
This is not to say that people are not still struggling, or that these same people in their given situations can afford the home appliances, but it is a drastic and positive improvement in the quality of life that comes with having an increase in income through nearing free trade market practices.
With marketplace solutions through free trade, more people can be lifted out of poverty. More people see income increases, as has been historically and empirically demonstrated time and time again. Nevertheless, there are still some that are gaining a significant amount through immoral and coercive means with government assistance. It is this, specifically, that I am most concerned with. I am not concerned with vast amounts of wealth being accumulated through peaceful and voluntary means of exchange between consenting people. I am, however, concerned with utilizing governments, specifically within the United States, for coercion over the market, disabling true competition and free trade.
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By Isaiah Minter | United States
Last month, the Finnish government rejected a proposal to extend its universal basic income trial. Contrary to most media reports, this does not mean that basic income in Finland has failed. Rather, the program is going to expire at the end of 2018, as planned.
Finland wants to gather data on the results of the program before making a decision on it, but one would never know this from the media.
To no surprise, however, political pundits have tried to explain this supposed failed UBI trial through one of two prevailing theories. The first theory, as offered by Dr. Gigi Foster of ABC News, suggests that the UBI creates a disincentive to work worse than traditional welfare programs. But there is no merit to this claim: unconditional cash transfers had no significant effect on Alaskan employment, nor did Iran’s UBI reduce employment.
It never occurs to Gigi Foster that a basic income is a cash supplement. Under a UBI, individuals receive a monthly check and remain free to earn more money through work. The measure does not, in stark contrast to America’s current welfare system, make it more profitable for recipients to collect benefits than to seek out employment. Nor does it cut the individual off from their monthly check in the event that they make enough gross income. Ultimately, a basic income, by its very nature, sets a minimum income floor under which people may not fall.
For those less critical of Finland’s failed UBI trial, the popular theory seems to be that it didn’t go far enough. This is the route that Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg took, and it’s one I want to steer clear of.
First, Finland has been practicing small-scale cash transfers for years, and with great success. Similarly, in an earlier piece of mine on UBI, I made note of the poverty reduction achieved by non-universal cash transfers throughout Africa. If Bershidsky’s claim was true, in the sense that a lack of universality is to blame, then one would expect these cash transfers to have failed. But that isn’t the case.
Similarly, even if he meant that Finland’s UBI failed because it didn’t do enough to reduce poverty, he is wrong. Finland isn’t extending its UBI trial because it wants to gather data on the program’s results and determine if it was a success or a failure. In other words, it’s too early to tell what the effects of the basic income trial are.
Somehow, Bershidsky’s claim manages to both lack evidence and run contrary to it.
But I want to get to his central theme, for it’s a dangerous one. The notion that we need to redistribute to level Y because level X of redistribution didn’t work pardons any bad outcome of wealth redistribution.
Allow an example: in America’s War on Poverty, we’ve taken over $20 trillion from the rich and given it to the poor. In the wake of this lies a destroyed black community and more than 40 million Americans in poverty. This was of little to concern to Sasha Abramsky of The Nation, who published an article some years ago titled “Why We Need a New War on Poverty.”
It never occurs to Leonid Bershidsky that the shortcomings of programs often stem from the very institution that enacts them: government. It is illogical to expect that imperfect humans with imperfect knowledge can come together and form a perfect government. With all the different incentives and motives of politicians in a government, there is often tampering with programs. Enough to the point where the actual program may differ greatly from the original model envisioned by policy proponents.
Indeed, Finland’s activation measure, apart from serving as an obstacle to the basic income trial, absolutely did more harm than good. In withholding benefits from unemployed persons who were determined to not be actively seeking work, the program restructured welfare policy for the worse.
In this, I am not saying that a basic income is inherently flawed, nor that we must avoid government action altogether. For, in fact, the tampering of said program may very well make it more effective than originally planned. Rather, I am suggesting that citizens be wary of the incentives politicians face and the finite knowledge they possess.
In the end, it would do us well to reject the approach of Foster and Bershidsky. While I am sure they mean no ill, both of their claims are baseless. Each of them looked at some facts of the case and drew conclusions supporting their beliefs. This confirmation bias behavior simply fails to benefit our current political environment, and us as individuals within it.
