Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Furusato Roads Take Me Home

I have been indirectly accused of being soft-hearted, if not indeed soft-headed, about the abruptly collapsing economies and social carrying capacity of the rural areas.

I will someday respond to the criticism.

In the interim, how about an example of what real softhearts/softheads can produce as regards the areas outside the major metropolises:

Editorial: Toward a society of hope
The Asahi Shimbun

We believe that Japan's best course for the future is to develop into a "cooperative welfare state." But how to achieve that goal? On specific proposals, let us first discuss decentralization. We propose that all issues related to living be handled at the regional level, and entrust to the central government only those that cannot be resolved locally. "Local sovereignty," rather than decentralization, is the principle to which we should adhere.

For that, we need to develop local administrative bodies into what might legitimately be called regional governments--truly autonomous bodies that are vested with an independent administrative, fiscal and legislative authority. Municipal and village governments, which deal directly with residents, will be entrusted with the heaviest responsibilities.

According to our envisioned image of Japan, it will be a nation where the central and regional governments share responsibilities as equal partners. Some people may think this is a pipe dream. But if this does not happen, the future will be bleak indeed.

Japan's total debts, run up by the central and local governments, now stand at 773 trillion yen. One of the causes is wasteful spending of taxpayers' money under the current taxation and fiscal systems.

Expensive roads are built in mountainous areas and regional administrative bodies compete with their neighbors to do the same. Nobody is held accountable even if those roads or facilities remain unused or underutilized.

Central government ministries and agencies exercise their authority over regional governments, and the latter expect central government subsidies as their deserved windfall. Contracts for public works projects buoy regional economies and secure votes for local politicians.

Eventually, things can go very wrong. The city of Yubari in Hokkaido, which went bankrupt with massive debts, exemplifies this. As a traditional mining town that had fallen on hard times, Yubari sought to survive through tourism and used central government subsidies to invest excessively in the construction of tourist facilities. But tourism never took off, and the city ran up 18 billion yen in debt in this industry alone.

The post-Meiji Restoration concept of nation-building was that the provinces should just follow what Tokyo said. This may have been effective during the years of national reconstruction after World War II, but is now nothing more than a huge drag. Things have to change.

The European Union is adapting to economic globalization by strengthening the unity of member states. On the other hand, however, the EU is also promoting local independence by transferring authority to local governments in areas such as education and welfare...

A veritable baikingu* of everything that drives a sane person into shrill howls of madness over the progressive's favorite national daily:

- the use of sophistry and jargon to mask intellectual confusion

- a belief that the national government is insensitive and corrupt

- a belief that "the little people", if left alone, would be angels

- caricatures of pre-1945 conditions

- the reification of European Union policies

Whenever I read Asahi Shimbun editorials I am always reminded of the excuses communist party organs would make for the failures of socialism or the explanations Sankei Shimbun op-eds give for the ineffectiveness of aggressive diplomatic stances and the promotion of unquestioning patriotism -- that the failure of the resulting initiatives is not intrinsic to the doctrines being followed but is the result of a failure to impose the doctrinal recommendations stringently enough.

For the Asahi, the unassailable good is "democracy"-- you can just never have too much of it...

...which is pretty much the opposite of what the quiet doyen of Japanese political studies found when he looked hard at the data.



For those who want to check the Asahi.com's English version for translation issues, a Japanese original can be found here. (link expired)
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* "smörgåsbord"

1 comment:

Janne Morén said...

I certainly don't think you're soft-hearted; sorry if my comment came across like that.

I do think that you (and Asahi Shimbum) are lamenting the inevitable. It's like building a house on a beautiful hillside overlooking the ocean, only to discover many years later that the whole hill is gradually sliding towards the cliffs. The time to do something about it was when planning the building, not by the time the first pieces are already tumbling into the sea.

So what to do? Rescue what pieces you can and grieve over the loss of the building. Then comfort yourself that the new house you've built will, in time, become the new "old house", and that while it's certainly different, it's really no worse than the old one.

I'm saying that the loss of many rural communities and a substantial part of Japanese rural culture is inevitable, and the focus should be on focusing on some representative areas that have a realistic chance of surviving and making the transition easier on the inhabitants of the rest.

Since you seem to have familiarity with Sweden (you're Swedish?), remember how much of the traditional Swedish countryside likewise disappeared a few generations ago, leaving mostly scattered large-scale farming industry and logging, and with only a few areas like parts of Dalarna culturally partly intact.