Japan from the inside out

Hashimoto Toru (5): Onishi Hiroshi speaks!

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 5, 2012

ONISHI Hiroshi is the head of a marketing and management consulting company who also blogs about politics and business. His thoughts in a recent post about One Osaka and contemporary Japanese political conditions were quite sensible. Here it is in English.

The One Osaka political juku received applications from 3,326 people, and after examining the applicants’ essays in the first screening, they selected more than 2,204 candidates from 46 prefectures for the start of lectures. There will be five sessions until June, when they plan to reduce that number to 400-1,000. Immediately, one ran across criticisms and concerns expressed in the mass media and blogs.

It’s my sense that most of them are wide of the mark. Because expectations are high, the criticisms and concerns were hurled in the way that fans of the Hanshin Tigers (baseball team) hurl harsh language at the players. The people who assembled at the One Osaka juku, went the criticisms, were after all just a group of amateurs. These people can’t be expected to shoulder the burden of national government.

But if we are to learn from the business world, innovation comes from the frontier and not the center. It teaches the lesson that many of the people who break through the limits of the industry experts and the mature business mechanisms are those who come from the outlying areas of the industry.

Speaking of political experts, that describes the Liberal Democratic Party, with their many years of experience of heading governments. But LDP politics have come to a dead end. There is no question that the current problems of a declining population, fiscal deficits, pensions, and nuclear energy are the bill left by the LDP government. Just because people are experts does not mean they are capable of good politics. Experts have their limits too.

There is also the criticism that the people who have come to the juku are the shades of the Koizumi Children and the Ozawa Children (younger Diet members elected on the coattails/influence of those two politicians in 2005/2009). It is nothing more than a rerun of people climbing on board a temporary trend, they say.

But the Koizumi Children and the Ozawa Children were a temporary grouping of people resulting from elections based on whether one supported or opposed the Japan Post privatization, or whether the LDP/New Komeito coalition should remain in government or be replaced by the Democratic Party.

The decisive difference is whether or not One Osaka can generate an impact on national government now, and whether they can become a force that spurs the reorganization of the political parties. They are not at the stage where they can suddenly take control of government. Even with the lecture courses and the further screening of the 2,000 students in June, they can not be treated in the same way. At this point, criticisms and concerns of that sort are not fair.

Certainly, there are different ways to go about it. Possible methods include selecting people after repeated workshops, or discovering the talented among them during dialogues. Perhaps they could somehow use social media. But that’s something for political parties other than One Osaka to think about. It’s not possible to arbitrarily determine that something absolutely won’t work at a stage when no results are visible.

Another frequent criticism is that they are being led astray by a superficial fantasy of reform. This feeling of doubting reform is understandable with the sense of disappointment that the Koizumi reforms didn’t continue, or that the DPJ was unable to proceed with the reforms the people expected.

It’s my feeling that the subject of the criticism is incorrect. One thing that prevents innovation is found in the saying, “The road to failure is paved with good intentions.” It seems to be something close to that. The classic comeback to crush new ideas in the business world is, “We did that before. We’d just be doing the same thing again.” That seems to be a superficial rejoinder along the lines of not wanting to be fooled. But that’s a poor position which results in protecting the politics of today and eliciting a condition from which there is no exit.

It doesn’t need to be said that Japan is in need of many reforms. It is self-evident that we must break free from the developing country model of bureaucratic leadership and the systemic fatigue and detrimental effects of a national structure with centralized authority. We must create the foundation in which more diverse industries can be created. We must change the national mechanisms for thinking about such issues as the government’s efficiency in responding to the problems of an aging society, or rebuilding the regional communities.

Both the DPJ and the LDP proclaimed they would move from the center to the regions, and raised the issue of dealing with the bureaucracy at Kasumigaseki. But there are limits to how both parties put their own interests first, and their concrete efforts lagged or faltered. Rather than regional sovereignty, the state/province system as proposed by Kasumigaseki was a shabby thing that, from the center’s perspective, would place daimyo throughout the country to maintain authority and complete control over the regions.

In reality, the concrete measures and efforts toward regional sovereignty have originated in the regions, as symbolized by One Osaka. At present, the existing parties are looking for a way to join in that effort.

The reform of the phrase “from the center to the regions” is not at all the superficial issue of changing procedures or the legal system. Rather, it means shifting the center of gravity for authority. In other words, there will be tremendous discord created over the question of authority, both on the surface and behind the scenes, as authority is seized from the existing political parties and the bureaucracy and shifted to the regions. If this were a period in which democracy had not been established, that sort of problem would result in hostilities or warfare.

In light of history, it is unnatural to think problems of that magnitude could be resolved by the Koizumi reforms or the change of government to the DPJ. To brush that aside by saying reform is nothing more than a fantasy is the same as defending the status quo. It is only that the elements who will address the issues of reform have not yet appeared, or have not yet matured.