By Glenn Verasco | Thailand
I recently had the pleasure of spending six days in Tokyo, Japan. My wife, who works for a Japanese company in Bangkok, Thailand, was summoned for a business trip, and, being a teacher on summer break, I decided to tag along. It was an unexpected adventure and a worthwhile experience.
Although I have lived abroad in Thailand for the past seven years and essentially lived abroad in Hawaii the two years prior, I am not much of a world traveler. I have seen sights far beyond the beaten path throughout Thailand, but, through my years here, I have only ventured outside The Land of Smiles once: a 2-night guided tour to neighboring Cambodia. Other than that, my international travel experience is limited to a few family trips to the Caribbean when I was a kid.
To me, being a tourist is often more hassle than pleasure. I find the language barrier, the awkwardness of attempting to do as the Romans do, and the patronizing, inauthentic nature of tourist attractions to be a bit of a turn off. By the time you start to get into the swing of things, it’s already time to go home.
The worldliness I seek is gained from settling down in a new location for a lengthy stay and being subjected to cultural immersion. Immersion in Thailand has made me feel like a local. As odd as it may sound, I often feel more out of place when I come home to the US than I do in Thailand.
It must be made clear that my understanding of Japan, unlike my understanding of Thailand, is largely superficial. The account I am going to provide is one of first impressions, and first impressions are often misguided. Please take my observations with a grain of salt.
My overall impression of Japan is that it is more of a Conservative paradise than a Libertarian one, and most Libertarian aspects of Japan would also be present under Conservative guidance.
Before visiting, I had heard the phrase Ethno-Nationalism used to describe the structure of Japan. I find this to be accurate.
98.5% of Japan’s population is ethnically Japanese, and it shows. Tourists aside, I encountered only a handful of individuals who appeared to be descendants of other nations or regions, nearly all of whom were selling kebabs (literally). To put the monoethnicity of Japan in perspective, China, Italy, and Colombia’s ethnic majorities account for 94%, 92%, and 84% of their populations respectively. Japan is extreme in its lack of ethnic diversity.
In Thailand, construction workers, maids, and other low-income laborers often hail from poorer neighboring countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. This runs parallel to migrant workers from Latin America present throughout the US. There are many jobs that Americans and Thais won’t or can’t do, so immigrants are welcomed to fill the void.
The Tokyo workforce, on the other hand, from hotel housekeepers to gardeners to line cooks, is as close as can be to entirely Japanese. Migrant labor was nowhere to be found.
Something else that stood out to me about the Japanese workforce, and also confirmed some prior knowledge, was its age. In Thailand and the US, airport staffs are often younger. I specifically remember college students ushering my wife and I into the appropriate queues before boarding our flight from Bangkok to Tokyo (it’s easy to tell in Thailand because student workers wear their school uniforms on the job). In Tokyo, I was amazed by the advanced age of many of the workers doing menial labor. Old folks helped to direct pedestrian traffic around job sites, worked behind registers at grocery and convenience stores, and drove taxis. The exceptions were baristas, waitresses, and many subway station attendants, who were generally more youthful. Skilled workers were also often elderly, especially construction workers.
I do not know the pretext of all of this. Does Japanese culture shun retirement? Do they tend to stick to a single occupation for life? Are competent younger workers in scarce supply?
Japan has the second oldest median age (47.3) of all the countries in the world, so that makes some sense of it. An older population will have an older workforce.
My wife suggested that Japanese culture requires many long years of preparation before an occupation can be obtained. If this is true, there may be younger workers waiting in the wings who are methodically learning the tricks of the trade. She also believes Japanese people change jobs infrequently.
On our Saturday afternoon in Tokyo, one of my wife’s colleagues, a Korean national married to a Japanese man, invited us to her home and to go out for lunch. Her husband owns several 711 convenience stores, and mentioned that he works long hours due to the challenge of finding and hanging on to reliable help. Perhaps a willing and able younger workforce simply does not exist.
Several of my days in Japan were weekdays, so my wife was in the office. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a big fan of tourist attractions, so I spent much of my time wandering aimlessly through Tokyo’s streets and parks during the day (both of which were gorgeous and clean [and April is a lovely time of year to be outside in Japan]). Elderly Tokyo residents were often strolling around too. I was stunned by their fitness. Limber and lean, these senior citizens appeared to be anywhere from 60 to 110 years old, but I could never tell. Their faces were ancient as were the disciplined lifestyles they exhibited, most likely the source of their sprightly animation.
