December 3rd 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Anti-discrimination law validates Safe Schools

CANBERRA OBSERVED Triggs on the way out, but her weapon (18C) must go too

ANALYSIS What is possible to a Trump White House

EDITORIAL Trump portends the start of a new political era

EUTHANASIA Late-night reprieve in SA Parliament

EAST ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwan and Japan look extinction in the face

SEXUAL POLITICS Victorian Liberals pledge to scrap Safe Schools

LAW AND SOCIETY No-fault divorce a tragedy of nuclear proportions

PARENTING Experts envisage lustrous future for infant graduates

POLITICAL HISTORY Folly with a touch of good sense: Colonel Sibthorp

ECONOMICS Trump as a symptom of the end of neoliberalism

MUSIC Vale Leonard: did we ever really understand you?

CINEMA Fantastical and beastly: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

BOOK REVIEW A Life well spent

BOOK REVIEW Catholic revisals


FOREIGN AFFAIRS How the left whitewashed Fidel Castro

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Taiwan and Japan look extinction in the face

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, December 3, 2016

Taiwan and Japan have much in common. Taiwan’s young people often follow trends in Japanese fashion and games. Both nations love baseball; in Japan, you will often see boys training in a baseball diamond etched into a schoolyard. Japanese companies helped kick-start Taiwan’s “economic miracle”.

Both economies now rely on high-tech manufacturing to earn their way in the world. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (TSMC) designs and makes chips for Apple. TSMC is a generation and a half in chip design ahead of its rivals in mainland China.

Another thing that Taiwan and Japan have in common are stagnant birthrates that are among the lowest in the world, and that are way below replacement rate. Their birthrates are around 1.4 babies per woman: a rate of 2.1 babies per woman is required to maintain the population. This has implications that profoundly affect their societies and economies.

Take, for instance, Japan’s sclerotic economy. When the domestic market is stagnant, or even shrinking, Japanese companies will invest offshore – for example, in Australia – where the returns are better. The result is that this investment does not create jobs in Japan. Taiwan faces a similar problem. The industries Taiwan built its economy on, such as garments and footwear, went first to mainland China and are now going to Bangladesh and Myanmar. When men don’t have a job, or only have transient employment, they have no encouragement to marry.

Some people talk about policies that will cure the birth drought. Things are a lot more complicated than that. Looking at Taiwan, current government spending represents a net transfer from the young to the old. Retired teachers and public servants get extremely generous pensions, as do military personnel. The pension fund will be bankrupt in five years unless something is done. This fact has been known for at least 30 years and no administration has had the courage to do anything about it, mainly because these people have a great deal of political influence, particularly with the Kuomintang (KMT).

Now that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) controls both the legislative and executive branches of Taiwan’s government, perhaps something will be done. The Sunflower Generation, young people from their teens to 20s, want to rebalance government spending so that young people get a more equitable share.

Taiwan’s workers put in more hours on the job than almost anyone else on Earth. This is particularly hard on women. Traditionally, women have looked after the children, run the household, and looked after their husband’s elderly parents. Now they also have an outside job.

In both Taiwan and Japan, males are favoured as offspring, meaning that there are more males than females. In other words, there are not enough brides to go around. Also, Taiwan is an intensely competitive society; just getting into the right kindergarten is important. That costs money. In Taiwan, children are “expensive”.

Japan is a very family-unfriendly society. Many women refuse to marry; they are expected to quit their job after their first child is born. As in Taiwan, it is difficult for farmers to find wives – being a farmer’s wife is still a hard life. The Japanese countryside is emptying. When a family is formed, it usually consists of two children; any more than two is considered to be a big family.

The classic Japanese “salaryman” works six days a week. After work, he goes out carousing with his colleagues and clients. Not to do so would be to commit career suicide. They do appear to enjoy this. On his day off at home, traditionally he has done little around the house, though recently men have taken up more household duties. When he retires, the salaryman is a virtual stranger to his family; conflict and even divorce are not uncommon.

The Japanese government has talked of “pro family policies”. But the fact is that the Japanese economy is family unfriendly. If a male does not have a stable job, he is reluctant to marry; and women are not greatly interested in him, as they have a wide choice of partners. Until the Japanese economy starts growing, workers won’t get jobs. But until the economy shows “green shoots”, businessmen won’t make the investments that create jobs.

The Japanese believe that that they are a unique culture. They are a tribe. And although more non-Japanese, and people of Japanese ancestry, such as those from Brazil, are working in Japan, foreign workers are not really welcome.

Taiwan, by comparison, has some 300,000 migrant workers, mainly from South-East Asia. And things are gradually improving for migrant workers there. They are now no longer required to return to their own country every three years. The old scheme was a rort for the politically influential labour brokers.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has said that she aims to improve conditions for migrant workers.

Things can change in Taiwan. Many Taiwan farmers have found brides from South-East Asia. Some 420,000 foreign brides have married men from Taiwan since 1987. About one in 10 babies is born to a foreign bride.

The Taiwanese are pragmatic. If something doesn’t work, try something else. They are not caught up on “uniqueness”. Taiwan is likely to survive its demographic winter but Japan’s sense of itself as a tribe could be its undoing.

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