This weekend’s big thought: people who say it’s “the free market” when it isn’t.

This is inspired by all the nuttiness going on in Washington, plus the fact someone mentioned the Anycountry Chamber of Commerce – Japan to me the other day in the context of Terrie Lloyd. When I start hearing too much about how “business” creates the jobs, it makes me want to puke, because when I actually research things, you always find government in the back, somehow, either as the one subsidizing the business or the one lining up the buyers.

The hard part is that the mouthpieces behind “free enterprise” so insult your intelligence. And mine. We have just come off a major financial crisis where the doers of the bad deed had to be bailed out, not for free but close to it, by the government. That is to say, by the rest of us. The government funnels billions of dollars every year, in government contracts, to Tea Party districts, where the people act like it’s their own talents that made the money happen. The money is moving all around, and the reason it is is because the government is there, taxing and spending.

They (i.e. these other people) are talking about default, even at this late hour. There are something like thirty billion in social security checks that go out on Wednesday, and another, similar sized amount that are dated for August 10. What would the impact on business be, if suddenly $60 billion in checks disappears? I have a hard time seeing how “the free market” is going to come up with that lost business. It’s purely government redistribution. It’s government-driven.

So I keep looking at this sort of thing: how much is it people’s own doing, and how much is it the government in there doing it with them? (Not necessarily for them, but with them.)

In the years like the 1940’s, ’50’s, ’60’s and ’70’s, people understood this very well in America. Around 1980, with Reagan, all these cute lies about how the government never creates a job or supports a tax base came into side conversation in our politics. (This, while the people who made it big had the government in there helping them out. They’d be mouthing this stuff from the porch of their mortgage-interest-subsidized house in the leafy suburb, down the road from the interstate highway built with government money.)

It’s a shame that stuff that is complete nonsense now seems to be front-and-center in Washington speechmaking about the deficit and spending. What we really needed was more stimulus spending to further juice the economy, especially after it’s recently been learned that the Recession was much deeper than the people measuring it had assumed.

I also thought about the military-industrial tribe of connected Americans in Tokyo, Japan. A lot of their “success” has to do with channels dug to get the money, the honey, flowing between America and Japan during the Cold War era. The Pacific Elite, as I have called them, sit in Tokyo and take from the honey pot, setting themselves up nicely, their children up nicely, and useful friends and cronies. They really aren’t making business happen. They simply are relying on tax breaks and government-funneled spending to assure that there is some American presence in Tokyo to help solidify the fact that we waste all that other tax money on military bases that aren’t necessary to protect us.

They are a pretend “skin in the game”, as if they are like the 50,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea. We, in turn, claim that America has “vital national interests” in Japan that we have to protect with our military. Japan lets in a little bit of our country’s business. Historically, I think this was also to steal technology and business process information off those companies; but also, to pretend that there is some sort of “free market” that goes on between the two countries, so that we just don’t shut off Japan’s Toyota and the like entirely.

But the root of it is all government policy. It’s to make like we have this close relationship with Japan, when, in fact, it’s really just a small amount of people who have this close relationship with Japan.

So where do these “international entrepreneurs” fit in? I can’t say for sure, but it’s starting to seem like their role is to validate the idea that Japan is open and that anyone of “the right fibre” can make it there. When you consider that so much of the exchange is English teachers, and that a lot of that money is coming from the Japanese government, the entrepreneurship is really more just being a lackey, or the gold prospector supplier, who sells other things, or sells the access, to young people who want to live in Japan. There is no “new” thing being created. Related to this, then, would be all the other products and services that you’d sell to the intermittent gaijin. But that “market” is really controlled by the Japanese government and the amount of money they’re willing to channel into education. Secondly, by the limited amount of money that Japanese have to spend on private education. (I am beginning to become convinced that second number is rather low.)

In the post March 11 atmosphere, where celebrated entrepreneurs are saying that business is very tight—when, in fact, most of the foreigner resident population is still right in place–it makes me wonder how much vitality there is in the “free market” expat community of Japan. Isn’t it really, that if the U.S. or Japanese government, in concert with the big, big international corporations, cut back on what they are spending towards the expat community of Japan, then a lot of this business simply goes poof?

