AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Hashimoto Toru (3): Other policies, other views

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 30, 2012

**This is the third of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents. The first is here, and the second is here.**

Japan is now in a crisis state, so we have to put it all on the line to make a real change in the form of the country.
– Hashimoto Toru, 24 March

WHILE the centerpiece of Hashimoto Toru’s proposals for Japan is the radical devolution of authority to local government and to cut big national government down to size, his policy menu would be a wonk banquet if he were the sort of mobile mannequin-pol that appeals to most policy wonks. He insists that most of his proposals are starting points for discussion, and that politicians should enter at the end of the process, rather than the beginning. Finally — unlike 99.44% of the world’s politicians — he serves his banquet straight up, with neither the meat nor the words minced.

Earlier this year, Mr. Hashimoto drafted a statement of general principles and guidelines for his One Osaka movement that he titled Ishin Hassaku, or eight policies of renewal. It was a deliberate modification of the title of a similar document called Senchu Hassaku written by Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai/activist in the final days of the Edo period. His “eight shipboard policies” became the basis for the later Meiji-period reforms. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand the reference immediately.

He explained the reason for the document:

“Our work is to determine the course of Japan. We will develop a concrete philosophy for policy, politics, and government administration. The ones who don’t have that are the current political parties. Both the DPJ and the LDP are in a stupor.”

That last sentence is also immediately understood by all Japanese of secondary school age and older.

The mayor sometimes refers to it as the Great Reset. Now here’s his explanation of the basic principle:

“The argument of the Isshin Hassaku is simple. One Osaka will achieve, as the image of the nation for which we strive, a nation of individuals who behave independently, regions that behave independently, and a nation that behaves independently. To achieve that, it is indispensable to establish a democracy and a government mechanism capable of making decisions and accepting responsibility, and to promote the vitalization of the generation active today.”

The mention of decisiveness and responsibility refers to everyone in the legislative and executive branches of the national government in general, and the Democratic Party administration in particular.

The document’s eight sections cover such topics as the restructuring of governing institutions and reforming education. They include the direct election of the prime minister, the institution of the state/province system, the abolition of regional tax distribution, the abolition of education committees (i.e., boards of education), and the integration of pension, welfare, and unemployment programs.

To explain further, the Constitution requires that the prime minister be a sitting member of the Diet elected by the Diet members. That requirement has been abused by decades of passing the washtub, in the Japanese phrase, of the prime minister’s position among the members of the ruling party without voter input. The LDP started it, but the DPJ liked it just fine after they got a taste of their own. Putting it to a popular vote would require a Constitutional amendment, and the public might be up for that. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand that the status quo is untenable.

In fact, his One Osaka ally, Osaka Prefecture Gov. Matsuo Ichiro, said earlier this week he thought anyone should be able to run for prime minister as long as they had 20 sitting MPs back their candidacy. That immediately generated speculation the intended beneficiary would be Mayor Hashimoto himself (though the process to enable his candidacy would take some time), but the idea has enough merit on its own to warrant serious discussion. What they’ve got now isn’t good enough, and the DPJ has shown everyone that it isn’t going to get better.

The young lawyer makes a television appearance.

The abolition of the regional tax distribution from the national government would mean giving greater authority to the sub-national governments to raise their own revenue. (Where I live the prefectural government now sells advertising on the autos for public sector use.) The abolition of the education committees refers to his effort to make local government executives the final authority for education, rather than professional educators. That issue will be presented in more detail in a later installment of this series.

When Mr. Hashimoto unveiled the Ishin Hassaku, he explained that it contained “guidelines for political thought” for the next lower house election, but that it wasn’t an election manifesto/party platform. “If we submit something like the DPJ manifesto,” he asserted, “it would be a failure.” The document intentionally contains no numerical targets, because it is supposed to be a rough guide for changing the system.

Such is the political discourse in our age that the media and his political opponents immediately called it a manifesto and criticized it for not being more specific in the way manifestoes are supposed to be. Among the newspapers, the Sankei has since dialed back on their language and now call it a “de facto manifesto”.

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio observed that Mr. Hashimoto had learned a lesson from the failure of the DPJ’s 2009 manifesto. Of course, we’d be here all week if we were to mention all the lessons everyone learned from the failures of the DPJ since 2009. The first would be not to take anything Hatoyama Yukio says seriously.

