What the U.S. Welfare State Can Learn from Japan

Both the U.S. and Japan have gigantic social welfare programs. Japan's program is just about as costly as ours, but it works much better, and Japan's crime rate is much lower than that of the United States. Why has Japan's welfare program has worked so much better than ours? In Japan, the family is considered to be the first line of welfare support.

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The crass individualism

Rather than place welfare requirements upon extended families, the United States government chose to attempt to solve the entire problem--and now we have a mountain of debt and cesspools of social filth to show for it.

spawned by gigantic corporations caused a great deal of grief to a lot of American workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal social legislation, in trying to solve that admitted problem, created one that was far worse. The New Deal, in trying to rein in the corporation, and the Great Society, in trying to plug the increasingly leaky dike of inequality, have nearly destroyed the American family.

Niall Ferguson, in his new book entitled The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, points out that Japan is
a much more equal society than any in the West. The welfare superpower was also a miracle of parsimony. In 1975, just 9 percent of national income went on social security...
Which is a lot smaller than the percentage that the U.S. was (and is) investing in our social programs. What's the difference? Ferguson explains:
In Japan, egalitarianism was a prized goal of policy, while...English individualism...inclined people cynically to game the system. In Japan, firms and families continued to play substantial supporting roles in the welfare system. As recently as the 1990's, two thirds of Japanese older than 64 lived with their children. In Britain [and the U.S.], employers did not hesitate to slash payrolls in hard times, while people were much more likely to leave elderly parents to the tender mercies of the [state social welfare system].
FDR's administration identified the social problems, but it claimed that government could solve them all. It couldn't. And it didn't. In the process, the primary role of the American family to support its members was significantly undermined.

Rather than become the problem solver of first resort, government should take as its responsibility to remind its citizens of the importance of their

The New Deal, in trying to rein in the corporation, and the Great Society, in trying to plug the increasingly leaky dike of inequality, have nearly destroyed the American family.

being a first line of social defense and support. The Japanese government performed this task admirably. Rather than place welfare requirements upon extended families, however, the United States government chose to attempt to solve the entire problem--and now we have a mountain of debt and cesspools of social filth to show for it.

Japan's welfare system is designed for everyone to contribute at the appropriate level. America's welfare system is designed to encourage everyone to get the most bang for the buck.

Japan's rate of crime is much lower than in the United States. I would not be surprised to find out that this is also because of Japan's family-centered approach to welfare.

Japan's welfare state is now having a come-to-Jesus meeting with itself, as it is starting to buckle under the weight of its debt. However, due to the family

FDR's administration identified the social problems, but it claimed that government could solve them all. It couldn't. And it didn't. In the process, the primary role of the American family to support its members was significantly undermined.

ethic that exists in Japan, the strain on the Japanese will likely be much less than we will experience in the United States when we get to the sign on our welfare road that says "no outlet".

Regardless, the United States' welfare system needs a gargantuan overhaul. Looking to Japan--and recognizing and fostering the family as the fundamental unit of society--can help us solve many of our social welfare problems.



Comments

  1. The Japanese regard for family stems from millennia-old cultural traditions found in some other Asian cultures as well. What are the prospects for developing something similar in American culture?

    A recent study found that over 24% of American adults say that they live so independently that they maintain no significant friendship or family relationship. (Significant defined as somebody they could rely on or that would care about them in time of need.) That is an incredibly stunning number.

    We didn't arrive at this point in three or four generations. It's much deeper in the culture than that. So I wonder what could feasibly be done to move our culture to a more family-centric model.

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  2. We should recognize that the ethic of individualism which has played a role in the disintegration of the family is exacerbated by the free market idolatry of the US. The self-interest of conventional free market theory suggests that everyone should only take care of themself, and that by so doing everyone will magically be taken care of. The Japanese have never bought into that ethic, recognizing the importance of not only the family, but of the community, in taking care of everyone. That philosophical emphasis on individualism has played a much greater role in the breakdown of the family (to the extent it has truly occurred, which is much less than the Right claims) than has welfare.

    There is, of course, perils to a too rigid adherence to the Asian tradition of conformity and sacrifice to community. A balance must be struck.

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