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    Jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today

    You know what’s really annoying? All you silly people out there who think you’re in the best position to make decisions about your own lives. What gives you the right to make your own trade-offs when planners–people with credentials–have figured out the one true way to live?

    Well, don’t expect to win. The latest from here in Japan is a litany of targets for achieving the perfect national balance of work and family life. Just look at all these numbers, each the glorious result of expert cogitation:

    The government has come up with a long list of numerical targets to let men in their 30s to 40s work less and spend more time with their families.

    One target is to halve in 10 years the percentage of workers who put in 60 hours or more a week from 10.8 percent in 2006.

    Another goal is to raise the percentage of male workers who take child-care leave to 10 percent, up from the current 0.5 percent.

    The draft guidelines were presented Thursday to a task force under a high-level council working on the issue. The council consists of representatives from labor and management, Cabinet ministers and other experts.

    The government will consider measures to achieve the targets included in the guidelines and seek cooperation from business organizations and labor unions.

    The draft charter emphasizes that it is essential to review the nation’s working style to maintain the vitality of society.

    The numerical targets are aimed primarily at lightening the workload of men in their 30s and 40s.

    To make up for the reduced work, the government has set employment-rate targets for women and elderly people.

    For example, the government aims to have 69-72 percent of women between 25 and 44 in the work force in 10 years, up from the current 65 percent.

    For people in the age bracket between 60 and 64, the employment-rate targets, also in 10 years, are 79-80 percent for men and 41-43 percent for women, up, respectively, from the current 67 percent and 39 percent.

    The government also aims to raise the rate of women in employment after their first childbirth to 55 percent in 10 years, up from the current 38 percent.

    In 2006, men with a child under 6 years old spent an average of one hour a day on child care and household chores.

    The government’s target in 10 years is 2 1/2 hours.

    Of course, most of these things will not be legislated directly. No prefectural governor is going to be taken out and shot if his or her jurisdiction doesn’t reach the approved average of 2.5 hours’ worth of male domesticity by 2017. But what happens with these things is that they expand from high-level technocratic committees into offices, community programs, and ad hoc task forces that suck up money without demonstrably serving citizens. (Also, while Japanese men spend more time with their families than they used to, I suspect that plenty of them would use the extra time off from work to heft golf clubs rather than toddlers.)

    Japan’s not the only island country to exhibit such impulses. Perry de Havilland of Samizdata linked indignantly to BBC coverage of a new government report that essentially tells each Briton, “You’re a porker, but it’s not your fault.”

    The largest ever UK study into obesity, backed by government and compiled by 250 experts, said excess weight was now the norm in our “obesogenic” society. [Don’t let’s be spoilsports and point out that we’re otherwise hearing how rail-thin models and actresses are setting unrealistic beauty standards and causing an epidemic of eating disorders–that was last Wednesday’s problem.–SRK]

    Dramatic and comprehensive action was required to stop the majority of us becoming obese by 2050, they said.

    The government pledged to draw up a strategy to address the issue.

    But the report authors admitted proof that any anti-obesity policy worked “was scant”.

    Details, details. The experts haven’t figured out exactly how they’re going to force you to be healthier, it might be noted, though they’re full of consciousness-raising ideas:

    From planning our towns to encourage more physical activity to placing more pressure on mothers to breast feed – believed to slow down infant weight gain – the report highlighted a range of policy options without making any concrete recommendations.

    “The emphasis on cross-governmental initiatives is particularly welcome, as is the importance of addressing issues across society whilst avoiding blame,” said its president, Professor Ian Gilmore.

    Perhaps Professor Gilmore is a Japanophile. He’s certainly got the ability to settle blame everywhere and accountability nowhere down pat.

    And the result in the UK will probably be similar to what we see here in Japan: distortions of economic decision-making with the attendant unintended consequences. Those consequences will, it goes without saying, be interpreted as yet more evidence that individuals are incompetent to make their own decisions without “guidance.”

    Added later: Okay, the only connection between this and the above is Catherine Tate, but Michael mentioned yesterday that Larry Craig is still going on television to make pathetic attempts at damage control. Am I the only one who’s spent the last few months thinking, “Who, dear? Me, dear? Gay, dear? No, dear” whenever his name comes up?

    Added still later, after a glass of Coke that was large enough to be satisfying but not so large as to compromise health–so there: Kim has, naturally, already weighed in on the obesity report. He leads into it with a discussion of restaurant eating habits:

    I remember seeing a lady once go up to the salad bar at a restaurant, and my initial reaction was, “Ohh, good—she’s going to eat something healthy.” Then I watched her coming back to the table, and I was nearly sick. It looked as though someone had put a brick on her plate, and covered it with salad—and drenched the whole thing with about two cups of salad dressing. Then I watched her eat all of it.

    And then she went back for seconds.

    I worked at Golden Corral in high school, back when very few restaurants had all-you-can-eat troughs salad bar/buffets. The experience was very instructive about human nature, though it was nearly enough to put me off food for the rest of my life.

    One of the things I’ve trained myself to do when back in the States is to eat at a normal pace no matter how much food is Matterhorned onto my plate. When you have a lot of food in front of you, instinct tells you to start hoovering it up because there’s so much to get through, which means you end up both failing to enjoy the sensual experience of eating and feeling excessively full when you’re done. (And in that case, why not just stay home and fortify yourself with cold oatmeal?)

    I’ll give Connie the last word:

    Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

    And to add yet another of my pet peeves….

    I did not suggest that there should be a law in what we should do. We can talk about the way things should be without bringing the law into it.

    2 Responses to “Jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today”

    1. Mark Alger says:

      One of my favorite animes (Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex — don’t ask) is constantly bleating about individualists who wreck things for society. You know, the kind of people who think for themselves. The show uses the word “individual” almost the way Hollywood uses the word “terrorist” — as an all-purpose bogeyman.

      And, yet, the show is made by artists — creative individuals — and portrays as heroic protagonists a team of the ruggedest individuals to come down the motorway (driving on the wrong side) in a long time, led by a woman who is the prototypical cat who walks by herself.

      And I wonder if the disonnance carries across the language barrier. (Sort of like the blood-brain barrier.)


    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, that’s one of the arguments libertarian-leaning types are always having with more statist-leaning friends: there are plenty of proposed rules that sound fine…as long as you assume your friends will always be the ones enforcing them. Because, you know, that’s not illiberal, it’s just helping society function more harmoniously.

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