Over the last few days I have had the chance to fulfill a longtime wish: to read Aurelia Mulgan George's Power and Pork: A Japanese Political Life (2006).
It is sobering to read the book six years on, in light of all that has happened since.
At the time of the study's going to print, Matsuoka Toshikatsu, the subject of the study, achieved his life's goal of being named Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, requiring that Dr. George hurriedly insert a few paragraphs on his nomination into the last pages of her manuscript – all which was all to come to naught a few months later when Matsuoka committed suicide, this in order to avoid further Diet inquiry into just the sort of sordid accounting and fund-raising shenanigans Dr. George documents.
"A Political Life" turned out to be a grimly prophetic subtitle.
But it is not only Matsuoka's suicide that provides a somber coda to the work. Nakagawa Sho'ichi, Matsuoka’s predecessor at MAFF and a lifelong antagonist was himself to die at a young age (56) under circumstances that suspiciously looked like suicide, after his untreated alcoholism undid his life's dream of becoming prime minister. If Nakagawa's death was indeed suicide (the investigation into the actual cause of death was willfully unenthusiastic) it was repeat of the death of his father Ichiro, who committed suicide in 1983.
Ichiro's political secretary Suzuki Muneo, who comes across as the sleazeball mentor of Matsuoka, was sent to prison for his funding escapades, but is now rehabilitated as the leader of a regional political movement and a member of the House of Representatives allied with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan – a political marriage of convenience Suzuki parlayed into the chairmanship of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs – the committee overseeing and investigating the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministry Suzuki had so thoroughly and extensively perverted through intimidation and interference during the years covered in the study.
As for the misuse and misallocation of government funds perfected by Matsuoka and Suzuki during the "Lost Decades" that burned a hole in the Japanese government’s pocket, wasting trillions of yen on makework projects whose operations and maintenance costs far exceed any societal benefit derived from the support they gave temporarily to Japan’s GDP figures, "bad" economic stimulus that has left the country in an Alice in Wonderland state where the government has a net debt greater than 100% of GDP, funds half its budget through bond sales rather than revenues, deflation devours debtors and risk taking, government bond yields are but a shade above 1% despite massive debts and deficits and the current government's policy response – which it labels reform – is to cut spending and raise the consumption tax, despite ironclad economic laws mandating that such actions will shrink the size of the economy, thereby further reducing tax revenues, requiring greater bond issuance to fund the same size national government budget...while the reforms of the Prime Minister's Office's powers to determine policy have evaporated away, leaving Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko buffeted back and forth, a feather in the gale.
It leaves one crying, like the poor father at the end of Coup de Foudre/Entre Nous:
"Quel gâchis! Quel gâchis!"