Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"The Lehman Shock" and "The Crab Canning Ship"

I've been asked by several media organizations for my take on the words or phrases of 2008. I chose "The Lehman Shock" for the world and "The Crab Canning Ship" for Japan.

The world entered a difficult era on September 15, 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed. This triggered a global collapse in stock prices just as a management crisis in the world's largest corporations bubbled to the surface. Bankruptcies spread and unemployment soared. The world was thrown into a recession.

This was the year when the US lost its status as sole superpower. The world has entered a chaotic era. As the US collapses, other countries around the world find themselves inextricably caught up in the mess. The trigger for this global collapse was the fall of Lehman Brothers, or the "Lehman Shock." I told the reporters that this was the one incident above all others that captured the spirit of 2008.

For Japan, I chose the 1929 novel The Crab Canning Ship as my phrase of the year. Japan has fallen into a situation where a great depression looms, large bankruptcies are occurring and unemployment is ballooning. There is nothing in the postwar experience of Japan that compares. Workers are susceptible to the same sort of cruelty that was portrayed in a novel written 80 years ago by Takiji Kobayashi. This is the distinct characteristic of today's Japan.

In 2009, we need to overcome both these problems. We'll need strong spirits to live through this predicament. Let's make 2009 a year when the Japanese people show they still have plenty of life in them.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sheer Hypocrisy

We need to increase public spending if we're going to stem corporate bankruptcies and the rise of unemployment. The country's finances will be strained by more spending and the fiscal deficit will rise, but it is something we can no longer avoid. People are having difficulty coping, and a majority of households are running into debt. The same is true with corporations. The only entity left to take on more debt is the government -- there's no escaping this fact.

The longer road presents the quickest path to economic revival. Those who advocated direct fiscal reconstruction have failed. They achieved the opposite of what they intended, grinding economic growth to a halt and ballooning the fiscal deficit. We can't bear any more of their ill-advised policies. Instead, we need policies that will bring us back to economic growth. To do that, we need more public spending.

There are some newscasters on TV that insist on drowning out anyone advocating more public works or lower taxes. "It's just more pork-barrel politics," they cry. "Don't leave a bill for future generations! Do you think it's OK to leave the nation in debt?" Kurotani, the newscaster for Fuji TV's "Hodo 2001," spouts at the viewing audience with a barely contained rage toward public works. Can't he be more level-headed and objective?

It's true that we shouldn't leave a bill for future generations. But we can't just think in terms of public spending -- we have to consider the whole economy and society at large. The real crime would be leaving behind a failed economy for our children.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Japan Left Behind by Its Leaders

The Lehman shock of September 15 and the ensuing world financial crisis that began in the US has had a crushing impact on the old way of doing business. It has unleashed an economic crisis that is global in scope. Nations around the world are entering recessions at the same time. A great depression approaches.

The threat of war also looms. India and Pakistan are a hair-trigger away from a crisis. If a war were to break out, it would involve nuclear powers. This is a crucial situation. We need to end the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible.

The US government bears much of the responsibility here. President-elect Obama has said that he wants to continue and even intensify the war effort in Afghanistan, but this is a big mistake. When he assumes power, he should immediately call for a cease fire. Now is the time to conceive of large, significant changes. We need to change from an American-centric, neoconservative, market fundamentalist way of thinking and concentrate on avoiding a great depression by switching to a form of modified capitalism. This is the Keynesian New Deal approach.

There is one more thing Japan must learn. It must stop its Americanization process and switch to a system based on Japanese values. Japan needs to shake off its addiction to Republican-style thinking on war, survival of the fittest social policies and neoconservative thought. In this era of historic change, we must unflinchingly realize that the long list of abuses Japan has suffered comes from not only the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito but also from members of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan who have sided with former Prime Minister Koizumi and his policies.

We should be bringing about a government that stands for peace, independence and harmony. Prime Minister Aso's government is headed in the opposite direction. So is the DPJ. The citizens of Japan need to forge a third way.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Defend the Rights of Part-Timers, Seasonal Workers and Temps!

The economy has come to a scary place. Part-timers, seasonal workers and temps are suffering through an extremely cruel round of massive layoffs. Large corporations are dismissing these workers mercilessly, stopping their employment by not renewing their contracts.

Temporary workers are forming a union in response.

I would like to see strong support of this move. I, for one, will make every effort to support them. I've been very dissatisfied with the weak-kneed approach of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation. At the rate it is going, it won't be able to defend the rights of workers. Without a fight, no new avenues will open.

The confederation needs to reorganize around the local chapters of industrial unions. This would create a grass-roots base that could propel a unified protest of this massive unemployment.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Election Predictions

An election special showing on BS 11 entitled "Otana No Jiyu Jikan" (Nov. 27 and 28 at 7 pm) posed the question, "If the election were held today, how many seats would each party take?" After analyzing each of the 300 electoral districts, the program then interviewed three people: election planner Hiroshi Miura, a member of the BS11 general election reporting team and me.

I made predictions for each of the 300 electoral districts as well as the proportional representation seats and came out with an even split between the ruling and opposition parties. I was genuinely surprised by this result.

I predicted that the Liberal Democratic Party would take 209 seats and its coalition partner New Komeito would take 26 for a total of 235. On the other side of the aisle, I had the Democratic Party of Japan taking 205 seats, the Communist Party taking 12, the Social Democrats taking 10, the People's New Party 6 and New Party Daichi 1 for a total of 235. I also predicted 10 independents would win.

My predictions lead to a situation where neither leading party can claim a majority and the tie-breaking votes will be made by the independents. That's the situation. Of course, this is only my prediction. But I was surprised once again when the BS election analyst's predictions were very similar to mine. Mr. Miura predicted that the DPJ would be able to pull out a slim majority.

It's only a prediction, but if after the House of Representatives vote no clear winner has emerged, a political realignment will ensue. In my view, political realignment would probably bring about a grand or midsize coalition.