Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Re Dr. Nakano's Sadness

Nakano Ko'ichi is a rarity in Japanese academia: a scholar with a brilliant command of the literature of his field, a disarmingly frank and reassuring manner, an ability to examine Japan's contemporary problems in the context of broader flows of world history and fluency both in his mother tongue and English.

And a man, without shading or hedging, of the Left.

He has published a stark and lucid essay on a potential harsh turn in Japan's economic and foreign policy at CNN's Global Public Square:

"Japan: Get ready for a rightward shift"

As is known, I reject the thesis that the "ditching most of its main campaign manifesto pledges and letting the country’s bureaucrats redefine the policy agenda" was the primary reason for the collapse in the popularity of the Democratic Party of Japan as reflected in public opinion polling. Instead, I lay most of the blame at the feet of Ozawa Ichiro and his inability to accept or understand the concept of "party over person" as inextricable to the process of running a party government. Collaboration with the bureaucrats on policy was forced upon the DPJ by the need to fight against the Liberal Democratic Party and its 50 year legacy of misrule. Ozawa Ichiro tried to fight both the LDP and the bureaucrats at once, with the inevitable result of allowing both to make up the huge losses of power and legitimacy they suffered in the elections of 2009.

The DPJ's current leadership had been much, much smarter in dealing with bureaucrats, ceding on some matters of policy, while inflicting deep cuts in salaries and recruitment.

These serious woundings of the bureaucracy have been insufficiently publicized because the DPJ still needs the bureaucrats in their corner. "Look at how we have roughed up the bureaucrats!" is hardly the message you want to be shouting unless you want the bureaucrats to undermine your every move.

As for Dr. Nakano's take on the relations between nationalism, deregulation and unraveling of the social fabric, I am still not convinced of the direct responsibility of government policy in a worsening of social inequality and social disfunction, or, conversely, the capacity of government to remedy the situation.

Take, for example, Dr. Nakano's citation of Japan's stunning suicide rate (which, if you consider it the murder of oneself, makes Japan one of the most dangerous places to live on Earth). The number of suicides soared in 1998, the year the financial system finally lost government support, leading to the spectacular failures of banks and Yamaichi Securities. The levels have stayed high ever since.

It is that "ever since" that has me skeptical. Certainly if unsteadiness of the economy was the trigger for rises in the suicide rate, improvements in the economy should lead to lower levels of suicide -- especially since the post-2008 rise has been almost entirely due to increases in suicides of men, women committing suicide at the same basically the same rate over the last 35 years.

Something else is going on...and the lead probably needs to be taken by non-profit organizations rather than the government.

As for income equality, I have greater faith in the ingenuity of the people of this blessed land than either Nakano or Finance Ministry bureaucrats seem willing to admit. In the absence of a tax registration number system -- the likelihood of the death of a bill establishing such a system, there is still a great deal of leeway for transfers of wealth across the generations, with the asset-rich older generations supplementing the income of their children and grandchildren, with the government's draconian estate taxes as all the incentive older citizens will ever need to hand down their wealth to their descendants.

I also think that international statistics on levels of Japanese poverty vastly underestimate the differences in price levels in between the urban and rural areas, skewing the estimates of rural poverty higher than actual purchasing power should reflect. I may be wrong on this point, however.

As for Hashimoto Toru's programs, Abe Shinzo's programs and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's programs, lumping them together under the rubric of the exploitation of nationalism, you insults Noda's and Hashimoto's intelligence...and ascribes to Abe an intelligence he simply does not possess. As for the accusation that Prime Minister Noda is contributing to the escalation of territorial disputes with Japan's neighbors, that is simply untrue. He made a fairly admirable effot to calm the waters -- sending the Hong Kong activists home without charging them with anything, forbidding the landing of Ishihara Shintaro's land survey team upon the Senkakus -- while reiterating what are the existing policy positions of the government of Japan.

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