Why Japan Needs a 'Hatobama'
Tokyo's new leader faces a rough 2010 without some pragmatic adjustments.
There are two main reasons why Mr. Hatoyama's unrealistic goals are more worrisome than any of the economic plans Mr. Obama has proposed.
First, there are far fewer political checks on Mr. Hatoyama's ability to pursue them. Mr. Obama faces a hostile Republican Party, a divided electorate, and moderates within the Democratic congressional caucus skeptical of his plans. He has accepted compromise on important issues like health-care reform and troop deployments to Afghanistan because he knows he must. Recognizing the complexities involved, he's taken a go-slow approach on domestic climate change legislation and the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Fiscal conservatives in both parties make a second stimulus package all but politically impossible.
The DPJ, meanwhile, has built a strong single-party majority in the lower house and relies on a pair of coalition partners to dominate the upper house. Mr. Obama's party has majorities too, but Mr. Hatoyama faces fewer institutional obstacles, like the filibuster, to setting a political agenda and pushing it forward...
Setting aside the subtitle’s use of “pragmatic” – my very least favorite word – one must adhere to a rather extreme form of iconoclasm to suggest the legislative gridlock and rent-seeking of Washington presents an attractive alternative to a fast-moving, functioning, popularly-elected parliamentary government. Most of the reality-based world considers America’s legislative process to be far from exemplary – indeed, a goodly proportion of the reality-based commentariat finds the U.S. legislative process to be irredeemably broken.
More insidious, however, is the next paragraph. No, “insidious” is not the right word. The right word is…
Finally, the U.S. has a two-party system that allows business and industry groups to hedge their bets by lobbying both sides. Five months ago, Japan had a one-party system—one in which business elites negotiated legislative language with an LDP-dominated bureaucracy. For the commercial elite, it now has a no-party system, a ruling coalition of mostly new faces with far fewer connections in the business world.…”breathtaking.”
First of all, what in Amaterasu’s name is “an LDP-dominated bureaucracy”? The wording makes it sound like the Liberal Democratic Party is some kind of religion or ideological movement, with party cadres infiltrating and guiding the bureaucracy.
Second, assuming that what Bremmer and Roubini wanted to say was Japan had one party system, with business elites enjoying direct influence over the drafting of legislation through both the party and the bureaucracy, it takes more than mere carelessness to overlook the fact that the existence of business influence on the LDP and the bureaucracy did little to prevent almost three decades of disastrous financial, economic, regulatory and trade policies. And, if being wrong on governance in Japan was insufficient grounds for the brain of the reader to boil over, not noting that the existence of a two-party system in the United States did not prevent the buildup of a series of economic imbalances in the U.S. and around the world that were to implode into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression certainly would be. In both cases, the influence of business interests upon policy makers and policy played a major role on the failure of governments and central banks from engaging and bolstering safeguards, making the economic booms more vertiginous and the ensuing economic busts more abysmal.
According to the evidence of what occurs when business has a strong influence over policy, whether in a two-party or a one-party system, that Japan currently is ruled by a "no-party" system with the DPJ keeping Japan's business interests at arm's length, should a cause for celebration, not derogation.
Later - Tobias Harris has read the same piece and finds yet other ways of being less than pleased.