Japan from the inside out

The soda pop government

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 14, 2011

IT’S a tossup which is worse: Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s pledge that he will call for a grand coalition government of national salvation if elected DPJ president, or the ill-disguised squeals of delight by the rapid response team in the English-language media. Their reports on the story appeared on the wires as quickly as the August 1945 news that the Japanese Tenno had agreed to accept the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration.

Here’s part of what AFP had to say:

Japan’s finance minister, tipped as a candidate to become the country’s next premier, proposed to form a government of national unity to spearhead the country’s recovery from natural disasters.

“The ruling and opposition parties must have heart-to-heart discussions with each other. That’s the bottom line,” Yoshihiko Noda said in a political talk show on the TV Tokyo network aired on Saturday.

“We’d rather form a national salvation government. That’ll be a coalition. Otherwise politics won’t move forward,” he added.

Pfui. The ruling and opposition parties have already had successful “heart-to-heart” talks with each other for the second supplementary budget, the legislation for enabling the issue of deficit-financing bonds, and a revision of the national energy strategy. The opposition parties have blocked no serious proposals for recovery. They have tried to put the scotch on extraneous measures unrelated to the recovery, most of which involve the DPJ spending more money that the government doesn’t have.

Saying no to bad ideas is a very good way to move politics forward.

The idea of a national salvation coalition does sound superficially wonderful and heart-cockle warming, especially to those who see the Coca-Cola ® ad campaigns of the past 40 years — saccharine without the saccharin — as the perfect place to live. The objectives of both those enterprises are the same, after all: ephemeral sugar highs.

Here’s a closer look at what a grand coalition would mean, with the caveats that Mr. Noda hasn’t been selected yet, and that his backers might not be able to achieve a grand coaltion even if he is.

* The proposal is a de facto DPJ admission that they are incapable of handling the Tohoku recovery themselves. This will not be news to the Japanese public.

* The opposition parties do not need to be part of the government for effective recovery measures to be implemented. The last time this idea fizzed to the surface, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji objected that mechanisms already exist through which the opposition parties can provide input at the highest level.

The reason these mechanisms haven’t worked is that the DPJ government has been incapable of bringing concrete, specific proposals to the table that it can guarantee the party will support as its final position. The reason it is incapable of making these proposals is that it is incapable of creating a sustainable consensus within the party to support any particular policy or position.

In other words, the ruling party of government can’t agree internally on what it wants to do. This too will not be news to the Japanese public. The DPJ never has been able to reach an internal consensus on anything other than doing what is required to achieve and retain power.

* The DPJ spewed like Vesuvius when it was in the opposition and the LDP brought in its second replacement prime minister (Fukuda Yasuo) without a lower house election. The spew reached exospheric levels when they brought in their third (Aso Taro). Now they’ll have to justify their continued existence as the party of government despite doing exactly what they pilloried the LDP for — and despite support ratings lower than those recorded for the LDP governments.

Thus, forming a coalition government allows the DPJ to avoid the decimation of a lower house election.

But the word decimation does not do justice to what would be an election debacle. That word originated in the practice of the Roman Army to punish mutineers by killing one of every ten soldiers. The unlucky 10% were selected by lot and clubbed to death by the other grunts.

There’s no Latin derivative for killing (metaphorically) anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of an army’s loyal soldiers, i.e., the current DPJ representation in the lower house, for the failures and incompetence of the General Staff.

* It would be manna from heaven for the ruling elite. The three parties can implement the tax increase of the Finance Ministry’s dreams without having to get serious about reducing government expenditures, and no single party will get stuck with the responsibility.

They will offer the excuse that the national crisis makes a tax hike unavoidable. They will ignore the serious proposals offered by more than a few politicians and commentators that would pay for the entire recovery using funds the government already has on hand.

* A grand coalition government will make it impossible to throw the bums out. It would probably last for two years, when the legally mandated term of the lower house expires and the next regularly scheduled upper house election must be held. A tax increase is so unpopular that the mere suggestion of it by Kan Naoto last summer turned a likely upper house election victory into defeat.

A tax hike implemented by a grand coalition followed by a double election in two years effectively disenfranchises the electorate.

* The overseas media seem to be unaware that the LDP is not the only upper house opposition party. The DPJ has negotiated with New Komeito, the Communist Party, and Your Party to successfully pass several bills that the LDP opposed. One of them was an extension of the unaffordable child allowance earlier this year, which the three putative coalition partners recently agreed to scrap starting next year.

