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What's wrong with birthing machine analogy?

Health minister's clarification backfires...

You don't have to be a Freudian to be able to tell it wasn't a mere slip of the tongue when Japan's health and labor minister Hakuo Yanagisawa said women are birth-giving machines and that he wanted these machines to try hard to reverse the constant decline in birthrate. Now the 71-year-old minister got caught in a crossfire. The Democratic Party of Japan led by Ichiro Ozawa and other opposition parties literally jumped at the unPC remark Yanagisawa made last Saturday. Wasting no time they decided to boycott the ongoing deliberation of the supplementary budget bill as if the sexist analogy was more problematic than the government finances which are on the brink of bankruptcy.

Actually, though, they now owe the health minister a lot of thanks because he gave them a good excuse to keep shying away from addressing the real issues head-on. For the time being they can make believe the dismissal of a mediocre minister would be a big step forward to solving the formidable problems facing this nation. As usual the media and the general public quickly aligned themselves behind Ozawa.

In fact it's Yanagisawa that looks more honest and consistent, while the DPJ, the Social Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party are just giving another twist to the pointless argument over the already distorted problem. When former Prime Minister Koizumi started to disseminate the fallacy about the population pinch one year ago, everybody in the opposition camp bought into his hogwash. They insisted their approach to the problem was somewhat different from that of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. But just the same, both camps have since taken it for granted that the number of people, not their quality, is at issue, without knowing what the real implication of their problem identification is at all. I wouldn't be surprised if Yanagisawa said he had just wanted to clarify the point in dispute all anew.

Even after Yanagisawa explicitly clarified the notion about the productivity of birthing machines which underlies the common perception of the issue, both camps still refuse to admit its logical consequence. If the numbers are to outweigh the quality aspect of demography, then Japan might as well concede defeat right away to China that boasts 10 times as big a population and opt to become annexed by the neighboring giant as one of its provinces. On the contrary, though, the coalition government, and Ozawa's camp alike, have been suggesting to boost the influx of immigrant workers, though with utmost precaution to preserve the unblemished genealogy of this big family, from neighboring countries including the world's most populous nation in order to counter the "crisis" effectively. If ever it's realistic to assume that China would let go of quality people, still it's going to be the tail wagging the dog.

It doesn't seem to me Japan still wants to remain the dog, rather than the tail. But if ever it does, now is the time the Japanese admit their overall quality is at issue, seriously so. As the population has allegedly started showing a downtrend, it wouldn't be better timed for them to wake up to the quality issue because in principle quantity and quality are inversely related for any given country.

Across the nation a growing number of people at the workplace or anywhere else are looking more and more crestfallen and purposeless. No wonder an independent journalist from Canada has likened them to zombies. That's not primarily because they are increasingly impoverished, although that is certainly the case with them. The real reason behind the loss of vigor is pervasive redundancy. In the go-go era of the '70s and '80s a host of workaholics could achieve the double-digit growth through strenuous efforts for "productivity improvement" such as kaizen movement and TQC, along with perpetual robotization. They didn't listen to the late management guru Peter F. Drucker who once warned: "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently what should not be done at all." The word "useless" is a gross understatement. He might have said "harmful" or even "perilous" if he'd had this particular country in mind at that time.

Even when the bubble burst, most of them tried very hard to avoid facing up to the reality about redundancy resulting from the days of double-digit growth, out of fear of excessive bleeding. As a result the legacy of lifetime employment is still there. Unemployment rate has leveled off at a little above 4% where it should shoot up to 20%, or even beyond, to make their country a sound and viable economy. Now they are drowning in the sea of pus more than 15 years after the burst of the bubble. This holds especially true with the public sector as the budget deficit estimated at least at 1,000 trillion yen all comes down to an oversupply of human "resources." To make things even worse, the redundancy didn't result in fierce competition that would have led to an improved quality of people because the whole nation was already cartelized, or unionized, so to speak.

From the exploiters' point of view, the bigger the population, the more lucrative their business, and the dumber the people, the easier it is to rip them off. This is truer in this kleptocracy than anywhere else. So it's quite natural that the government, and the media as its mouthpiece, try to cover up the truth that a small population can be an asset, rather than a liability. To that end, the government and the media often turn the causal relationship upside down because it better serves their purposes to argue that the decline in birthrate, or the increase in suicide rate for that matter, came first, and only then came the erosion of quality. As a result even those who are on the exploited side have now been duped into believing in the exploiters' theory. That is exactly where I see the quality problem with the Japanese. Now it looks practically impossible to break the vicious circle until the overall quality hits the bottom, i.e. hell.

The cheap trick has also worked with Japan watchers in the West. The other day, for instance, a Western pundit was asking himself this question on an online forum: "Does population decline inevitably sap vitality?" I don't know how he answered his own question because I didn't read on. Drucker also said, "It's better to develop a wrong solution for the right problem than a right solution for the wrong problem." That's why I didn't care to know his answer to the wrong question of his own. Obviously he based his question on the assumption that AIDS possibly causes HIV, not the other way around.

It's a shame that the Japanese people have been stuck with the wrong question for quite a while now, and that despite the health minister's straightforward remark, all anti- and pro-government folks can do is to create yet another false issue on the already falsified issue - whether to punish Yanagisawa for his gaffe.

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