Hearings, dialogue and debate are, or at least should be, means to an end in a functioning democratic society. Unfortunately, they’re too often ends unto themselves. Promising to study a problem or hold a hearing “to look into it” is what politicians do to make it appear as though they’re interested without ever having to risk their necks by endorsing a particular idea.
So when likely incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans to bring back a select committee on climate change that had been disbanded by the previous Republican majority, it was reasonable for some of the incoming freshmen Democrats to question its real purpose. If committee hearings are going to be held, they’re insisting the hearings be about meaningful climate legislation instead of even more learned testimony on science that’s was settled long ago. As Evan Weber of the Sunrise Movement put it to Politico, “We’ve been talking about the science for the past two decades.”
The incoming Democratic House majority will find it tempting to spend much of the next two years doing little more than poring over Donald Trump’s tax returns, which they will presumably issue a subpoena for early next year. Likewise, the current administration’s cabinet is full of individuals as venal as their chief. It will certainly be refreshing to finally see them all held accountable for their misconduct.
That said, governments don’t build and retain confidence among their citizens merely by diligently investigating corruption. People have proven over and over again that they are willing to tolerate a great deal of unethical behavior in their leaders if, in exchange, they feel they are receiving a reasonable degree of economic and physical security, or even just listened to.
The GOP has mastered the art of creating the illusion that people are getting something in return when they vote for them. Whether it’s so-called “tax relief” or protecting jobs by getting tough on immigration, the Republican Party has consistently been able to convince a significant number of Americans it’s looking out for them even as it stabs them in the back. The antidote to their misleading and often dangerous rhetoric isn’t hearings; it’s direct positive action that translates into real change people can actually see and feel in their lives.
The leadership of the Democratic Party would be wise, therefore, to embrace incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for the creation of a select committee that instead of just talking about climate change is charged with drafting legislation to do something about it. She is calling it the “Select Committee on a Green New Deal”.
The select committee shall have authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Plan for a Green New Deal” or the “Plan”) for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral and to significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality. ~ Section 2 A(i) of the Draft Text for Proposed Addendum to House Rules for 116TH Congress of The United States
Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution is similar in its approach, if not yet in its level of detail, to Canada’s Leap Manifesto. That document translates the progressive principles that emerged from the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s into concrete proposals aimed at achieving both equality and sustainability.
We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighbourhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term…We declare that “austerity” — which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and healthcare, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations — is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth.~ Leap Manifesto (Emphasis included in original)
I had the privilege of working as a DNC organizer for three years. I was hired as part of Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy following his election as Chair of the DNC in 2005. Dean’s vision for party-building paid off in 2006 when the Democrats took back Congress, and again in 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidency.
However, the organizing effort that arose from John Kerry’s defeat in 2004 took place in the context of growing opposition to the war in Iraq and a Democratic Party galvanized against the domestic policies of George W. Bush. Then as now, opposition was the driving unifying force on the left. The failure to clearly and consistently articulate what it was for quickly came back to haunt it in 2010.
Yes, there was the passage of Obamacare in 2009, but Democrats have traveled so far from the eloquence and clarity of leaders like JFK and RFK that even when debating universal healthcare they sound wonkish and inconsistent. As I learned upon my temporary return to the United States from Canada last year, even under Obamacare, plans with high premiums and deductibles are still the norm. Mandating the purchase of insurance that doesn’t really provide much coverage is a curious policy to emerge from a political party with a base that consistently argues healthcare is a right, not a privilege.
The Green New Deal and Leap Manifesto offer the left a way out of the political wilderness they’ve been wandering in since at least 1980. These initiatives provide something to be for. They can finally transform the left of the 21st century into a movement that wants to say YES! to something.
By uniting both labor and the environmental movement behind an effort that creates good paying jobs while providing the public with clean technologies that improve lives in both rural and urban communities, the Democratic Party could ensure itself decades of majority status not unlike the one it enjoyed from the 1930s through 1994. It seems like the obvious choice for them to make. So what’s taking Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Leadership so long?
