[BOOK REVIEW] "HINKON TAIKOKU AMERICA" (Great American Poverty) by Tsutsumi Mika / Iwanami Shinsho, 2008, 700Yen +Tax
[SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 146 / Nov., 15,2008]

Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center) 

A few days ago I took part in the "Social Revolt," a public gathering and demonstration organized by the Network against poverty. The event was meant to provoke thinking and action, regarding the issues of the working poor, the dispatch of workers, homeless, those under social assistance and pensioners and people under heavy debt. In other words, the theme was "poverty." At the public gathering held in the Meiji Park (Tokyo) about 2000 persons participated and at the end we demonstrated by the streets of Shibuya and Aoyama along the high class brand-shops. Although the organizers had expected much larger numbers of participants, I received the impression that the issue of poverty had finally got some popularity in Japan.
Nevertheless, we know since long time ago that the United States has, by far, a much larger population of poor people than Japan. In 2007 Iwanami Shoten published a Japanese translation of the book "THE WORKING POOR: Invisible in America," in 2004, written by American journalist David K. Shipler. The 400 page book gives a detailed account of the realities of poverty in the United States.
The book "HINKON TAIKOKU AMERICA" is a compact introduction to the worsening of poverty in America now as a result of economic issues, like the "subprime lending" problems. The author, Tsutsumi Mika, worked at UNIFEM (United nations Development Fund for Women) and New York Office of Amnesty International after her graduation at the postgraduate school in New York. Then, she encountered there the September 11th blast, while she was employed at Nomura's Security Company. Since then, she works as a journalist moving between Tokyo and New York.
Although the theme of this book is "Poverty in America," it has a unique cut and is easy to read. I present here the titles of each chapter.
1. Poverty produces overweight people
2. Privatization and domestic refugees. Economic refugees and liberalism
3. People falling into the poverty layer after their first disease
4. Youth at a loss
5. "Privatized war" supporting the working poor all over the world

The 1st chapter offers an overview of people remaining poor that, by obtaining food stamps get overweight and sick as a result of buying with them cheap, high calories first food and instant foodstuff. The 2nd chapter deals with the inaptitude of the privatized "Federal Emergency Management Agency" that resulted in creating domestic refugees, after the Hurricane Katrina and turned many citizens of the State of Louisiana into poverty. And, as a consequence of the North American Free trade Agreement (NAFTA 1994) many Mexican farmers defeated by free competition went out to the USA to find jobs.
The 3rd chapter deals with the obstacles arisen by the privatization of the health insurance that had already been presented in a former Bulletin issue No. 140 (Film "SICKO"). The 4th chapter tells about young people that bound in debt, because of the privatization of school fees loans, find it difficult to get jobs and are recruited as soldiers.
The 5th chapter tells of companies of mercenary soldiers, contracted by the American government for war, that collect poor people from all over the world and send them to regions in conflict. A prominent obvious case is a similar company that is directly linked to the actual American Vice President Dick Cheney.
Truly, being America the heart of neo-liberalism, the degree of its poverty, compared to Japan, has no comparison. One tends to feel that Japan is still safe. On the other hand, the poverty gap in Japan, instead of diminishing is getting wider. It might soon overtake America. In the page before we found poverty in China, in this book review poverty in the USA and in the gathering at Meiji garden Japan's poverty: in short, poverty without frontiers. Is this a negative aspect of globalization?
Food contamination in China has similar roots and, at the time we complain that we do not understand well what "globalization" means, its negative effects come closer and closer towards us. If we do not understand we should study the issues. We have plenty of teaching materials around us.

(Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
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