コラム・オピニオン
2021年11月10日 22時44分 JST

Professor Michael Sandel speaks to the Japanese reader - The harsh reality about the meritocracy

The dark side of meritocracy with Japanese author Keiichiro Hirano.

Huffpost Japan
Professor Micael J. Sandel and author Keiichiro Hirano

A political philosopher and Harvard professor Michael Sandel whose latest book is “The Tyranny of Merit″ gave a special talk for HuffPost Japan on the problems behind the “meritocratic society,” which emphasizes one’s effort and results, and the self-responsibility theory prevalent in Japanese society. The interlocutor was Japanese author Keiichiro Hirano.

In this article, the script of the 60-minute dialogue between Professor Sandel and Mr. Hirano is available in full.

 

■About Mr. Keiichiro Hirano 

Mr. Keiichiro Hirano is one of Japan’s leading authors. He is known not only as a writer, but also as an opinion leader in Japan with a background in philosophy.

He is a proponent of “individualism,” the idea that there are multiple aspects to a single personality, and that by accepting the diversity within oneself, one can cope with various events and embrace the diversity of society. His deeply psychological novels, which deal with profound and universal themes such as self-love, relationships, and acceptance, range from short stories and historical novels to essays, love stories, and literary science fiction. Many of his works have been translated and widely read in France, China, Korea, Taiwan, Italy, and Egypt. “A MAN” is the first of his novels to be translated into English. His second title in English “At the End of the Matinee” was released in April 2021.

https://en.k-hirano.com/?doing_wp_cron=1636445149.6828958988189697265625

Self-responsibility and Meritocracy 

Hirano:

Hi. Author Keiichiro Hirano here.Today, we’ve invited Professor Michael Sandel to talk with me about his much-discussed new book, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?  This book is selling very well.One of the organizers just told me that it has already sold over 80,000 copies here.It takes up many topics near and dear to us such as meritocracy and the self-responsibility narrative.This book is so important that I think all Japanese people should read it.

Without further ado, I’d like to bring on Professor Michael Sandel.

Hi, Professor Sandel,

Sandel:

Hello. It’s good to be with you, Mr. Hirano.

Hirano:

So, Professor Sandel,

Where are you speaking to us from today?

Sandel:

I’m joining from Madrid in Spain, where my wife and I are spending some time doing some writing, seeing friends and enjoying the beautiful Spanish setting and sunshine.

Hirano:

I see. Let’s jump right into the discussion.

I’d like to begin by giving you my impressions of the book.It touches on issues that are deeply relevant to Japan.The past 30 years has seen ongoing discussion here about the narrative of self-responsibility and the need for social esteem under the influence of neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is a global current and I recognized that the self-responsibility narrative stemmed from it. Nevertheless, I had come to believe somehow that the problems this narrative posed were Japan specific.When discussing this self-responsibility narrative overseas,I wasn’t sure how to translate it, and some people told me it was unique to Japan.

This book analyzes the issue so clearly and comprehensively through the lens of meritocracy that almost nothing else remains to be said.It brings renewed recognition that the issue causes significant problems in America and Europe as well.

To explain the situation in Japan a bit more, we have been experiencing a period of economic stagnation, since the financial bubble burst, that many call the Lost Three Decades. 

Neoliberal policies have been promoted throughout and inequality has steadily spread.The affluent came to be called winners and the rest losers. Rhetoric defending the winners was especially prevalent in the 2000s.

The affluent were said to deserve what they had because they were harder working and more diligent while many assumed that the poor would amount to nothing if left to their own devices because they were lazy. 

I have referred to this as a rhetoric of “cold, passive dismissal.”

ハフポスト日本版
Keiichiro Hirano

This period was followed by the Global Financial Crisis.Social movements arose in response such as the Dispatch Workers’ New Year Village.Such developments brought visibility to the hidden class of precarious laborers in poverty.

Next came the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake.This triggered an upsurge in nationalism centered around overcoming this calamity.Others reacted to this by asking what it might mean to be Japanese.Then a new theory came into prominence that aimed to sort Japanese people according to those who deserved publicly funded relief and those who didn’t.

