With Japan possessing the world’s third-largest economy and being seen globally as a place that nurtures innovation, one would think the public mood in the country would be relatively upbeat. Yet while the Japanese are…
With Japan possessing the world’s third-largest economy and being seen globally as a place that nurtures innovation, one would think the public mood in the country would be relatively upbeat.
Yet while the Japanese are displaying growing confidence in the country’s economy, many say their lives today are worse off than before the Great Recession, a new report shows. Additionally, they say future generations will fare no better, in large part because of the rise of automation.
The report, from the bipartisan Pew Research Center, shows the majority of respondents believe a reliance on robots and computers is pushing people out of jobs and will lead to greater economic inequality. Nearly 9 in 10 of the 1,016 Japanese respondents, or 89 percent, say robots and computers will take over much of the work that humans now engage in during the next half-century.
“And Japanese do not foresee that work environment as necessarily positive,” say the authors of the report. “More than 8 in 10 (83 percent) fear that such automation will lead to a worsening of inequality between the rich and poor, and more than 7 in 10 (74 percent) think ordinary people will have a hard time finding jobs.”
Overall, the Japanese say they think their economy is doing better than during the height of the global recession. Positive views of the country’s economy is up 34 percentage points from 2009, when only 10 percent of respondents said the economic situation in the country was good. Yet while more than 40 percent of those surveyed today say the current economic situation in the country is good, 55 percent say it’s bad.
Additionally, 4 in 10 Japanese say average people are doing financially worse than two decades ago, while only around a quarter of those surveyed say they are experiencing a better life.
The Japanese are also not convinced brighter days are coming, reporting the lowest levels of optimism about the status of future generations among 27 countries surveyed by Pew in 2018.
“Only 15 percent of the public believes that children today in Japan will grow up to be better off financially than their parents, while 76 percent expect they will be worse off,” the report says.
The anxieties expressed in the Pew report reflect the recent years of changing economic dynamics taking place in the country, says Shihoko Goto, a senior associate for Northeast Asia at the Wilson Center. The post-World War II model of industrialization, expressed by manufacturing giants such as Toyota, are giving room to an economy that increasingly is carving out space for the service sector, robotics, artificial intelligence and big data, she says.
The mixed views in the Pew survey also reflect an economic divide in the country between people who have prospered under the country’s lifetime employment model versus a growing number of temporary, hourly and contractual workers.
“Your own personal confidence in the country is a reflection of how you fit in an economy,” Goto says.
The pessimism is reflected in other views about public life in Japan. Less than half of the Pew survey’s respondents said they are satisfied with how democracy is functioning in the country. More than half of respondents said they view politicians as being corrupt and not caring about ordinary people, and that elections bring little change.
Japanese views on democracy reflect to a large degree a public indifference about the democratic process in the country, Goto says. No feasible alternative has formed to the Liberal Democratic Party, which has effectively been in power for more than 60 years. Many people in Japan, Goto says, believe they “can’t put my vote into a credible opposition.”
With a population of 127 million that’s projected to shrink to 88 million by 2065, Japan’s leaders are struggling with an aging workforce and restrictive migration policies. Although the majority of the Pew survey’s respondents say immigrants make Japan a better country through more work and talent, 58 percent say the East Asian nation should preserve its current immigration levels and not welcome more people. Only 23 percent percent say Japan should be more welcoming to immigrants.
The Pew report also shows that Japan has seen a dramatic drop in sentiment toward the United States, with only 24 percent of respondents saying they view the current U.S. president favorably. The figure increased by 6 percentage points in 2018 compared with last year, but the number of Japanese seeing the administration of President Donald Trump with optimism is still low compared with the levels of 2016, when 78 percent of respondents saw it favorably.
The majority of those Japanese surveyed also said the U.S. now tends to act unilaterally and not consider their country in its foreign policy strategy, while about half said the United States is doing less to solve global problems.
Nonetheless, 8 in 10 Japanese say they would be more comfortable with the U.S. being the leading power of the world, not China, and only 17 percent expressed positive views on China.
The views of the Japanese about their country contrast somewhat to global views that see the East Asian nation favorably for having significant cultural influence and an economy facing the future. Goto says that contrast between domestic and international views of Japan present an opportunity for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“Given the retrenchment of the U.S. and global anxieties about China, Abe becomes the most established of the G-7 leaders.”