Varieties of capitalism on Hime Island

The New York Times offers an example of a Japanese island that has developed a communitarian form of capitalism.  Residents share government jobs, watch free cable television, enjoy immaculate parks and public toilets, and limit displays of wealth to prevent jealousy from undermining community solidarity.

Under Hime’s system, village employees earn about a third less pay than public servants elsewhere in Japan, though they work the same hours. This has allowed the village to create more jobs: it now directly or indirectly employs a fifth of all working islanders. Most of the rest are engaged in fishing, also government-subsidized. In fact, village officials say, there are few fully private-sector jobs on the island.

This is an interesting case study, because it shows how a community can engineer capitalism to their own liking.  Creating such communitarian economic institutions probably requires a certain amount of social closure, so being an island may help.  (Just to be clear: Hime Island’s economy is certainly capitalist; individuals living there have considerable freedom to deploy their human and financial capital as they please, and the entrepreneurially-minded open restaurants or small hotels for tourists.)  The whole world cannot be Hime Island any more than Hime Island can be Silicon Valley, but the example suggests that communities may have more control over their destinies than neoclassical economics would predict.  My friend David Grewal explains why such freedom requires collective action in his book Network Power.

The financial crisis provides an opportunity to revisit the assumptions of capitalism and recognize many possible varieties of capitalism, many of which have yet to emerge.

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One thought on “Varieties of capitalism on Hime Island

  1. oldguy

    > This is an interesting case study, because it shows how a
    > community can engineer capitalism to their own liking.

    The question remains, “can they really?”

    the CLAIM is that the mayor continues to be re-elected via “consensus” .. however North Korea’s dictator makes the same claim!

    Further, In the wake of the global economic collapse due mainly to uncontrolled greed, while the concept is laudable:

    ““Our thinking is, ‘let’s all share the economic pie and get along, instead of
    giving all of it to the rich,’ ” said Mr. Fujimoto,”

    “… he and most other islanders call Hime a repository for traditional Japanese
    values, like economic egalitarianism and social harmony. They say the rest of
    the nation has lost these in an embrace of more competitive capitalism,”

    However, diving deeper we find things are less than wonderful:

    “At an annual village ceremony to mark the coming of age of
    20-year-old islanders, women are forbidden to wear traditional
    kimonos for fear the differences in quality could reveal their
    households’ economic status.”

    Really? So we are all “average”? Perhaps we should all wear Gray? this smells too strongly of Mainland Red China…

    and the following actually reeks of the Communist One Party Way or worse, North Korea:

    “Mr. Fujimoto also cites traditional attitudes to explain his own political
    longevity, a claim most islanders seem to accept. He says islanders shun
    public elections because of a deep-rooted abhorrence of confrontation.
    He said the last time the village held a mayoral election, in 1955, it
    split the island, creating ill feelings that took a generation to heal.

    To avoid a repeat of such trauma, he said, the island decided to choose
    mayors by consensus, finding someone on whom everyone could agree beforehand.
    Last year, Mr. Fujimoto won his seventh straight four-year term, once again
    by default in an uncontested election.” ….
    ““My job is to prevent elections by keeping everyone equal, and thus happy,” said Mr. Fujimoto,

    ““Everyone is basically satisfied,” said Shusaku Akaishi, 29, who works at his family’s gas station.

    Keep Everyone Happy by preventing elections?!?!

    hmm so those who are not satisfied are somehow silenced, or forced to leave? So a dictatorship is fine as long as we are all happy?

    And WHO decides “we are all happy”?
    I sense a much darker side to this… perhaps the Yakuza?

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