Mr. Hatoyama forgets that he wasn’t so anxious to call a manifesto a manifesto either in 2009. Just before the election that year, as party president, he rolled out the DPJ manifesto to great fanfare, with banners over the stage heralding the arrival of The Manifesto, a word that was printed in big red letters on the front cover. Then the governor of Osaka prefecture, Hashimoto Toru objected the document was not specific enough about the devolution of authority. Mr. Hashimoto was massively popular even then, so the DPJ rewrote it and resubmitted it a few days later. When the media quite rightly questioned the process, Mr. Hatoyama insisted that the first one wasn’t really a manifesto but a “collection of government policies” instead. (The story is here. I’d congratulate myself for my prescience about what a DPJ government would be like if it hadn’t been so bloody obvious.)

Other policies

We’ve seen before that he’s proposed a two-year national discussion on Article 9 of the Constitution, the inaptly named Peace Clause, followed by a referendum. He thinks it’s time for Article 9 to be history, and recently restated his position:

“Ceaseless efforts are required if you would maintain a tranquil life. The people themselves must do the work. The text (of the Constitution) has caused us to forget that completely.”

Wealth redistribution

In one of his famous daily Tweet-a-thons, the governor wrote:

“There’s the idea of the negative income tax. This is one item for consideration as a way to further develop Basic Income.”

University professor and commentator Ikeda Nobuo, who tends to hold the governor at arm’s length, was impressed. He wrote, “It is unprecedented for this (idea) to emerge in Japanese policy discussions.” Look closer and you’ll see that he’s discussing two social welfare schemes, one from the Right in Milton Friedman’s negative income tax idea, and one from the Left with the Basic Income idea, which Prof. Ikeda attributes to Andre Gorz and others. It’s also important to note that the governor says it is “an item for consideration”, if only because his critics charge him with dictatorial tendencies. Dictators are not usually guys who willingly say, “Let’s talk about it.”

Prof. Ikeda then offers a simple comparison of the basics.

The concept of negative income tax involves the positive taxation of income that exceeds the minimum taxable amount, and negative taxation, or providing some of the funds obtained to people with incomes below the minimum taxable amount.

If the minimum taxable income is set at JPY four million, for example, and the tax rate is 20%, the amount of income exceeding that benchmark would taxed at 20%. People with incomes below that amount would receive 20% of the difference between their actual income and the minimum taxable income. A person whose income is JPY two million would receive a benefit of JPY 400,000 as 20% of the JPY two million difference, giving him a total income of JPY 2.4 million. Based on the same calculation, people who earned nothing would receive JPY 800,000.

Prof. Ikeda goes on to say there are different approaches to Basic Income, and uses one of those approaches as an example. Assuming JPY 800,000 would be distributed to those with no income as the basic income, a person who earned JPY 2 million would have that amount taxed at 20%, resulting in JPY 1.6 million. To that amount would be added the Basic Income of JPY 800,000 to get JPY 2.4 million, or the same amount that person would receive under the negative income concept.

Regardless, he says, the idea is to eliminate conventional social welfare, which is one of Mr. Hashimoto’s key proposals. Prof. Ikeda holds that the current system is unfair because it distributes funds from young people of relatively modest means to older people who are financially better off. Since the issue is income rather than age, the idea is to eliminate public pensions, welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and long-term care insurance (nursing for the old and infirm) and integrate those schemes into either a Basic Income or negative income tax system. He also notes that it would eliminate the vast expenditures for the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

Prof. Ikeda admits it would be difficult politically to eliminate the existing substantial benefits under the current system. He also says it would generate concerns of an infringement of property rights, because Japanese pensions are two-tiered and include both corporate payments and personal payments.

Maintaining the status quo, however, means that the current pension system will go bankrupt in 20 years, and enormous taxation would be required to offset a JPY 800 trillion yen shortfall.

That’s the reason the proposed increase of the consumption tax is such a contentious issue in Japan. The Finance Ministry estimates that expenditures for pension, healthcare, long-term care, and “demographic problems” will exceed JPY 40 trillion in 2015. The current 5% consumption tax produces about JPY 13 trillion in revenue, or about or 30% of the amount required for those expenditures. Raising it to 10% would result in JPY 27 trillion of revenue — says the Finance Ministry. Some people are even calling for an increase in the tax to 30% to make up the difference.