When people talk about “free markets”, why is it never quite what it seems?

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7 comments

  1. Oliver Onions · August 2, 2011

    Do you ever stop whining about how bad Japan treated you?

    Christ, no wonder you’re such a shill for Debito; you’re just as big as a middle aged loser as he is.

    • hoofin · August 2, 2011

      I debated about whether your stupid comment, posted under a pseudonym from an IP address in Chicago, is worth responding to. It probably isn’t, but I just want to clarify two things:

      1) I don’t know if you read the same post that I wrote, but I am talking about how much of the trade and dealings between Japan and America is “free market” and how much is government-driven connected cronyism. That isn’t necessarily “whining” about “treatment”, and your comment says a lot about how you want to have people who criticize Japanese policy portrayed. You have no answers. You just want bad situations to continue, from your Chicago perch.

      2) If you’re one of the internet crowd that spends so much time attacking Arudou Debito for his commentary, then I don’t know what to tell you. I happen to think his commentary is useful, and I agree about 80% of the time. The problem I have with your group’s commentary is that you are never able to answer to the issues that Debito raises. You simply say that he shouldn’t raise them, and then, you offer nothing. What you imply is “don’t rock our nice boat”. If the people who are part of Ken Y-N’s anti-Debito crowd don’t want their Japanese Sugar Daddy offended, why can’t you just say this outright? We can well understand it. We get the sense already this is what it is about.

  2. Pingback: My big three Japan projects: the status. | Hoofin to You!
  3. Cotton Slacks · August 4, 2011

    My problem with Debito is not that he speaks his mind or even that he complains, it’s that he rarely follows up with action. He wants to be an activist, but he rarely acts. In his list of “offenders” who put up Japanese Only signs, he only physically visited a handful. And it’s easy to say “well what have YOU done?” but I don’t have a website that gets thousands of hits based on my whining. I have done nothing because that is my choice. I don’t owe you or any other expat in Japan anything. I want to live my own life my own way.

    It is ridiculous because some of these people who complain about Japan hold such resentment for people who actually enjoy themselves there. It’s like if you have fun and enjoy your life in Japan, you’re somehow holding back some so-called “foreigner cause”.

    Life is too short to get upset about every little thing. Is Japan perfect? No way. But what’s the point living there if you just dwell on every little bad detail?

    • hoofin · August 4, 2011

      What I still can’t figure out is why that small group gets itself all worked up about Debito. It can’t be that “he rarely follows up with action” (so-called slacktivism). It sounds more like they don’t want anyone focusing on the issue of discrimination in Japan. They don’t want people talking about it. I don’t really see where it’s “whining”. I see more like an embarrassing subject that a certain element doesn’t want any focus on.

      Another thing I don’t see is how you conclude that those who are interested in the subject of discrimination “hold such resentment for people who actually enjoy themselves here”. It sounds like that is more where you need to look. People who see Japan as their own little get-away, where they cut nice deals for themselves and avoid the Tax Man (or the laws of Congress). They see themselves as the “ambassadors” to our “friends”, “the Japanese” (i.e. the well-connected Japanese who lord it over the place). To me, that’s the more interesting phenomenon—the people who don’t want Debito or other, critical, bloggers saying anything—because they have their own little nice things going.

      Life is indeed too short, so it’s surprising that people with power allow bad situations in Japan to go on as long as they do. I am also surprised that some Japanese have long memories, but they think everyone else’s in the world is very short. Life has a lot of surprises, doesn’t it?

      Your IP tells me that you are supposedly reading me from New Hampshire, USA. New Hampshire isn’t perfect, either, is it? And I’m sure whatever is going on in Japan is probably not impacting New Hampshire very much.

      • Cotton Slacks · August 4, 2011

        It’s affecting NH about as much as it’s affecting PA I bet. No need to get personal.

        I don’t think most Debito critics have a problem with his bringing to light discrimination in Japan. They criticize his methods with which he does it and his sometimes complete skewing of facts or refusal to follow up on certain things with any tangible evidence.

