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[ISHES Newsletter #18]Prospects 2020s at the start of the new decade

2020/01/24 17:20:48

ISHES Newsletter #18
January 24, 2020

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Copyright (c) 2020

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our 18th issue of the ISHES Newsletter!
In this January 2020 issue, you will find the following articles:

- Prospects 2020s at the start of the new decade
Junko Edahiro, president of ISHES, shares with readers her thoughts and aspirations for the next ten years at the start of this new decade, the 2020s.

- New article from the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom

In this issue we share a new instalment from an article series by Noriko Takigami, from the Secretariat of the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom, entitled "Learning from Confucius: The Analects (2)," uploaded on the Institute's website.

- Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan

This time we recommend an article about Kopernik, a non-profit organization working to improve the lives of people in developing countries by connecting them with useful technologies.

Prospects for the 2020s at the start of the new decade
By Junko Edahiro, President of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES).

Happy New Year! This is Junko Edahiro, president of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES). At the end of 2019, the final year of the 2010s, I took some time to reflect on the past decade and then think about next one. In the first issue of our newsletter this year, marking the beginning of the 2020s, I would like to share my aspirations for the New Year and my current thoughts about the decade ahead.

Japan on the "leading edge"

When I think about the next decade for Japan, some of the key words that come to mind are depopulation, declining birth rate, and aging.

- Depopulation

I work with different communities across Japan and sometimes feel there is a sense of crisis, that local communities are facing financial strain. To use an analogy, when the size of the pie is decreasing, we need to face the difficult issues of how to distribute and reduce the size of the slices, or even stop distributing slices of the pie. This will inevitably impose pain on some people, so politicians and local governments are reluctant to discuss it. Consequently, serious discussion on these issues ends up being postponed.

When we think about the next decade, however, more and more municipalities will not be able to delay action any longer. Both local governments and residents need to be prepared to acquire capabilities to have dialogue and build consensus. Otherwise, we may just end up competing or fighting over pieces of the pie.

The places where I have assisted with community building have been gradually "warming-up" to idea of discussing the reduction and distribution of pieces of the pie. I am not sure if we can be ready in time. But I am hoping to think, experiment, and learn about how to proceed with the challenging discussions and make some progress, even if it is little by little.

- Declining birth rate

In 2019, the number of newborns in Japan fell below the 900,000 mark two years earlier than predicted. The number dropped to 860,000, which was even lower than predicted. Politicians may start to feel a sense of crisis, that "Japan will disappear if this continues!" And perhaps this will lead to the serious start of discussions and actions on the issue.

Without building a society in which children are welcome to be born and children and parents live securely, I don't think providing money will help increase the number of children. The question is not how much we need to pay people to encourage them to have children. Rather, how can we build a society in which everyone can live securely? If we can make cities safe for children, they will probably also be safe for elderly or disabled persons. I would like to create the space to talk about these things.

- Aging

Japan has already been categorized as a super-aged society (seniors already account for 21% of the population). My mentor and an environmental opinion leader, Lester Brown, once said the most critical issues about aging are not things like the increasing numbers of people who need care or how much pension payments will have to increase in the future. The problem is the lack of flexibility and speed in society's decision-making. I agree with him completely.

In a society where people in their 70s and 80s are still in charge, it will be more difficult to start something new or initiate change. They may tend to stick to their successful experiences from the past and have a shorter time frame. In a super-aged society, we need to look carefully at how much control they have in society. And we need the art of smoothly handing over control to the next generations.

- Hope in local communities

Japan has fallen behind the rest of the world in various ways, and I have the feeling Japan's presence on the global stage will fade further in the coming decade. But I believe that local communities are one area of hope. That is why dedicate much of my time to help community building and local economies.

If we can improve the circulation of local economies and become locally self-sufficient in energy and food, we can improve the availability of jobs and financial resources to a certain degree. By using IT and other tools, we can make wonderful products and services and provide them directly to the world, and earn the necessary foreign exchange from overseas. By doing so, we can have a sustainable life without overly depending on the government or large corporations. This may sound too idealistic, but I believe hope lies there.

Global environment

The adverse effects of global warming will become increasingly apparent. The impacts of ocean plastic pollution on human health will become clearer. It doesn't seem to have attracted enough public attention yet, but I believe the water issue is going to be more serious in the future.

I am now translating a book by Lester Brown on water issues. It describes how critical the global situation is. For example, in China, 250 million people have been relocated away from areas where agriculture is no longer viable due to depletion of the aquifer. That is about twice the population of Japan. It is huge in scale.

