#geriatricjailbirds

Update on Japan’s geriatric crime wave

A little over 4 years ago we wrote a piece on the geriatric crimewave in Japan. Recidivist pensioners were committing petty crimes to break into prison to offset a life of poverty.

Our full report can be found here.

Here are some excerpts from Gendai Business magazine which updates the worsening crisis facing the elderly and prison:

The number of “elderly inmates”above the age of 70 was 1,884 (2.65% of the total number of inmates in 2007) but in 2017 that number had surged to 2,278 people (4.81% of the total)…

…Their crimes? 54.2% of those 70yo+ were jailed for theft, far higher than convictions for possession of methamphetamines (9.4%). 90% of those thefts involved shoplifting or stealing bicycles…

…a 2017 police white paper noted that those over 65yo are 3.45x more likely to steal than minors (14-19yo)...

…Considering that the number of elderly inmates continues to increase, it is not difficult to imagine that the number of inmates requiring nursing care for dementia is rising with it. It can be said that some prisons are already becoming “nursing homes” in effect. If left as it is, the prison will soon be unable to stand...

Behind this is the problem of poverty. The aging rate in 2019 is 28.4%, the poverty rate of elderly households is 27%, and there are old people everywhere who are in need of support…

The last resort to reach an elderly person who has no family or job and cannot rely on anyone, and who cannot live their lives, is a safe prison life that guarantees “food, medicine and shelter”. In recent years, the number of elderly people who are recidivists for the purpose of “going into jail” is increasing.

All of these problems we noted in our 2016 report. Our suggestion was to build huge retirement villages in remote areas in Japan where the elderly could elect to sacrifice a portion of their pension to live without the indignity of living behind bars. As it stands, prison guards will increasingly become nurses, including changing diapers for the elderly.

The one fatal flaw experts forget when seeking to mimic #Abenomics style endurance

Pain

Over three decades ago, the Japanese introduced a TV programme titled, ‘Za Gaman‘ which stood for ‘endurance‘. It gathered a whole bunch of male university students who were challenged with barbaric events which tested their ability to endure pain because the producer thought these kids were too soft and self-entitled. Games included being chained to a truck and dragged along a gravel road with only one’s bare buttocks. Another was to be suspended upside down in an Egyptian desert where men with magnifying glasses trained the sun’s beam on their nipples while burning hot sand was tossed on them. The winner was the one who could last the longest.

Since the Japanese bubble collapsed in the early 1990s, a plethora of think tanks and central banks have run scenario analyses on how to avoid the pitfalls of a protracted period of deflation and low growth that plagued Japan’s lost decades. They think they could do far better. We disagree.

There is one absolutely fatal flaw with all arguments made by the West. The Japanese are conditioned in shared suffering. Of course, it comes with a large slice of reluctance but when presented with the alternatives the government knew ‘gaman’ would be accepted by the nation. It was right.

We like to think of Japan, not as capitalism with warts but socialism with beauty spots. Having lived there for twenty years we have to commend such commitment to social adhesion. It is a large part of the fabric of Japanese culture which is steeped in mutual respect. If the West had one lesson to learn from Japan it would be this. Unfortunately, greed, individualism and self-entitlement will be our Achilles’ heels.

It is worth noting that even Japan has its limits. At a grassroots level, we are witnessing the accelerated fraying of that social kimono. Here are 10 facts taken from our ‘Crime in Japan‘ series – ‘Geriatric Jailbirds‘, ‘Breakup of the Nuclear Family‘ and the ‘Fraud, Drugs, Murders, Yakuza and the Police‘ which point to that old adage that ‘all is not what it seems!

