Thursday, June 5, 2014

Will Miss #542 - relative income equality

I've lived in two different apartment complexes since returning the U.S. and, in both places, homeless people came by several times a week to poke through the recyclable trash for bottles and cans that could be redeemed for deposit. Though my half of the complex locks its trash containers, the other half doesn't, so I'll see someone with a borrowed shopping cart parked in front of their blue bins looking through other people's junk for something worthwhile.

The thing about this is that I live in an area in which people are in the solid middle class (albeit one of the most ethnically diverse areas of such types in the country) and that borders on or is close to areas which are extremely affluent (Cupertino, Palo Alto). I can see the income disparity in living, breathing form every single day and it makes me very sad and a little angry. Seeing a designer dog boutique selling frozen yogurt and cookies for canines next to a coffee shop at which a homeless person is routinely booted away from bothers me even more. People have money to give their dogs hand-made treats, but not to help the homeless guy living out of a shopping cart.

In Japan, there were homeless people, but the income disparity there is much smaller than it is here. Most people are in the middle with some who are fairly rich and some who are fairly poor. However, the super wealthy don't tend to be clearly delineated between the middle class as they are here. And, while there were homeless, there weren't nearly as many, they weren't as young, and they were often mentally ill rather than down on their luck.

I miss the relative income equality in Japan and the impact it had on the daily living experiences and sense of comfort that everyone had. 


  1. It's true, as you write, that income equality appears generally better than the US, Japan has a problem that is getting bigger and will likely continue to do so with some new policies by the gov't. Abe intends to expand the number of part-time temp staff companies can employ up to around 40-50 percent as I recall. (Up form 30%. I am going by memory on those figures.) Then we have the purely regressive tax increases of this year and next coupled with a coming decrease in corporate taxes.

    It hasn't been well reported by the US or Japanese press (naturally) but Japan actually has a larger inequality than many other modern economies (Germany, Canada, Italy!). And the folks at the bottom are staying there if not falling further behind. An equal classless society was not part of Japan's past before the end of WW2 and the Occupation reforms, and it seems that its temporary flirt with at least surface equality is disappearing.

    Some good articles here if you haven't seen them yet:

    and by a Japan blogger whom I am sure you remember, Tobias Harris:

  2. My wife, who is a regular viewer of NHK, has told me that homelessness/extreme poverty have gotten worse in Japan in recent years. I saw more of 'them' on our last trip there in 2009 than when we were there in the late 1990's.


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