Back in 2009, the leadership in Japan realised that there it was
facing a massive demographic problem.  This
problem was not rampant population growth, but the opposite – declining fertility
and a growing elderly population. 
According to The Washington Post:


“In
2009, just 13.3 percent of Japan’s population was 14 or younger — the lowest
percentage ever registered by a country. By 2030, according to government
estimates, one in every three people in Japan will be 65 or older. One in 10
will be 14 or younger.”

This
problem was only going to get worse as time went on because of Japan’s
birthrate of 1.37 children per woman – one of the lowest in the world and well
below the replacement rate of around 2.1.

To
combat this, the new ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, came up with
ways to combat this:


“The plan was simple: Couples who procreated would get cash — a
payment every month during a child’s first 15 years….At the time of the March
11 earthquake, the government was paying families roughly $155 every month, per
child, until that child completed junior high school. This year, the Democratic
Party of Japan (DPJ) had been pushing for an increase in payments, with a view
toward eventually doubling them.”

As well as this, the DPJ also proposed reducing high school
tuition, scrapping highway tolls and increasing scholarships to make child
rearing a more financially attractive option.  (In a 2005 government poll, 66% of women said
that they had fewer children than they wanted because the cost of raising and
educating children was too expensive.) However, the March earthquake and
tsunami has forced the Government to rethink these policies. 


“When
the government estimated that disaster recovery could cost $300 billion, the
bulky child allowance program became untenable. A bill calling for spending
increases was withdrawn.  In the interim,
parliament decided to continue the current payments for six more months,
because of the ‘great inconvenience’ an abrupt termination would cause parents,
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. 
At the end of the six months, the entire payment system could be scrapped,
according to Harumi Arima, a political analyst and former parliamentary aide.”

Other government programs are also likely to be axed, and
there are suggestions that the consumption tax could also be raised as the
Government, already heavily in debt, seeks to find ways to pay the reconstruction
bill. 

The move is likely to be popular:


“In a recent poll conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s
largest newspaper, 83 percent of respondents supported a decrease in child
subsidies if the savings were used for reconstruction.”

But there are some expressing doubt and concern:


“‘I think it’s a bad idea that they’re going to quit this,” Arima
said. “I actually thought this policy had a level of vision — an idea for what
they wanted Japan to look like in the future.’… “Because Japan’s birthrate is
so low, we will become unable to sustain our society in the future,” said Naoto
Nonaka, a political science professor at Gakushuin University. ‘In such an
environment, we need to turn things around by doing something that will have an
impact. In that sense, it was necessary to spend certain sum of money.’”

While it is understandable that spending priorities change
after a disaster such as that suffered by Japan, it will be interesting to see
whether other spending programmes will be put in place in the future to try and
change Japan’s demographic outlook.  I
wonder how long it will be before other nations, particularly in the West,
realise that their future, particularly their economic future, depends entirely
on their future generations.  If these
generations are not produced (or are produced and then destroyed) then the
future of many nations will look bleak. 

Having said all that, I am always sceptical that, after
having introduced such catastrophic consequences through our own behaviour and moral
outlook (or lack thereof), a state-sponsored payment scheme will somehow change
behaviour and make everything better.  If
people are not willing to change their attitudes and have more children, then
throwing money at the problem is not likely to work.  It will, however, reinforce the state’s
raison d’etre – spending money.

 

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...