STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Should the Japanese Hurry Up and Die?
By Staff News & Analysis - January 22, 2013

Japan should let elderly 'hurry up and die': finance minister Taro Aso … Japan's finance minister Taro Aso said Monday the elderly should be allowed to "hurry up and die" instead of costing the government money for end-of-life medical care. Aso, who also doubles as deputy prime minister, reportedly said during a meeting of the National Council on Social Security Reforms: "Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. You cannot sleep well when you think it's all paid by the government. "I don't need that kind of care. I will die quickly," he said adding he had left written instructions that his life is not artificially prolonged. During the meeting, he reportedly referred to "tube people" when talking of patients who cannot feed themselves. The 72-year-old Aso, a former prime minister, has been in his current job less than a month, but has a long history of planting his foot firmly in his mouth. – AFP

Dominant Social Theme: The elderly are a drag on society.

Free-Market Analysis: As pointed out by our Beijing columnist in a recent article, Japan is a curious amalgamation of features and a kind of bifurcated culture. There is the exquisite genius of Japanese art … and then there is the brutality of Japanese industry, economics and politics.

The "bad" Japanese characteristics are on display in this callous quote from Taro Aso (see above). The solution to Japan's aging demographic, he seems to imply, is to reduce it by whatever means necessary.

Japan's spendthrift and unresponsive government is under a good deal of pressure and so top Japanese lash out at the hard-working and long-suffering population itself. You can be sure that Aso's sentiments are widely shared by the well-paid Japanese bureaucracy.

It is interesting to note that Aso is very well connected in the Japanese bureaucracy from a family standpoint (see below). In fact, Japan is a rigidly hierarchical society. This has strengths as well as weaknesses, but of late the weaknesses of the system have seemingly exceeded the strength.

As a result Japan's leadership is doubtless lapsing into the incipient sociopolitical fascism that has always threatened to undermine Japan's adopted Keynesian democracy. The "bad" Japan was on display in World War II when Japanese military men terrorized Japan's neighbors. The "good" Japan has spread sophisticated technology and rarified culture abroad in the post-war era.

Now modern Japanese culture itself threatens to come apart, it seems. It is under tremendous pressure as a result of two decades of low and no growth, a vicious deflation, demographic collapse, earthquakes and radiation poisoning and a sclerotic political process that has ensured a perpetuation of the negative trends without providing viable solutions.

They say that trainloads of Japanese head out to work in the morning and then the same trains are filled with sleeping Japanese at the end of the day. This is an 8-12 hour day of which we speak – and in cities the jobs are often desk jobs. So it is not physical labor that is exhausting the Japanese but the demands of the respectful, hierarchical culture itself. Japan is a hard place to live, even for Japanese.

To counteract Japan's many negative trends, the new head of the Japanese government, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has reportedly agreed with the Bank of Japan to set 2 percent inflation as a new money target, supplanting a softer 1 percent. The BOJ is likely to make an open-ended commitment to buy assets until the target is in sight.

Of course, this sounds a good deal like what the United States, Britain and Europe are doing to counteract their slumps – printing massive amounts of fiat money. In the US especially, all that paper money has not done much for employment or the larger economy but it has doubled the perceived value of the stock market. Paper, in other words, inflates paper.

This is a Keynesian solution that Abe intends to graft to Japan's already increasingly brutal cultural elements. Think of a sort of soft fascism grafted to Keynesian socialism and you'll begin to get an idea of the murky currents flowing beneath the increasing dysfunction of Japanese society.

Lately, there has been a spurt of articles about an industrial pickup in Europe. We've noted it might be a kind of dominant social theme, that the long winter of Europe's sovereign debt crisis is giving way to a spring of renewal. This is the story the elites seem to want to position these days.

Subdominant social themes include the resoluteness of the European Central Bank in announcing it will buy open-ended amounts of worthless European sovereign debt. (Breaking the law is heroic these days.) The Japanese announcement would also seem to be a subdominant social theme, positioning Abe as a potential savior of Japan if printing money rejuvenates the economy. Of course, it won't because it can't. But that won't stop the Japanese media from praising the moves as necessary.

We would tend to doubt, however, that the reality of Japan will be much improved by Keynesian currency debasement. Japan will stay much the same as it has been in the post-war era, a technologically adept, hierarchical society where personal freedoms are increasingly restricted and entrepreneurial innovation is little encouraged.

Aso's background shows us clearly how Japan operates. The AFP article explains his background thus: "Aso was born into a blue-blooded industrialist family … He is the grandson of Shigeru Yoshida, one of Japan's most influential prime ministers who helped rebuild the country from the ashes of World War II, and he is married to the daughter of another former premier."

The article also explains that ageing is a sensitive issue in Japan, as the island nation has one of the world's oldest populations, "with almost a quarter of its 128 million people over 60." Worse still, that figure is expected to rise to 40 percent in the next 50 years.

After Thoughts

We expect Japanese equities to advance as a result of Abe's actions and paper assets generally will be seen as accruing "value," no doubt. But that won't change the society's larger dysfunction and may, in fact, increase the trends that are working to the detriment of the "Land of the Rising Sun."

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