Thursday, January 19, 2020

Does This Sound Familiar?

A British newspaper, The Guardian, reports major problems facing the Japanese economy as a direct result of their culture of exaggerated work ethic. Things have become so bad, it seems, the government is considering enacting laws to force people to spend sufficient time away from work. Why? To boost the birth rate.

It appears Japanese couples are so focused on work they aren't producing enough children for the needs of the economy. So this isn't about creating a more civilized society; the politicians are concerned there won't be enough people to pay taxes. Nothing gets politicians involved faster than the prospect of a shrinking tax-base. The Guardian reporter explains:
The fault for destroying Japanese families, experts say, lies partly with slave-driving bosses for whom loyalty is measured in hours spent behind a desk. Overwork is one of the most commonly cited reasons why young Japanese couples shy away from having children.
There is even a government minister for boosting the birthrate, who is now threatening legislation to require employees to take their full vacation entitlement and convert overtime into additional paid holiday.

It's tempting to smile. Before you do, listen to this description of one 57-year old Japanese manager's life:
On a busy day, I turn up for work at about 5am and don't finish until 2am the next morning," he says. "It's not that we don't want to go home—we just can't. We have to think about the people around us at work. I know that's a very Japanese way of thinking, but that's the way it is.
According to the Japanese government, the average worker takes around half the meager 18 days of vacation allowed; only 46% take their full vacation entitlement. Many work long hours, plus extra overtime, just to keep pace with work demands.

Like their American and European counterparts, Japanese employees are being squeezed by organizations seeking to cut staffing to make themselves "more competitive." But while economic thinking rules corporate boardrooms, human beings are not designed to live by the imperatives of Wall Street. In the past, only slaves and the most downtrodden members of society endured constant demands to work, well past what is comfortable or tolerable. For the rest—the craftsmen, merchants and members of a profession—better education and higher social status brought freedom to set their own hours and enjoy adequate leisure time.

Work that's slavery in all but name still exists, even in America, to our nation's shame. Still, there are also increasing numbers of highly-paid, highly-skilled and prestigious jobs: jobs in the professions, healthcare, science, technology, education and management. By all rights, people who work hard to gain these positions should at least be as free from drudgery as our modestly prosperous ancestors. Yet it is not so. We have traded time, leisure and freedom from compulsion for more money: money we have neither the time to enjoy nor the ability to forego. The USA runs an economy based on people routinely spending more than they can afford. The result is a treadmill of credit they cannot leave.

They are not alone. Other countries may have less personal debt, but our consumption-lead Western economies demand people spend as fast as they earn. Only that will feed the stock-market's constant demand for higher sales, higher profits and greater returns to shareholders.

Productivity has brought enormous benefits, but it comes with a price. Part of it was paid when mechanization destroyed millions of manufacturing jobs. The prophesied calamity didn't come, because the service sector more than filled the gap—though new jobs were often less well paid than the ones lost. Service sector jobs depend on people with the personal wealth to consume those services: our well-paid, highly-educated knowledge workers. So they must work harder to drive the service economy along, spending more and more each year—until they too are replaced by technology, or their jobs outsourced to countries with lower wages.

To parody Sir Winston Churchill's words: "Never has so much been required by so many from so few." The Japanese government is recognizing that fewer people will be available to work in their economy and pay taxes. What they may have missed is that, on past trends, fewer will be needed. Those few will work hard—and probably for long hours—earning high salaries and paying high taxes as a result; and the gap between the "rich" consumers of services and the "poor" who provide them will widen still more. Already the earnings of the top one or two percent of US citizens are increasing at least four or five times faster than the average. Maybe we will return to something like an eighteenth-century aristocracy, with rich people and their servants, only this time based on earned rather than inherited wealth.

Does it have to be like this? I don't believe it does, but it will take more than a minister for increasing the birthrate—or even Japanese men and women having enough leisure time to do what's needed to procreate—to change our thoughtless, economically-derived myopia on the subject.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

There! You said what I've been trying to say for a long time:

Service sector jobs depend on people with the personal wealth to consume those services...

I've often wondered how people are expected to "be consumers and buy things" with such low-paying jobs.

Isn't messed up to think that a large drink at Starbucks costs as much, or possibly more than an employee's hourly wage at Starbucks?

And on the note of "service sector" jobs - being friendly and helpful to people is made more difficult by the longer hours and lower wages. I've worked for a few call centers, and while I only worked 8 hour days, the number of calls was outrageous. Red queue all day.

Carmine, what you speak of goes beyond leadership in the workplace - it extends to the way we live our lives.

A few points during your post reminded my heavily of Orwell's 1984. We're worked so hard we don't have the time or energy to really get involved with our government - local or otherwise.

Fox (amazingly enough) released an article about members of Congress not having enough time to read bills before they're voted on.

The Patriot Act was given to members just *3* days before it was to be voted on. PUH-LEASE!
You raise some inportant points, Rabbit, especially the Fox article about denying legislators enough time to read (let alone consider) the laws they're passing.

Why all the rush? I suspect it's little more than habit; plus a generous dose of laziness in the face of bloated (and often unintelligible) written documents. I guess we can blame all the lawyers for that.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?