My wife’s colleague, while giving us a tour of her suburban community, informed us that several of the buildings we passed were reserved for the elderly. The sidewalks were crowded with these elders walking slowly and steadily, sometimes hand-in-hand with their significant others, sometimes alone. I do not know if these homes are funded through government welfare, private organizations, or the residents themselves and their families. Japan’s national spending is as exorbitant as America’s, so I would guess this is a product of the welfare state. Whatever the source of the funds, maybe older Japanese workers are fending off this fate by remaining useful.
The living quarters for these senior citizens appeared to be quite small, but this is no cause for concern. Japanese people seem to live happily in small spaces.
Space is a valuable commodity in Tokyo. Tables and countertops in Japanese cafes and restaurants are narrow and packed densely together. Bathrooms and toilets do not provide accommodation for heftier humans like me. Buildings are constructed in proximity of a few inches of each other. And roads leave little room for error. Every inch of Tokyo is utilized. The engineering and architectural efficiency is something to behold.
Is this a result of tight regulations and central planning? Or does Japanese culture, with its artistic prowess, taste for minimalism, and frugality, determine this result? I do not know.
If the latter is the case, it’s remarkable. If the former is the case, the cultural element certainly remains too impactful for analogies between central planning in Japan and America to be useful.
Americans, by and large (no pun intended), would not tolerate the spatiality of Tokyo. It is simply too tight. If applied to a place like New York, Japanese organization would be far less efficient because of how much extra space would be needed per individual for both physiological and cultural reasons.
The efficiency of Tokyo above ground is mirrored in the subways below: the trains in Tokyo run on time. The subway stations, like much of Tokyo in general, resemble those of New York, just ten times cleaner and smoother in every way. Thailand’s MRT is more modern, but it’s only a few years old and covers a small fraction of the city. The Tokyo subway map is not particularly tourist friendly (my wife and I threw away some time and money via erroneous ticket purchases), but it appears to be a spectacular success once you get the gist of it. Few systems are so efficient and so expansive at the same time.
Tokyo’s streets are largely vacant. Being used to Bangkok traffic, which is arguably the worst in the world, my perception probably exaggerates this, but they were largely vacant nonetheless. Tokyo residents commute with their feet and bicycles or in a subterranean landscape, so automotive traffic is not an issue.
Tokyo taxis were another wonder. I used taxis only twice during my stay. Both trips were impressive. The cabs were so smooth and quiet that they seemed to be switched off at red lights and on tracks when in motion. The drivers were terribly polite and considerate and did their jobs spectacularly well.
Unlike New York and Bangkok, there was a tremendous level of professionalism exhibited by taxi drivers and everyone else I encountered. Everyone was in uniform and acted in accordance with their corresponding professional stereotype. Taxi drivers acted like world-class chauffeurs, subway attendants were robotic in their customer service, businessmen/salary men never deviated from black suits and ties and black briefcases, and shopkeepers were clad in aprons and relentlessly tending to their merchandise when no customers were in need of assistance. Even the punks and goths I saw were such perfectly-kempt, cookie-cutter examples of their roles that they could be considered more conformist than rebellious. Being in Japan was a bit like stepping into a cartoon reality. Everyone knew their role and played it perfectly.
Perhaps more than anything else, this illustrated the Conservative (not Libertarian) way of life in Japan (and that is neither a compliment nor a critique, just an observation). While everyone appears to have equal rights and equal opportunities, social pressures and taboos keep everyone in line. There is a level of independence and individuality in the sense that one is free to choose his or her fate and how high to rise. But the structure in which one can move through is rigid.
Heritage ranks Japan 12 places behind the US on their Economic Freedom Index. In “Rule of Law” and “Regulatory Efficiency,” Japan and the US are similarly satisfactory. In “Government Size,” the two are similarly out of shape. The US’s advantage in the index comes from its “Open Markets.” Japan is far behind the US in “Investment Freedom” and “Financial Freedom” and a bit worse in “Trade Freedom.” This echoes President Trump’s complaints about both China and Japan’s undermining of foreign investment, and is probably why foreign influence in Japan is relatively weak (although his grievances about the difficulty of selling American cars in Japan makes little sense as there is not much of a market for cars in general, and Hondas and Toyotas are perfect for commuters anyway). The liberated individual mindsets prevalent in the US and the rest of the West do not exist in Japan as a result.
