Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Workers’ Paradise Found Off Japan’s Coast?

Martin Fackler says in his NYT article entitled A Workers’ Paradise Found Off Japan’s Coast:
“If Marxism had ever produced a functional, prosperous society, it might have looked something like [Himejima,] this tiny southern Japanese island.”
Maybe…if massive subsidies from the central government were available and the person doing the looking were a tourist—Himejima does have a thriving tourism industry—who happened to snag an interview with the mayor and talked up a few other locals. But would you want to live there?

To the credit of Kumao and Akio Fujimoto, the father-and-son tag team who have presided as Himejima mayors for the last 49 years—uninterrupted, unlike the LDP—Himejima appears to have avoided the kind of ostentatious and/or risky building projects that have brought many a local government to grief and some to outright bankruptcy. (A statue is low-maintenance.) They also seem to have been good at milking the government subsidy cow, the right thing to do under the circumstances. And they’ve brought free cable to 97% of the island. And the weather is nice. And yet…

Paying public servants 30% less than the national average and using it to keep a few dozen more heads on the public payroll may be fine to people who are willing to settle for 30% less than the national average to become public servants, but that won’t do much for the hundreds of other people of working age not on the payroll. Unable to find gainful employment, they have to leave. And that is exactly what has happened on Himejima. For what the NYT report doesn’t tell us is that between 1975 to 2005, the Himejima population dropped 23.0%, from 3,207 to 2,469. The working-age group (15-65) fell 31.1%, from 2,027 to 1,397; while the remainder, the 0-14 age group, dropped more than half—58.4%—from 736 to 306.

By all accounts, Himejima is a nice place with nice mayors and nice people—fewer and fewer people, it turns out. Paradise obviously is not what it’s cracked up to be.

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