Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Will the Hatoyama Administration Really Improve People's Lives?

The Hatoyama administration began on September 16. The Democratic Party of Japan has been basking in euphoria since the election victory. The mass media has also shone an admiring light on the administration. Yet at the same time, anxiety is growing that this new administration will further the recession. More people believe that a DPJ administration will pull the economy down further and worsen unemployment.

Some readers may be surprised to learn that the DPJ has neither the policies to combat the recession nor a strategy for economic growth. It hasn't conceived of how the government can help industry and companies. Moreover, it is said that the party plans a large reshuffle of this year's supplementary budget. Confusion is inevitable. If this reshuffling gets stalled, then next year's budgetary process is likely to be delayed as well. And public works are apt to be reduced. If this is the case, then it will take even longer to overcome this recession.

On top of all this, the DPJ is pushing a policy of dismantling the bureaucracy, which is sure to sap the energy of government officials. A clash between politicians and bureaucrats will result in stagnation.

Yukio Hatoyama gave a speech on September 8, just before he officially became prime minister, in which he said Japan would reduce emissions that cause global warming to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. The overly ambitious target puts an added onus on Japanese companies. And it penalizes electricity and steel manufacturers trying to compete with China and other countries, setting those industries back by as much as several hundred billion yen. The government ends up putting an added burden on itself and Japanese industry by setting an unrealistic goal just because it wants to make a good impression with the EU. This is what I call the "Lone Nation Self-Admiration Principle."

The sky-high target puts pressure on corporate management. It could lower salaries as well, which would lead to a deepening of the recession and a further rise in unemployment. In fact, there's hardly anything in all of the Hatoyama administration's proposals that will directly fuel economic recovery and growth. The DPJ would do well to listen closely to the growing concerns about its approach.

The DPJ should focus on lowering unemployment, stabilizing the economy and setting it on a path for growth. These are the top priorities. But instead it wants to redo the supplementary budget, dismantle the bureaucracy and set unreasonably high goals for emission reductions -- all these policies have elements in them that could hurt the already ailing economy. If this new regime gives us a worse recession and increasing unemployment, the public is likely to wake from its dream in an extremely bad mood.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Proposal for Premier Hatoyama: Value the Provinces

Where are Japan's politics heading?

First, we need to revive the spirit of cooperation and harmony among the Japanese people. We made a mistake when we followed the path of "structural reform," which was really market fundamentalism as espoused by the Republicans in the U.S. Japan's economy deteriorated, the livelihood of its people declined and its society was riven with gaps between the haves and the have-nots. This happened because of excessive globalism (and the disregard of domestic-demand-driven industries), a capital-centric system (with little investment in objects and industry) and a Tokyo-centric economy that all but forgot the provinces. The decline of the provinces has been especially egregious. This is what destroyed the Liberal Democratic Party, and now it is the Hatoyama Cabinet's responsibility to right this wrong.

Second, we should revive the idea of holding a lot of public meetings to forge a consensus on national issues. The reason the LDP lost the support of the people is because it grew arrogant and suffered from delusions of grandeur as it made arbitrary decisions for the nation. The Hatoyama administration will have to correct this mistake. One thing it can do is listen closely to the opinions of the people in the provinces.

Third, we need to re-establish a harmonious morality. Engaging in confrontation and contentiousness in the name of "reform" will bring a hundred problems before it brings one advantage. The giant media outlets are fueling the talk of reform. They are bringing the fight to organizations they don't like, painting those who challenge the media as being hostile to "reform." The media's target is the "public," especially anything to do with government offices and public works.

The media are turning into a kind of lethal weapon. The new Hatoyama administration has to rise above the mudslinging.

The Hatoyama Cabinet must undo the folly and mistakes made since the Koizumi administration. The LDP's ruin came about because it ignored the provinces. If the new administration is going to right this wrong, the people need to hold Hatoyama's feet to the fire.

My frank message to Mr. Hatoyama: Put emphasis on the provinces. You can do this by promoting regional farming and industry. The pillar of the local economies is construction. Treat the construction industry well!

Revival of the provinces will require spending that strengthens society: Promote environmental maintenance, disaster prevention and restoration, tourism and local industries.

This is my message to the premier.

The Democratic Party of Japan should not get caught up in being true to every letter of the manifesto it delivered to the people in the recent election. The party should have the courage to shelve the things that don't help the people.

