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Top>Research>Beyond silver democracy


Taro Miyamoto

Taro Miyamoto [profile]

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Beyond silver democracy

Taro Miyamoto
Professor of Welfare Politics and Welfare Policies, Faculty of Law, Chuo University

Political science movement toward social security and employment

My research field, in a word, could be called welfare politics. My current matter of concern and interest is researching political processes related to social security and employment, as well as touching on international comparative viewpoints. From these states of affairs, I discuss social security and employment, and policies, and while there are many misunderstandings that that is my main occupation, I only discuss them in a cross-field manner from a political science viewpoint. In regards to social security, there are many specialists who dig deep into individual fields such as pension schemes, medical treatment, and child welfare, and I get a real sense that I am always studying.

Silver democracy and youth democracy

Putting that aside, you can see various things that are contrary to your expectations from a welfare politics viewpoint.

The so-called political and generational problem is also an example of one of those. In Japan, political participation by the older generation is predominant and called silver democracy. Looking at the 2012 general election, voter turnout of those in their 60s stood at 75.1%, while on 37.7% of those in their 20s turned out, meaning the proportion of elderly voters more than doubled that of younger voters. In the 2009 election, people aged up to 30 represented 44% of the population yet only represented 25% of counted votes, compared to the over 60 group, which makes up 30% of the population, counted for 40% of votes.

Comparing this with Sweden, in the last election, 18-29 year olds accounted for 79% of the vote, more than that in Japan by 40%. And it only isn’t voter turnout that is different. It isn’t uncommon to see university student councilors in local government, and you can even see high school student councilors from time to time. When I took students of a university where I previously worked to Växjö in southern Sweden, student city councilors and the Japanese students had an exchange meeting together. I remember well that the exchange was lively when talking about music in Sweden, but when the topic changed to politics and economics, because they were talking with politicians, there was a difference in the level of discussion. Every political party has a youth organization, and when those leaders hold television debates, they show more fervour than seen in party leader debates. I want to call this type of Swedish politics youth democracy.

Why silver democracy?

Why has such a difference between silver democracy and youth democracy evolved? I believe the answer lies in the social security system of both countries.

Sweden’s youth democracy deals with social security for every generation. Sweden’s social security is a system that places a lot of emphasis on supporting the young. It supports employment in a fluid labour market, and in order to raise the percentage of working women and utilize their skills, as a role for social security great importance is placed on funding for the working generation in ways such as public vocational training, life-long education and daycare services to support working women. For young people, as well as this kind of system helping them make a living, it is indispensable and forces them to hold a strong interest in politics. Even in junior and senior high school textbooks, a lot of space is taken up by the social security system.

Conversely, Japan’s silver democracy applies to social security for later life in this country, and is being continuously reproduced. Japan, in the same way as Sweden, has been built by placing emphasis on stable employment. However, that method in Japan is totally different to that in Sweden. The government has protected industries and companies with administrative guidance of the convoy system and public works, and also protected the low fluidity and rigid labour market where men are the main source of income. The company provides family allowances to support the family and various social services, and the male breadwinner, and his income, supports his wife and children.

That is, for the working generation, companies are the foundation of social security. Social security, in addition to be being constrained in size, focuses on funding post-retirement when this kind of stable employment ends. Expenditure for pensions and nursing for the elderly etc. is 1.8 times higher than that of spending for the younger generation in Sweden, whereas in Japan, the ratio is 7.3 times. Hence it is being called later life social security.

As a result, the older generation has a strong interest in the social security system and expands its contact with politics, whereas, for the working generation, the company is a microcosm, and relations with politics are indirect. Unlike Sweden, there is very little education regarding social security, and because politics is avoided in education, political participation by the younger generation is passive. Since the start of 1970s, when voter turnout of the 20 age bracket was over 60%, the rate has been constantly falling.

Why is there no progress in social security reform?

The issue at hand is, regardless of the foundations of the employment structure that supports the working generation being shaken, we can see no changes to silver democracy and the later life social security. We can no longer place our trust in the companies, and like Sweden, Japan needs to strengthen its support for the lifestyles of the working generation and employment for the younger generation. Despite this, the government, which relies on the votes of the older generation, can not lay a hand on the later life social security system.

In the government’s Incorporated Social Security and Tax Reform, in which I was involved, it states the aim of social security for every generation. In principle, relatively well-off people, even from the older generation, are supposed to take a burden. However, for example, the decision to have the 70-74 age bracket pay 20% of their medical expenses, or the policy to adjust pensions of older generation in higher income bracket, has been put on the shelf and continued to be put off. On the other hand, in terms of support for the working generation, although there has been progress in child-rearing assistance, there have been no signs of big movements forward.

There have even been some radical proposals to turn around silver democracy. For example, fiscal scientist Toshihiro Ihori has called for age-specific electorates. That is to say, the proposal states that in national elections, a set number of Diet members should be proportioned in a “young bracket” made up of 20-30 year olds, “middle-aged bracket” for 40-50 year olds, and “elderly bracket” for the over 60s. Certainly, if this system is instituted, Diet members who (are thought to) represent ideas that profit the younger bracket will be elected regardless of young voter turnout.

Also, demographer Paul Demeny has proposed a system where voting rights are appropriated to parents by the number of children they have. This proposal is also based on the awareness of the problem that profits for future generations are being neglected under silver democracy.

How do we go beyond silver democracy?

I mostly fear that these methods will excessively mobilize the conflict of interests between generations. Before that, we must check that we have made efforts to expand the interest and knowledge of youths toward social security and politics. That is where we need to begin. At present, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, with cooperation from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, has established the Commission for Promoting Social Security Education, of which I am also part. The aim of this commission is to promote the development of educational materials which have high school students think about social security through their involvement in their own life planning. These kinds of educational materials may provide the impetus for students think about national policies and systems as something that is related to them.

In order to link this interest to politics, we have greatly referred to systems such as student voting, which takes place in Sweden. This is a system where junior and senior high school students hold mock voting that runs parallel to national elections. This is sponsored by the Education Ministry with 300,000 students taking part and results are released on the night of the election. This student voting, compared to the real election, tends to show rapid progress from both the left and right, but with the accumulation of this kind of training, the quality of youth participation in politics rises.

What we should be aiming for when trying to escape from silver democracy is not the intensification of conflicts of interest between the generations, but building an environment where the young generation can participate in society and demonstrate their skills. If the younger generations can support the ageing society, we can prevent the downfall of both the young and old generations. In order to construct this kind of environment, I want to increasingly consider things from a welfare politics viewpoint.

Taro Miyamoto
Professor of Welfare Politics and Welfare Policies, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Born in Tokyo in 1958.
Received Doctoral Program from the Graduate School of Law, Chuo University in 1988.
Started current position in 2013 after working as assistant professor in the Faculty of Law, Ritsumeikan University and professor in the Faculty of Law, Hokkaido University.
Is currently a member of the Social Security Council and Social Security System Reform National Congress.
Major publications include Seikatsu Hosho (Life Security) (Iwanami Shoten, Publishers), and Shakaiteki Hosetsu no Seijigaku (Social Connotation Political Science) (Minerva Shobo).