Just Stop Digging: A Japanese History Lesson

By Louis Avallone

In the 1980s, the Japanese changed American culture in many different and significant ways. Now, they look poised to do it all over again, but this time, by teaching us a history lesson.

In the late 1980s, Japan was the world’s second largest economy. Japanese automakers entered the U.S. market with small economy cars and pickup trucks that Detroit simply wasn’t interested in making (at the time, at least). Japanese companies, such as Sony and Toshiba, developed the transistor radio and the Walkman. The Japanese were so resourceful that they even took products developed by U.S. companies, such as VCRs, camcorders, and microwave ovens, and made them affordable to the masses.

But oh how the mighty can fall. And Japan certainly did. Over the past 20 years, Japan’s annual rate of economic growth has averaged a mere 1 percent and last year their population reached it lowest number since the 1950s. And their population is getting older, as well. There are 30 million Japanese who are 65 or older (which is 25 percent of their population).

Their birth rate is still below their death rate, and that just signals more trouble ahead, as the Japanese face rising welfare and medical care cost  for an aging population, while coping with a rapidly dropping workforce due to fewer births.

Around 1990, though, when the Japanese economy begin its spiraling descent and unemployment rose, Japanese young people welcomed the chance to “find themselves,” or the liberty “to not be job-locked, but to follow their passion,” as Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats would say. But now, 20 years later, being “job-locked” doesn’t sound so bad, after all.

Why? Well, almost one-third of those Japanese young people, now in their late 30s and early 40s, do not hold regular jobs, and some never have. Only half of working 15-to-24-year-olds in Japan have regular jobs.

If all of this sounds similar to the United States, you’d be right on the money. The unemployment rate for 18-29-year-olds in our country, including those who have given up looking for work, is almost 16 percent. Among African-Americans in this same age bracket, the unemployment rate is almost a whopping 25 percent.

It’s so bad that even the Obama administration admitted last month that there are three unemployed people for every job opening in our country today.

And our country’s economic growth rate is expected to remain stagnant again this year, and our population continues to shrink (just like Japan’s). In fact, population growth is so low right now in the U.S. that you have to go back to the Great Depression in the 1930s to find a lower growth rate.

So when Democrats, like Nancy Pelosi, start making ridiculous claims, such as how Obamacare will “shift how people make a living and reach their aspirations,” it’s time to tell this Japanese history lesson, and have a come-to-Jesus meeting with Democrats.

They may be interested in learning that 20 years later, the once young and unemployed Japanese, who were seeking their “aspirations” as 20-something year olds, have remained unemployed as 40-something year olds, as well.

And although these folks never got “job-locked” from pursuing their passion, they also never learned new skills that would earn them enough to boost their country’s economic growth beyond a paltry 1 percent.

So when the Congressional Budget Office said Obamacare will drain another 2.5 million jobs from the economy by 2021, that means those will lose a paycheck, and the ability to support their families.

No, we need an economy that encourages job creation and personal responsibility, not “finding yourself” when you have bills to pay. Without more jobs, we’ll end up just like Japan. There’s nothing wrong with hard work, even when it’s not your “passion.” Or being “job locked,” or whatever that really means to the growing number of Democrats using that term. You see, and what they don’t get, it’s not so much what you get from working hard, but it’s what you become by working hard.

As author Seth Godin explains, “Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you’d rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And, after you’ve done that, to do it again the next day.”

So, the Democrats can denigrate hard work by making unemployment seem liberating and desirable, despite the Japanese experiences over the past 20 years. The political spinning hardly distracts from rising unemployment numbers, stagnant growth, or the loss of a paycheck that supports a family.

This is how Japan is poised to change American culture again, if we will only heed the lessons they have learned over the past 20 years.

And even if you are not a Republican, or a Democrat, or any political party affiliation at all, that’s OK. The lessons of history can work for you, too. But whatever you call yourself, I just don’t want to call you unemployed. Our country’s future literally depends on it.

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