Today, Japanese citizens have lost a clear outlook for their future, and a sense of impasse is spreading over the country.
Various gaps and inefficiencies have surfaced in the social security system, which is supposed to serve as the foundation for secure life. Because the fiscal situation of the Japanese government is the worst among all industrialized nations, the government cannot easily invest its financial resource in social security and other necessary fields. On the other hand, while stable economic growth is essential to maintain sound public finance and social security system, the path to robust economic growth has not been drawn, and there is a growing sense that the economy has turned stagnant, combined with the U.S. financial crisis.
Furthermore, despite successive policy measures, severe decline in birthrate has not been prevented, casting a dark shadow not only on government finances and social security, but on the entire future of the nation's society and economy.
To break through such conditions, we first of all need to implement urgent measures to recover economy, and at the same time, need to clearly depict the image in which Japan should aim in the future, indicating how to establish a sustainable social security system, restore deteriorated government finance, and change the shape of the nation to increase our country's economic growth prospects. We must then advance tax, fiscal, and social security reforms under the vision set forth.
To date, the government has implemented expenditure reductions across all fields based on the direction stipulated in Basic Policies for Economic and Fiscal Management and Structural Reform 2006 (Basic Policies 2006). Basic Policies 2006 proposes a single policy package of expenditure reductions, revenue reforms, and measures to boost growth potential. While steady expenditure reduction will remain indispensable into the future, it is not sufficient to realize the measures required to reinforce the functions of the social security system and lift the growth potential of the Japanese economy.
Rather, because revenue reforms have been postponed, expenditure reductions have become a goal unto themselves, with forced efforts to make the numbers fit. This has undeniably become a cause of anxiety and distrust towards the nation's social security system.
Japan's present tax system places excessive reliance on direct taxes, such as personal and corporate income tax. For all citizens to support the social security system and to maintain and strengthen economic vitality into the future, we need to establish a more balanced tax system over consumption, income, assets, and other sources.
From these perspectives, what the nation now needs is a comprehensive review of our entire tax, government finance, and social security system, with simultaneous and comprehensive reforms of the tax system and the structure of government revenues and expenditures. Through these efforts, we must establish a secure and vibrant economic society, and eliminate Japanese citizens' anxiety toward the future.
This policy proposal presents a middle- to long-term direction for tax, government finance, and social security reforms, along with concrete proposals for urgent and immediate reforms required over the next three years.
The establishment of a reliable social security system is currently the issue of greatest concern to the Japanese people. In entering our society with declining population, it is impossible to secure sustainability over the middle to long term, regain the trust of the people, and dispel anxiety about the future without a radical revision of the social security system.
Looking at the population structure, Japan will soon become an unprecedented aged society. Barring a major improvement in the declining birthrate trend, in 2025, two active workers will have to support one senior citizen, going further to 2050, merely 1.3 active workers are available to support one senior citizen. Despite this, Japan's social security system is based on the inter-generational support concept formed during the high-growth era. It has already become difficult to secure the middle- to long-term sustainability of the system and boost economic vitality while maintaining the present system which depends excessively on the active working population and corporate social insurance premiums.
At present, Japan's social security related expenditures are rising steadily, with increases of 1 trillion yen per year. Amid these conditions, the policies which will secure funding sources to boost the percentage contribution from the National Treasury, which is the minimum requirement to reinforce the stability of the current Basic Pension system, remain unclear.
Moreover, gaps, defects, and inefficiencies are appearing across the individual social security systems, including failures to pay pension premiums or subscribe to the pension system and the pension records issue; growing anxiety regarding pediatric, obstetric, and emergency medical service; uneven availability of medical practitioners and treatment and a shortage of nursing care providers; belated compilation of medical information databases and other rationalization and efficiency improvement efforts; and the lack of thorough public information, advertising and detailed service upon introduction of the medical care system for people aged 75 and over.
It is most regrettable that the gaps, defects, and inefficiencies of the present social security system are fanning public dissatisfaction and distrust, and that constructive deliberations are not moving forward at the very time when Japan needs to implement radical reforms on an urgent basis to ensure the system's middle- to long-term sustainability.
