Saturday, December 26, 2015

Helping William Sposato Make the Japanese Labor Force Story Sausage

I am quoted here. Here are the salient parts of the two exchanges behind it.

"…there has been less attention on the decline in the male participation rate, especially among young males (it has fallen from 97% in 1997 to under 94% today). Getting that back to its previous level would add 1% to the workforce overall."

Some, perhaps much, of that should be accounted for by a rise in young males seeking higher education. A Wikipedia entry shows that there has been a 10.3 percentage point rise between 1997 and 2013 (using 5% for junior colleges for 2013.) No, this does not distinguish between males and females (it is likely that the rise has been steeper for females), and yes, many students are likely to be counted as part of the workforce, busking tables and the like. Still, you cannot make a robust point about raising the male participation rate without looking into this. And for that, you need to look at the original data, which should be available through the MEXT website.


1.       With PM Abe apparently ruling out immigration, do you see any way to bring back the size of the labor force amid an overall declining population?

The first thing to keep in mind is that anything that the Japanese government can do to raise the birth rate will have very little effect on the labor force for at least 18 years (19 years to be precise.) A major expansion of the “training” system? But Abe will be gone in three years; I suspect that future leaders will be more amenable to a gastarbeiter program with prospects for permanent resident status leading to citizenship drawing from China, Indonesian, and (why not?) North Koreans.

2.       Do you think that labor participation is an important goal or should the focus be elsewhere, such as in pushing up productivity?

Governments can provide a better institutional framework for labor participation, that’s for sure, and the Abe administration is oriented in the right direction on that. But pushing productivity? I don’t know enough to understand what the government can do about that.

3.       What steps do you think the government should be taking?

Dunno. But I can list a few things that do not require fiscal appropriation but are not being done.

(The following was missing from the original post.)
1)      Set an example. Make a pledge that every make cabinet member and subcabinet political appointee will undertake 25% of the housework when he leaves office and 50% when he retires from politics.

2)      Make changing surnames on marriage optional.

3)      Cut 10% of non-need-based welfare payments to the elderly and use it for childcare.

4)      Eliminate all fiscal incentives for marriage and use the savings for childcare.

4.       Do you think Womenomics has been more PR than substance?

There’s plenty of both, but not enough of the latter. Now if I were Abe, I would focus on the birth rate, with Womenomics the corollary.

On Foreign Minister Kishida’s Upcoming Trip to Seoul

I whacked out the following answers to the questions from a media organization. I know that it will not use a certain part of it in its report, so here’s it is, for public viewing in its entirety.

What are the prospects for progress in the comfort woman talks when Japanese and SKorean foreign ministers meet Monday?

I will be astounded if the two foreign ministers do not come forth with a substantive and irreversible framework for resolution.

What would that mean for bilateral relations? What do the two sides stand to gain from improving relations?

It should produce an immediate improvement in the background to the bilateral relations, which should lead most prominently to more Korean entertainment (TV programs, pop groups) coming Japan’s way and more Japanese tourists going the other way. Prospects for progress in the Japan-China-ROK FTA negotiations will also be marginally improved. Over the long-run, if the improvement holds, the direct investment climate will also improve, leading to more synergy between the two economies. Beyond the economic, we can expect better cooperation between the two militaries and more broadly security establishments, which should please Washington no end.

What other sticking points are there in moves to repair relations between the two sides?

There’s the back wages of the conscripted workers (about which I could go on forever, as someone close to be was a conscripted Japanese student worker who went on to work after the war at a company that had employed Korean workers (as well as Japanese student workers, presumably)), but I suspect that the Blue House will lean on the courts, who are themselves good at reading the prevailing public view. There’s Takeshima, but South Korea has possession, so what the Japanese authorities have to say and do about it is of less significance than the symbolism that the comfort women issue has taken on. Another Yasukuni visit by a Japanese prime minister would be problematic, but it’s more of a China issue—Korea never fought a war against Japan, so the Class A war criminals are not their problem—and the last thing that Mr. Abe wants to do at this point is to provoke Mr. Xi Jinping and the PLA unnecessarily.