Media Mix, April 19, 2020

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the state of employment during the current crisis and how some financial media outlets have addressed the matter. Though what drew us to this topic in the first place was the focus on suicides, which we only noticed in the financial press, we should stress that these media are in no way trying to make a case for “reopening” the economy prematurely. The news changes every day, perhaps more rapidly under such circumstances, and at the time we started researching this subject there was not the widespread contrarian opinion that we see today in the U.S. that lockdowns are authoritarian overreactions which impinge on individual liberties. This sentiment has not really taken hold in Japan, which is just now waking up to the realization that it did not act soon enough to prevent a worst-case scenario. But while the idea expressed by Tatsuo Yamakawa in Nikkei Business that the increase in suicides resulting from the coronavirus-caused recession could be just as bad as the number of deaths resulting from the disease itself sounds somewhat contrarian, he was expressing this idea as a means of advocating for greater government support for small businesses and workers in general. As pointed out by Tokyo Shimbun, major Japanese companies have plenty of cash in reserve to keep their employees safe either by having them work from home or not working at all—meaning not commuting to the office—but for the most part they haven’t cut back significantly on business activities, and the government, despite its calls for greater social distancing and the like, is loath to make any demands on the private sector, which is why infection rates are set to multiply drastically. On April 9, Asahi Shimbun ran a useful article about existing measures that the government and employers can use to keep workers both financially secure and physically safe, things like paid leave for childcare (a matter we plan to address in a future column), unemployment insurance, and even national health insurance. Unfortunately, many of these programs are not being taken advantage of fully, either because of red tape, dodgy qualification terms, or just plain ignorance. Instead, you have employers forcing workers to take paid holidays if they decide (or, for that matter, are asked) to not come to work. There are even programs that the self-employed can tap into in order to stay afloat, but employers and politicians don’t talk about it that much because of the settled notion that it isn’t cool to get paid for not working. It goes without saying that during extraordinary situations, settled notions don’t always count for much.

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