Back to the land for Japan’s newly unemployed?

Paul Raven @ 20-04-2009

tractor on farmlandTimes are tough all over the world thanks to the economic implosion, and Japan is definitely feeling the pinch of its worst recession since the post-war years.

One of the proposed solutions is to funnel the growing number of recently unemployed back into the agricultural sector, which is predominantly comprised of an aging demographic; going ‘back to the land’ seems to hold a certain nostalgic romance for the urban dispossessed, but it’s a tougher gig than many of them expect it to be:

Despite the popularity of the training programs and of the government’s longer, one-year farm internships, many young people end up returning to cities, unable to adjust to life in the countryside. Last year, Fukiko Oshiro, a farmer in western Okayama prefecture, hired five workers from cities like Osaka, including a couple of former salesmen, to work at her nursery and fruit farm. She said she has already lost three of them.

“These young people think it’s their right to come and impose on us,” said Ms. Oshiro as she surveyed her busy farm stand recently. “They have no idea how much work we put in to teach them.”

I remember a similar romance with simple lifestyles lived close to the land emerging in the wake of the recession of the early nineties here in the UK; I suppose it’s inevitable that when modern life lets you down you start looking for alternatives, and looking backward is always easier than looking forward.

Japan’s aging agricultural sector may have the need (if not the desire) for an influx of new young hands, but in places like the UK and the US things are very different; I can’t see either government coaxing young people back into the fields as a solution to unemployment. But perhaps that urge for a simpler life will express itself in other ways – remember the small footprint communes setting themselves up in the bargain-price foreclosed properties of Detroit?

There’s plenty of land out there – more so in the States than the UK, granted, and not all of it suited to being lived on – and it may tempt people with the old dream of self-sufficiency. But that dream tends to pass over the degree of sheer physical labour that the lifestyle demands, alongside the other pressures that are slowly driving us towards wholesale urbanisation; many may still decide to try, but few will stay the course, perhaps.

Is self-sufficiency a dated idea unsuited to a networked globe, or does it still have valid lessons for us? [via MetaFilter; image by Nicholas T]

What does the financial crisis mean for the future?

Tomas Martin @ 19-03-2008

A joker puts the value of a share on the $1Billion headquarters of failed bank Bear StearnsWith the sale of Bear Stearns for £2 a share on Sunday (it was worth £170 a share in April last year), the Credit Crunch claimed a high-profile casualty. But in the long run, what does a possible US and global recession bode, after things clear up? Some people think this may be the worst we get, others think there’s a fair few other banks and businesses looking shaky. However it continues, there’s no doubt that the markets are going to change following the collapse of a lot of mortage-based finance.

The crisis has been caused by an decrease in the enforcement on banking legislation. Without sufficient checks, financial companies offered loans to people who couldn’t afford it, then traded the loans like shares across the world economy. As lenders failed to pay up and defaulted, the companies who traded the paper behind the loans began to make losses and a lack of trust led to less liquidity, or money available for lending between firms. Bear Stearns was one of the companies most at risk, like Northern Rock here in the UK.

Many economists and analysts are starting to look at the repercussions of the credit crunch. Some say that the reduced interest rates by the Federal Reserve and Bank Of England will lead to inflation problems, especially with commodities like wheat, gold and oil recently at all-time highs. Others compare the crisis to other recessions around the world. Although Japan in the eighties and the Great Depression are scary comparisons to make, some say that Sweden in the early nineties is the best one to make, and a good example of how the Fed can get out of this situation: more regulation to clear that bad debt quickly.

But if we’re looking at ways to stimulate the economy, surely we should be looking at moving the focus away from the financial markets and ‘bubbles’? During the dotcom and housing bubbles, wages have stagnated and many have succumbed to borrowing large amounts to keep consuming. A possible solution: invest in new infrastructure for alternative energies, mass public transport and energy-efficient products. Jobs will be created to keep the economy afloat and the financial world could settle to a fairer and more balanced system.

[photo via Calculated Risk]

The rise of the subnotebook computer … and the fall of the computing economy

Paul Raven @ 03-03-2008

Asus-Eee-subnotebook-computer Slashdot notes a story that quotes a big wheel at Sony as being worried about the potential mainstream appeal of the Asus Eee and its ilk:

“”If (the Eee PC from) Asus starts to do well, we are all in trouble. That’s just a race to the bottom,” said Mike Abary.”

The Slashdot poster observes:

“Presumably by ‘we’ he means all the hardware manufacturers who sell over-priced, full-fat laptops. […] Looks like what’s bad for Sony may be good for the consumer.”

In the short run, certainly, he may be right – but what about the long game? A drop in hardware prices for us consumers would be nice, sure, but there’s bound to be more consequences than that. [image by Scrambled Egg]

This is an issue that Charles Stross broached late last year (right after purchasing his own Eee, naturally). You should read all of Charlie’s thoughts about the inevitable (and long-overdue) commoditization of computing technology, because they add weight to his final blow:

“… how deep will be the recession that follows once the personal computing industry deflates to its natural value (i.e. peanuts)?”


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