The text in the latter part of the AFP article insinuates that the LDP are being killjoys in the upper house by queering all the glorious enlightened plans of the DPJ. That is true — up to a point. Rather than blocking legitimate measures for recovery, they have opposed unrelated measures, such as the child allowance. They balked at the budget or bond proposals because they included the funding for the unnecessary expenditures.

Most of those schemes needed to be thwacked, if not choked until they turned blue. For example, the DPJ still plans to establish a Human Rights Commission based on the Canadian Star Chamber knockoff that effectively functions to limit human rights.

To be sure, the AFP reveals its orientation by describing the DPJ government as “centre-left”. That’s the media weaselword of choice for leftist governments that don’t nationalize lemonade stands or stitch a hammer and sickle patch into the flag.

The approach of many in the DPJ leadership could be characterized as a Japanese version of what Stanley Kurtz refers to as Midwest Academy socialism in the United States. Kan Naoto, Sengoku Yoshito, and Edano Yukio fit this general description. Hatoyama Yukio slurped down the milquetoast version.

And the AFP is again trying to refry the beans of “centre-left” fiduciary responsibility by pasting the label of “fiscal hawk” on Noda Yoshihiko. They said the same thing last summer about Kan Naoto, and we know how credible that was. Mr. Kan would have been incapable of explaining the difference between “fiscal” and “monetary” before he became Finance Minister and his Finance Ministry tutors explained it to him in remedial one-on-one classes before the workday began.

Who other than the industrial media would define a “fiscal hawk” as a person or party responsible for two consecutive budgets with record high deficits and record high deficit bond flotations, and who proposed to double the consumption tax rate to pay for it all?

A definition of fiscal hawkery that fails to include talon-sharp spending slashes means that someone needs a new dictionary, and it ain’t me. But don’t expect to read that in the papers anytime soon.

Speaking of what you’re not reading in the papers, here’s what Noda Yoshihiko said at the same time he brought up the idea of a coalition. AFP and the others thought it wasn’t fit to print.

We will confront the opposition parties and achieve the government/ruling party policy of raising the consumption tax in stages by mid-decade. We must not back down from that.

He added:

Some argue that the timing isn’t right, and that taxes shouldn’t be raised when economic conditions are so difficult, but we’ve been dithering by insisting that certain conditions must be met. This must be done at some point by someone.

Ah, so. In short, Mr. Noda is saying:

* There will be no backing down from the government/ruling party agreement to raise taxes. The LDP and New Komeito should do us the favor of agreeing with the government and forming a grand coalition to cover our butts for a tax increase.

* It doesn’t make any difference what shape the economy’s in. We’re going to raise taxes anyway.

Meanwhile, Mr. Noda said on an NHK broadcast today that Japan’s deflation was caused by a supply-demand imbalance, and that demand was insufficient. He thinks the demand resulting from the Tohoku reconstruction is an excellent opportunity to end deflation, but is oblivious to the effect a sharp consumption tax increase will have on demand.

Did you notice how the “finance minister” fell for the old broken window fallacy that disasters have economic benefits? His Finance Ministry tutors evidently didn’t tell him about Frederic Bastiat.

That’s Noda Yoshihiko — fiscal hawk and founder of the national salvation government. Don’t spit that soft drink out of your nose!

Once again, those interested in reading the AFP article have enough information here to find it with the search engine of their choice. Links belong to the legit.

The idea of a grand coalition makes me bubble up with such happiness I feel like hippity-hopping over to the nearest vending machine. Ain’t the kids cute ‘n funky now? Those with sharp eyes will spot an excerpt from the start of it all 40 years ago.

And isn’t it odd they think it’s still possible to distinguish Monopoly money from the Real Thing?

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2 Responses to “The soda pop government”

  1. Marellus said


    You said that Japan have sufficient funds without raising taxes. But these funds are not spent. Why is this ???
    M: Some of it is in special funds, such as the fund handle bond redemptions, but there is always much more money in it than they need. They’ve used this fund 11 times in the past 20 years for other things. This alone would handle a large part of the reconstruction expenditures.

    Using this money means they won’t be able to raise taxes. More tax money = more government, more for the legislature and the Finance Ministry to control. Also no having to explain to voters why entitlements might have to be cut.

    – A.

  2. toadold said

    An old National Lampoon Parody of Coke commercial lyrics:
    ” I’d like to give the World a hug
    and tell it jokes and stuff
    Then pull its pants down to its knees and chase it through the ruff.
    I’d tie it up with ropes and straps
    then check its purse for change
    Then leave it out at Moosegrin Hall
    with my cousin who’s deranged.”

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