William Pesek is an award-winning Tokyo-based journalist and author of “Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades”.
Backbench lawmaker Kazuo Yana is now famous for all the wrong reasons: to blame Japan’s demographic time bomb on the failure of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, or LGBTQ, community to reproduce.
Policy 101: Avoid Narcotics and Spectacular Offensives. Apparently, the toxic spectacle of the five-ring Olympic circus crushing the Tokyo pandemic is not enough for Yana. Why not embarrass Japan more in the world?
We will let the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which fathered this 42-year-old child, deal with his backward mood. But it’s hard not to see the bigger story at stake as the LDP finally grapples with a demographic that risks making much bigger headlines.
Yana, according to press reports, complained that homosexual relations “resist the preservation of the species”. This is obviously an “extremely stereotypical view,” retorted Taiga Ishikawa, one of the very few openly gay Japanese parliamentarians.
What is not a stereotype, however, is how Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s party prefers to serve red herrings to a shrinking population rather than tackle a growing problem.
Japanese people who identify as LGBTQ are not responsible for a drop in the birth rate. The fault lies firmly with a party which, over the past decades, has done virtually nothing about it.
Ask economists why young Japanese are not having more children and they will cite a combination of economic insecurity, the disproportionately high costs of raising children, an inflexible corporate culture and the chronic inability to cope. to a disaster more indebted than the people unfolding in for all to see. Pressures from COVID-19 have exacerbated all of these pre-existing conditions.
By “government” we mean a PLD that has ruled Japan with only two brief interruptions since 1955. During his nearly eight years as Prime Minister, from 2012 to 2020, Shinzo Abe pitched the problem of shrinking Population. Suga, in post since September, hardly mentions it.
In a socio-economic vacuum, having fewer children could be seen as a solid for humanity. Environmentalists are happy. But when the most heavily indebted developed economy fails to meet the replacement rate threshold, things get complicated. And dangerous, once the rating agencies pull out their red pens.
Demographers generally agree that growing productive economies should maintain a birth rate of around two children per family. Japan’s rate is around 1.3.
Last month, members of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, Japan’s top advisory group, said a “sense of crisis” was needed. Asia’s second-largest economy could register fewer than 800,000 births this year, a decade ahead of forecasts once deemed too bleak.
The population has been declining for a decade now. The ranks of the over 65 cohort are now around 30%. Promises to woo waves of foreign talent have done no better than reducing public debt. The COVID-related stimulus measures have only accelerated Tokyo’s trajectory beyond a debt-to-gross domestic product ratio of 250%.
So, really, what’s the plan here? Of course, Suga’s inner circle seems very busy creating vaccination protocols. He appears concerned about saving the Tokyo Olympics which take hits every day, including the United States warning Americans not to travel to pandemic-stricken Japan.
But avoiding embarrassing and costly credit downgrades would seem more important than a few weeks of sporting events. For now, Tokyo’s sovereign rating is generally comparable to that of China, which 10 years ago surpassed Japan in terms of GDP. Imagine how this proud nation of 126 million people will feel when Moody’s, S&P Global and Fitch Ratings assign China’s development a more reliable credit risk.
This inevitability is not due to the fact that LGBTQ people live their lives, no matter how crazy that comes from the mouths of lawmakers. Women who choose not to have more children are also not the “problem”, as Finance Minister Taro Aso sadly criticized in 2019.
Childhood drought in Japan is as much Aso’s fault as it is anyone’s fault. He was Minister of Finance in the mid-2000s. He was Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. He was Abe’s Deputy Prime Minister for 2,821 days. He is still, in one way or another, the czar of finance and the No.2 of Suga.
Aso’s knack for failing on the rise speaks to the larger problem. His party too. In 2007, then LDP health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa called women “machines for making babies.” It has made headlines around the world and feminists have called for gender equality to be taken into account.
As if. In 2007, Tokyo ranked 91st in the World Economic Forum’s annual gender equality report. Today: 120th. In 2007, Japan was a step above Malaysia. Now he is trailing Malaysia by eight places. This, despite Abe’s alleged campaign to “shine” women.
Look, as an American, I feel in no position to judge. The LGBTQ community experienced a dire situation during Donald Trump’s 2017-2020 presidency. The women also failed to advance under the watchful eye of a man credibly accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women. The only thing Trump did again was George Orwell’s sales. 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
But did the Japanese Old Boys Club consider that empowering women could contribute to the birth rate-debt mismatch in Japan? If companies did more to provide flexible hours, if local governments did more to provide affordable child care and education for children, and if national politicians got out of their 1950s mindset, Japan could put its economy on a shaky ground. winning trajectory.
Yana, fortunately, does not speak for her party. Yet his anachronistic worldview is not the outlier of LDP circles one might hope. And that tells us more about why, at a time when the rest of the world is panicking over inflation, Japan fears going back in time. And not just deflation.