Jobs are not an issue; your unprincipled attitude toward them is

Saturday, November 03 2012 @ 06:06 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

Japan's unemployment rate is shown in black
against other G8 nations.

A receptionist automatically bows at a constant
interval where there are no customers in sight.

One of the regulars at my website brought up a somewhat off-the-topic subject in response to my previous post. He wanted to say the Democrats are undermining the American values.

Currently I'm fully tied up with my constitutional battle against the municipality of Yokohama. But I thought I had to write another piece to further clarify my points from a different angle because what I want to tell my audience and the cause of the war I am waging come down to one and the same principle.

I said in my reply that I think the Democrats and the Republicans are the two wings of the same bird as is evident from the way they talk about "issues" such as jobs. Then he came back to say, "I can’t tell the difference between a girl mosquito and a boy mosquito and yet the girl and boy mosquitoes get it figured out."

His mosquito analogy is essentially different from my bird metaphor. And, of course, none of us are mosquitoes, e.g. ones caught trapped in the web. This is exactly what I wanted to make sure when I asked you who you really are in the above-linked piece. Actually I had suspected some of you could be eels, if not mosquitoes.

He is my longtime friend, and personally I have absolutely nothing against this respectable gentleman. And I think I am a flexible person. But I can't give in an inch when it comes to a matter of principle.

It's important to note you can't artificially create jobs out of thin air and it's none of the President's business in the first place. The only exception is murderous ones a President might create in the military and the military-industrial complex.

Let me first define the word "job" because talking this and that about a poorly defined subject will get us nowhere.

What is the thing called a job?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by and large, has it right when defining who are employed and who are unemployed. But actually the classification by BLS doesn't make a bit of sense except when it says volunteering is not an occupation. It doesn't say a word about exactly what a job is.

Realistically speaking, robbery, for one, is a legitimate job if these tax-collectors in the city hall are performing their contractual obligations when they forcefully collect taxes from their employers. Prostitutes and their pimps are also doing decent jobs if the "presstitute" I referred to as "AK" in my previous posts claims to be a journalist. Likewise swindlers should be considered to hold respectable jobs if Gordon G. Chang is classified in the category of self-employed in the labor statistics.

Japan's Statistics Bureau of Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications handles jobs data essentially in the same way. But unemployment rate still stays extraordinarily low in Japan (see the graph embedded above) as compared to the U.S. even amid the deepening economic doldrums here. It is true that the Statistics Bureau here is habitually fabricating jobs data as its U.S. counterpart does. But if you want to know the real reason behind the huge gap, it's far from enough to question the trustworthiness of the labor statistics. I think we need to look into other factors particular to this country.

Population angle

Gordon G. Chang is a breathtakingly unprincipled person who has no sense of responsibility for what he says. Just for instance, one of his favorite topics was the demographic "issue" supposedly facing "America's most important partner." He kept parroting the Japanese media until the fall of 2008 when they realized the red herring had too dried up to distract people's attention from the real issues. Until then Chang was making a big fuss over the Japanese population which was allegedly shrinking in size while the process of biological aging was further accelerating.

I told him, over and over again, it was simply wrong to assume Japan's economic vigor was declining as a result of the dwindling population because it's turning the causal relationship upside down. Every time I pointed out shrinking population can't be an issue in a nation like Japan where there are too many people relative to its anemic pursuit of value-creating activity, he shrugged me off. Presumably he thought there was no reason to believe in an obscure blogger, that I was, when the entire fourth estate of the country observed the situation in a diagonally different way. The last thing he would understand was the very basic principle that the overall quality of people by far outweighs the number of people. As the imaginary issue fell into oblivion here, Chang started playing dumb as if he'd never said population was at issue.

And it makes little sense to talk about the population of a country without knowing the square-mileage of the land it covers. The population density of this country is already way too high. In the U.S., for instance, the number of residents per sq.mi is a little below 83 while in Japan 868 people are living in a range of 1 sq.mi.

To Chang, the Japanese were basically faceless people. Needless too say, he didn't give a damn about their inner selves when he talked about Japan's bright future under the wing of the United States. In 2004, I presented him a copy of John Nathan's Japan Unbound in the hope that he would stop scratching the surface of this nation. But again he ignored everything that didn't fit into his cheap ideology.

