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The Asymmetric Exchange System


An ad hoc consultative agency of the prime minister in Japan, where there is no conscription, proposes that all 18-year-old children should engage in such social service as care for old people for a year. I’m afraid that, once this institution is established, it will be difficult to do away with it. Children of less than 19 years may well object to this compulsory gratuitous service, but they have no suffrage. When they come of age and gain their suffrage, they will have gone through with the service. If someone tried to abolish it, they would complain, “Why don’t our junior have to serve us, while we serve our senior? We cannot admit such unfairness."

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke + Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

1. What is the asymmetric exchange system?

Let’s call a system where a generation is compensated for the sacrifice they made for their senior by their junior “the asymmetric exchange system". Another example is the National Pension, where the young support the old. The National Pension is easy to start and difficult to abolish. The old with the power to institute asymmetric exchange system can start it, making them “beneficiaries without burden", which structurally makes “the burdened without benefit" at the end of asymmetric gift exchange chain. The National Pension keeps on persisting, in spite of and because of the misery of default.

Some try to transform the transferring character of the National Pension into the funding, but do not succeed, for those who must pay double oppose it. In the symmetrical gift exchange like barter, a burden is exchanged for benefit at the same time. When money is mediated, there might be a risk of hyperinflation but as a rule the market economy does not produce either beneficiaries without burden or the burdened without benefit.

In the asymmetric gift exchange, there is a considerable time lag between gift and counter-gift, and someone must be a victim. Of course, everyone does not want to be a victim. So, the asymmetric exchange system, like a pyramid scheme, must always produce a new victim in order not to produce a victim.

Image by Martin Str from Pixabay modified by me.
An example of pyramid schemes. Source: Security and Exchange commission, U.S. Federal Govt. “The unsustainable geometric progression of a classic pyramid scheme." Licensed under CC-0.

2. The autopoiesis of asymmetry

When power justifies power, namely, justification of power and power of justification produce each other, power persists as an autopoiesis. How, then, does the power as an autopoiesis justify asymmetry of power?

There are two kinds of the asymmetry of power, fixed and fluid. The former has a fixed pedigree monopolize power. The fixed monopolies have been overthrown by the masses alienated from power. In the latter case, the asymmetry of power itself is hardly overthrown, because power is accessible to everyone. Anyone can seize power — this is an ideal of equality and, ironically, this equality contributes to maintaining the asymmetric inequality.

A society that sets a great value on the academic career is an example of the fluid type of asymmetric inequality. Suppose a dropout feels antipathy to the academic career oriented society and want to overthrow it, but to seize the power to abolish it, he must have his academic background. In this case, he must affirm the academic career oriented society to negate it. You face such a dilemma, when you must go through with a rite of passage to affirm the asymmetric inequality in order to come to power.

3. The collapse of asymmetric systems

It seems almost impossible to abolish a once established asymmetric exchange system, but in fact, it sometimes collapses. For example, the seniority wage system of Japanese corporations is now collapsing. It is abandoned, when the leader judges it threatens the existence of system itself.