The party should annul its proposal to greatly reduce public-works spending. It's the work of the neoliberal wing of the DPJ, and its enactment would mean further deterioration in the provinces. This sort of foolish policy should be withdrawn as quickly as possible. I repeat: Please put more value on the provinces.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Mask

As the Democratic Party of Japan seizes power after its historic victory, people are beginning to ask, "Who really calls the shots within the DPJ, Prime Minister to be Yukio Hatoyama or kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa?" Here's Mr. Morita's reply in a recent AP story:

“Ozawa is far more powerful,” Minoru Morita, a politics expert and author, said Saturday. “It’s as though Ozawa is wearing a Hatoyama mask. He is in control, although on the surface Hatoyama is the leader.”

And from Reuters, here's Mr. Morita's take on Naoto Kan, expected to be appointed head of the National Strategy Bureau, a policy-setting group:

"All he has ever done with the bureaucrats is fight them," said political commentator Minoru Morita. "The danger with Kan in this post is that the bureaucrats will simply stop working for fear of being attacked, so nothing will move forward," he added.

In Mr. Kan's defense, he does acknowledge that unemployment is the biggest issue Japan faces; Mr. Morita argues the same thing in the post below this one.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Hopes for the New Administration

The events of August 30 in Japan were a kind of peaceful revolution. It was a national uprising. The citizens used the ballot box to end one long political reign and give birth to a new political force. It was a huge shift. It's understandable that the winners were giddy and elated by their victory.

But the important thing is to proceed with care. Don't rush. First seek to understand the election results and figure out why this happened. Analyze the voters' opinions. Take a deep breath and start out by listening to the people. Don't let your passions get the best of you; you need to refrain from picking a fight with the bureaucracy right off the bat. The most important thing for the new administration is to have the resolve to fight the hardships facing the Japanese people today.

Human affairs are important in politics. The leaders need to balance a strong sense of responsibility with passion and vision. Bring the powerful Ichiro Ozawa into the cabinet as vice prime minister. This is the best way to dispel the notion that Ozawa wields his power from the shadows. Don't just appoint experienced ministers from the Democratic Party of Japan such as Naoto Kan, Kozo Watanabe and Hirohisa Fujii. Instead, make a coalition cabinet by appointing veteran lawmakers such as Mizuho Fukushima and Yasumasa Shigeno of the Social Democratic Party and Shizuka Kamei of the People's New Party. This not only serves the purpose of stabilizing the cabinet, but it also will smooth out adjustments with the government bureaucracy. The party and the cabinets need to strike a balance among old, middle-aged and young lawmakers as well. In the middle group, Katsuya Okada, Issei Koga, Hirotaka Akamatsu, Akihiro Ohata, Sakihito Ozawa, Masaharu Nakagawa, Yoshihiko Noda, Hiroshi Kawauchi, Yoshinori Suematsu and Hirofumi Hirano are all good candidates for the cabinet.

The top priority of the new administration should be to shore up people's livelihoods. They'll need to work on aggressive policies to fight the recession and stabilize employment. The unemployment rate is 5.7%. The ratio of job openings to job seekers is 0.42. Prices are falling at a rate of 2.2%. There's a pressing need for solutions to all these problems. Medical care, nursing and pensions need to be restored in a hurry. Put fiscal reconstruction on the back burner and focus financial policies on stabilizing people's lives. There is an especially pressing need for measures to alleviate the unemployment situation.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The First Family

New Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama comes from a long line (four generations, to be precise) of Liberal Democratic Party members and his grandfather actually unseated former Prime Minister Taro Aso's grandfather for the premiership decades ago, according to this piece in the Christian Science Monitor.

Hatoyama's wife, the first lady of Japan, has been garnering her own press for claims that she was abducted by aliens and knew Tom Cruise in a past life. Here's Reuters TV on first lady Miyuki.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Memo to the New Administration: Show Some Modesty

The romance of a revolution gets passed down through generations, but the truth is that right after a revolution, the people live in misery. I studied revolutions in my youth and found that while the romance lingered, the effects on society were tragic. That's the real legacy of a revolution.

It's natural for many people to want political change. The new administration will start out by issuing its manifesto. At the heart of that manifesto is the idea that the bureaucratic institutions in Kasumigaseki should be dismantled.

Former bureaucrats appearing in the media talk of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy as the root of all evil. The heavy criticism has an influence on a wide swath of the public. But the remarks of the former bureaucrats are not fair. It's as if the media has found some former bureaucrats to do its bidding and speak poorly of current bureaucrats. It's difficult to watch these old boys pour abuse on their former home.

Actively serving bureaucrats have been silent. They endure the slander without response. The argument that Kasumigaseki is the root of all evil does not even garner a reply. But the media's attacks on the bureaucracy go too far. We need a fair analysis.

The new administration should heed this quote from Shakespeare: "To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first."

And to the departing Liberal Democrats I say, "It's never too late to mend." The important thing is to reflect on what went wrong and try again.

Finally, to the new administration: Let modesty be your guide.