As urgent immediate issues, we must strengthen monitoring over the operating conditions of the system, ensure that no citizen falls outside the safety net, allocate funds to necessary areas on a priority basis, and work to eliminate gaps and increase system stability.
Japan's declining birthrate is an important issue which affects national power and wealth. Therefore, the nation should address this problem strategically. To sustain a vibrant society and economy over the long term, while ensuring the sustainability of the social security system, efforts are also needed to slow, at least somewhat, the present trend toward population decline. We must urgently implement fundamental countermeasures to address the declining birthrate before there is a sharp decrease in the child-rearing population segment, and prepare a supportive environment so that citizens who want to give birth and raise children can realize their wishes.
To those ends, we must prepare an environment which supports the balance between work and family life, as well as child-raising at home. We must expand childcare services while revising the ways in which childcare services are presently provided, and ensure that no child is left waiting to enter daycare facilities. It is also essential to arrange tax support for families raising children and to otherwise expand public support measures after securing funding sources. Moreover, it is also important to revive public education and arrange an environment where all children can receive high-quality education.
At the same time, it is important to work toward achieving a better work-life balance at companies by advancing voluntary revisions to working arrangements through collaboration between management and labor, and developing efficient and flexible work formats. This will require a nationwide reform in people's awareness toward a society where people can choose from diverse work styles and ways of living to have a sense of worth and fulfillment in work and life.
Securing sound government finances is an essential prerequisite to execute various policies required for the livelihood of the people in an appropriate and stable manner.
Nevertheless, Japan's outstanding long-term central and local government debt is expected to total 148 percent of the GDP (as of March 31, 2009), the highest level among all industrialized nations, and there is still no prospect for containing the debt. The present structure of government finances which leaves a massive debt for future generations while the working-age population continues to decline is already unsustainable.
We must steadily reduce the government debt to GDP ratio through a structural revision of both government revenues and government expenditures. Over the middle to long term, we should work to realize a budget surplus and stop the increase in the absolute value of the national debt.
As an immediate issue, the deadline to achieve a primary balance surplus in central and local governments, as declared by the government, is fast approaching. Realizing a primary balance surplus is not only a milestone on the path to restore sound government finances, but also a public commitment made by the government within Japan and abroad. Japan's steady efforts toward realizing a surplus in the primary balance to date have also greatly contributed to securing ongoing market confidence despite huge government debt. We must continue making our greatest efforts to somehow achieve this goal of a primary balance surplus.
Those efforts will naturally include still more thorough government rationalization and elimination of waste, with continued works to devise revenue sources. The recently established Council for Comprehensive Review of Administrative Expenditures is expected to achieve results by inspecting government expenditures in all areas, leaving nothing off limits. The fiscal resources ("buried treasure"), acquired from revisions to special account and independent administrative institution surplus funds and from the sale of government assets, cannot be viewed as a stable funding source. In principle, these funds should be used to repay the national debt, but emergency allocations for measures required to secure the livelihood of the people could also be considered.
There is no way to elevate the standard of living of the Japanese people without continuous economic growth. That also holds true for restoring sound government finances, and for strengthening the functions and establishing the sustainability of the social security system.
The Japanese economy is presently sinking deeper into stagnation under the influence of the global economic slowdown and other developments. To prevent any further economic slump and rapidly place the Japanese economy onto a stable recovery path, while implementing emergency budget and tax system measures, we must comprehensively investigate the measures to strengthen the nation's growth potential that have been devised to date and implement a new robust growth strategy. We must uphold and reinforce our middle- to long-term economic dynamism amid the environmental changes of intensifying global competition and a continuous decline in the working-age population.
To those ends, first, we must make our country's business infrastructure internationally attractive to promote domestic and foreign investment. From that perspective, reducing Japan's effective corporate tax rate--which is about 10 percent higher than international standards--is an important issue for the drastic tax reform. Second, we must boost international competitiveness by advancing a nationwide "Japanese-style innovation", an innovation which fuses together knowledge within Japan and overseas. Third, another important issue is to consider accepting large number of outstanding personnel from foreign countries. Fourth, along with these supply-side measures, it is essential to accelerate the conclusion of bilateral Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) to integrate domestic and foreign markets and create demand.
