Japan from the inside out

You decide!

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 23, 2009

No one from the private sector will accept the position as president of Japan Post (if President Nishikawa is forced out). After President Nishikawa steps down, it is very likely that his replacement will be either someone who was a career bureaucrat, or someone from the private sector who will compromise with the bureaucracy
– Takenaka Heizo, in the September issue of Voice

THERE WERE SEVERAL REASONS why it was important to privatize Japan Post. First, there is no need for the government of an advanced, developed nation to operate a banking system, an insurance system, and a postal system, much less in competition with that nation’s private sector.

In addition, the funds in the banking and insurance system were controlled by Japan’s Finance Ministry, the bureaucratic entity most likely to arrogate a political role for itself. By law, these funds can only be invested in government bonds. Those investments were the lifeblood of the Iron Triangle of big business, bureaucracy, and government (i.e., the Diet) that ran Japan Inc. That was the source of funds for all the corruption and the Bridges to Nowhere.

The privatization of Japan Post was the most important such step since the Japan National Railway was broken up into regional private sector companies during the Nakasone Administration. Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro dissolved the lower house of the Diet and held a special election specifically to take this issue to the people in 2005. The result was the second-largest majority for the governing party in postwar history. In fact, it was a supermajority that allowed the Government to override any defeats in the upper house. Mr. Koizumi’s support when he left office stood at 70%.

The terminally clueless mudboat wing of his party squandered this advantage, however, and in the following election, in August this year, the opposition DPJ nearly reversed those numbers in the lower house. It was clear that the electorate rejected the LDP because it had turned its back on reforms and minimizing the political influence of the bureaucracy. They wanted the DPJ to continue those reforms.

After little more than a month in office, we can now take it as given that the DPJ is, from several perspectives, a party of charlatans. While some members are just as earnest in their desire for reform as the Koizumians, the party itself is controlled by people for whom power is the real objective. Policy is just something that can be replastered to suit the times, in the words of their political puppeteer Ozawa Ichiro.

The intent of the DPJ has been obvious ever since they formed an alliance with the People’s New Party, which consists solely of reactionaries whose only objective was to reverse Japan Post’s privatization.

Any remaining credibility the DPJ had as serious reformers ended yesterday when Saito Jiro was appointed the new head of Japan Post. As Mr. Takenaka predicted, his background is in the bureaucracy. But not just any ministry—it was the Finance Ministry itself, the Big Swinging Dick of Kasumigaseki. And he was not just any bureaucrat. The Asahi referred to him as “the Don of the bureaucratic alumni”. Mr. Saito once held the position of administrative vice-minister of the Finance Ministry.

That was the same position once held by Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s father, Iichiro.

Mr. Saito comes with the added advantage of having had close ties to Ozawa Ichiro since the latter last pulled the strings of the Hosokawa Administration 15 years ago. He was selected by PNP head Kamei Shizuka, who, like all men of low cunning, seems to have been too clever by half.

If nothing else, the selection will give the new government an early lesson in damage control—if it survives the damage. Japanese author, university professor, commentator, and blogger Ikeda Nobuo thinks it’s possible the Cabinet might fall before the Diet is convened, but of course that remains to be seen. A Google news search in Japanese shows there are already more than 500 articles on Mr. Saito’s selection. Every major Japanese newspaper has slammed the pick.

Prime Minister Hatoyama thought it was wonderful, however. He said:

“It’s a very good (selection). A very interesting personnel (choice).”

He seems not to have been intentionally ironical.

Mr. Hatoyama also defended the choice by saying that Mr. Saito had left the bureaucracy 14 years ago. He did not, however, refer to his party’s opposition to Muto Toshiro as the head of the Bank of Japan because of his ties to the Finance Ministry. Mr. Muto had left the bureaucracy only eight years before that.

Referring to that apparent contradiction, Chief Cabinet Minister Hirano Hirofumi said:

“I think any comparison between the two is a little different.”

When pressed by reporters to explain why, he answered,

“I think it’s different. That’s my awareness.”

Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, a coalition partner, said:

“It was a compromise choice. Rather than whether he was a former bureaucrat, I think they emphasized policy”.

Everyone listening to this statement knew that Ms. Fukushima would have wet her pants in public had the LDP made the same selection.

As usual, the most penetrating observation came from Takenaka Heizo, the man who was more responsible than any for launching Japan Post on the road to full privatization:

(The Hatoyama Cabinet) says it wants to eradicate amakudari (cushy post-retirement jobs in government for retired senior civil servants), but in truth, this is just watari (the repeated hiring of former bureaucrats) under the leadership of the politicians…The idea that they are disassociating themselves from a reliance on the bureaucracy is a falsehood…It is the de facto renationalization of Japan Post”

You get the idea.

I could go on, but as it turns out, I’m going to be away for the weekend and won’t be back until Monday.

Until then, you can take part in the first Ampontan poll, which is shown below. Don’t hesitate to get clicky and make your voice heard. Every vote counts!

See you next week!

8 Responses to “You decide!”

  1. […] It appears the DPJ is nothing more then a much of charlatans. […]

  2. Robert Meurant said

    Without doubting the veracity of your post, to write “…that Ms. Fukushima would have wet her pants in public… ” appears a little sexist and below the belt (so to speak), don’t you think?

  3. Robert Meurant said

    “Policy is just something that can be replastered to suit the times… ”

    Isn’t that a function of the limitations of political consciousness itself? Arguably, politics is no longer adequate to deal with the extreme crisis we are engendering; it’s (a large) part of the problem, and certainly not the solution..?