Soon Japan’s fiscal crisis was on everyone’s mind and  a discussion unfolded about who and who was not worth bailing out with taxpayers’ money.For example, some argued for denial of welfare to those in poverty due to laziness, or for denial of medical insurance to those with diabetes due to an unbalanced diet.

Recipients of government support were routinely criticized for placing a burden on everyone else.

I contrast this rhetoric of “heated, active dismissal” to the “cold, passive dismissal” in the 2000s.Such meritocracy does extreme harm to the dignity of those struggling socially.The fantastic analysis in your book fits all this perfectly.

Now, one’s profession is crucial in Japan to how you are ranked socially.With employment conditions unstable, this has plunged many into an identity crisis.My generation, The Lost Generation, has been especially prone to this hazard.

We are currently in and around our forties and we graduated from college just when economic opportunities were evaporating. It was nearly impossible for many of us to find employment. Since then the job opportunities have remained few and far between for them.

Under the narrative of self-responsibility, my generation has sustained deep scars from being continuously told we are to blame.We have fought back by rejecting this claim, and identifying the problem as a social ill.

So Professor Sandel. In The Tyranny of Merit, you make various arguments concerning meritocracy.

Would you mind telling readers in Japan which point you most wanted to emphasize?

Sandel:

Well, thank you for giving me the Japanese context for this discussion of meritocracy, Mr. Hirano.I find it very interesting. And the account you have given, the situation in Japan in regard to work, and in regard to the divide between winners and losers, and also the notion of self-responsibility,  There are some parallels with what I’ve observed in the United States and in Europe.

In recent decades, the divide between winners and losers has been deepening, poisoning our politics, driving us apart, eroding the social bonds that hold societies together.

This divide between winners and losers has partly to do with widening inequalities in recent decades. But it has also to do, I think, with changing attitudes towards success.

Those who have landed on top in this period of globalization, those who’ve landed on top have come to believe that their success is their own doing.

Then they therefore deserve all of the benefits that the market keeps upon it. They also tend to believe, the winners tend to believe, that those left behind those who struggle must deserve their fate as well. This is the harsh side of meritocracy.

Meritocracy, in principle, seems like a noble ideal. Meritocracy says that if chances are equal, the winners deserve their winnings. But the harsh side, the dark side of this meritocratic principle connects very directly, with what you said about self-responsibility. Self responsibility is an attractive idea for the winners because it enables the winners to say, I’ve earned it, my success is my own doing. I am self made and self sufficient, and therefore I deserve all the benefits that flow from success.

HuffPost Japan
Professor Sandel

But it’s a harsh principle, when applied to those who struggle to those who’ve been left behind by unstable work, and hard economic circumstances, because it tells those who’ve been left behind, your failure is your fault. It’s your own responsibility.

So the result is that meritocracy generates among the winners, a kind of hubris, lack of humility, a belief that they have achieved everything that they’ve achieved on their own hubris among the winners and humiliation among those who have been left behind.

And it’s this divide between winners and losers, the harsh judgments about who succeeds and who struggles that,  I think, is pulling our societies hard and eroding the social fabric.

I see this in the United States. I see this in Europe. And based on what you’ve described, about the situation in Japan, I see certain parallels. What do you think, Mr.Hirano?

Hirano:

That is exactly right.

If we look back in history to Japan’s early modernization, meritocratic thinking played a pivotal role.Meritocracy was emphasized to argue that democracy and liberalism were superior to the feudalistic caste system.

That is, a tension has always existed between meritocratic and non-meritocratic social orders.

Meritocracy finds its affirmation in the crucible of challenges from autocracy, nepotism, and cronyism.To reject meritocracy has required asserting that these are preferable alternatives.

During Japan’s initial modernization, there was a man named Yukichi Fukuzawa.He wrote a book called An Encouragement of Learning.The pamphlets out of which the book is composed began publication in 1872.Allow me to quote a famous passage:

“People are not born distinguished as noble or lowly, rich or poor.

