Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mr. Noda's Ambivalent Attitude Toward The National Bureaucracy

The conventional wisdom state that Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko is a tool/enabler of a resurrected national bureaucracy.

Signs of the return of bureaucratic power include:

- the reinstitution of the right of bureaucrats, particularly the head of the Cabinet Legislative Office, to testify in the Diet

- the full acceptance of a plan to raise the consumption tax to 10% -- a longtime dream of the Ministry of Finance (actually their dream is to send the consumption tax rate even higher).

This a corollary of Noda's having moved directly from the position of Finance Minister to the premiership. Former prime minister Kan Naoto made the same move in June of 2010, and seemingly the first words out of his mouth upon taking over as the country's leader were that taxes will need to be raised. This statement sent Kan's and the Democratic Party of Japan's popularity ratings southward and is credited as having been a significant factor in the the DPJ's losses in the July 2010 House of Councillors election -- losses that handed control of the House to the opposition, derailing the DPJ's ambitious plans to change the way the country is run.

In the popular view, any politician who serves as the minister of finance succumbs to that bureaucracy's mantras, becoming a glassy-eyed novitiate in the cult of raising the consumption tax ("Must-raise-the-tax. Must-save-Japan")

- the deceleration in the campaign to cut the funding of projects of questionable merit made by the ministries and the quasi-government entities that provide retiring bureaucrat with cushy sinecures

- the acceptance without question or amendment of the budget compiled by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, including spending for a restart of the Yamba Dam project -- the cancellation of which was the signal in 2009 that the new DPJ-led government was willing to go to the wall to effect change in the country

- the selection of the F-35 as Japan's next generation fighter, which seems to have no justifications other than simultaneously pleasing the United States government and satisfying the Ministry of Defense's lust for stealth -- even if Japan's beleaguered defense contractors get nothing out of the deal and the stealth technology remains entirely in the hands of the United States

[Please add to the list, if you can, in comments]

It is tempting to believe that the PM is allowing national bureaucrats (kokka komuin) to run amok because he needs them as allies or at least neutral parties. He cannot be fighting simultaneously on two fronts against both the bureaucrats and the political opposition, as the first DPJ prime ministers Hatoyama Yukio and Naoto Kan tried to do, with catastrophic results.

Evidence exists, however, that the above is only half of a double-sided game the PM is having with the national bureaucrats, the left hand taking while the right hand gives. Noda did nothing to stop his party from swallowing whole a New Komeito bill cutting bureaucratic salaries by an average of 7.8% for the next two years, with a retroactive cut of 0.23% for this year and no collective bargaining rights, the last item being a promise the DPJ made to the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), a crucial vote machine for the party. He has a government-appointed panel recommending a four million yen cut in the lump sum bonus bureaucrats receive upon retirement, as well as an accelerated program of early retirement buyouts. ( J)

Prime Minister Noda has said and done nothing about Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya's staggering cuts in the intake of new recruits into career track positions, this taking place on top of previous cuts in the number of national bureaucrats:

Number of career-track hirees
by the office, commission, ministry and agency
April 2012 --> April 2013

Cabinet Secretariat 10 --> 4

Cabinet Legislative Office 2 --> 1

Cabinet Office 35 --> 20

Imperial Household Agency 32 --> 16

Japan Fair Trade Commission 37 --> 22

National Police Agency 164 --> 100

Financial Services Agency 42 --> 22

Consumer Affairs Agency 2 --> 1

Ministry of Internal Affairs
and Communications 120 --> 73

Ministry of Justice 1,475 --> 942

Ministry of Foreign Affairs 141 --> 80

Ministry of Finance 1,482 --> 929

Ministry of Education,Culture,
Sports, Science & Technology 66 -> 36

Ministry of Health, Labour
and Welfare 625 --> 298

Ministry of Agriculture,
Forestry and Fisheries 235 --> 120

Ministry of Economy
Trade and Industry 181 -- 107

Ministry of Land, Infrastructure
Transport and Tourism 1078 --> 682

Ministry of the Environment 34 --> 27

Ministry of Defense 575 --> 300

Ministry of General Affairs and Telecommunications

With these assaults on the income and the number of national bureaucrats (who will have to do the same amount of work as their predecessors, despite their reduced numbers) is it any wonder that the number of those taking the entrance examinations to become national bureaucrats dropped 13% in between 2011 and 2012? (J)

So is Prime Minister Noda just so much putty in the hands of the bureaucracy? The numbers do not seem to support that view.


Troy said...

The population of 15 to 40 yos peaked at 54M in 1965-67, declining to under 50M by 1977, under 40M in 2009, and will be under 30M ca. 2025.

Japan is shrinking, maybe it needs less general bureaucracy not more.

MTC said...

Troy -

I think the needs of the country witll shift, from child education and manufacturing to post-retirement education, eldercare and health, leaving the same amount of work for bureaucrats to do despite the decline in the working age population.