That explanation is what makes opponents so livid. The Finance Ministry ignores that a tax increase of that size will depress consumption, which will depress the economy, resulting in lower-than-projected revenues. That’s exactly what happened when the tax was raised from 3% to 5% during the Hashimoto Ryutaro administration. (To be accurate, the tax revenues that fell were those from the income tax and corporate taxes. Consumption tax revenue rose.) Current deflationary conditions would make the impact worse today.

The assumption that the status quo of the system should be maintained regardless of the impact on the finances of both the nation and the individual households also angers people. (This is what people mean when they say we’re witnessing the collapse of social democracy.)

So — Mr. Hashimoto jumps on the third rail of politics everywhere and insists that changes have to be made because the current system is untenable and the government/bureaucracy’s solution is unworkable. He then offers in a public forum possible solutions for the problem, one from the left and one from the right, neither of which is well known in Japan, and suggests that everyone mull them over.

Combine that with his communication skills and ability to win big in elections, and now you know why he scares the vested interests of the national political and bureaucratic class, as well everyone on the Left.

North Korea

Mr. Hashimoto spoke to a group of family members of North Korean abductees in early February. He told them:

“The national government must express its thinking more clearly. I have no idea what they want to do….Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka will not permit the abduction problem (to continue). I want to clearly express the view that we will have no relations whatsoever with the outlaw state of North Korea until they become a normal country.”

He also said he would tighten the government’s requirements on providing public (financial) assistance to schools in Japan operated by Chongryeon, the North Korean citizens’ association:

“All the local governments throughout the country can do that if they want. Why is it that the national government cannot issue this sort of directive?”

Energy

He serves the chair of a Kansai area federation of local government heads. At their last meeting, he suggested that the mayors of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe should use their cities’ stock holdings in Kansai Electric Power to create a new, non-nuclear energy strategy, though he didn’t offer specifics. The governor of Nara is generally opposed to Mr. Hashimoto’s schemes, so he does not participate in the group. That might explain why the group decided to back a proposed route through Kyoto instead of one through Nara for a maglev train line.

Governmental systems

One Osaka wants to create a system that allows the prime minister to leave when required to attend to business overseas. This week, the debate over the budget started in the Diet just as the leaders of the U.S., China, and South Korea were meeting to discuss ways to handle North Korea. Asks Mr. Hashimoto:

“What about Japan? As usual, the prime minister is chained to the Diet.”

While recognizing that Diet debate is one means of democracy, he suggests it is not an absolute that requires the prime minister’s constant presence. Just as a company president doesn’t have to do everything himself, he wrote, there are questions the prime minister doesn’t need to answer in person, and these should be delegated to his representatives. He tips his hat to Ozawa Ichiro by repeating the latter’s charge that out-of-control bureaucrats in the past appeared in the Diet and gave whatever answers they liked, but says it is the job of the leading “politicians’ group” (he didn’t call it a party) to control the bureaucrats’ answers.

As for what being chained in the Diet meant in practical terms on this occasion, here’s a report from Kyodo:

“With Pyongyang’s planned rocket launch looming over East Asia, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had the perfect opportunity at this week’s global nuclear summit in Seoul to raise Japan’s presence in dealing with North Korea.

“But Noda missed out on the chance as he arrived in Seoul only on Monday evening, skipping a working dinner that officially kicked off the two-day Nuclear Security Summit, and barely engaged in substantive bilateral talks….

“The prime minister was instead preoccupied with his key domestic task — pushing the consumption tax hike on which he has said he is “staking my political career.”

“Prior to his trip to South Korea, Noda had been tied up with Diet deliberations on the tax hike, with his Cabinet aiming to approve the key bill Friday.”

Kyodo doesn’t tell us that Mr. Noda is preoccupied about a lot more than the tax increase. There is also the possibility that the issue will splinter his party and force either an immediate election or an alliance of the tax hikers in the DPJ with those in the opposition LDP.

Outside observers, in brief

The 5 February edition of the weekly Sunday Mainichi offered some observations of Hashimoto the politician from others in the same business who’ve seen him in action. Here’s one from a member of the Osaka City Council, who chose to remain anonymous.

“One thing he’s got going for him is that he didn’t make the blunder of dashing into national politics right away as soon as he achieved a little popularity. He’ll probably select candidates (for the lower house election) based on the circumstances of each election district and after probing the response of those around him. He’s a very solid strategist.”