 Yet those who study hard and understand well become noble and rich, while the uneducated are poor and lowly.”

JIJI
Yukichi Fukuzawa

This book was such a huge bestseller in its day that one in ten Japanese people are said to have read it.  I think the viewpoint expressed has remained unchanged.

Especially in primary and secondary school, teachers behave as though  the capabilities of kids are not different.They act as though all children are equal.Nevertheless, they say children get good grades because they study hard.The kids then absorb this perspective and retain it into adulthood.They believe they owe their success to themselves and become incarnations of this self-responsibility ideology.

The politicians in our current ruling party offer many such examples.

Such people see their study and effort as an investment of suffering and time so of course they expect a return. In the face of envy for their success, they claim it is simply due to their own hard work. The state of affairs is as it should be because it resulted from their effort.

Let me turn now to conditions in Japan not captured by your book.For one thing, the gender gap is still wide here.For another, many politicians are not from elite universities but inherited their positions.With women denied social advancement and the legislature infested with hereditary politicians, Japan is actually in dire need of meritocracy at the moment. More talented people should be corporate and governmental leaders, in accordance with their merit irrespective of whether they are male or female.

I see this contradictory situation in Japan. That is, the harmful influence of meritocracy has deeply scarred many while, on the other hand, society desperately needs meritocracy where it has yet to be realized.

The harsh side of Meritocracy

Sandel:

Yes. And this is a very important point. There are colliding views, meritocracy. And when an alternative to meritocracy was a class society, or a feudal aristocracy where people’s fates were fixed by accident, birth, of course that was an unjust system. 

And the idea that everyone regardless of how wealthy their parents are, the idea that everyone should have the chance to rise based on their exercise and their talents. In many ways, this is a liberating idea, liberating from the standpoint of a feudal aristocracy or a class based society, because it gives each individual person an opportunity to do their best to rise based on their talent.

So, meritocracy begins as a liberating principle. And Mr. Hirano, when you mentioned, certain politicians who inherit or almost inherit, the right to govern, or to meritocracy seems like an attractive alternative. Everyone should be able to compete for political office, not only those become famous, well established families.So in this way, meritocracy, it’s a good thing.

Meritocracy involves some attractive aspects, but it also has a harsh side because by attributing through the winners the idea that their successes is their own doing, and by attributing to those who struggle, the same idea that their failure is their fault, it drives a deep divide between winners and losers. It makes the winners lack humility. It makes them forget the luck and good fortune that helped them on their way. It makes them forget their indebtedness to those who made their success possible. Family and teachers, community, country, the times in which they live. And it’s deeply demoralizing to those who are told that their failure is their fault.

Hayakawa
The Japanese edition of  ”The Tyranny of Merit″

 

So if the alternative to meritocracy is a class-based society of feudal aristocracy or nepotism in the workplace, then meritocracy seems attractive. But today, the alternative to meritocracy is not a feudal aristocracy. Today, the alternative to meritocracy is democracy. A more democratic way of sharing, the benefits and burdens that all of us experience in large measure due to circumstance, accident, good fortune. A healthy democracy cultivates in citizens a sense of mutual responsibility for the fate of the community as a whole, rather than an individualistic notion of self-responsibility that leads the successful to forget their obligations to the wider community. That’s what I worry about. And when I write about the Tyranny of merit, about the harsh side of meritocracy.

Hirano:

Thank you.That is very clear. I made a point of asking my question to clear up a potential misunderstanding: that the distinction between denying meritocracy and judging individuals based on merit or income.

What you said suggests that meritocracy is not only very attractive but might in some sense come naturally to humans. For example, imagine several people together.When one does something, the others see that he is terrible at it.If someone better was present, they would want to take over the task. They might say that they should take over because they’re better at it.Or imagine there are two people who can perform the task. Then they would discuss who might be better at it. If it turns out that one is better and they take over the task, then things might go well. In that case, everyone is better off. Such negotiations arise all too naturally.

