Thursday, July 04, 2013

The July 21, 2013 Election - Where Are The Opposition's Economists?

The heads or co-heads of the parties had their pre-election warm-up debate at the National Press Club yesterday. (Link)

From the snippets broadcast on television or transcripted to be read on paper or on a screen, the impression is that opposition parties, despite having a raft of issues to run upon -- a crash national program favoring renewable energy sources and steering away from nuclear power, constitutionalism, a real discussion of the pros and cons of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the plan to lower the corporate income tax rate while raising the consumption tax -- issues where the majority of the populace agrees with the positions taken by opposition parties -- are either not serious about or not capable of running against the Liberal Democratic Party.

Prior to the election, commentators will review the positions the parties hold. I cannot...and not just because I am lazy.

The opposition parties do not have positions; they have poses. Whether it is the Your Party with its insistence on reform of the bureaucracy; the Japan Renewal Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai) with its love of decentralization and regionalism; the Democratic Party and the Life Party and their purported defense of people's livelihoods; the Communists and the Socialists with their "Article 9 Now and Forever, No TPP And More Daycare Centers Too" -- all are too easily dismissible with a "Yes, but what are the projected results of doing things your way?"

What marks the opposition parties as lightweights? The inability of their leaders to either quote or be seen in the company of economists.

If once, just once, Kaieda Banri or Shii Kazuo or Watanabe Yoshimi -- who purportedly runs on an economic liberalization program -- could say, "Professor So-and-so of the Department of Economics of Wossamatta U. says..." the voters would have the chance to say, "Hey, this party has considered the reality of there being trade offs. They've tried to think this all through."

Instead the voters are treated to brain-freezing tautologies of the sort, "The inflationary policies of Abenomics are going to lead to price rises, which is going to affect people's livelihoods."

Then again, a lack of serious engagement with economics seems may be the identification badge for those seeking to be seen as ready to clip the LDP's wings. Take the editorial (Please!) The Japan Times published on July 2:
...the right-leaning political forces inclined toward market fundamentalism — as represented by the Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party — have already become powerful. If they become lopsidedly strong, voters will be deprived of meaningful political choices. The DPJ must clearly explain to voters the problems that market fundamentalism brings about, namely the expansion of the gap between the rich and the poor, and the shrinking of welfare and other public services provided by the government sector. Such an outcome will only serve further destabilize Japan’s economy and society.

The LDP leaders believe in many things...but "market fundamentalism"? OK, Takenaka Heizo is back...but only as an advisor on the economic growth council, sitting alongside a bunch of CEOs who themselves are on the council in order to suggest sweetheart deals for their own industries (Yeah, I said it). Nakagawa Hidenao, the big man when it came to the Koizumi Revolution, bugged out long ago and took the spirit of free markets with him.

Who could the editors of The Japan Times be talking about? And if not individuals or factions, about which policies of the current government? And how would the editors propose to remedy the problems of inequality and loss of the ability to fund welfare?

If the thinking were any woollier, it would be a sweater.

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