“Trade school? Is that, like, a place where you learn how to trade things?”
Every parent thinks that his or her child is smart in their own special way. This leads to Mom and Dad pushing Johnny to go to a nice university, where he will learn how to think, how to be a productive citizen, and most importantly, how to be a lawyer, doctor or even a professor.
Johnny decides to apply for a school that he seems to like, and is lucky enough to get accepted. Little does his parents know, Johnny doesn’t have what it takes to become a doctor, he can’t argue his way to become a lawyer, and he has no people skills, so there is no way that he will become a professor. But he tries anyway, and in his third year, he drops out. Not only did he waste three years of his life, but now he is in massive debt. After realizing he isn’t good enough for these kinds of careers, Johnny becomes depressed and has to work two jobs, the McDonald’s morning shift and the Taco Bell night shift, just to make enough money to get by.
This is something that occurs too often. About half of the people who enlist in a college or university will graduate. Johnny should have gone to trade school. Trade school is the university for people who aren’t good at the career choices offered by colleges. With the rise of labor jobs in the United States, we need more people to fill these shoes. These people are the backbone of society. Sure, some of the jobs offered may not seem that pleasant. In the end, however, the positives of attending a trade school are higher than attending a college.
To graduate from a trade school, you need about two years of schooling. To receive a bachelors degree, you need to have four years of schooling. And to make matters worse, most students will then apply to another school to get their masters degree, which takes another two years. Most people with a bachelors degree won’t be able to find a job as easily as a person with a masters degree. So you just wasted six years of your life, compared to two.
Not only do you save time in a trade school, but you also save money. Lots of money. To graduate with a bachelors degree, you will spend anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 in those four years. Most of this money will come from student loans, or from outside scholarships. Trade school, on the other hand, costs about $33,000 to attend for 2 years. This is the average amount that students pay for one year at a university.
At a trade school, you get more opportunities to become whatever you want, and you focus in on one specific career. These career options are vast and can vary from construction work to being a commercial pilot. The wide array and the fact that you focus on one certain skill allows for you to dedicate your time to become what you want, and you don’t need to take all those classes that universities require you to take, even if they don’t relate to your major or minor. If you are going for a biology major, there should be no reason as to why you should be required to take an intro the 1700’s literature, unless you really want to.
Before you go to college or send your kids to college, take into account the benefits of attending a trade school. I am not against universities, and if the job you want requires a masters degree, then, by all means, go to college. However, if you are undecided like many college students are, then visit a trade school, find out about their work programs, and inform yourself before you make a decision that could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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In a society abundant with lies, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, what makes us ‘free’ is what keeps us in chains. This goes for many facets of society; we believe we are strengthened by numbers, and as such, we collectivize each other. We are placed in a group from birth, depending on class, among others. Society fails to realize that the smallest minority in the world is in fact the individual. We orient ourselves to think in a way as to how legislation will affect a group based upon the supposed traits that may or may not be true.
This disposition is also found in labor unions that follow a range of circumstances where workers are put into a collectivist pool that does not care of the troubles of each and every individual. There is a financial struggle placed on the common worker and the inability to escape it that leads to their demise in the work field. In current iterations of labor unions, the laborer will, more times than not, find greater destruction of his or her economic freedom than benefits.
Labor Unions and the Free Market
Some creations from years and years ago may now be obsolete; 8 track tapes, payphones, and Congress are all cases of this. Labor unions are another such example. A free market, with only voluntary unions (not involved in government), in the current economy with superb job mobility may provide what labor unions had originally promised. The labor movement of many years ago, as put by History.com, “…grew out of the need to protect the common interest of workers. For those in the industrial sector, organized labor unions fought for better wages, reasonable hours and safer working conditions.”