I suspect that meritocracy on a societal scale is just an extension of this. Imagine someone incompetent in government or a company president who is a complete hack. I might want to take over for them. Or imagine someone incompetent in government. I might want to take over for them.Or imagine a company president who is a complete hack.I might want to take his place.One problem is the specialization of professions.This binds meritocracy up with what we might call academocracy. This has become a significant cause of discrimination. 

On a somewhat unrelated note, I think the lyrics of rap music are highly meritocratic. In my novel “At the End of the Matinee”, I mentioned “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z. This track is about being in New York and rising from rags to riches and  idealizes New York as a city that makes anyone’s dream come true. In one scene from the novel, a female character living in New York hears this track and becomes incredibly depressed.

Another example is YouTube. Popular YouTubers invariably respond by describing the hard work of uploading a video every day when they are derided for earning money through this platform. They emphasize this in a very meritocratic way. So, Professor Sandel. You are highly critical of tying academic ability to the evaluation of a person. But do you also recognize that meritocracy is better than a lot of systems out there in some ways?

Is your position that it is a necessary evil that cannot be entirely rejected?

The story behind Shohei Otani’s success

Sandel:

Well, you’ve raised a fascinating question that goes right to the heart of this issue. I agree with you, Mr. Hirano, that merit in the sense of having competent people fill jobs and social roles, competence is a good thing. If I need a surgery performed, I want a well-qualified surgeon to perform it. If I’m flying in an airplane, I want a well-qualified pilot to be at the controls of the airplane. So of course we want competent people to be assigned to the jobs and social roles that they will perform well.

Problem arises when the system of values and the way we regard success becomes entangled with, bound up with the allocation of social roles to those who can perform them well. And this goes to the point you raised, Mr. Hirano, about effort.

What enables someone to perform well in a job or social role may have partly to do with effort and practice and training, and that’s important. But it’s a mistake to assume that effort is everything. Consider a great athlete. Now, I’m a baseball fan and I’m a great fan of Shohei Otani.I think he’s one of the greatest baseball players in the history of baseball.

AFP=Jiji
Shohei Otani

Now how did he become such a great baseball player? He certainly practiced from a young age. He trained, he worked hard, he devoted effort. That’s true. Both to pitching and to hitting, which is the remarkable thing. But I played baseball and practiced baseball from a very young age. I loved to play baseball. I played it for hours and hours. I could practice baseball 24 hours a day and never be as great a baseball player as Shohei Otani. Because in addition to his effort, he has remarkable athletic gifts. Those gifts are a blessing or a good fortune. So it’s a mistake to think that effort alone is the basis of being good or successful at various jobs or social roles. And it’s especially a mistake to assume that because someone is gifted or talented, and therefore successful, that their gifts or their talents are the result of their own doing. We sometimes tend to assume this, but it’s a mistake.

And consider this. Not only is it a matter of good luck that V has great athletic gifts for pitching and for hitting. It’s also his luck, his good fortune, not his own doing, that he lives at a time when people love baseball and reward it and value it at a very high level. If Shohei Otani had lived during the days of the Italian Renaissance, they weren’t very interested in baseball back then. They would not have rewarded him the way we reward him today. They cared more about fresco painters than about baseball.

So the fact that we have this or that gift or talent, that’s not our doing. That’s not our self-responsibility. That’s our good luck. And the fact that we happen to live in a time and in a society that values and rewards the talents we happen to have, that also is not our own doing. That also is not our self-responsibility.

This is why I think that in meritocratic societies like ours, the successful need greater humility. The kind of humility that comes from recognizing the role of luck and good fortune in cultivating our talents, in having those talents in the first place and in living at a time that prizes and honors and rewards the talent we happen to have. So for all of these reasons, I think the successful especially need to question their hubris, their tendency to believe that their success is their own doing. Recognize the role of luck in life and therefore have a more humble attitude for the talents and gifts that we happen to have. And with that greater humility, I think comes a greater sense of responsibility for all of our fellow citizens who may be talented in different ways, who may have lesser achievements, but who nonetheless make important contributions to the lives we live together.