A man identified only as a veteran LDP politician said he had exceptional skill at enhancing his presence:

“From the voters’ viewpoint he looks hot-blooded or emotional, but in fact he’s the opposite. He’s cool, settled, very objective, and makes shrewd calculations. He’s very shrewd at sizing up a situation and advancing or withdrawing accordingly…with all the attention on him now, he’s showing interest in national politics, and observing the course of events. Because he always views circumstances with a certain detachment, he can maintain his popularity and increase the level of opinion in his favor. He’s a politician that’s very much his own man, and that can’t be imitated.

“(Former Prime Minister) Koizumi had Iijima Isao to orchestrate his appearances and make sure he wasn’t overexposed, but Mr. Hashimoto seems to have been born with that knack. He might even be better at it than Koizumi.”

The author of the Sunday Mainichi article suggested that his strategy is to hold off on running himself in the next lower house election — he’s 42, so he has plenty of time — but instead place some of his people in the Diet to establish a foothold and form alliances with like-minded people, such as those in Your Party or any other new regional party members that might get elected.

When asked about the possibility of an alliance between One Osaka and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru quite logically observed:

“Mr. Hashimoto is winning acclaim because he’s anti-existing political parties. It would be a difficult decision for them to ally with the LDP, an existing political party.”

Incidentally, Mr. Ishihara supported the creation of an Osaka Metro District during the November election in Osaka.

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction

That someone as outspoken, specific, and fearless as Mr. Hashimoto will attract critics and enemies is as immutable a principle as Newton’s Third Law. Here’s a brief look at a few:

Sengoku Yoshito, former Chief Cabinet Secretary in Kan Naoto’s first Cabinet, speaking of the Osaka Metro concept:

“The core body of self-government is the basic government of municipalities. The prefecture should leave things up to the city. I wonder how well (his idea) would work.”

Works in Tokyo, doesn’t it? Mr. Sengoku is presenting the DPJ’s vision of decentralization — doing away with prefectures and organizing everything around 300 fiefdom/cities. It makes more sense when you know that Mr. Sengoku (like Kan Naoto) doesn’t believe in nation-states, but rather a worldwide network of communities in a New World Order guided by such bureaucratic globutrons as the UN and the EU.

Anyone could have guessed that Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, the vile body of Japanese politics who’s always up to some black mischief, wouldn’t like Mr. Hashimoto:

“A policy of bringing the principle of competition into education and discarding (teachers) is very dangerous…As for the Osaka Metro concept, I have no idea what they’re talking about with many of the points. I’m going to watch this carefully.”

She knows exactly what he’s talking about. She has to monitor Mr. Hashimoto because he’s orbiting on the other side of the galaxy from social democrats.

Ms. Fukushima used the same I-don’t-know-what-he’s-talking-about line for Abe Shinzo’s vision of a Beautiful Japan, even though he wrote a book about it. She knew what that was all about too. She just finds distasteful the idea that her native country in particular, or any nation-state in general, is beautiful.

Indeed, most commentators pro and con agreed that during the Osaka election, the arguments made for the Osaka Metro plan and those of its opponents were clearly stated and easy to understand.

But here’s my favorite — you can almost see the spit fly. It’s from Ichida Tadayoshi of the Communist Party. A reporter pointed out to Mr. Ichida that some of the One Osaka policies, such as those for nuclear energy, the tax system (i.e., consumption tax) and social welfare were similar to those of Japan’s Reds. He didn’t like that:

“There is absolutely no match at all. Even though in some places it looks like some of the letters in the words are the same, there is no value in critiquing the policies of a person who would trample on the freedom of thought and conscience guaranteed in the Constitution.”

Isn’t it entertaining to watch a Marxian fulminate over freedom of thought?

Meanwhile, over in Japan’s English-language press, the boys and girls who play newspaper at the Japan Times made a bad Kyodo article worse by trying to convince readers that Kansai political leaders don’t like the Hashimoto plan to reorganize the prefecture/city. Here’s the first paragraph.

“Osaka Mayor-elect Toru Hashimoto’s administrative reform plan has only limited support so far among prominent local leaders, with just six openly backing his proposed bureaucratic shakeup, a survey has found.”

That story falls apart as soon as they fill in the details.

“The survey polled the mayors of Japan’s 18 officially designated major cities, and the governors of the 13 prefectures that host them, excluding Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka.”