It is also important to enhance efficiency and productivity throughout the whole society by realizing a state-of-the-art electronic government and electronic society.
The introduction of the "doshu-sei" system that will reorganize Japan into several regional blocs is also essential as a growth strategy to bring prosperity to the entire nation over the middle to long term. Japan needs to boost its growth potential by forming wide-ranging economic blocs in each region and having them linked directly to the global economy.
To truly cope with the issues discussed above, we need to clearly envision the image of Japan for the next 10 to 20 years and to implement comprehensive reforms of taxation, fiscal policy, and social security programs.
The first demand is to establish a future image for the social security system, including a balance between benefits and contributions.
Looking at the Western industrialized nations, there are two main models: the high-burden, high-welfare model popular in Northern Europe and adopted by some major European countries, and the self-help centered model typified by the U.S. Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) has long been advocating to build up a social security system which ensures that no one will fall through gaps in the safety net but is also sustainable and commensurate with the nation's economic stature amid the further aging of society in the future. From this perspective, the middle-burden, middle-welfare system presently seen in Germany and the UK is the path for our country to pursue in the future.
As for the direction of specific system reforms, starting with the pension system, we must ensure that no citizen winds up without pension benefits in the future because of his/her failure to pay pension premiums, remove the sense of inter-generational and intra-generational inequity, and resolve the distrust of the pension system among the working-age population. As noted this May in the Interim Report on the Social Security System Reform, one promising option is to change the Basic Pension from the present insurance premium format to a tax format, so that the burden would be broadly carried by a wide range of citizens. If premiums for the employee pension are reduced at that time, decisions must be reached on the employee and enterprise burdens. In any case, it is only natural for the reduction to be passed on to employees (through premium reductions for the employee or contributions to the corporate pension). We will present the views of the business community regarding specific approaches at a later date.
Turning to the medical care system, first, it is essential to rectify the uneven availability of doctors and treatment, resolve the shortage of doctors working at hospitals, secure emergency medicine, and otherwise build up a healthcare services provision system on which the Japanese citizen can rely. On the benefits side, efforts must be made to improve efficiency without degrading the quality of treatment by advancing the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), placing all medical expenses itemized statements online, and standardizing examinations and treatments. Regarding the burden, as the working-age population (which provides finances) is diminishing while the elderly population (which receives benefits) is growing, the current system whereby the elderly depend on the working-age population to pay for their medical treatment is no longer sustainable, and cannot resolve the anxiety of the Japanese people. We must now increase the percentage of elderly medical expenses covered by public funds and implement sweeping, drastic reforms toward a system broadly supported by all citizens.
Similarly, the benefits paid under the nursing care insurance system are expected to shoot up in the future along with the aging of society. At present, increased benefits are directly linked to increases in insurance premiums, and there is a limit to the amount of benefits that can be covered by higher premiums. Over the middle to long term, while prioritizing benefits, it may well become necessary to revise the present care insurance system finances (whereby half the funds come from premiums and the other half from the National Treasury) and increase the percentage covered using public funds.
Along with these individual reforms, it is also essential to make this a trusted system whereby individual citizens can easily grasp their own burdens and benefits. To those ends, we should make effective use of ICT while establishing a world-class state-of-the-art electronic government as a basic social security infrastructure, introduce social security numbers and individual social security accounts, and otherwise make social security burdens and benefits more visible.
As explained above, to realize a sound and trustworthy social security system amid the further aging of society and decline in the birthrate, we must revise the present funding format which places excessive reliance on the working-age population and shift toward broad support by all citizens. In so doing, it is particularly important to share the burden among all present members of society as much as possible, without leaving debts for future generations, and to revise the current structure of tax revenue, which is unstable and has an excessive reliance on direct taxation, into a well-balanced system.
Given those perspectives, it will be essential to cover the nation's growing social security expenditures using the consumption tax. Over the middle to long term, raising Japan's consumption tax rate to the level of the leading European countries can not be avoided.
Keeping these points in mind, we must now promptly advance a national debate on how Japan should achieve a reliable and sustainable social security system over the middle to long term.
Nippon Keidanren intend to present views on the ideal future social security system by this November, as a target date.
The next issue which should be discussed with no delay is the drastic reform of the tax system.
