The brickbats wouldn't stop flying: "You've got no idea what it's really like to be poor!" exclaimed one. "Is this Marie Antoinette, telling us to go eat cake?" muttered another.
The point of contention, reports Nikkan Gendai (Jan 13) came after committee budget deliberations in the House of Representatives on Jan 8. When a member from the opposition pointed out that under the government's proposed plan a reduction in real wages would inevitably result, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded to the effect that, "Let's say I'm a company worker making 500,000 yen a month, and my wife works at a part-time job for 250,000 yen a month. This way, our combined monthly income rises to 750,000 yen. But naturally the average declines if you divide the figure by two."
Abe's remarks were echoed on the Internet, where they attracted a storm of angry responses. Well, the tabloid sneers, it's just the kind of thing you'd expect from a "bon-bon" (privileged rich boy) who takes home 2 million yen a month, and who seems to be unaware of that the untaxed ceiling on spouse earnings is only 1.03 million yen per year.
To wit, most wives working part time try to keep their annual income below that figure, which works out to 80,600 yen a month. "The only way to make 250,000 yen a month at a part-time job would be to 'sell spring' at a sex shop," a Nagatacho insider sneered. "An ordinary person earning an hourly wage of 1,000 yen and working eight hours a day for 20 days would earn 160,000 yen per month. The reactions to Abe's uninformed remarks were more widespread than anyone could have imagined."
What's more, the statistics for November 2015 from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare show that Abe's sample income figures are far off the mark. The average wage earners take-home pay was 274,108 yen; and the average for part timers was 96,638 yen. As far as Nikkan Gendai is concerned, Abe's figures are akin to the haughty suggestion allegedly issued by France's queen for the breadless hoi polloi to dine on cake instead.
To add insult to injury, Abe on Jan 10 was quoted on an NHK program as saying that in April 2017, he would proceed with the increase in the consumption tax to 10% "as planned, irrespective of the business environment."
With the increase in consumption tax from 5% to 8%, individual consumption completely froze," points out economic pundit Hiroko Hagiwara. "Yet Abe persisted with his delusional three-arrow economic stimulus. If individual consumption accounts for some 60% of the gross domestic product, then how does he expect to raise it to 600 trillion yen? I suppose he's not considering the realities of people's livelihood. Along with raising the tax he's also boosting withholdings for social pensions. When the prices of commodities go up without a commensurate rise in wages, then household budgets dry up. There's no other way to put it but another tax increase would be reckless."
Nikkan Gendai noticed another disturbing phenomenon. In 1997, when the 3% consumption tax underwent its first increase to 5%, the year-on-year increase in suicides went up by over 8,000, pushing the total annual figure past the 30,000 mark for the first time. Economic hard times were believed to be the main cause. While the total dropped to the 20,000 range following the mini-bubble started by Abe in 2012, the present situation, with the Chinese economy in freefall and decline in oil prices, bears many similarities with 1997, with the Tokyo stock market plunging and the yen once again rising in value. And who knows, perhaps suicides will shoot past 30,000 once again.
Finance Minister Taro Aso, an ardent supporter for increasing the tax, previously infuriated the public with his arrogant estimate that a humble cup of instant noodles might someday retail for 400 yen. If that does come to pass, Nikkan Gendai can think of no end more fitting for Abe and his cabinet than the same fate that befell Marie Antoinette.© Japan Today