GRADUATE STUDENT | YUMI SHIMABUKURO
Yumi Shimabukuro recently received her Ph.D. from the department of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University. Her main research interests are poverty, social welfare, democratization, and labor movements with a focus on Japan.
In her dissertation, Democratization and the Development of Japan’s Uneven Welfare State (abstract), she examines why Japan, one of the richest democracies in the world, provides very little public assistance to the poor. Through a series of comparative and historical data, she shows that Japan’s post-tax/transfer poverty rate has been historically higher than that of other advanced industrialized countries, yet it has taxed the poor more heavily and delivered less public cash transfers to them than its peers. Based on this observation, she asks: Why does a country endowed with democratic institutions, deep pockets, and a sizable social welfare system nickel and dime the poor? Dr. Shimabukuro explains Japan’s distinctively threadbare safety net by tracing the origins of its political, economic, and social welfare institutions. The principal claim of her dissertation is that when and how a country pursued industrialization and democratization mattered deeply in the development of a safety net for the poor.
Her empirical chapters demonstrate how state-led industrial development incentivized the dominant economic interest groups (e.g., agrarian landlords, industrialists, and organized labor) to oppose redistribution and how democratization enabled these groups to gain sufficient political influence to block the expansion of poor relief in the Diet. Contrary to extant theories that associate democracy, economic modernization, and a robust labor movement with higher social spending for the poor, her dissertation shows that these factors stifled redistribution in the case of Japan. Her findings suggest that how a country builds its democracy and wealth influences whether a welfare state reinforces or ameliorates existing inequality.
She is currently preparing a book manuscript (Excluding the Poor: The Makings of Japan’s Inegalitarian Welfare State) and teaches Japanese politics at Harvard University.
Special Series on Common Problems of Developed Democracies
"Excluding the Poor: The Makings of Japan's Inegalitarian Welfare State"
(Co-sponsored by the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, Harvard Kennedy School and the WCFIA Program on U.S.-Japan Relations)