        Also I don’t quite understand who you’re referring to when you speak of avoiding the tax man. All U.S. citizens are required to file taxes regardless of where they work.There is a specific form for expatriates abroad. You fill it out and essentially prove that you pay residency taxes of the country you work in and they waive the need for you to pay taxes in the US (unless you’re making an enormous amount). I filled this out when I worked there.The IRS will notice someone dodging taxes if they don’t file for years, regardless of where they reside.

        I think the main problem dude is that there’s too much of a “with me or against me attitude” among expatriates in Japan. I think that if you want to stand up for a cause, you would want the people who are most passionate about it, instead of just an amalgamation of people who don’t care.

        Debito gets a ton of unfair criticism (personal attacks and whatnot) but he has done some pretty stupid stuff and said some stupid things just the same.

        Also I live on [blank] in [blank town] to narrow down where in NH I am for you.

        • hoofin · August 5, 2011

          Again, I just don’t see where the “methods” the anti-Debito people point to are the root of any problem. It seems more like they don’t want the content publicized–the message.

          I saw one recently about a bar called Monica. Debito had featured a letter from someone who said he was denied entry because he wasn’t Japanese. The Tepido people (these would be the people who are not in favor of Debito’s site) called up the bar, and got a different story from the owner. But, they put this out as if the original letter writer was in the wrong. So, in the end, the story was a wash, but the point that everybody missed is that there is no agency in Japan charged with making sure that people aren’t kept out of what we call “public accommodation” because of race, religion, national origin, etc.

          I do not always agree with Debito’s “methods” 100%. Maybe 80%. They are a bit like 1980’s multiculturalist politicking at Ivy League universities, which nowadays is roundly looked down upon in America (or mocked). I have told him so. But Debito left America in the late 1980’s, so I am not sure he isn’t just simply a product of his time and place. The general theme is he would like to see less foreigner discrimination in Japan, and he keeps that message out there in the style of campus activists of those days. I think he does more than most to contact people and put the issues out there. I think his website, with its significant following in the expat community, is a resource, and one that takes time to do. There is more there than slacktivism.

          Re the tax matters: there are a sizable number of U.S. expats that don’t file and don’t pay. They like the fact that Japan is this place of loose rules that you can negotiate if you are in the right situation, because they can manipulate that. Even the big companies do it. Good for you if you filed. I did. A lot of people don’t, plus they skirt under Japan’s radars. It’s a big game. So I say, part of the reason they don’t want “whiners” is that they don’t anyone pointing out anything going on in the expat community, because it screws up their deals. They don’t want to talk about discrimination, they don’t want to talk about pension or health coverage, they don’t anyone back home asking why the money is flowing to them. They just want silence.

          I don’t think the people who speak up about discriminatory matters are the my-way-or-the-highway types. They are just persistent, because Japan doesn’t do anything. Even when Japan does something, it’s in the quintessential style of one of their Spite Resolutions. They give to others because they offended or damaged someone else. They say, “oh, let’s honor good gaijin, because we’re trying to spite the gaijin we’re on the outs with.” You see an example of this in the whole Hague child abduction negotiations. Japan says they are agreeing to Hague, but holding back on extending the Hague rules to children already kidnapped. You see, it’s spite. They spite the activists like Chris Savoie, and promise other gaijin at future times that Japan won’t do it again.

          The all-expense paid trip for the POWs recently was another Spite Resolution. They didn’t go back and try to find the families of the people that the Japanese Imperial war force brutalized. They took what remains of a very elderly group and showed them how they managed to rebuild the country better than ever, despite the fact that they lost World War II. They used the POW survivors as props in a story about how generous Japan is. Spite Resolution.

          In this sort of atmosphere, it does take people to keep delivering the same messages all the time. Because the Japanese have long memories, but they think that other countries’ people have very short ones. When they are pulling something, they don’t think that people see right through them.

          So you can say what you want about Debito and personal foibles, which we all have. He delivers a consistent message and really does not back down off that message.

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