A closed and homogenous culture like Japan’s often leads to a high trust society, which Japan is. I had read about the incredibly low crime rates in Japan some time ago, and my expectations were manifested through my experience. I saw only five or six police officers the entire time I was in Tokyo, and they didn’t appear to be doing anything particularly serious. Even security guards were a rare sight.
And the four or five homeless people I walked past looked cleaner and had better-organized roadside sleeping-quarters than many ordinary Americans and Thais. One homeless gentleman’s cardboard mattress was spotless and cut in a perfect square, and his handful of belongings were stored and stacked neatly in boxes.
I am not sure that I have ever been anywhere that seemed safer and with people less concerned about being hurt or otherwise wronged than Tokyo. The shifty eyes and defensive postures cities usually bring about were nowhere to be seen. It was, counter-intuitively, a bit creepy.
While on a walk one day, I stopped to take a break and check my phone (okay, I was doing a “raid battle” in Pokémon Go… don’t judge me). When I stopped, I was unaware that the building beside me was a school. While I was loitering, a child no older than eight or nine exited the building. There were no guards or locked doors between the school’s exit and the side street, and no one accompanied the child. Presumably headed towards home, the child bounced happily down the road without a care in the world, and none of the pedestrians in the area paid any mind. I noticed unaccompanied children, usually in school uniform and carrying books and musical instruments, walking the streets and riding the subways in great frequency throughout my stay.
The laissez-faire lifestyles of these children made me envious on behalf of kids in Thailand and the US. Thai children are brought up to be scared of their own shadows, and going anywhere alone is treated as a plague, even for adults. In the US, Utah has recently enacted free-range parenting legislation, which shows that the US is not much better when it comes to comfort with children leaving the house unsupervised.
I have heard that when a diverse group of people are given a project, they tend to be better at solving problems and coming up with bright ideas than a homogenous group. But, to many liberals’ dismay, this is not because they hold hands and sing kumbaya. Conversely, it is a lack of trust that produces greater results. When there is less of a chance to join a tribe and become hampered with groupthink, creativity blossoms. When viewpoint diversity does not exist and everyone is on the same page, new ideas are harder to come by.
Japan appears to reap the rewards of a homogenous society without suffering its drawbacks. One of the most innovative and technologically advanced places in the world cannot be accused of a lack of creativity or problem solving. And the high-trust nature of Japan is easily observed.
Japan’s cultural conservatism, however, may lead to its demise sooner or later. This would take place in the form of economic calamity due to a shortage of human resources. To make a long story short, economic freedom has brought great wealth and a high standard of living to Japan. Paired with cultural conservatism, well-to-do families are everywhere, and they do not have to worry much about being the victims of crime, drug addiction, or medical injuries and ailments. Hard-working, unified, disciplined families incur greater wealth and avoid superfluous costs.
But greater economic status (often a result of investing time into one’s education and career) is highly correlated with having children at a later age and having fewer children overall. As a result, the population does not replenish itself, and the economy cannot be maintained.
Japan’s population has decreased by 2 million people since peaking in 2010. I do not know if this has already had serious adverse effects, more adverse effects than positive effects, or what it will lead to. But if population decline is generally a net negative, Japan might be in for some trouble.
Many wealthy nations, particularly in Europe, are also experiencing low birth rates. In recent years, they have supplemented their populations via increased immigration, typically from poorer nations experiencing population booms.
As you are probably aware, mass immigration in the West has led to a great deal of controversy. Political paradigms have shifted from Leftism vs. Conservatism to Globalism vs. Nationalism. Some credit immigration for economic gains and cultural enrichment, others say immigration is straining public services and causing crime rates to rise. Both may be true.
The fact of the matter is that Japan is not going the same route as Europe as of now. Becoming a Japanese citizen is not easy, and Japan has, notoriously, contributed next to nothing in terms of providing refuge for displaced Syrians and other peoples facing crises at home (again, I say this objectively, not to praise or criticize).
Based on my observations, the current status quo in Japan is one of small and tightly wound nuclear families. Everywhere I went on weekends and after school hours, was filled with parents (who generally appeared to be in their 30s and 40s) exploring the sights of Tokyo with one or two young children. These small families paid a tremendous deal of attention to their kids, investing in them a surplus of love and care.
