[FOUNTAIN]Getting the elderly to spendIn most cases, descriptions of old sages in literature, both Eastern and Western, make them appear older than they really are, to emphasize the wisdom that is said to come with advanced years. But these days, respect for age is less, and concern is rising about the economic burden it represents.
Daichi Sakaiya, a Japanese author and economic critic, has had many careers, including a stint as the minister of the economic planning agency. Calling today’s Japan “the society that shuns the old,” he argued in a recent issue of a Japanese magazine that Japan should be changed into a country in which the old are again revered. He was not being sentimental, however; he noted that the issues facing a society with the world’s longest lifespans and with a high risk of economic deflation must be addressed by structural changes that solve the problem of “the old people.”
Mr. Sakaiya proposed that the government should pay all the living expenses of Japanese persons over 85; there are now about 2.5 million Japanese in that category. He argues that with their livelihood assured and money worries relieved, older people in Japan would again begin to spend money and eliminate “the savings disease” in Japan, which has the world’s highest savings rate and a low contribution to the economy by domestic consumption.
Japanese private financial assets are estimated at a staggering 1.4 quadrillion yen ($12.6 trillion dollars). Mr. Sakaiya notes that the largest part of Japanese assets are owned by the aged, but they do not even spend the bulk of their pension payments, much less dip into their savings.
He also says that Japan must create an environment in which people who want to work until age 70 can do so. That, he said, would not only put the human resource these older people represent to work, but could also put their financial resources to work.
Two Japanese television anchors, Akira Nishimura and Mamiko Hata, wrote a book recently called “Open the Wallets of Women.” Their approach to the economic issues in Japan are similar to that of Mr. Sakaiya. They wrote that older active people are a new consumer class in Japan, with leisure time and spending power. If their numbers increase, Mr. Sakaiya’s “society where the old are liked” could emerge.
Korea is also an aging society. This is not a time to be concerned only about youth unemployment and “early retirement” at age 45.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.