Coercion and Freedom
The vision in this is a concept of individual worker rights through voluntary bargaining. Simply put, these goals of worker freedom are not present today, as were before. The key contrast from then and now is worker choice. Randall G. Holcombe illustrated the difference between coercive association and voluntarism in labor unions. He emphasized that the hand of “labor law has given unions the power to dictate to employees collective bargaining conditions, and has deprived employees of the right to bargain for themselves regarding their conditions of employment.”
The lack of voluntarism in unions clearly should be counter-intuitive, but this has been the reality for a very long time. Sanctions are given for failure to comply with obligatory rules of labor laws regarding unions. In current, modern forms of unions, the worker simply is not satisfied and is disregarded in his or her rights of freedom of association in their compulsory activities with such unions.
The financial goals of early unions dealt with the idea of “livable wages,” a phrase often heard even to this day. The workers of the Industrial Revolution faced the hardships of more than humble pay, which was not enough to support a family. This time period, in the absence of unions, is often used to counter the argument against such unions, due to the severity of the time of industrialization. The push to fix this turned into a monster after economists realized the detrimental effects to the economy by way of minimum wage increases.
A Forced Living Wage Hurts Consumers
James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation recognized that if employers must raise wages for the sake of the law, they compensate for a profit loss when they “…pass on those higher wages to consumers through higher prices, and often they also earn lower profits. Economic research finds that unions… hurt consumers generally, and especially workers who are denied job opportunities.” The blow an economy of a certain market takes in this does not come unnoticed.
Consumers (which include the common worker as well) pay more for their goods. This is only a part of the equation; once employers are involuntarily forced to pay their employees more, they are left to fire workers, thus increasing unemployment. Increased wages will undoubtedly seem like a positive to all, but, throughout the last few decades, as Mises explained, “wherever and whenever the unions succeeded in raising wage rates above the potential market rate, i.e., above the amount the workers would have earned without union interference, ‘institutional’ unemployment developed as a lasting phenomenon.”
Many Left in the Dark
Sure, unions have raised wages, but these institutions are giving a smaller percentage of workers these wages, leaving plenty of unemployed union workers to starve. Evidently, labor unions fail their members financially, leaving the average laborer in a worse position financially with higher market prices and reduced employment rates.
Many wonderful concepts from brilliant minds may be useless in practice, where its flaws become ever so clear. Labor unions, institutions promising to help the worker, disappoint rather than support. In fact, unions have hit the polar opposite of the mark. Research findings regarding union worker satisfaction show “…when it comes to job satisfaction, the economic advantages of union jobs are not sufficient to compensate for job content and work environment factors.
It comes as no surprise to the job satisfaction researcher that job content — the nature of the tasks people are given to do — weighs heavily in overall job satisfaction scores.” Union workers find themselves trapped in a coercive group that causes unemployment and increased prices of goods, all due to the push for increased wages. Serious reform to the current system must occur before labor unions are considered to be a viable benefit to the worker.
A Never-Ending Game of Failure
The workers of America go to work everyday, in constant hopes of success. They wonder if it may be a never-ending game they are forced to play, with no real end, only a struggle. Workers may look for the escape from their troubles they cannot fight, though they try. It is sometimes a saddening spectacle to observe.
Even the strongest of us humans may fall victim to those in power. A god among men, Sisyphus, of Greek mythology was forced to push a boulder up a mountain perpetually, but “at the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit.” The common man and women face this same dilemma. He or she may look, as any would, to escape what enslaves them. The labor force, unionized, is what will leave them in chains. And they may never know it.
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With the evolution of the economy in regards to the modern world, technology and industrial revolutions have boosted the West to places never conceived before. However, some trades or chains of commerce have longer lifespans than others.
It’s 2018, and the world is much different than it used to be, when older companies and out-of-date phenomena took the lead. Nowadays, both the millennials and generation Z go to college more than any other generations, reducing the degree’s value. But with the automation of many jobs that once ruled certain regions of America, many jobs have been left for ransom. A good amount of them are imperative to a great society, but another portion aren’t worth saving.
