Important viewpoints are apparently lacking in discussions on accepting more foreign workers to Japan. The discourse treats foreigners only as a "workforce" to alleviate labor shortages, and fails to shed light on a variety of other roles they can play.
Boosting the workforce is a vital challenge for the Japanese economy. Seeking people from overseas when labor-saving measures alone are not enough is a natural response to the reality.
But foreigners working in Japan can contribute more than labor to Japanese society. This point should not be overlooked.
First of all, they are also consumers.
The rapid depopulation of the Japanese workforce, which forms the core of household consumption, can cause national demand to shrink and drag down economic growth.
Greater use of artificial intelligence (AI) may ease labor shortages to a certain extent, but AIs do not eat or drive cars.
Foreign workers will push up housing and educational spending, like Japanese households do, when they live in Japan with their family members for longer periods of time.
Moreover, their wide-ranging needs can be expected to create new products and services and even lead to new jobs.
Another important role that foreigners can play is paying taxes. They pay income tax when they work, and they shoulder the consumption tax as Japanese do in the course of their daily lives.
A look at the United States gives insight in the situation. According to the New American Economy, a multipartisan organization studying and making proposals on immigration issues, the combined disposable income of people who came from overseas topped almost 100 trillion yen in 2014, making up for 14.3 percent of total households in America. The ratio was higher than the percentage of people born outside the U.S. at 13.2 percent.
This population group pays some 37 trillion yen in federal, state and local taxes. This amount is as large as the combined revenue from Japan's income and consumption taxes in fiscal 2017.
We should discuss which choice we want to make -- hiring young single workers on an ad hoc basis, or inviting long-term settlers with family members to increase their income and spending.
If we choose the second option, we need to make necessary preparations, and make corresponding commitments. This means exploring ways to benefit both foreign workers and the Japanese economy.