April 17th, 2012 M Shaped Society
M-shape society is an observation put forward by the Japanese business strategist and writer Kenichi Ohmae (1943-). According to his observation, Ohmae argued that the structure of Japanese society has emerged into a 'M-shape' distribution.
Theory of M Shaped Society
In a well-developed modern society, the distribution of classes is in a 'normal distribution' pattern, and the middle class forms the bulk of the society.
However, in the emergence of the 'M-shape society', the middle class in the society gradually disappeared. A very few people in this middle class may climb up the ladder and squeeze into the upper class, while the others in the middle class gradually sank to the lower classes.
These people experienced a deterioration in living standard. They may face threat of unemployment, or their average salary are dropping. Gradually, they can only live a way the lower classes live: e.g. take buses instead of driving their own car, cut their budget for meals instead of dining at better restaurants, spend less in consumer goods…
There may be still remarkable progress in economic development, the GNP may still rise, there may still be economic growth, and the national average salary may still rise. However, the wealth increase in this growth may concentrate in the pockets of the very few rich people in the society. The masses indeed cannot benefit from the growth, and their living standard is on the decline.
What was worse, the upward social ladder seems to have disappeared – opportunities and fair competition become fewer and fewer. People in the lower class can no longer climb up the ladder: they cannot earn a high-paid job or have stable employment, even if they have a high level of education. The places in the upper class were reserved by the upper class for their descendants.
Influence of M Shaped Society
This notion became a hotly-discussed topic in Japan. And as Ohmae's book was translated into Chinese version, it also became a hotly-discussed topic in Taiwan, and later in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, there are scholars, intellectuals and social-scientists arguing whether the conditions of Hong Kong fits the notion Ohmae put forward: e.g. diminishing social mobility and upward social ladder, the general income-decline and threat of unemployment of the middle-classes, the change of competition rules for social advancement (such as pursuit for better schools) in which status advancement is no longer based on merits or achievements, but on other certain criteria such as family wealth or background. The lives of the lower classes seem more miserable than the past even when there is still economic progress and rise in the GDP. It has become a concern for the government as the income gap between the lower classes and the upper classes has been widening in recent years.