Does that make sense? Do you think?

Hirano:

Right. I strongly agree. Japan hosted the Olympics recently. Most people recognize Olympic athletes as special, but when they watch Paralympic athletes, they feel like all disabled people might achieve the same with enough effort. People even try to encourage them to do so.

But there was a newspaper article arguing that disabled people are not all the same, and that being told otherwise can be a source of pressure that leads them to suffer. Since we have come to the topic of luck, let’s discuss how you see us moving beyond meritocracy. You proposeseveral solutions in the book, including a lottery. Some national primary and secondary school entrance exams have used a lottery for a long time in Japan. But there are some skeptical arguments that question if this is truly a good system.

The lottery proposal and education system  

Hirano:

Just to be eligible for the lottery, children are forced to study an inordinate amount, and overprotective parents inevitably intervene. I would predict that those who study and win the lottery don’t become humble. On the contrary, they become arrogant, given that they had both merit and luck.Then they begin to look down upon others. Or imagine a person who took several exams and who studied thoroughly for all of them but lost in the lottery each time.

This might leave them with a bitter defeatist outlook or highly cynical and irrational feelings.What are your thoughts on this point? Can you please explain your idea of the lottery again?

Sandel:

It’s an important question and I certainly don’t want to encourage fatalism. By emphasizing the role of luck. I do not want to deny or to reject the importance of human agency, the ability to shape our future, at least to some degree. So I’m not arguing for fatalism and you’re right to suggest that I need to distinguish between my proposal and simply regarding our destiny as a matter of fate beyond human control. I don’t want to suggest that.

Let me speak about the problem that the lottery proposal I made is designed to address. If we look at the way higher education works, and I believe this is true not only in United States, but also in Japan, although there are entrance examinations, the students who score highest and win admission to the top universities, Todai, for example, or Harvard, tend to be from well-off families, from affluent families. Disproportionately. In the United States, at the top 100 or so universities, the percentage of students who come from affluent families, the top 25% are 70%. Most of the students, 70%, come from well off families, affluent families. 

Rick Friedman via Getty Images
Degree Conferral Ceremony at Harvard University

And do you know how many come from poor families? Only about 3%. Now, this is despite the fact that everyone is free to apply. Everyone is free to take the entrance examinations. But we know, and I’ve seen similar statistics about the family background of students at the top Japanese universities. You’ll tell me if I’m wrong about this, but my impression is that in Japan too, the students at the top universities come disproportionately from well off, affluent families.

Well, one effect of this, when so much of life’s opportunity in a meritocratic society depends on winning admission to a top university, there is tremendous pressure on young people to achieve, to cram, take cram courses for the college entrance exam, to be under the pressure of the expectations for performance of their parents, of their teachers. And this intense pressure from a young age, but especially during the high school years, I think is damaging to young people. Even to those so-called winners who gain admission, because what the pressure teaches them is that their success or failure in life depends entirely on how hard they work, depends entirely on their effort.

So by the time the students are admitted to these places, even the successful ones, the ones who win admission, they’ve been led to believe that only their strenuous effort won them a place. And those who do not win admission have been led to believe that their failure to win admission shows it was their fault. It shows that they didn’t work hard enough.

So here’s my lottery proposal. I want to remind the successful applicants, the students I teach, that there was a lot of luck involved in their ability to qualify and do well on the entrance exams. And I also want to remind those who don’t win admission that many factors beyond their control played a part. It wasn’t only a reflection on them that they didn’t get in. So I propose that among the tens of thousands of applicants to schools like Harvard and Stanford and Todai that the admissions committee determined who among these students are well qualified to benefit from the education, to do the work, to do it well, and to contribute to the education of their fellow classmates.

Take that group, which might still be 10 or 20 or 30,000 ... Take that group, the group of those who are well-qualified and admit based on a lottery as a way of reminding them and their parents, the applicants and their parents, what is in any case true. That there is a big role of luck in any case. The lottery dramatizes the element of luck.