For one thing, he made believe he didn't notice that in the book Nathan quoted a director of the Mental Health Center of Yokohama as telling him, "Some 5 million Japanese are contemplating suicide at any given moment." It would be all the more out of the question for this guy to pay attention to the results of a survey recently conducted by the government, which said 23.4% of the respondents had answered in the affirmative to this question: "Have you seriously considered suicide recently?" When it came to the pollees in their 20s, an astounding 28.4% answered they had thought about killing themselves lately. This unmistakably indicates that the Japanese are well aware a good part of them are redundant.

With these facts and perceptions all taken into account, it looks all the more mysterious that Japan's unemployment rate has stayed at the lowest levels among industrialized countries for many decades. Among other things, it's especially unfathomable that we don't see a competitive labor market which would have inevitably arisen where there are too many people in a small strip of land. The fact of the matter remains that people here needn't compete against one another seeking scarce employment opportunities. As a result they don't have a motivation to improve themselves. This should be interpreted as an indication that what a job means to the Japanese is completely different from what it means to other peoples.

Pathological obsession with perfection

When I was in business, I already knew something was fundamentally wrong with this country. The only reason I could think of for the abnormally low jobless rate here was because this country is abnormal.

As I told you when I talked about the false obituary on the personal computer, one of my people in the accounting department was often spotted verifying an MIS output with her abacus. I said to her, "What the hell are you doing here?" The veteran accountant blushed and fidgeted for a second, but somehow found nerve to say, "I do this - just in case, Mr. Yamamoto." A couple of months later she decided to upgrade her verification system from the abacus to a calculator.

Then came the Plaza Accord of 1985 which ushered in the days of uncertainty. Now the woman belatedly realized that no matter how many times she double-checked a yen value, it would have to be restated at a new exchange rate against the US$ or the Swiss Franc by the time I sent the financial report to the headquarters.

I couldn't give her a pink slip for two reasons. Firstly, she wasn't alone, far from it, in being so fussy about accuracy. If I had fired her for her compulsive idea that everything had to be perfect, I would have had to dismiss everyone in the organization. Secondly, in this country where the world-renowned practice called "lifetime employment system" was, and still remains, the norm, joblessness isn't just the state of being out of work. It means much more than loss of income source, and perhaps loss of house to live in and family to live with. When you deal with such people who are driven too much by the obsessive ideas about maintaining a harmonious society to be really values-driven, you have to use quite different elimination criteria from those used in a little less abnormal country.

By the time I called it a career, I concluded that Japan would become a normal country only if and when its jobless rate soared to somewhere around 20%, or even higher. That would mean the number of the jobless should grow at least by 400% in the not-too-distant future. This is almost an unattainable goal as long as we take it for granted that Japan is a going concern.

In 1955, a Briton by the name of Cyril Northcote Parkinson observed that "the demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource." In a sense, his theory is the supply-sider's view applied to the labor market. But it is important to always keep in mind that Parkinson's Law is not a law of physics. You can change it if you and your colleagues are principled people. Otherwise the consequence is disastrous as we have already seen here in this country.

Corporate redundancies

The condoms for umbrellas and the state-of-the-art devices to autoload them are just the tip of the tip of the ice berg. Time and again I have discussed the issue of corporate redundancies on this website. In the first such post, I focused primarily on Saabisu lavishly given by large to small players in the service industry. Saabisu is the Japanese transliteration of "service" but it means a very different thing from service in that it is basically free of charge and it's something you can live without or sometimes you are better off without. It typically includes Oshibori (I don't want to bother to explain what it is), Pointo Kaado (ditto), Bakku-guraundo Myuujikku nobody appreciates, and automatic bowing (see the second photo). The list of Saabisu goes on and on.

At any rate, I have great difficulty figuring out why Japanese travelers don't think a smile from a cabin attendant suffices. It is true that with the late arrival of low-cost carriers, local airlines have started to seek the way to keep Saabisu to the minimum. But just trimming a small part of these frills is far from enough. As long as these sick people remain obsessed with the compulsive idea to pursue the unrealistic goal of "full-employment," it's for sure the same absurdity will come back the moment they see the slightest sign of turnaround and will soon start getting bloated until it "matches the supply of the resource."

