Japan’s Changing Migrant Population

As part of a series of ongoing projects on migration and populism (see e.g. here), I happened to come across a report from the 2010 Japanese Census. It contains data on Japan’s foreign population since 1950, and how it has changed. A couple of quick plots of these data are remarkably revealing.

First, look at the changes in numbers. Japan’s population was well under 1% foreign until the 1980s, when you see a large jump corresponding to the post-oil crisis reforms to Japanese citizenship laws and continuing into the Lost Decade.

At the same time, the sex ratio basically flips, but gradually rather than discontinuously with the 1980s reforms. The sex ratio among foreigners living in Japan was basically 1.2 men for every woman in 1950, and it is now closer to 0.8 men for every woman.

Who are these foreigners? We can break out the trends by nationality:

For most of the twentieth century, Koreans have comprised by far the largest population of foreigners in Japan. That proportion declined precipitously in the 1980s, as a result of two processes. First, the above-mentioned citizenship reforms. But second, the gradual naturalization of Japanese of Korean descent (previously counted among the foreigners). So this reversal is partially due to higher relative immigration by non-Koreans, and partially due to composition effects. What is most striking is the increase in “Others,” comprised partially of Brazilians and Peruvians (the dekasegi) but also Southeast and South Asians.

Japan still has a far smaller immigrant population than nearly all other OECD countries. But Japan is no longer the mono-ethnic society, closed to foreigners, that it once was. But unlike the initial years of labor migration into Western Europe after WWII, women rather than men are leading the way. That is interesting, and it probably will have political consequences.

Should You Vote in an Undemocratic Election?

Many people living in non-democratic systems face a difficult personal decision when their regimes hold elections. Should they participate in the election, on the hope that doing so might overturn the regime by surprise, or that it might at least generate some sort of accountability from the regime? Or should they abstain, stay at home, to avoid being complicit in legitimating a regime that is fundamentally uninterested in democracy or popular voice and which has no intention of losing? As it turns out, we have few guides for helping us reason through this moral question, despite the fact that authoritarian regimes that hold elections are increasingly common around the world.

In a new working paper (PDF), Turku Isiksel and I provide a framework for helping us to resolve this tension. The starting point is that democratic theorists and political philosophers have devoted substantial effort (see e.g. here) to the question of the moral obligations to vote under democracy (either idealized or actually-existing democracies). But authoritarian elections are fundamentally different, and these differences undermine many of the arguments that might either justify or obligate citizens in democracies to participate in elections. Many of us believe that good citizens always vote in elections—but authoritarian elections are a different affair, and it might be the case that good citizens don’t vote in authoritarian elections.

So, should you vote in an undemocratic election? The short answer is it depends. The long answer is that the obligation to vote in an authoritarian context depends on background assumptions about what value we attribute to this particular form of political participation, the anticipated consequences of collective voice in an authoritarian regime, and expectations about whether democratic habitus under authoritarianism is a foundation for democratic citizenship some point in the future.

There’s lots more to chew on in the paper itself. Here is the abstract.

When accounting for why elections, voting, and political representation are meaningful and valuable practices, political theorists tend to assume that the political system in which these institutions occur is broadly democratic. However, authoritarian regimes also make use of these institutions. Furthermore, recent empirical research shows that elections in “hybrid,” “competitive authoritarian,” or “pseudo-democratic” regimes matter. They can stabilize authoritarian regimes by giving them the veneer of popular approval, although they can also provide opportunities for unseating incumbent regimes. Are the ethics of political participation—and, specifically, of voting—fundamentally different in non-democratic regimes? Do the same civic imperatives that support voting in democracies come out in favor of boycotts, abstentions, or even civil disobedience under electoral authoritarianism? Can citizens expect elections and electoral participation to increase the chances of a democratic transition? We argue that more complex moral considerations confront voters in authoritarian regimes compared to voters in democratic regimes, since the answers to these questions hinge in part on the role elections play in authoritarian states. We argue that a voter’s judgment must depend not merely on principled justifications for political participation but also on prudential considerations about the impact that electoral participation is likely to have on the regime’s longevity. We enumerate some of these considerations.