As noted above, the present tax system cannot be considered sustainable in the time when Japan is facing the major structural changes of globalization, declining birthrate, aging society, and population decline. While securing the necessary funding sources to maintain the security and safety of the Japanese people, drastic reform of the tax system must be implemented on an urgent basis toward establishing a system that boosts the vitality of both individual and corporation.
In the present composition of Japan's tax revenue, nearly 60 percent comes from individual and corporate income taxes, 30 percent from consumption tax, and over 10 percent from asset tax. Consequently, changes in economic conditions result in conspicuous increases and decreases in tax revenues, and the fiscal foundations which support government administration are highly unstable. To establish a stable revenue foundation with the abrupt decrease in the population anticipated in the future, we must increase the role of consumption tax as seen in Europe and institute reforms to achieve a tax system with a balance among consumption, income, and asset taxes.
Consumption tax has the most neutral influence on economic activities, does not easily affect revenue despite economic fluctuation, and constitutes a stable revenue source. The burden of consumption tax does not concentrate on specific groups of individuals, and are an appropriate form of taxation for all citizens to broadly support the social security service, which provides security and safety of the Japanese people.
Moreover, consumption tax is a tax on domestic consumption and basically is not reflected in export costs, so there is no need to worry about diminishing international competitiveness. Thus, such taxes may be deemed the most appropriate for the future image of Japan as a nation working for growth through globalization. International comparisons also indicate leeway for expanding this tax source.
For these reasons, consumption tax should be positioned as Japan's most fundamental tax in future reform of the tax system.
It is also important in implementing radical tax system reform to return to the fundamental stance that the Japanese people should bear the required burden for them to receive appropriate public services themselves, without lightly passing those costs on to future generations. At present, tax revenues cover about 60 percent of Japan's general account. While there are signs of fiscal improvement from low interest rates and reductions in expenditures, the budget is still far from reducing the outstanding balance of past debt.
We must clarify a path to alleviating the encumbrance on future generations, even slightly, by securing all possible revenues through further rationalization of expenditures, elimination of waste, and revitalization of national and regional economies.
Strictly speaking, it is essential to clarify the future image of social security from a middle- to long-term perspective as above, while redesigning the pension, healthcare, nursing care, and other individual social security systems, before broadly presenting the options regarding which parties would bear what types of burdens, and then form a national consensus that is acceptable to the Japanese people.
However, that process is time consuming. Declining birthrate and aging of society have already become serious issue in Japan, and social security gaps are beginning to appear at every turn. Moreover, Japan's economic dynamism is rapidly declining amid global competition. Under a huge budget deficit, increasing the percentage of the Basic Pension paid by the National Treasury and achieving a surplus in the primary balance are pressing urgent issues.
Accordingly, while resolving the urgent immediate issues, the following reforms of taxation, fiscal policy, and social security programs should be successively implemented as a comprehensive package, positioning the three years, FY 2009 through FY 2011, as the first phase toward creating a secure and vibrant economy and society.
The changes should be advanced through simultaneous increases and decreases in taxes and simultaneous increases and decreases in government revenues and expenditures. The recent systematic efforts by the government of Germany to increase value-added taxes, reform income taxes, and decrease the effective corporate tax rate from 2007 through 2009, should provide a major reference for advancing tax system reforms in Japan.
We can no longer wait for the reform to take place. We must implement reforms with a resolute stance. In implementing reforms, however, we must carefully monitor the economic conditions and the actual effects on government revenues and expenditures. If it comes out that the impact and the outcome of the reform may be severe, then, we must response in a flexible and agile manner regarding the order and timing of the reform
For FY 2009, it is important to make a turn over of the current stagnating economy, which is increasing its tendency due to U.S. financial crisis, and promptly implementing measures which leads to economic revitalization and growth to place the economy onto a recovery path as soon as possible.
Measures to stimulate greater internal demand, the housing loan tax reduction and other tax measures to promote housing acquisition that are scheduled to expire in 2009 should be maintained and expanded, and tax measures should be devised to spread energy conservation and other environmental products toward realizing the low carbon society.