    We don’t need better or reformed politics, we need politics itself to be completely transcended…

  4. Mac said

    A paradox topped by the obvious questions of “well, what else is there?” but well said Robert.

    There was, of course, another alternative. For the Post Office to remain in national ownership but to be run very well. To be run in an enlightened manner.

    • It makes perfect sense for a nation to own all its key industries – and especially for them not to be owned by overseas and purely capitalist interests.

    • It makes perfect sense for a nation to own profitable industries which can then return funds to the nation for the nation’s benefit.

    • It makes perfect sense for a nation to subsidize areas of any particular industry or service for too numerous reasons to list here.

    Business does it all the time. So do we, individually, in our families and communities.

    Not only are politics “part of the problem and certainly not the solution”, so privatization is little more than replacing one brand of screw ups with a different brand and worst brand of ‘shorter term’ screws, and invariably leads to a decline in services for the public … who, after all, invested in the creation of these industries. Who are the original owners.

    The only difference being, the robber barons get to fill their pockets as the industry of service is poured down the toilet pan. What happens when you privatize a postal system (… never mind one of the biggest and safest banks in the world which is what we are really speaking about, are we not?) At the postal level, prices rise, service levels drop, services to rural areas are cut, communities ostracized, more vulnerable parts of society disadvantaged further, distribution networks broken up, workers disempowered and made less secure, confusion reigns, consumers treated like crap etc.

    But there is another bigger, darker, more subtle move going on of which this is only a small part … the reshaping and breaking down of “Japan, Inc”. It is under pressure from the USA capitalists to open up and break apart its economic powerbase so that they can screw around with it for the sake of their profit. Is that a god idea, or not? The forced injection of USA capitalism and USA capitalist values into Japanese society.

    Historically, the Japanese system is not based on Soviet-style state ownership but the Prussian system. That sits on top of its own social structures. Hopefully, an analysis of it, or suggestions of reform, could escape the myopic and binary view of ‘capitalism versus state communism’ etc to see it as something other.

    Both capitalism and communism makes slaves of people. Simplistically, capitalism tend to export and increase the slavery to other nations, communism keeps them at home. Which is best? Again … it is just down to which brand of slavery you prefer. There are other successful alternatives. Sadly, these politicians are probably entirely unaware of them. The political, bureaucratic and social systems under which the Japanese people are disempowered are, by design, incapable of bring about such positive alternative reforms.

    No doubt, the current status quo is not optimum but to use that, and accuse immaturity of the new government, as a pretense for pushing the interests of the robber barons of capitalism is taking the baby “out of the frying” and dropping it into the fire.

  5. ampontan said

    RM: No, I don’t think. In fact, I think it is vaguely sexist to suggest that it might be.

    Men urinate too. I’ve seen the same thing written about men, particularly ideologues who have their buttons pushed. And I would have written the same thing had she been a man.

    To write that she would have shit her pants has a different connotation, at least in my warped mind.

    As for it being below the belt, well, that’s where all that stuff happens.

  6. Bender said

    Isn’t the current issue more about whether which of the two branches of economic thought has got it right- Keynsian (Demand-side) or Supply-side- rather than capitalism vs communism?

  7. RMilner said

    There are several reasons for a government to operate a postal system.

    1. To ensure universal service.
    2. To facilitate social provision of other government services such as pension payments.
    3. To make a profit which eases the burden on taxpayers.

    The UK Post Office was one of the most successful in the world for years, until it was gutted by inept and unfair partial privatisation, much like our railways, our water companies, and our national electricity grid. Now service is down and prices are up.

    Major pieces of infrastructure are usually best operated by monopolies.

  8. Mac said

    > There are several reasons for a government to operate a …

    Add to which the ‘financially unaccountable’ but very real ‘social values’ of such services. I am sure that you are not bigoted enough to pretend that you do not know what I mean.

    I think to see the perfect manifestation of a purely capitalist economy is the Philippines. It really is not pretty. Sure, the über-rich Darwian overdogs are comfortable within their gated, guarded communities … but are they really happy or conscience-free about what goes on outside them?

    So-called “capitalism” only “works” as far it is does because it is a robbery both of society and the environment … because not everyone charges … because the vast majority f humanity has been subjugated and disempowered by violence over generations. Of course, it is not “working at all” … it is only that we cannot see payback time yet but it is coming.

    No political party has the power nor inclination to confront it. They just play ‘pass the parcel’ hoping that the shit does not hit the fan during their well paid term, re-arranging the furniture and changing the drapes as they can. Considering themselves lucky if they can get in on the rake off after their political careers are over.

    Let the foresters start charging for the oxygen … let the farmers start charging for countryside views … let the old ladies start charging for all their love and compassion … the wives for sex and housework … let the children start charging for the hope and happiness they bring … puppies and kittens for all that fun … industrialize, then privatize, then sell off stocks, shares and futures in all those “service industries” … cut them to piece, kill off the unprofitable sectors, and re-amalgamate into supranational corporations, above and beyond national laws, so we do not have to bother with them any more … then employ an army of accountants, so we don’t pay taxes and take the profits offshore.

    … Let us SOLVE the PROBLEMS our way … let the MARKET decree … repeat after me … the MARKET knows best!!!

    Expand capitalism so that all can be players in it, not just a narrow established band within society as it is now.

    Ridiculous … of course. We could not allow that, old chap, could we? Good God, they will be expecting equal human rights next … Something ought to be done about it … send in the Marines.

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