Japan from the inside out

Letter bombs (21): What we have here is a failure to communicate

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 4, 2011

IT MUST BE exasperating for the self-regarding credentialed elites of politics and journalism to have to ask the approval of that recalcitrant, slope-browed mob of social inferiors — i.e., the public — once they’ve reached a consensus on how to make the world safe for social democracy and everything else that is Good and True.

European voters have rejected in at least eight national referendums measures related to EU integration, including the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties and the use of the Euro itself. The European elites’ SOP for dealing with the churlish ingrates is to make a few concessions, twist more than a few arms in the government in question, and make the people vote again until they get it right.

They’ve even lashed logic to a bench and tortured it to explain why taking any issue to the people is a bad idea. Here’s Britain’s Lord Patten (AKA Chris) in a 2003 interview with David Frost while serving as EU Commissioner for External Affairs:

I think referendums are awful…I think referendums are fundamentally anti-democratic in our system and I wouldn’t have anything to do with them. On the whole, governments only concede them when governments are weak.

Really, what is all this business about allowing the people a voice in their own governance anyway? They’d just make a mess of everything. The most recent example is the German Bundestag’s approval of a euro bailout fund. Public opinion polls show that roughly 82% of Germans opposed the bailout, but the measure passed the German legislature with roughly 84% of the delegates voting in favor.

Most of the media courtiers contributed to the cause by concealing that information (assuming they even knew). Indeed, the first sentence of the Huffington Post report is revealing:

Germany kept alive hopes that the 17-nation euro currency can survive the sprawling debt crisis when lawmakers in Europe’s largest economy voted overwhelmingly on Thursday in favor of expanding the powers of the eurozone’s bailout fund.

Keepin’ hope alive! Little did Jesse Jackson know that the EU and its supporters would commandeer his slogan after all these years!

There was no room in the reports to mention, of course, the growing apprehension that it would be difficult to keep the regional and global economies alive if the euro is kept on life support.

The same phenomenon is just as easy to spot in Japan as in the West — if not easier. The Finance Ministry has succeeded in neutering the anti-tax elements of the Democratic Party government and steering the ship of state in the direction of large tax increases. They also bullied and cajoled the local media courtiers into serving as their outsourced PR wing, and most of the national newspapers have written editorials blithely declaring, without explaining, that it is in the people’s interest to give the government more of their money.

The public bought the line at first, perhaps because everyone knows the Tohoku reconstruction/recovery will be expensive, but then the government and the bureaucrats seem to have gone a bridge too far. It didn’t take long for people to realize that the Noda government has become Kasumigaseki’s wind-up doll, and that there are other ways to foot the bill for Tohoku other than through taxes. There’s been a sharp reversal in polling numbers as a result.

It took only one month for the public to flip. Respondents in the most recent Kyodo poll were opposed to new taxes for reconstruction by 50.5% to 46.2%. The opposition was 52% to 39% in the Nikkei/TV Tokyo poll, and 58% to 39% in the Mainichi survey. Just a month ago, the Nikkei/TV Tokyo poll had the public supporting a tax increase by 63% to 28%.

If you want a prediction on what will eventually happen in the Diet, however, the Bundestag vote is probably a leading indicator.

More fascinating are the recent decisions by the voters given a chance to express their opinion on the issue of maintaining nuclear power, still just seven months after the nuclear accident at Fukushima. It was natural for public opposition to emerge after the accident, just as it is natural to expect the opposition to wane with the passage of time. The half-life of that opposition might be shorter than people expected, however.

There was a report on Sunday that traces of plutonium have been found in the soil 40 kilometers from the Fukushima plant. Here’s how the Financial Times (which requires registration) chose to present it. Notice the last clause:

Small amounts of plutonium believed to have escaped from Japan’s tsunami-crippled nuclear plant have been detected in soil more than 40km away, say government researchers, a finding that will fuel already widespread fears about radiation risk.

But as a link sent by Andrew in Ezo shows, the widespread fears of some voters just won’t be fueled again. Here’s a report of an election in Hokkaido held on the same day the FT article appeared:

The mayor of Iwanai town, Hokkaido, an advocate of restarting idled reactors at a nearby nuclear power plant, was reelected Sunday with a landslide victory over an antinuclear challenger.

When they say landslide, they mean that the winner’s vote was more than three times higher than that of the loser.

Some might argue that the residents of Iwanai were concerned about the economic effect of a plant shutdown. That might well be true, but since they’re only 10 kilometers from the facility, it can also be argued that they’re unconcerned about the possibility of any fallout from a nuclear disaster.

The Mainichi article concludes:

The election came a week after the reelection of the mayor of Kaminoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture, an advocate of Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s plan to build a nuclear power plant, who also beat an antinuclear challenger.

What we have here is a worldwide failure to communicate.

The elites don’t listen to the people, and the people tuned out the elites long ago.


The polls also showed a drop in the rate of support for the Noda Cabinet by about 10 percentage points over the last month, though the support is still more than 50%. It’s widely assumed that reflects public dissatisfaction with their tax policies, though the standard reversion to the mean is probably a factor as well.

Most interesting were the results for the underlying individual questions. Broken down, Mr. Noda polled more than 50% only on the question of whether people had a favorable view of him as a person. He was below 50% for every other question, such as leadership ability (roughly 39%). In other words, people support the Noda Cabinet because they are disposed to like him, not what he wants to do or what they think he is capable of doing.

Once upon a time, they used to ask what the simple folk do. The solution for the modern throne folk seems to be to ignore them altogether.

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2 Responses to “Letter bombs (21): What we have here is a failure to communicate”

  1. toadold said

    Take with salt since I read about it in the nasty old Japan Times Online English (Honest I just read it for the baseball reports) and the story was sourced from the Washington Post, that various foreign government, agencies, and etc. are going to Japan and are lobbying large to mid size companies to move to their locations. What was interesting was not just the sales point on the value of the Yen but that even countries like China(really pass the salt) offered fewer costly regulations. Mean while the smaller companies and the mom and pop operations are circling the drains. This is the same story we are seeing in the US. Companies have move out of states like California because of over regulation, and small businesses all over the country have cut back hiring or are going under due to the cost of regulatory over work. You can’t do anything unless you deal with about 5 agencies.

  2. Marellus said


    Will this ever be stopped ?

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