It is also necessary to implement the required tax reforms for FY 2009, including the revision of the international taxation system in line with the global development of companies and reallocation of earmarked funds for road improvement to the general account. (For detail, see the "Proposal for FY 2009 Tax Reform").
In FY 2009, first as a pressing issue, it is necessary to increase the percentage of the Basic Pension paid by the National Treasury as planned through supplementary provisions to the National Pension Law. While it is already difficult in practical terms to secure stable funding sources within FY 2009 by increasing the consumption tax rate, funds should be raised by thorough efforts to eliminate waste and reduce expenditures, and by making use of special account surplus funds ("buried treasure"). In addition, it is important to resolve the problems with pension records to restore public confidence in the pension system.
At the same time, it will also be necessary to inject public funds as an emergency measure for the medical and nursing care fields. To secure the system for providing medical and nursing care services while improving efficiency, in the medical field, efforts must be made to improve the working conditions of hospital doctors and other staff, and to establish systems for emergency medical services, and for pediatric and obstetric treatment. In the nursing care field, while broadly examining ideal nursing care compensation systems, from the perspective of preparing successors after the elimination of nursing care beds scheduled for the end of FY 2011, fundamental infrastructure must be prepared toward correcting the social reliance on hospitalization. This should include the preparation of care homes and other facilities for the elderly and of comprehensive regional care systems linking medical treatment and nursing care.
First, from the perspective of fairness, we should provide intensive support through reducing the income taxes on low- and middle-income families raising children by changing the various income deductions into tax credit systems. For example, one possibility would be to eliminate the present allowances for dependents and replace them with a tax credit that rises progressively with the number of children, to support large families. In residence taxes as well, tax deductions should be replaced by tax credits for consistent support of families raising children at the local and national levels.
Also, while examinations of public pension finances assume expanded participation by women in the labor market, the investment of funds required to prepare the environment to achieve this has not been sufficient. We must expand the investment of public funds on countermeasures to the declining birthrate from the perspectives of realizing sustainable social security and fostering the next generation to bear the future social burden.
As members of the junior baby-boom generation are now entering their late thirties, the next few years will be especially crucial. We must increase expenditures on an emergency basis to expand the volume of childcare services and diversify the ways in which childcare is provided so that all people who want to raise children while working can entrust their children to childcare providers without concern.
Additionally, examinations of the present spouse deductions and other measures should be advanced from the standpoint of promoting female social participation in a society with a declining population. Finally, deductions for salaried workers should be set at a fixed level (e.g., 3.0 million yen) in light of the expenses necessary to work as a salaried employee.
A consumption tax increase should be implemented together with a decrease in the income tax by FY 2010 or by FY 2011 at the latest, to ease the burden on low- and middle-income taxpayers.
We need to implement a bold fixed tax reduction for low- and middle-income taxpayers (generally those with annual income of 5.0 million yen or less) for a period of about five years, equivalent to a 1 percent reduction in the consumption tax rate (for example, about 100 thousand yen per family). In doing so, measures should have to be arranged so that the tax deductions can be taken from residence taxes if they cannot all be taken from income taxes.
This bold income tax reduction will provide economic stimulus while easing the burden from the consumption tax increase.
Considering the pension and other social security system, declining birthrate countermeasures, income tax reductions, introduction of a reduced tax rate, regional revitalization measures, and efforts toward a surplus in the primary balance, the consumption tax rate will have to be raised by at least 5 percent.
At that time, it will be appropriate to increase local consumption tax revenues through an allocation of 7 percent to the central government and 3 percent to the local government. Drastic revisions to the overall national and regional tax system, including revising the system of tax allocations to local governments and establishing shared regional taxes for horizontal adjustments across regions, should be advanced during the second phase of the comprehensive reform beginning from FY 2012.
When the consumption tax rate is increased, investigations should be conducted into charging a reduced tax rate (maintaining the present 5 percent rate) on a strictly limited list of essential food items, as seen in European countries. Considering the greater system complexity, increased compliance costs for both taxpayers and the tax authorities, and decreased tax revenues, fundamentally, it is desirable to maintain a single unified rate for consumption taxes whenever possible. The purpose of introducing a reduced tax rate must be strictly limited to preventing an increased tax burden on essential daily items. From this perspective, it is also worth considering systems like the Canadian GST (Goods and Services Tax), which provides income tax deductions equivalent to the consumption tax burden for each income segment.