During school hours on weekdays, I witnessed many grandparents walking around or playing with young children, and saw what appeared to be nursery school teachers pushing shopping cart/crib hybrids full of toddlers (one of the more adorable things I’ve ever seen) to parks and playgrounds. Financially, educationally, and socially, this was further evidence of the heavy investment Japanese parents make in their kids, which is typical in both humans and other animals that have fewer offspring.
Speaking of reproduction, something else that stood out to me in Japan, and drew sharp contrast to Thailand, was the regularity of public displays of affection. In Thailand, couples are almost never romantic in public. Even coming across significant others holding hands is a rarity. In Japan, couples of all ages were comfortable displaying their relationship status. I saw teens, twenty-somethings, working professionals, and charming older couples walking hand-in-hand everywhere I went. Kissing, hugging, and playful flirting were common too. This may seem unremarkable to someone from the West, but it stands out to residents of Thailand like me.
Also on public display were advertisements for adult entertainment. One of the first things I saw after getting out of my initial taxi ride was a poster showing a chesty and scantily clad young woman. The poster was in Japanese, so I cannot be sure what it said. All I could make out were the numbers 30 and 60 with corresponding prices. The area my wife and I stayed in was called Shinjuku, which, I would learn, is home to a red light district. There were establishments called “Men’s Clubs” all over and advertisements for massages, along with more posters like the first one I encountered. There were also hotels that had separate prices for “stay” and “rest.” I figured that those who pay the “rest” rate are not there to do a whole lot of resting.
One evening, my wife was feeling under the weather and did not want to leave the hotel room. I went for a stroll and a bite to eat by myself. Having no idea where I was going, I wandered into an area that resembled a cleaner and more pedestrian-friendly Times Square. My stomach was grumbling, so my eyes were mostly on the restaurants.
An older Japanese gentlemen wearing a suit, I would guess between 60-70 years old, accosted me, asked how my night is going, gestured towards the building he approached from, and proceeded to bluntly explain that this is a sex hotel where I can sleep with a woman or get a blowjob (his word, not mine). I thanked him for the offer, noted that I’m visiting with my wife, and went on my way.
I then met another of the small handful of foreigners working in Japan, a sharply-dressed man of African descent holding a clip board who shook my hand and asked if I would be doing any partying tonight. I told him that I’m a boring married man out for a bite to eat, and he let me know that I was walking through a red light district. This became more evident when I took another look around.
I exited the area, found a noodle shop, and Googled “prostitution in Japan.” As a Libertarian, I am a strong supporter of sex worker rights, and see no reason why adults should be prohibited from making a voluntary exchange that involves physical activity. If my brief bit of research was accurate, prostitution is absolutely illegal in Japan. However, you can get around the regulations by calling the service massage therapy or something else less explicit. In other words, prostitution is technically illegal yet effectively legal in Japan, in concurrence with most of the rest of the world.
This is a great demonstration of how laws fail to dictate reality and how legislation does not control human behavior.
Overall, Japan is not an especially Libertarian nation, not that I expected it to be. From a legal standpoint, it is roughly as free as any other country of first-world status. Freedom of speech and the press exist, and Japan’s social Conservatism and exceptional safety appear to be more of a result of its culture and values than its laws and law enforcement (in my opinion, social Conservatism, when established via societal pressures rather than governmental regulations, is in no way at odds with Libertarianism, though it may be more inhibiting). Japan’s economic structure is generally free-market Capitalism, but protectionism and nationalism prevent globalization from having a meaningful influence on the population and their way of life (which is good for societal cohesion in the short term, but may lead to economic collapse down the road).
As a foreign observer, I am wiser and more fulfilled having visited Japan. Spending most of my life in international and multi-cultural hubs makes experiencing a monoculture a cherished novelty that future generations may miss out on. I’m happy I got to see Japan as it exists today.
And did I mention that the sushi is like a dream? I may never be able to enjoy sushi again.
As a free-thinking and non-conforming individual, Japan is not the kind of place I’d like to settle down in. If my individuality is innate and not a result of my upbringing, I imagine that growing up in Japan would have been a nightmare, so I feel some concern for Japanese people who can’t find a role to play. But for those who are happy to follow routine as a cog in the machine, Tokyo is a utopia unlike any I could have ever imagined.