Here are the results:

In favor: Four governors (Niigata, Aichi, Kyoto, and Hyogo) and two mayors (Niigata and Nagoya). There’s a similar reorganization proposal being discussed in Niigata, by the way.

Opposed: One governor and three mayors, all unidentified, perhaps to protect them from constituents.

Neutral: 21

So the total is 6-4 in favor and 21 sitting on the fence with their fingers in the wind. Now here’s the headline the Japan Times ran:

Few leaders back Hashimoto’s plan

And you just know the kids are congratulating themselves on their cleverness.

Finally, try the Japanese Wikipedia page on Mr. Hashimoto for the portrait photo. Thousands of photographs have been taken of Mr. Hashimoto since he was elected governor of Osaka five years ago, but this is the one someone thought was representative. Now we know that Wikipediatric immaturity is an international phenomenon.

Coming next: There isn’t room here to describe the policy positions that most upset his enemies, so that will come later in the series. The next installment will present his use of Twitter as a weapon. In the process, the reason he generates such strong opinions will get a lot clearer.

Afterwords:

I make it a matter of principle to forget about links to the Japan Times in the same way it’s a matter of principle not to pay to see an Oliver Stone movie (much less watch one). I made an exception for the Kyodo article about Prime Minister Noda because it is so delicious when the denizens of La Tour D’Ivoire unwittingly reveal their overeducated vacuity. Here’s the end of the article:

“As things stand, political observers already see Japan as having little influence over North Korea, unlike China and the United States.

“Japan is a peripheral player with no significant leverage over Pyongyang” despite its strong interests in changing North Korea’s hostile policy, said Denny Roy, senior fellow of the East-West Center in Honolulu.

“According to Roy, who focuses on Asia-Pacific security issues, “Japan is trapped into a noninfluential role unless it gives up its tough position on the abductee issue.”

“Yoshihide Soeya, director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Keio University, said Japan’s North Korean policies are being held “hostage” by domestic sentiment over the abductions, which has compelled the government to take a hardline stance.”

It isn’t often we see such a short, concentrated burst of willful ignorance from oblivious, self-important people. And then there’s the stupid — there is no other word — attempt of Mr. Soeya to be clever by describing Japanese policy as held hostage because the Japanese public is outraged their citizens were (and might still be) held hostage by an outlaw state.

North Korean agents conducted black ops in Japan by kidnapping innocent civilians — including a mother and her young adult daughter, two young lovers on a moonlit stroll, and a 13-year-old girl on her way home from school — removing them to the Prison Nation, and forcing them to teach the Japanese language and culture to their agents whose assignment was destabilizing Japan.

How unfortunate for Japan that “domestic sentiment” (i.e., they’re so angry they could spit) is tying the hands of the Japanese politicos, when they could be do-goodering for the international community, such as sending food to feed the North Korean army, or money to feed the lifestyles of Pyeongyang’s rich and nefarious.

Denny Roy might ask some of the people on the street outside his Honolulu office what they would think had Cubans done the same to Americans, and never fully ‘fessed up — and even offered fraudulent birth certificates for premature deaths.

Has he read this article, or would he care if he did?

“His first memory is an execution. He walked with his mother to a wheat field, where guards had rounded up several thousand prisoners. The boy crawled between legs to the front row, where he saw guards tying a man to a wooden pole.

“Shin In Geun was four years old, too young to understand the speech that came before that killing. At dozens of executions in years to come, he would listen to a guard telling the crowd that the prisoner about to die had been offered “redemption” through hard labour, but had rejected the generosity of the North Korean government.

“Guards stuffed pebbles into the prisoner’s mouth, covered his head with a hood and shot him. In Camp 14, a prison for the political enemies of North Korea, assemblies of more than two inmates were forbidden, except for executions. Everyone had to attend them.

“The South Korean government estimates there are about 154,000 prisoners in North Korea’s labour camps, while the US state department puts the number as high as 200,000. The biggest is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles.

People are meeting in South Korea because everyone is concerned of an imminent North Korean missile launch. But just last month:

“A U.S. delegation has just returned from Beijing following a third exploratory round of U.S.-DPRK bilateral talks. To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization, the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches.”

Denny Roy says Japan is “a peripheral player with no significant leverage”.

So, as a missile is being gassed up a month after a deal not to launch one, might we ask just who does have significant leverage? (The Chinese probably do, but they’d rather be part of the problem than be part of the solution.)

And why be a player in a pointless game?

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