Income tax reductions and the introduction of a reduced tax rate will offset a large portion of the burden from the consumption tax increase on low- and middle-income taxpayers, and should also minimize the effects on the economy.
The introduction of a taxpayer identification number system is another measure that should be rapidly introduced to enhance the fairness and efficiency of the tax system. The introduction of taxpayer ID numbers has failed to gain the people's support and been postponed because of privacy, security, and other issues. However, establishing the world's most advanced electronic government amid the revolutionary advances in ICT will not only contribute to higher social efficiency and productivity, but also help stimulate domestic demand. Given limited resources, using common social security and taxpayer ID numbers is expected to greatly expand the range of policy measures that were formerly addressed separately under tax system and burden and benefits of social security.
For example, this would make it possible to introduce a child tax credit system with paid benefits, like those already introduced in Western countries, that unifies child-support benefits with tax deductions for dependents, and to establish efficient countermeasures to the declining birthrate. At the same time, it would contribute to the introduction of a unified taxation system covering interest, dividends, stock transfer losses, and other financial incomes. We should also work toward realizing a taxpayer ID system, with incentives promoting its use, to enhance the reliability, fairness, and persuasiveness of the tax and social security systems, which are citizens' closest and most important points of contact with the government.
Even with efforts to construct a sustainable tax system for an aged society with a low birthrate by raising consumption taxes, Japan's prospects for growth are doubtful without tax reforms responding to globalization, including the rapid development of the BRICs and other emerging economies.
The greatest issue is responding to the competition in the effective corporate tax rate, which is being lowered in other countries. European countries have decreased their effective corporate tax rates one after another to strengthen the competitiveness of their domestic companies and promote themselves as business locations. In the EU, the effective corporate tax rate now averages 28 percent, which is more than ten percentage points less than the rate in Japan (approximately 40 percent). This difference in tax rate significantly diminishes not only the competitiveness of Japanese companies but also the attractiveness of Japan as a business location. It constitutes a major impediment to the promotion of direct internal investment, which is an important issue for the future of the nation.
Reducing the effective corporate tax rate considering international levels as soon as possible is a key issue for the drastic reform of the tax system.
In particular, two taxes on local enterprises--the corporate residence tax and the local corporate enterprise tax--vary greatly by region and are easily influenced by economic conditions, so they are inappropriate as tax sources for the stable support of services for local residents. Along with the abolition of the special local corporate tax, which was introduced in the FY 2008 tax reform as a provisional measure until the radical revision of the tax system, reviews of these two taxes on local enterprises should be advanced in conjunction with the increase in the local consumption tax.
Moreover, because loss-making companies have no tax obligation under the present corporate tax system, companies posting a loss each year, which account for approximately 70 percent of total corporations, bear no burden for the benefits they receive from the government. We should consider introducing a simple tax on the services to receive, such as the local corporate residence tax equal apportionment system, so that even companies posting a loss bear an appropriate burden for the benefits they receive.
Reducing the effective corporate tax rate is indispensable as a main pillar of the strategy to boost the growth potential of the Japanese economy, and an essential prerequisite for Japan to survive in global society. Bringing renewed vitality to corporate activities benefits individuals and the national economy as a whole because it secures employment and increases salaries and dividends. Corporate tax reform, therefore, must be implemented urgently along with the increase in the consumption tax rate. Regardless, it is important to clearly emphasize once again that the certain increase of the consumption tax rate by FY 2011 is the highest priority immediate measure for the drastic reform of the tax system to establish a sustainable tax structure.
Realizing a secure and vibrant economy and society is the government's political duty. We strongly urge the government to begin by implementing the immediate reforms outlined here over the coming three years (the first phase of the reforms), without postponing reforms required for the future of our nation. At the same time, we also expect the government to immediately begin discussions toward forming a national consensus and establishing a secure and vibrant nation with middle-burden, middle-welfare type social security system with an outlook spanning the next 10 to 20 years (the second phase of the reforms).
Japanese corporate and business circles embrace creating and maintaining income and employment as our social mission, and will continue pressing forward with efforts to strengthen competitiveness.