A stagnant society

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A stagnant society

Matthew Norwood, Staff Reporter

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The human race is the jewel of our world. As a collective we have power unbounded. With the intellectual advancements we make every day, it isn’t unreasonable to say we may one day live perfect lives.

The history of human civilization has been characterized by advancement, that strive towards more power and perfection. Society has moved from nomadic hunters to farmers and onto governed citizens of nation-states. We have embraced microchip technology and a capitalist structure which advocates personal gain and material above all else.

So what happens when humans stop advancing? What if, some place in the world, the people that ran a country stopped caring, and that country stagnated? What could cause it, and what would the consequences be? The past two decades have provided insight into scenarios such as these, in the once-booming nation of now-stagnant Japan.

During the 1980s, Japan boomed as one of Asia’s tiger economies. Japan became the second largest economy in the world as they took control of many aspects of the world economy. The specialization and monopoly of certain sectors of the world economy led to a decrease in priority on a number of other economic sectors, leaving very few people involved in the agricultural sector.

The extensive growth of the 1980s led to a population boom in Japan, in which millions escaped from poverty under a semi-socialist system which used its world monopolies to inject high amounts of money into its own society. This exasperated Japan’s already serious overpopulation issues, as Japan, a relatively small island nation with a majority of its environment comprised of mountains, was now expected to house more than 130 million citizens.

During the 1990s, Japan’s incredible rise to the top tier of world economies experienced a catastrophic blow as the effects of an economy based on a weak backbone drove the country into a decade long depression. Without agriculture or low-level high-output manufacturing such as toys or textiles, Japan’s money-makers had no where to turn to make money as countries such as the United States and China began large-scale production of microchip technology with enough resources and manpower to easily outcompete Japan in the international market.

The Japanese economy was heavily centered on urban business, and as the economy crashed prices rose and businesses became harder to maintain. As a result, a large portion of the remaining agricultural laborers moved their way to the cities, where living was cheaper and work more productive. Japan had given up on self-sustenance, and was now completely reliant on other countries for food as they attempted to once again advance ahead of the crowd in the technology sector, believing their old economic safe-house could once again lift them beyond the onslaught of the world’s economies.

As people moved into cities looking for work and cheaper living than the farmlands, the smaller houses once again encouraged smaller families. Many couples began not having families, which soon led to a destruction of the family ideal altogether. Houses were built en-masse with room for only one person, including the infamous pod-hotels, where citizens could buy a small pod big enough to lay down in and sit up when needed in order to live cheaply due to over-spacing in the major cities.

Japan as a culture moved towards abandoning the idea of relationships, leading to a sterile society. Less than 30 percent of women between ages 16-25 and less than 50 percent of men of the same age believe there is any benefit or reason to engage in sexual activity. These factors have combined to result in a situation scarier even than overpopulation; depopulation.

Japan’s population declined by 2 percent last year, losing nearly 250,000 people from its total population, a new record for natural depopulation. Due to the continued decline in fertility down to the modern 1.4 children per family, 23 percent of the population is now over 60 years old. This is compared to 12 percent of the population over that age 20 years ago and 7 percent of the population 20 years before that.

The economy has reached a stage between sustenance and development that traps them in a long-lasting decay. Japan has the technology and funding to maintain a large swath of the market, but not the resources or power to create new opportunities for themselves or develop new technology faster than other more populous and naturally blessed nations. The population decline means there is no chance for economic diversity or growth, as workers are being lost faster than they can be replaced.

Japan has engaged in export-heavy trade in an attempt to maintain its profitability, a policy that has secured a relatively well-off livelihood for its citizens but without much social mobility. Without the ability to increase one’s wealth and stature as Japan’s economy stagnates, many of Japan’s citizens have no incentive towards productivity.

This mindset of being limited by the status quo and therefore having no reason to attempt further progress in one’s life only imbeds stagnation, leaving no way out for the Japanese population. This is incredibly evident in the trend towards the lifestyle of a Hikikomori, meaning “to pull inwards”. These people are modern day hermits, with an average age of 31, who rely on their parents for economic support and do not leave their rooms.

The Japanese government is greatly concerned with the Hikikomori, as they worry without exposure to the outside world, they will not produce for the country and will require major government assistance as their parents die off. So far there are 700,000 Hikikomori, while the government estimates around 1.5 million are on the verge of becoming so, with the figure expected to continue to rise.

The future looks bleak for modern Japan. By 2060 it is expected that more than 40 percent of the population will be over 60 years old, meaning the workforce will decline drastically as many retire, creating the possibility for economic catastrophe as the government tries to pay for retiring citizens while the citizens still in the workforce cannot bear the burden. At the current rate of population decline, Japan will have lost a third of its population and continue to decline past the projected 87 million at 2060 and beyond.

There are scenarios which could enable Japan’s recovery from the impending demographic disaster, but the timeframe is small and chance of success slim. The government has began providing financial incentives for singles to find spouses, essentially the opposite of China’s infamous one-child policy. They have began encouraging immigration, loosening restrictions on immigrants while using their higher standards of living than neighboring asian countries as a selling point to moving to Japan.

At this point, it would seem to be an issue ingrained in Japan’s culture, and no longer reversible on the surface of demographics but requiring strong changes in the structure of society which would entail school programs on the need for reproduction and the problem of overpopulation – a far fling from Texas’ own school programs concerning such topics – and college programs designed to incentivise agriculture and other neglected sectors of Japan’s economy.

Until a way is found to reverse the seemingly unstoppable trend towards demographic and economic collapse, Japan scares me. Japan scares me because it is the natural end of a society, as a decline always follows a rise. Perhaps one day we’ll be seeing these problems here in America, and maybe we should be using the example set by Japan as a reflection upon developed society and the complacency it creates.

It’s humbling, in a way, to see that even a country as advanced as Japan could be so close to disaster. It harkens back to a motto I’ve used for a long time concerning how I would like to live, and what I would like to represent. I’d rather have something to die for, then nothing to live for.