Japan to slash entitlements as part of new fiscal plan

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Japan’s welfare minister Norihisa Tamura and finance minister Taro Aso announced plans to reduce welfare benefits in the country by ¥74 billion over a three-year period, an equivalent of 74 million dollars, beginning in August.

According to The Japan Times, this decision was made in attempt to “root out the comfortably poor” after a government panel discovered that some recipients are acquiring more money from their welfare paychecks than the average low-income citizen spends on living costs.

The fiscal situations of the U.S. and Japan have many parallels:

  • Welfare programs in Japan hit a record high of 2.14 million recipients in October 2012 according to The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry of Japan. America similarly hit a record high in 2012, with 46.48 million now on food stamps, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
  • Both Japan and the United States are heavy in public debt. Japan’s government gross debt as a percentage of GDP is 229.7 percent, much higher than the United States’ 102.94 percent, according to the April 2012 World Economic Outlook Database.

However, unlike Japan, the United States shows no sign of limiting entitlement programs any time soon. It was a major topic of discussion during the 2012 presidential race, and President Obama clarified his position in his inaugural address in January.

“They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great,” Obama said, referring to government programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

Japanese BYU student Toshinori Fukui, a business management major, weighed in on his country’s decision to slash welfare.

“I agree with the decision made by the government because that is what the party promised to do,” he said. “There are reasons for the government to cut entitlement: Japanese government deficit and conflict with incomes between those who receive entitlements and those who do not.”

Fukui continued by explaining the possible downfalls in welfare programs.

“The problem with the program, whether it is in the States or in Japan, if they do not have a specific system, goals and monitoring, those programs will just increase other people’s tax and national deficit,” he said. “The attitude is the same between two countries. There are those who take advantage of the program while others try their best to create a self-supporting system or income. … Any entitlement given for wrong reasons that it is not helping individuals to set and achieve their goals to try to support themselves is not the right thing to do.”

Ai Miyauchi, citizen of Yokohama, Japan, elaborated further on the issues that arise from welfare programs in Japan specifically.

“In Japan, people who receive the benefit of entitlement sometimes use that money on gambling, fashionable clothes, or even to go to private school,” she said. “This does frustrate people who work diligently and pay tax.”

“There is a phrase that says, ‘The loser works,'” Miyauchi said. “I heard that in the U.S. some schools teach the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want,’ but there is no similar educational effort in Japan so far, which is disappointing.”

Former BYU Hawaii student Keiko Barnhill, from Kawasaki, Japan, described her wish that the government could help everyone in need. She explained her concern for those in extreme poverty who genuinely need support but stressed the difficulty in helping without enabling free-riders.

“I would like to have a country where you don’t have to worry about anything, but that’s not realistic,” she said. “I think in any country the problem is the balance between how much they need and how much other ‘capable people’ can support them.”

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