Monday, January 22, 2007

Japan's Falling Birth Rate

The falling birth rate in the land of the rising sun worries a lot of people. Personally, I find this place to be a little too crowded, so I'm looking forward to the exponential increase in square centimeters per passenger on the train.

The majority of the Japanese populace seem to understand that one of the more important ramifications of this conundrum is the inability of the older generations to live off their social security checks after retirement. Quite simply, there are too many retired people and not enough workers to pay for the golden years of the former. Most people are justifiably distraught that they might not be rewarded for their four decades of hard work when it's their turn to retire.

There are several possible long-term solutions for this, but most of them are politically unpopular (or just too much for most politicians to get their heads around). One of the most common solutions, which has been tested by numerous municipalities across the country, is birth subsidies. For an explanation of why using government money to encourage couples to procreate doesn't and won't work, scroll down to The Last Word over at TPR. In DeOrio's view:

Birth subsidies are a stupid idea. Not only are they ineffective, they would be counterproductive if they worked. The falling birthrate is an issue in which a growing number of policy-makers can’t see the forest for the trees.

It could be argued that the continued, nearly desperate, attention paid to boosting the birth rate is an attempt to reduce dependence on foreign labor. Some have said that it's an attempt to ignore the fact that immigration, coupled with legislative action that ensures the rights and equality of foreign citizens, could play a major part in the reversal of Japan's fortunes on this issue (for further discussion go to Migration Information or this article by Tony McNicol).

The only thing that is guaranteed in this ever-growing mess is that the government will continue to react at a glacial pace to the annual announcements of how much the population decreased during the previous year.

As a member of Japanese society who is forced to pay into the pension system without any hope of recovering most of the money (unless I continue working here for the next 21 years), I will continue to think of my contributions as buying some extra elbow room on the train.

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