True reform will be cultivated with the active and continuous participation of the people. Achieving that will require the creation of momentum and growth into a larger movement. Rather than abruptly take control of the government, the thinking and political methodology of One Osaka is likely that of increasing their influence on national politics and growing into a force while joining hands with the existing political parties.

Also, one becomes aware that the criticism and concern arises because of the ill will toward the “one phrase politics” in which One Osaka, and Mayor Hashimoto in particular, creates an enemy and uses that as an opening for repeated attacks. It is perhaps a good idea for commentators to talk of many subjects, or for politicians having it out in Diet skirmishes to talk of many subjects, but (one phrase politics) is a method that should be recognized for delivering a message to the people of the city and the country, and creating a sense of sympathy.

How you approach someone depends on whom you’re approaching. If you’re approaching mass media commentators, it’s a good idea to have the long messages those people prefer. But approaching the people of the city or the country requires something easily understood. Had One Osaka stopped there, however, I think they would not have been able to achieve their current high level of support, nor would they have been able to influence the existing political parties. Indeed, American presidential elections use the political methods of former Prime Minister Koizumi and Mayor Hashimoto; perhaps they employ them even more. Further, the criticism of One Osaka as unrealistic, or full of desktop theories, or that they champion the difficult-to-understand Osaka Metro District concept, cannot be ignored.

Just what is it that the people with the criticism and concerns are afraid of? Why are they so concerned over the One Osaka whirlwind that is now spreading. Wouldn’t that rather serve to heighten interest?

My sense of the current competition for authority between the DPJ and the LDP is that the differences within each party are greater than the sense of values and policy differences between each party. Further, the points at dispute have increasingly narrowed, and their debate centers on competing proclamations of their ability. Situations are often seen in the business world in which companies expand their battle for market share over minor differences.

In most of those cases, they have gradually become detached from the main issue of offering the higher value the market demands. New market entrants arise by creating an opening between the two. This sort of competition for share that creates no innovation has little meaning now in this great age of transformation from industrialization to digitization, and to globalization.

It is the same with politics. They have become detached from the needs of the people, and their struggle for authority is based on their self-interest. Politics have come to a dead end. Further, even if the LDP were to win a large victory in the next election, it will have been nothing more than an own goal brought about by their enemy’s blunders. They have not gained the support of the people, so their second collapse is clearly visible.

The reason for the very parties’ existence will be threatened unless they begin to address the people more directly, and make greater efforts to gain the sympathy and support of the people. These circumstances do not call for criticizing other parties, and enhancing one’s presence by repeatedly criticizing other parties is too short-sighted.

Nor are these the circumstances for existing political parties to play the game of political warfare within the party or the Diet, detached from the people. Speaking realistically, the existing political parties still have the forces to assume control of the government in national politics. I have a strong sense that if they have the spare time to criticize One Osaka, then we should more strongly present our requests to the existing parties.

(end translation)
Some minor points:

1. Mr. Onishi specifically mentioned the problem of the “declining population” as one item on the bill left by the LDP. No political measures anywhere exist to halt or reverse a declining population. In fact, they’re usually counterproductive.

European style child allowances were one of the major policy initiatives of the Democratic Party government when it took power in 2009. Prime Minister Hatoyama justified it by citing the example of France, where subsidies are attributed to boosting the birth rate from 1.8 to about 1.9 (the last I looked). The French, however, offer many more benefits than the DPJ’s now rescinded straight cash payments, have higher income tax rates than Japan, and a VAT north of 19%.

The French also do not break down census information by religious affiliation, but some estimate that Muslims account for 40% of the population aged 20 or younger. Prof. Julien Damon of Sciences Po in Paris reports that approximately 20% of French births are accounted for by migrant families or those with one foreign-born parent. Foreign-born Muslims are likely to have more children than the ethnic French. Government benefits are irrelevant (unless it is a factor for Muslims with large families overseas moving to France to receive them.)

Pavel Kohout writes, in an article now behind a paywall:

“In 1927, Italian duce Benito Mussolini launched a program called Battle for Births. Mussolini believed that Italy had fewer people than it needed in order to play the part of a major world power. By the beginning of the 1920s, Italy had 37 million citizens. Il Duce set the number of 60 million by the year 1950 as national target. To achieve this target, Mussolini introduced generous benefits, especially for families with multiple children. Fathers of six or more paid no taxes at all. Of course, tax penalties for the unmarried were introduced, too. Abortions were outlawed, and contraception was hard to obtain. Later, career obstacles for unmarried men were officially introduced, mainly in government administration.

“The fascist government in Italy lasted long enough in peacetime that we may know its results. Exactly as economic theory would predict, the birthrate fell from 1927 to 1934. So did the number of marriages. Not surprisingly, the average age of marrying couples increased.”