Here's another case in point. Law says you are prohibited from smoking if you are 19 years, 364 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes of age, or younger. In recent years, those who are stupid enough to believe such a law is practicably enforceable have been stepping up measures for a stricter observance of the law. A couple of months ago, municipalities across the nation ordered convenience stores and other retailers dealing in tobacco products to tell anyone who wants to buy a pack of cigarettes to swear he is not a minor by pressing his finger to the touch panel of the point-of-sale system which just reads "OK" or "Confirm." I sometimes ask the salesclerk: "By any chance, do I look like a 19-year-old kid?" The clerk always says apologetically: "No, not at all. We are doing this just because we are told to."

I know if you have never taken part in an actual production process yourself, you will say, "It's not a big deal. Why don't you just follow his instruction without saying a word?" But actually it must have taken a tremendous amount of man-hours for them to make a minor change to their POS system. Someone defined the "user requirement" in writing. A second person translated it into a "program specification." A third one coded it into a computer program, which certainly needed a lot of testing and debugging. Only then they could go live with the new "system."

This is the way material, financial and human resources are chronically wasted in this country. Manufacturing sector is no exception. Earlier this week consumer electronics giants such as Panasonic, Sony and Sharp announced they are expecting huge losses for this fiscal year. As usual they put all the blame on the economic slowdown in China and the continued appreciation of the yen. They will never admit, until it is too late, that the only way to rectify the shaky situation is a drastic downsizing which would force them to dump tens of thousands of people being wasted there.

Now the world's third-largest GDP, either nominal or in "real" terms, is actually hollowed out as the immense waste of resources has fatally eaten into Japan's industrial base. In this context let us be reminded of the exquisite words by Karl Marx. To apply his observation about the value-creating chain to Japan Inc., we have to paraphrase it this way:

"In Japan, production is at the same time the destruction or waste of resources, and consumption is at the same time a negative production."

Marx observed: "Consumption gives the product the finishing touch." But the Japanese are now transforming potentially change-enabling products into change-disabling ones by habitually misusing them. This leads to a vicious circle because now the "misusability" has become the key to success for marketers.

Perpetual bubble

As I pointed out when I talked about the fecal truth behind the burst of the bubble, the Japanese economy has been inflated artificially to the extent that it's now half-empty, to say the least. I know very few of you readily accept my heretical view because most of you, like Chang, think there's no reason to believe in an obscure blogger who constantly brings subjective values into economics. Fortunately for me, though, I'm not alone. Peter F. Drucker, for one, repeatedly said to this effect:

"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently what needs not be done at all."

Actually Drucker wanted to say it's not only useless but also harmful.

Even in Japan, there are a handful of people who realize problems deep-rooted in Japan Inc. Kazuo Yuasa, then chief consultant at Nittsu Research Institute and Consulting, Inc., wrote in 2002 about his first-hand experience with a Japanese steelmaker where people were working very hard on a big project for "what needn't have been done at all."

These are basically how the Japanese can miraculously keep nation's unemployment rate well below 5%. In this country it's a piece of cake not only for private sectors but also for the government to churn out as many jobs as they like, because these people are pathologically obsessed with perfection - perfect cleanliness, perfect accuracy, perfect certainty, perfect punctuality, perfect conformity, and most importantly perfect harmony among the community members - so anyone won't displease, upset or offend anyone else in any way.

And these are why I've been out of work since 2006 when these bastards at the rotten subsidiary of SAP AG, who were all suffering juvenile dementia, subtly suggested it was about time to have terminated our contract because I had already turned 70. If you are interested in knowing more about the ageist bias widespread in this country, you may want to look at the letter I sent to the editor of The Japan Times 16 years ago.

These are also what have since been driving me to an all-out war against the city hall. Unwinnable though it may seem, I won't stop fighting until the last day of my life. Not only my survival but also my principle are at stake there.

Incidentally, I don't give a damn about the outcome of the leap-year farce which is going on in the U.S. until Tuesday.

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