Now, the lottery would not work if people were admitted without regard to their academic ability at all, because then they wouldn’t be able to benefit from the education. But so long as a certain threshold or standard of academic promise is established, then I would run a lottery for admission. Now, this is a controversial proposal and many of the people at my university and at most American universities reject this idea. But what do you think about it, Mr. Hirano?

Hirano:

I think this is a profoundly interesting proposal. I never understood why lotteries were adopted in our national primary and secondary schools, but reading your book finally made it clear. Now, the population of Japan is shrinking.Less children are born each year and the proportion of seniors keeps growing.

With a shortage of children, the education industry has been forced to charge high fees to wealthy parents in order to stay afloat. Children from highly educated, high-income families are likewise given increasing loads of cram school homework. I think they might be driven into the sort of scenario you just described.

So under the status quo, the so-called winners are not happy either. In fact, I understand their need to insist on their own hard work. One difficulty is how much to teach our children that their future will depend on their hard work, and how much to teach them that we are ruled over by an element of fate that we may not be able to overcome. I mean when teaching young children about their life prospects. We would like to believe that if we look to the future and try we can achieve anything.

But the more we believe in our free will and capacities and that doing makes us able, the more intensely we will blame ourselves for not having tried harder when a time comes where things go poorly. In this sense, fatalism deprives us of hope when directed to the future, although it can also bring us solace by helping us to accept the past as you say.

I wrote about this very  theme in my novel At the End of the Matinee. While we have you here, I’d like to ask a few more questions. Another proposal of yours is that we should recognize the dignity of work irrespective of the profession. I fully agree that we should evaluate work based on its contribution to the common good. You also argue that the tax burden should be shifted from labor to consumption and financial speculation. I would guess that this has invited controversy.I am also in complete agreement that we should tax speculation and investment more. 

Amazon Crossing
At the End of the Matinee / Keiichiro Hirano

However, there are issues with raising consumption tax. Tax on labor is generally progressive. More is collected the higher your income and then it is redistributed. But consumption tax is highly regressive, so many argue that raising it disproportionately affects the poor. What are your thoughts on this?

Dignity of work 

Sandel:

Yes, I’m in favor of a progressive tax system in which those who can afford to pay more are asked to pay more. So the principle of a progressive tax system, I think, is desirable and fair, but I would add one additional consideration. In many countries ... You’ll tell me whether this applies to Japan or not. In many countries, earnings from labor are taxed at a higher rate than earnings from dividends and capital gains. And one of the suggestions I make in my book is to have a public debate about whether this is desirable or not. Because part of my alternative to a market driven competitive meritocratic society is a society that focuses instead on affirming and renewing the dignity of work. The dignity of work performed by everyone, not only those with university degrees and professional degrees. I think that we’ve lost a sense of balance in our societies, especially in recent decades, which have been decades when finance and financial speculation have been a bigger and bigger part of the economy.

And this has often been at the expense of less investment in economic growth and in jobs, in job creating enterprises. So I would like to discourage, or at least have a public debate, about whether to discourage speculative financial engineering of the kind they do in Wall Street and to place greater rewards and to accord greater honor, and social esteem to people who contribute in concrete, tangible ways to the economy, including ordinary workers.

Here’s what made me think about it, in part during the pandemic. The pandemic revealed inequalities that existed before the pandemic. It highlighted those inequalities. And one of the ways it did this is that those of us who could work from home could avoid the risk, whereas those who could not either lost their jobs or had to expose themselves to risk in performing their jobs, protecting the rest of us.

But I think we learned something from the pandemic, or we could learn something, which is those of us with the luxury of working from home, came to recognize how deeply we depend on workers we often overlook. Not only the hospital workers, but I’m also thinking of delivery workers, warehouse workers, grocery store clerks, childcare workers. These are not the best paid or most honored workers in our societies, but now during the pandemic, we began calling them essential workers, key workers. So this could be the beginning of a new public debate about how to bring their pay and recognition into better alignment with the importance of the work they do. This is what I mean by shifting away from rewarding financial speculation to honoring the dignity of work.