And because this was a DPJ initiative, they couldn’t help tripping over their own diapers. In the first two months of the program, they paid about JPY one billion in public funds to foreign residents for 7,746 children living outside Japan. (It is an interesting bit of trivia that when New Komeito first proposed such payments in the Tokyo Metro District, the harshest opponents were the DPJ.)

All of this money was spent to boost a birth rate that fell below the 2.1 replacement level in 1957.

Of course the real problem lies elsewhere. Said Lord Sachs, the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth:

“Parenthood involves massive sacrifice of money, attention, time and emotional energy…where today in European culture with its consumerism and instant gratification – because you’re worth it – where will you find space for the concept of sacrifice for the sake of generations not yet born?”

Then there’s the attitude of Barack Obama, who used his daughters as an example of his reason for supporting abortion:

“If they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.”

The more likely explanation is the extension of the concept of survival of the fittest. Natural selection is weeding out the offspring of those people incapable of dealing with the modern world, in which today’s predators are psychological rather than saber-toothed tigers. How else to explain the phenomenon of the anti-lifers who think children are a “luxury good”, or who want to levy a carbon tax on people who have children? It’s natural contraception without the pill.

But I digress.

2. The Japanese deficit is not attributable to all of the LDP, as Mr. Onishi suggests. It was slightly over JPY 20 trillion when Mr. Koizumi took office. It hovered around that level for two or three years while his government dealt with the post-bubble problem of banks saddled with non-performing debt. It started to drop three years into his term, and fell to JPY seven trillion three years after that in the year of Abe-Fukuda. The deficit began to climb again under the anti-reformers Fukuda and Aso, especially after the global economic crisis of 2008, when Mr. Aso and the mudboaters saw an excuse to dish out the pork labeled as economic stimulus. Since 2009, the DPJ governments have set three new records with a debt explosion that is positively Obamanian. The Koizumi policies slashed it to less than one-third in six years. The rejection of those policies has resulted in annual deficit about twice what it was during his first year in the Kantei, or more than JPY 40 trillion.

UPDATE: The budget for FY 2012 was passed a few hours after I wrote the foregoing. The lower house approved it, and the upper house (where the ruling DPJ does not have a majority) rejected it, so it was enacted anyway in accordance with the Constitution. It came in at just a skoche more than JPY 90 trillion, which is the first DPJ budget to be lower than that of the previous year. It is also the lowest budget they have ever submitted, IIRC. However, that is only for the general account. The special accounts for the Tohoku recovery and pensions, which are also the responsibility of the national government, bring the total above JPY 96 trillion, the highest ever. This fact has been noted in all the news reports, so the Noda Cabinet will not get credit for “budget reduction”.

3. Mr. Onishi seems to offer a slight internal contradiction. He says that in another age, the required solutions for today’s problems would have resulted in warfare. If that’s the case, it’s difficult to see how joining hands with the people who created the problems will solve them.

4. He also thinks the Osaka Metro District concept is difficult to understand, but that seems to be a minority view. Most thought the arguments during last November’s election, pro and con, were easy to understand.

I haven’t read the article yet, but the latest issue of the weekly Shukan Gendai (14 April, out yesterday) reports the results of their voter preference survey in the Kinki region. They say Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka would sweep all the single-seat districts in a lower house election. It would be a historical rout for both the DPJ and the LDP. They also say both DPJ bigwig Maehara Seiji and LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu would lose their elections (both are from Kyoto). That would not necessarily throw the bums out, however; with the odious proportional representation system, their parties would probably put them at the top of their respective PR lists.

Meanwhile, Yayama Taro has an article in the April issue of Voice about the phenomenon. The headline reads: The Hashimoto Whirlwind Will Not End as a “Diverson” (asobi, literally, play or pastime).

Here’s the first paragraph:

“One Osaka, led by Mayor Hashimoto Toru, has engulfed the political world in a whirlwind. Looking at the Tokyo editions of the major newspapers, it seems they treat the Hashimoto whirlwind as a local Osaka phenomenon. Pure and simple, this must be viewed as a major development that will lead to the reorganization of the central government. Having sensed that, I subscribed to the Osaka edition of the Sankei Shimbun.”

There’s a whole lotta shaking goin’ on.

He won’t have to read the Osaka editions if any bad news emerges. The Asahi Shimbun will be sure to cover that.

In any event, Mr. Hashimoto is also getting plenty of television coverage.

The next posts in the Hashimoto series will examine his largest controversies/battles as governor and mayor in Osaka.

What we need is some local funky diversity, and that’s what Cicala Mvta (pronounced “muta” in Japanese) offers. Any ethnic/folk/pop style of music that calls for a clarinet, leader Okuma Wataru plays.

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