  1. Those aged over 65yo comprise 40% of all shoplifting in Japan and represent the highest cohort in Japanese prisons.
  2. 40% of the elderly in prison have committed the same crime 6x or more. They are breaking into prison to get adequate shelter, food and healthcare.
  3. Such has been the influx in elderly felons that the Ministry of Justice has expanded prison capacity 50% and directed more healthcare resources to cope with the surge in ageing inmates.
  4. To make way for more elderly inmates more yakuza gangsters have been released early.
  5. 25% of all weddings in Japan are shotgun.
  6. Child abuse cases in Japan have skyrocketed 25x in the last 20 years.
  7. Single-parent households comprise 25% of the total up from 15% in 1990.
  8. Domestic violence claims have quadrupled since 2005. The police have had to introduce a new category of DV that is for divorced couples living under the same roof (due to economic circumstances).
  9. The tenet of lifetime employment is breaking down leading to a trebling of labour disputes being recorded as bullying or harassment.
  10. In 2007, the government changed the law entitling wives to up to half of their husband’s pension leading to a surge in divorces.

These pressures were occurring well before the introduction of Abenomics – the three arrow strategy of PM Shinzo Abe – 1) aggressive monetary policy, 2) fiscal consolidation and 3) structural reform.

Since 2013, Abenomics seemed to be working. Economic growth picked up nicely and even inflation seemed like it might hit a sustainable trajectory. Luckily, Japan had the benefit of a debt-fueled global economy to tow it along. This is something the West and Japan will not have the luxury of when the coronavirus economic shutdown ends.

However, Japan’s ageing society is having an impact on the social contract, especially in the regional areas. We wrote a piece in February 2017, titled ‘Make Japan Great Again‘ where we analysed the mass exodus from the regions to the big cities in order to escape the rapidly deteriorating economic prospects in the countryside.

Almost 25 years ago, the Japanese government embarked on a program known as
‘shichosongappei’ (市町村合併)which loosely translates as mergers of cities and towns. The total number of towns halved in that period so local governments could consolidate services, schools and local hospitals. Not dissimilar to a business downsizing during a recession.

While the population growth of some Western economies might look promising versus Japan, we are kidding ourselves to think we can copy and paste what Nippon accomplished when we have relatively little social cohesion. What worked for them won’t necessarily apply with our more mercenary approach to economic systems, financial risk and social values.

Sure, we can embark on a path that racks up huge debts. We can buy up distressed debt and repackage it as investment grade but there is a terminal velocity with this approach.

The Bank of Japan is a canary in the coalmine. It has bought 58% of all ETFs outstanding which makes up 25% of the market. This is unsustainable. The BoJ is now a top 10 shareholder of over half of all listed stocks on the index. At what point will investors be able to adequately price risk when the BoJ sits like a lead balloon on the shareholder registry of Mitsui Bussan or Panasonic?

Will Boeing investors start to question their investment when the US Fed (we think it eventually gets approval to buy stocks) becomes the largest shareholder via the back door? Is the cradle of capitalism prepared to accept quasi state-owned enterprises? Are we to blindly sit back and just accept this fate despite this reduction in liquidity?

This is what 7 years of Abenomics has brought us. The BoJ already has in excess of 100% of GDP in assets on its balance sheet, up from c.20% when the first arrow was fired. We shouldn’t forget that there have been discussions to buy all ¥1,000 trillion of outstanding Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) and convert them into zero-coupon perpetual bonds with a mild administration fee to legitimise the asset. Will global markets take nicely to erasing 2 years worth of GDP with a printing press?

Who will determine the value of those assets when the BoJ or any other central bank for that matter is both the buyer and seller. If the private sector was caught in this scale of market manipulation they’d be fined billions and the perpetrators would end up serving long jail sentences.

Can we honestly accept continual debt financing of our own budget deficit? Japan has a ¥100 trillion national budget. ¥60 trillion is funded by taxes. The remainder of ¥40 trillion (US$400 billion) is debt-financed every single year. Can we accept the RBA printing off whatever we need every year to close the deficit for decade upon decade?

In a nutshell, we can be assured that central banks and treasuries around the world will be dusting off the old reports of how to escape the malaise we are in. Our view is that they will fail.

