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Bush, Clinton, Trump, and Xenophobic Japan

As the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign starts to ramp up its ugly face in the lead up to the primary elections, several key issues and themes have already started to take shape. In the political necessity that is Washington, D.C., important issues at this stage in the game take a backseat to what are known as “wedge” issues, so as to better contrast (or give the appearance of noted contrast) between the two main political parties, Democrat and Republican.

A key wedge issue that seems to be getting a lot of the focus, as it is being dragged up to the surface seemingly daily by the face of wealthy white America—Donald Trump—is immigration (legal and illegal).

While immigration has been a hot button issue for years, Trump has come out swinging at it wildly, like an amateur boxer in his debut, ever since announcing his bid for the presidency.

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An interesting thing to note is that both of the most popular establishment candidates for the Democrat and Republican parties—Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, respectively—have tried to keep this from becoming a classic wedge issue, mainly because they are generally in agreement with one another, which is amnesty for illegal immigrants already living and working in the United States and keeping the borders loosely controlled.

Mass immigration in places such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States is honestly quite interesting if you take into consideration our technological advances, the 7+ billion people who inhabit the planet, globalization, and the future economy. There is absolutely no reason not to think about all these issues as a whole, because they all have a serious impact on one another.

In Asia (ex-Japan), many countries have a very different view of immigration than the West. Instead of “give us your tired, your poor, you huddled masses yearning,” it is closer to “give us your smart, your rich, and your talented.” Of course this is to be expected because many countries in Asia are striving to catch up to the West, and since one area these countries are not short on are traditional craftsman positions and manual labor it only makes sense that they would seek help in advanced areas.

Japan on the other hand is a different animal. It is by far the very definition of a first world country—safe, sophisticated, rich, highly literate, and technically strong. In many ways, it’s a model country, especially for anyone who first steps foot off the plane at Narita airport.

Immigration is the one area that Japan greatly differs from other first world countries, and the topic is certainly a thorny one. The Japanese are the very definition of xenophobic. Many look at foreigners as alien invaders, even when living outside Japan. They rarely step out of their comfort zones when abroad, and when they do it is often due to an obligation of some sort. While this no doubt comes off as some super broad generalization (which it technically is), it can be witnessed in any Japanese expat community around the world.

Japan follows an immigration model similar to that of some of its poorer neighbors, whereas they only want the smart and talented gaijin (foreigners). They also make heavy allowances for grey areas, such as hostesses (female conversation artists that work in smoky karaoke lounges), and black areas, such as construction laborers. But the path to permanent residency is not an easy one and usually frowned upon, especially for illegals and visa over-stayers. In more situations than not, the workers usually return to their country after their short contracts are up, and if they break the rules and overstay their welcome they are most likely deported and not allowed to return for at minimum of five years.

The irony of Japan’s immigration laws is that Japan needs people—its population is graying, its birth rates is one of the lowest in the world, and its pension system is in desperate need of help. But the leaders are steadfast in their beliefs (founded or otherwise) that immigration would trample on traditional Japanese culture and their society’s unwritten rules.

Nevertheless, Japan’s population doesn’t appear to be headed for positive change anytime soon. If anything, it looks as if they are headed for even more isolation and eccentricity with a policy agenda that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has labeled a “robot revolution.” This government-led plan aims to inject intelligent machines into every facet of Japanese society, from manufacturing and construction to health care (basically, all the jobs that could be filled by immigrants).

To put this into a different perspective, in spite of the planet’s population of 7+ billion, Japan is rushing towards replacing normal people in many types of ordinary jobs with robots and artificial intelligence. Coupled with some of the white-collar job-killing technologies being introduced in the United States and things start to look rather murky for the world’s population and economy, and in a depressing way makes Donald Trump sound prophetic.

Advance technology has always brought change within the work space. It’s an important aspect of a healthy economy and has always helped to create more jobs than it kills. But what happens when the machines can design, create, think, and do better themselves? Are we then relegated to be passive observers? If so, then the famous economists of the world better start explaining how the earth’s population will be able to consume and keep pension, health, and infrastructure systems intact.

Observing all these situations from afar is quite bewildering. Technology is speeding exponentially toward the future. Japan is speeding toward a population-less nation. And the United States (as well as some others) is speeding towards increasing its population at breakneck speeds. Something clearly doesn’t add up.

The flip side of the argument is that there will always be new jobs created, but that argument seems to dry up with the simple fact that not everyone can be a computer programmer or robotics engineer. The backbone to every economy is still, and always will be, traditional craftsman or blue-collar jobs.

Interesting fact, currently the most common job in the United States is a truck driver. This is amazing if you consider the fact that Google and others are creating driver-less vehicles, and that we will probably see this technology used in long-haul trucks before passenger cars.

So a huge question remains? Who’s right? Which side is reading the situation intelligently?

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On one side you have the establishment’s social engineers (e.g., Obama, Bush, Clinton), and on the other side you have the xenophobes (e.g., Japan, Donald Trump). In situations like this there are always winners and losers. But with the population set to increase to 8 billion by 2024, and in 10 years’ time our technological advancement will be a 1,000 times more advanced, the stakes are extremely high for every country in the world, not just Japan and the United States.

Obviously, with regards to the U.S. presidency, there will only be one winner. But the chances of an establishment candidate winning is very strong, which means that the U.S. population will most definitely increase with legal and illegal immigration and add stress to an already unflattering job market based entirely on services. Sounds like a recipe for disaster….

Or does it?

Since the early 19th century, people have worried about advancing technologies destroying jobs (ever heard of a Luddite?). But over time it became clear that while technology did make certain jobs disappear, it also created better (and more advanced) ones. This time, though, things appear to be different and some professors are already speaking out. There is evidence that modern technology is tilting the balance in favor of the job-killing aspect and it has academics concerned.

Unfortunately, most politicians tend to not excel at long-term thinking, and instead focus on the short term. Most care little about the future and just want to look good while they hold office. In other words, kicking the can down the road is the order of the day. Moreover, when world leaders make decisions the unintended consequences usually end up hurting average people, not the elites and political class who run countries.

The widening income gap between the extremely wealthy and the middle class makes this situation even worse because the wealthy will be the ones owning these intelligent machines and the middle class will be the ones stuck in purgatory.

If there was ever a time for honest leadership in the world it’s now—maybe sprinkled with a little transparency and some hard talk. The world needs someone, or some group, to start seriously speaking up on a global stage about how we might cope with advancing technologies and growing populations. Time is of the essence and wasting another minute on anything else is a tragic endeavor… unless, of course, you are lucky enough to live in one of the countries that see the writing on the wall.