Water scarcity can also be a significant trigger to create "failed states," meaning governments cease to function properly. Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan have already been listed as failed states. If more and more countries fail, the conventional idea of society based on the nation-state may no longer work.

On the brighter side

Now, I will introduce some examples on the brighter side, from my point of view. I think these trends will grow in momentum in the next ten years.

- Social awareness

The number of people who make decisions and take actions based on societal considerations has definitely been growing during the last decade. Examples include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ESG investing based on environmental, social and governance criteria, and RE100 (a global initiative of influential companies committed to 100% renewable energy). Similarly, an increasing number of social entrepreneurs and companies focus on creating social value.

In other words, the choice of products and services offering social value will no longer be a luxury item serving a small subset of the population. This trend will spread and strengthen. Consider the efforts to phase out coal as one example. Coal-fired power generation may have been inexpensive and seemed economically reasonable in the past, but more and more businesses and investors have decided to shift away from coal-powered electricity. The idea that there are more important things we should protect than economic interests is now shared widely among not only NGOs and some ethically-aware people but also in society and the economy as a whole. That is another sign of hope.

- Steady-state economy

In my view, the shift toward a steady-state economy is inevitable. A growing size of the population and the economy itself are drivers of economic growth. But the United Nations predicts a global population growth rate of zero in 2100.

In terms of economic growth, I don't see much in terms of drivers of growth, considering the zero and even negative interest rates of recent years. Also, now that we are facing the adverse impacts of climate change, society has to accept the fact that more and more financial, human, and material resources are going to be redirected toward adaptation measures, disaster prevention, and recovery efforts, rather than for economic growth. With all of that, I think the expectation of eternal economic growth will fade. Not just from our thinking but also in reality.

Of course I understand that things are not that simple. Even so, there is a growing tendency around the world to question the concept and escape the supremacy of economic growth.

- Human rights awareness

When I read the book "The Modern World as Seen by a Historian" (Rekishika Ga Miru Gendai Sekai) by Akira Irie, with the ISHES reading club, I totally agreed with his analysis. The awareness of human rights, or "inclusion," has expanded significantly in recent history.

According to Irie, one of the most important phenomena in the modern world is the growing awareness that all people are equal and should be treated equally, regardless of handicaps or disabilities. No one should be treated as an object of sympathy. Every individual deserves to be treated with the same degree of humanity as everyone else.

I think that the growing awareness of animal welfare, which is drawing attention at last in Japan, can be seen as an extension of this awareness of inclusion. Even if the human rights awareness is suppressed or swings back a bit, I believe that it will never revert back to what it was before. That is another sign of hope.

What I would like to focus on personally

Thinking about the next ten years, one of my tasks is to show "how to create new hope," which is something I have been working on for the past decade. There are three things that I would like to focus on consciously. First, as I mentioned above, I want to support community building to adapt to a declining population, as a way to "create new hope" in local communities.

Second, I would like to support consensus building and co-creation processes, which are also needed for community building. While there is a growing trend to respect diversity, people might lack the methodologies to reach consensus through dialogue when others have different views and interests. As a result, I sense that in many cases, even though diverse people are involved, no progress is actually being made. This can be challenging work, but I am hoping to offer my experience to develop approaches to support dialogue, consensus building, and co-creation processes.

Finally, I think the past pattern of introducing foreign ideas and initiatives to Japan may switch, and go the other way around. Japan is a country on the "leading edge" in terms of issues such as a declining population and the aging of society. So we need to tackle our challenges in Japan, and then share with other countries our experiences and lessons learned, key strategies as well as things to watch out for. I am not sure yet what form this might take, but I would like to introduce Japanese experiences to the world somehow, in the hopes of being of service to the world. I would like to have the next ten years be about a shift in this direction.

These are the things I would like to focus on this year, and I sincerely welcome your collaboration.


New articles from the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom

In this section we introduce the latest articles posted on the website of the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom.

Here we introduce the second article of a series on the Analects of Confucius by Noriko Takigami, from the Secretariat of the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom. Read "Learning from Confucius: The Analects (2)" to "de" (excellence), the inherent quality that people are born with.

We hope you enjoy reading.

Learning from Confucius: The Analects (2)


Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan

In this regular section of each issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we recommend past articles from Japan for Sustainability newsletters. The non-profit JFS was active from August 2002 until July 2018, sending out information to the world with the aim of moving society in Japan and the world toward being more sustainable and happier.

This time we share with you a link to this article about Kopernik, an NGO that connects technologies with developing countries to improve the lives of people living there. You will discover how Kopernik seeks, finds, and delivers the useful technologies.

Kopernik: Innovative Crowd Funding NGO Gets Technology to People Who Need It The Most


Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

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