Economy Trivia: He Is Rich That Has Few Wants


International Division of Labor

In these past few years, I’ve come to see many conveyor-belt sushi restaurants in any place around the world. I don’t know the price range of those restaurants overseas. In Japan, conveyor-belt sushi restaurants are thought to be cheap, like fast food restaurants. About 30 years ago, sushi was still a special treat even for Japanese people. It was only a birthday and the last day of the year when I could eat sushi in my childhood. It’s not only about food. I believe you can think of many other examples similar to this. Do you know how these changes happen? Because we get rich? Due to productivity improvement? They may be partially correct and wrong. I believe the main reason would be “International Division of Labor (IDOL).” This spell will come back to bite us.

The result of a harsh international competition

If you’re interested in economics, the name of an economist would come up when you hear IDOL. Yes, it’s David Ricardo. He said the world would be richer by each country specializing and exporting its comparatively advantageous products. It sounds good but actually looks (to me) like a harsh international competition for cheap labor. I once worked for a Japanese fishery company. The company has five vessels to take tuna. The number of Japanese crews was less than half, and said to become less and less. This would be one of the main reasons why the price of sushi comes down. We just pass the buck in the form of exploitation of cheaper labor.

A fancy Japanese traditional restaurant only with counter seats.

Leave special things as they are

Today, I didn’t mean to make a judgement on IDOL, but just want to pose a simple question: if we should aim to be richer. Of course, poverty must be eradicated from the world, but I think we should be satisfied in moderation. I felt I was the happiest kid in the world when eating sushi on my birthday and New Year’s Eve. In exchange for an environment where we can eat sushi any time, we have lost a special treat and real sushi chefs. I believe it is human wisdom to leave special things as they are. Now, our furniture is being driven out from the market by mass-produced products. I can’t numerically prove the comparative advantage of our products, but can ensure they give you a special time and place.

Photo Credit:

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.