What will start off as a promising execution of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), rational economics will dictate that the gap between the haves and the have nots will grow even wider. Someone will miss out. Governments will act like novice plate spinners with all of the expected consequences.

In our opinion, the world will change in ways most are not prepared for. We think the power of populism has only started. National interests will be all that matters. Political correctness will cease. Identity politics will die. All the average punter will care about is whether they can feed their family. Nothing else will matter. Climate change will be a footnote in history as evidenced by the apparition that was Greta Thunberg who had to tell the world she caught COVID19 even though she was never tested.

Moving forward, our political class will no longer be able to duck and weave. Only those that are prepared to tell it like it is will survive going forward. The constituents won’t settle for anything else. Treat them as mugs and face the consequences, just like we saw with Boris Johnson’s landslide to push through Brexit.

The upcoming 2020 presidential election will shake America to its foundations. Do voters want to go back to the safety of a known quantity that didn’t deliver for decades under previous administrations and elect Biden or still chance Project Molotov Cocktail with Trump?

What we know for sure is that Trump would never have seen the light of day had decades of previous administrations competently managed the economy. COVID19 may ultimately work in Trump’s favour because his record, as we fact-checked at the time of SOTU, was making a considerable difference.

Whatever the result, prepare to gaman!

 

Pensioners in Japan hit 40% of all shoplifting

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The Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) has recorded that almost 40% of all shoplifting is being committed by pensioners. CM wrote a full report on pensioner crime and the percentage continues to climb. In February 2018, an unemployed Oita Pref. woman in her 70s was arrested for shoplifting. She stole one 163 yen (US$1.40) baked potato. While she had sufficient cash to pay she said, “It was a waste of money to buy it.” Shoplifting in Oita among the elderly is now 47.5% (26.9% in 2008) of the total, well above the 39.5% nationwide average (26.6% in 2008).

In addition, the proportion of elderly people who repeat offenses increased in 2017 26.2%, up from 13.9% in 2008. 70% of offenders earn less than JPY 2mn per annum (US$18,000).

Supermarkets and drug stores account for 70% of the places crime is committed. 50% use the excuse that they have the money but don’t believe it is worth paying for. 10.5% believe that shoplifting is not a serious crime. 14.5% wanted to save some money for their pension and 11% insist they do not have enough money.

Crime in Japan – Geriatric Jailbirds

Geriatric

CM – Crime in Japan – Geriatric Jailbirds

I have been asked by several people to rehash a report I wrote on elderly crime in Japan back in Feb 2016. The above link contains the entire report. Below is a brief summary.

While retirement for many of us is some way into the future, common sense would dictate that once we reach it, committing crime is probably furthest from our minds. Hugging one’s grandchildren is surely a better option than talking to them through a glass window. If you are in prison you are supposed to be old when you leave not when you enter it. Not so in Japan.

The incidence of crime committed by the elderly is soaring. 35% of all arrests for shop-lifting involve the retiree demographic, up from 20% (2001). Since 2001, their representative percentage of the prison population has doubled and 40% of repeat offenders among the elderly have committed crimes six times or more in order to return as a guest of His Excellency. While much of it is petty crime, there seems a deliberate attempt to ‘break into prison’ as a way to survive. A roof over their head, three square meals a day, no utility bills and unlimited free health care. The only real negative being the harsh prison rules about when one can talk to fellow inmates. To the state, one inmate costs ¥3.8mn to incarcerate and we estimate around ¥300,000 in court and administration fees per incarceration. Furthermore supplemental healthcare to the prison system has doubled in the last 7 years. We study the economics of what might drive someone to make the choice to commit crime and look at the government’s current funding for income support. Is it being spent wisely?

Such has been the overpopulation in prisons, the government has had to increase capacity by 50% in the last decade and boost the incidence of early release and parole to create space for what one can only guess is a way of developing state sponsored retirement villages. Female prisons are already full but the MoJ wants to increase the number of female prison guards to prepare for the anticipated increase in elderly crime.

