The Corner

Japan’s ‘Perverse’ Immigration Policy

Writing in the Financial Times, John Plender wonders why Japan, seemingly stuck in the economic doldrums for two decades, has not seen a populist upsurge comparable with those seen in the US and parts of the EU:

The starting point might be the extraordinary hierarchical, consensual and inclusive nature of Japanese society. Consensualism was particularly evident in the solidarity with which its citizens responded to the tsunami in 2011. While inequality has risen recently, it is still much less striking than in North America or Europe, not least because Japanese chief executives are paid much less than their equivalents in the US. The crime rate remains astonishingly low. Importantly, and perversely given Japan’s shrinking population, politicians are reluctant to permit much immigration.


When it comes to the economy’s woes, Plender is honest enough to admit that ‘adverse’ demography  masks a more benign reality (my emphasis added):

In absolute terms the economy has shrunk, but in per capita terms it compares reasonably well with the US over the past 15 years. Unemployment is just 3 per cent and at its peak after the crisis it was a mere 5.5 per cent.

For a longer-term look at the (very far from catastrophic) picture take a look at this chart :

None of this is to deny that Japan faces some serious economic  problems (Plender rightly highlights the country’s alarming debt/GDP ratio (240 percent!)) but the idea that the country’s falling population presents some sort of crisis is nonsense.

Yes, there will be (and there are) transitional difficulties, but, if only by accident, Japan is, unlike, say, the US, adapting to the realities of the post ‘peak  labor’ economy. Seen from that perspective (and not only from that perspective) its cautious immigration policy is anything but perverse.