ハフポスト日本版
マイケル・サンデル教授と平野啓一郎さん

Hirano:

Right. I am in full agreement that we should affirm the dignity of work.Indeed, we should have respect for all professions and kinds of work. For example, take daycare workers.This is a very difficult and noble job. My children have benefitted and I am extremely grateful. But the salary is exceedingly low and the job is often not given its due respect.

This is a big problem. I don’t think that daycare work has any less value than the work of investment bankers. I agree that this is a problem that our societies must solve. However, I have an idea for how we might move beyond meritocracy that may be the opposite of yours. I think meritocracy causes suffering because we overvalue our roles as workers when evaluating persons.That is, each person has different aspects.

They are laborers and they are consumers. They are a member of a family and someone’s friend. They are someone’s parent or child or maybe a skilled gamer. We are all multifaceted. Even if someone is dissatisfied with their job, they may be highly praised in the gaming world. Or perhaps they read a lot of books. in buying books they are a consumer, but they may also write a book blog and others may appreciate their reviews. Even though this is not an official work,  a part of this person’s identity is being affirmed by others.

It is important that we don’t discriminate according to profession.When affirming a person, we should reduce the relative contribution of their job to who we take them to be overall. I think we can reduce the negative impact of meritocracy by making our societies consider the many facets of a person and evaluate them by the contribution of each facet.

Also, I think that providing benefits through more progressive taxation and income redistribution would be a more effective solution to our economic problems than evaluating people according to their job. What do you think?

Sandel:

To go to your example about the nursery school teacher, who is highly skilled and who performs a very important role, and yet is underpaid, dramatically underpaid, by comparison with someone working in a financial bank. So part of my argument is we need to reflect and deliberate as democratic citizens about what contributions to the economy and to the common good really matter most. And I would like the tax system and the economic system to reflect in a better way, a truer way, what contributions actually are most important, rather than simply rely on the verdict of the market. So that’s the case of the nursery school teacher.

But then I also very much agree with your further point, which in a way is a huge social and civic and human reflection on the fact that our role as workers does not define us completely as human beings. We have other crucially important roles and make other very important contributions, not to the economy directly, but to the common good, to the welfare of our societies. And we do this not only through the work we do, but also through the families we raise, the friendships we cherish, the communities we serve.

Now, many of these roles are unpaid. They are not reflected in the labor market, but because we live in market driven meritocratic societies, we tend to value most people’s economic roles. And I agree with you that this too has to change.

The economic roles should be better aligned with social recognition and pay and reward. But beyond that, it’s important to recognize and to value it’s part of the good life, it’s part of a healthy community, the many contributions that people make as family members, as friends, as members of the community. And to shift from a purely economic way of allocating value toward a broader civic and human way of appreciating the distinctive contributions that people make. Really to the good life into the welfare society as a whole.

So I agree very strongly with the points you’ve emphasized, and I don’t believe that I emphasized that enough in the book. So thank you for that.

Hirano:

Thank you. This has been a very stimulating discussion.I am likewise delighted to have been able to exchange constructive ideas and I wish we could go on talking like this. Unfortunately our time is up. In closing, I’d like to ask you, to give Japanese readers a final message about this book and about how we ought to live going forward.

Sandel:

Well, I’d really like to just end on a personal note. First, to thank you, Mr. Hirano, for a very rich and thoughtful conversation from which I’ve learned a lot. And beyond that, to our listeners, I just want to say that I look forward to an opportunity to return to Japan, to engage again in the dialogue, the interactive lectures, discussions and conversations with Japanese readers. The pandemic has deprived us of many things, but one of the things I miss most is the human engagement, dialogue, conversation, and discussion that I find it so inspiring whenever I come to Japan. So thank you so much for this conversation, Mr. Hirano.

Hirano:

Thank you. I’ll find some good restaurants for when you visit Japan.I’m looking forward to it. I hope we can continue this conversation.Thank you so much for your time today.