At the last (average) count in 2010, there were 4,069 elderly inmates. While that is only 14 people per 100,000 aged over 65 that rate has been climbing from 12 in 2004 and around 8 in 2000. We estimate at the 5.4% compound growth rates experienced to date, that 31 people per 100,000 is possible by 2036. At that rate, 11,636 elderly citizens would be in jail at a cost to the government of ¥42bn per annum as health cost related budgets have been appropriated at around ¥120,000 per elderly inmate.

‘Supplemental welfare’ or income support paid by the Japanese government is approximately ¥3.6 trillion per annum and spread across 5.9mn people (an average of ¥605,000 per person). ¥1.7 trillion of that total is for medical and nursing care (c.¥1.2mn per person). Note this portion of healthcare is separate from the ¥36 trillion annual healthcare budget.

What are the economic sums that drive a pensioner to consider committing crime? We surmise that a measly base pension of ¥780,000 (US$7,000) per annum won’t get one very far. When throwing on top of that healthcare, rent, utilities and food it is not hard to get someone into net-negative income territory. Sure, supplemental income through part time work may close the gap but perhaps that some are resigned to their fate to consider jail as an option.

There is another elephant in the room. Suicides among pensioners are now 40% of the total, up from 27% in 1983. One gets the feeling that all of the things that retirees had come to expect from a society is in reality against their long-entrenched cultural thinking. Wives of retirees now make up 6% of all reported suicides. They are obviously not adjusting to having the bread winner at home every day. We break down suicides by prefecture and show the clear link to elderly populations, low population growth and relatively smaller GDP compared to national averages. The economic malaise in the regions contradicts a vibrant Tokyo and much of what is going on does not get reported. Domestic violence committed by the elderly has surged 2.4x in the last 5 years. The number of murders committed are even higher.

Solutions are hard to fathom. By 2060, 40% of the population will be above 65 years of age. Would Japan be better off building large scale dormitories that would include medical facilities in return for pension sacrifice? This way these pensioners could trade off prison life for state sponsored shelters at one would expect a fraction of the cost of adding to prison population. Surely if the government met potential pickpocketing pensioners half way then it would be preferable to both parties on cost and shame grounds. Would a Benesse (9783) be interested in running a public-private initiative (PPI) to help the government build such centres given they are already investing in old age care facilities? Benesse wants to expand its elderly care business to 20% of the group total by 2020. The government has taken this approach of PPI with building day-care centres as JP Holdings (2749) has benefitted greatly from. The government needs to think of how to revitalise the regional areas. With slowing economic growth, working age employees flock to the cities where jobs are more likely. It exacerbates the pressure on the regions to survive and poses longer term risks for the companies in the region to sustain employment. PPI projects in the regions makes sense from a variety of perspectives which we discuss might alleviate the pressure

Crime in Japan – BBC interview 7 July

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Tomorrow, BBC World Service’s Edwin Lane will release the pre-recorded interview he conducted with me several months ago on the back of a series I wrote on Crime in Japan – Part 1 – Geriatric Jailbirds, Part 2 – Breakdown of the nuclear family and Part 3 – Fraud, Drugs, Murder, Yakuza and the Police some 15 months ago. Since then the reports have been reported in 14 different languages and reached c.5 million page/podcast impressions as the BBC also conducted an interview on BBC Radio 5 “Up all night”

The reason I ended up writing the research paper came by chance. While trawling through the Japanese National Police Agency statistics looking for data to help a client on motorcycle license trends, I stumbled over the crime stats and couldn’t believe the wealth of information that showed the sharp jumps in crime levels. There is some suggestion that much under-reporting went on several decades ago but as you can see in the reports the charts speak for themselves.

On a global basis, Japanese crime is low on almost any measure but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has had to expand prison capacity 50% in the last decade, facilitated early release to prepare for a sharp rise in elderly inmates. The pension-age cohort in prison now represents the highest percentage of total inmates. With that the MoJ has had to apply for a supplemental budget to cover the extra cost of healthcare in prison as the average age rises.