It’s no surprise that the need for physical copies of items such as entertainment, breaking news, and memories are diminishing, This prompts the rise of digital assets, like the Cloud, or web pages like Netflix, or news sites (like yours truly, 71 Republic). This feeling of having on hand wherever you go everything you need, whether it may be a picture of your kids, a brash statement Trump said on this particular day, or even just an episode of Parks and Rec, is something that caters to the, for lack of better term, privileged young ones in our country.
Information, without a doubt, is more available now than ever before. This is prompting new research and passion in kids never before seen, so this industry is not one that certainly needs to be revitalized. The free market has found a solution to not exactly a problem, but rather an inefficient way of doing things. Who are we to mess with a more eco-friendly and productive result?
Vocations and Trade Industries
Those in trade school often get a high paying job, little to no student loan debt, and an employment rate near those with a college degree. With the population steadily rising, there is more labor to do: construction sites to finish, airplanes to build, pipes to fit, and so on. These careers aren’t as appealing as traveling the world, working from home, and staying clean on the job. Thus, fewer people are attending trade schools. That still does not change the demand for the tasks, and this has led to a crisis that will plague our country for the years to come.
These aren’t especially easy duties to fulfill, so they take a lot of researching and practice to gain the skills learned in trade school. This doesn’t come with ease for most, meaning there is some sacrifice needed from students in the younger generations. Giving up the tradition of 4-year undergrad school is a safe bet, and going for the far less expensive, and more immediately filling vocation. This sector of the economy is currently in a downward spiral, and it is up to the next generation to fix this.
Domestic Manufacturing Industries
Unlike a vocation-type occupation, manufacturing-division jobs have been slowly diminishing without a cost to the American lifestyle. With fewer tariffs, our marketplace has grown internationally, to the point where we can reach out to a company thousands of miles away. They can make a product better, for less. Then, they get it to a customer’s door with few hiccups in the process.
While this seems extremely ordinary for us, it would’ve been rightfully peculiar to a Rust Belt worker in the early 20th Century, when that region was running up the numbers regarding productivity. Even with the manufacturing still in the United States, yield of product has risen regularly. Employment, however, has hit an all time low with places of work such as textiles, electrical equipment and overall hardware (source).
This is a time to step back and realize how far we have come with globalization. Rather than mourn the loss of jobs in one zone of the economy, in one region of our country, this should be a celebration of the evolution of our market to one that frees us up to do much more.
Truck Driving and Delivery Industries
A recent Oxford study showed that in the near future, “about 47 percent of total US employment [is] at risk” to computerization. As a result, many are shifting their ideas for a career path to one that automation cannot do. Most of these are service based jobs, but still attractive. More attractive, most would say, than driving a truck around the country on deliveries. Driving a semi on the highway instead of settling down with an office, or anything of that sort, is less attractive to the newer generations.
However, unlike the manufacturing, or the hard copies of DVD rentals, we cannot outsourcetruck drivers. We must raise employment to a level that allows us to keep our overnight shipping, fast track, Amazon Prime type of world. The efficiency of that type of world runs on the hard work of truckers who work for companies like Swift Transportation, Schneider National, USA Truck and more.
In a joint projection done by Business Insider and Trucking.org, the demand of truck drivers will keep rising. It will reach just under 2 million units in 2022, while the amount of drivers stays at about 1.75 million units. While the deficit, right now is hovering around 50,000 workers, this will only increase without a move towards filling these jobs.
The Incentive for Change
Politicians may promise to bring us back to the old times before outsourcing or automation. This is simply not possible. The world has progressed and cannot go backwards. We have gone through great change in industry. These new industries change the country for the better. By embracing the change through free trade, we may keep the American economy running like a well-oiled machine.
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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.