AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Hashimoto Toru (7): Exasperation

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, May 19, 2012

OSAKA Mayor Hashimoto Toru might be Japan’s Most Exasperating Person, if such a title existed. As often as he says or does something that makes the advocates of small and sensible government feel like firing confetti from cannons, he just as often says or does something that gets people thinking about dressing him in tar and feathers. Here are two examples of each.

Culture

One of the many candidates for Exhibit A in the trial against public sector profligacy is the redistribution of other people’s money to buy art. Some people seem to believe cultural activity would cease to exist, or not exist at all, unless The State writes the checks.

When serving as Osaka Prefecture governor, Mr. Hashimoto ended the annual JPY 450 million handout to the Osaka Century Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra was established in 1989 and operated by a foundation with a 2005 budget of JPY 700 million. Solvency was a problem despite the largesse, and people began discussing the possibility of merging the four Osaka area orchestras to save money. The governor started paring in 2008 and eliminated the subsidy last year.

Despite the savings, the response from some quarters was that the philistine Hashimoto was hindering the promotion of culture.

Frédéric Bastiat had an answer for that — and many other things besides — in an 1850 pamphlet titled The Law. It has never been bettered:

“Every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

Some people make the excuse that the civilized Europeans, those pillars of fiscal sanity, have state-supported culture, and that we too will become just as civilized if we allow government to pay for it all.

Roger Kimball, the editor of the New Criterion, a magazine of culture/arts/politics criticism, had an answer for that — and many other things besides:

“Have you taken a look a Europe and its state-supported culture recently? Really, this objection is almost too embarrassing to answer. What makes you think that state involvement of culture leads to anything other than the growth of the state and its insinuation into areas of life they have no business being in? Take your time.”

Mr. Hashimoto was less elegant in his rebuttal, but no less accurate. During the debate conducted over orchestra funding in 2009 at a business planning meeting for the prefecture, one conscientious objector said that the government should recognize its responsibility. Rebutting logic of that sort doesn’t require elegance, so Mr. Hashimoto said:

“If you want to keep the orchestra, your employees should join a fan club.”

The orchestra survived, though there were no reports on whether a fan club was formed. It’s now called the Japan Century City Orchestra. The Kinki Sangyo Credit Union in Osaka announced they’ll pick up JPY 200 million of their tab.

Now Mr. Hashimoto has to do it again as Mayor of Osaka. The Osaka Philharmonic receives a JPY 110 million subsidy from the city government, and the city’s project team looking into government expenditures is recommending a 25% cut. They’re also thinking of eliminating entirely the subsidy to The Osaka Municipal Symphonic Band, which operates an outdoor concert venue near Osaka Castle. The municipal band, formed in 1923, is the oldest orchestra in Japan and the only one affiliated with a local government.

The welfare queens started moaning en chorale. The choirmaster is composer/songwriter Miyagawa Akira, who organized a concert to support the band with 40 other musicians. Said Mr. Miyagawa:

“It would be reckless if the city decides to simply end the subsidy with no concern for its image.”

But even he understands that carte blanche no longer applies. He allowed that the municipal band needed to change “partially” to get public support.

As Mr. Hashimoto tweeted after the philharmonic found a sponsor, ”Culture will also have to do its share.”

They’ve already started. The municipal band holds four Friday evening concerts every July, which attract 20,000 people during the month. They’re now soliciting money in exchange for naming rights.

Japan’s Communist Party charges that Mr. Hashimoto is opposed to cultural funding because it doesn’t turn a profit. But we should consider the source, which never considers the possibility that anything should exist outside of the public sector. They also never consider the possibility that profitability is an excellent indicator of popular support.

At the end of April, I attended a concert presented by the symphony orchestra of the local university, which was augmented by area amateurs. The program included Beethoven’s 7th and a piece by Saint-Saëns. The hall was 75-80% full on a fine Sunday afternoon, and we were treated to an excellent performance. Culture worthy of the name is strong enough to survive on its own. Confiscating the assets of private citizens in support of a dubious proposition leads to “the growth of the state and its insinuation into areas of life they have no business being in”.

Human rights

Mayor Hashimoto is not calling into question the public funding of the Osaka Human Rights Museum, AKA Liberty Osaka, but rather the nature of its activities. That is unfortunate; the name alone suggests that the museum’s objective is to violate the human rights of the majority by promoting privileges for selected minorities.

While still governor, he told the foundation that some changes would have to be made. He has a voice in the institution’s management because both Osaka Prefecture and the city subsidize the foundation.

Said the mayor:

“When I was governor, I instructed the museum to change some of its exhibits because they were terrible. I spent quite a lot of time discussing the concept of the changes with the museum authorities. I wanted an educational institution that thought about what had to be done to enable children to think about their own future and to make their dreams and wishes come true.”

Some museum visitors were unhappy about the changes the museum made and complained about it. He returned with Osaka Gov. Matsuo Ichiro for another look, and they weren’t happy about the changes either. Mr. Hashimoto described it as “the usual parade of discrimination and human rights” themes.

As the mayor described the “dreams of the future” section, there was something hanging on the museum wall…Do you want to be a carpenter? Apply to the want ads from building contractors. Do you want to become a baseball player? Be selected in the draft. Do you want to become a teacher? Pass the certification test for teachers and get appointed by the Board of Education. He tweeted:

“What part of this is an educational facility that thinks about the future? This is grotesque.”

A cybertrip to the museum’s Japanese language website (no English) reveals the grotesqueries right away. The museum says its mission is to raise consciousness about those people suffering from discrimination, such as the burakumin, Koreans resident in Japan, Uchinaanchu, the Ainu, the disabled, women, lepers, people with HIV/AIDS, sexual minorities, the homeless, and “others”.

To break that down:

Burakumin: It has been widely reported that Mr. Hashimoto’s father and his family were burakumin, a social (not ethnic) minority that has been subject to discrimination. He and his mother deny it, his uncle affirms it, and almost no one in Japan cares. Attendant to legitimate anti-discrimination activities, burakumin rights advocates run hustles of the sort people in the States have long been familiar with. (Books have been written about it.) A publicly funded museum in Osaka promoting burakumin rights is roughly equivalent to insisting that the U.S. needs to maintain affirmative action programs with Barack Obama sitting in the Oval Office.

Korean residents in Japan: There are about 610,000 Japan-born and –bred ethnic Koreans who voluntarily choose Korean citizenship, some of whom have never set foot on the Korean Peninsula. Some people think their choice of national loyalties should not prevent them from having voting rights in Japan, as championed in the fine print of the ruling Democrati Party’s manifesto. Those with South Korean citizenship can vote in South Korea. Those with North Korean citizenship are represented by Chongryun, whose chairman and five other officials are members of the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyeongyang.

Chongryun also operates schools for ethnic Koreans, with pictures of Kim I, II, and (presumably) III on the walls, and implements a curriculum that promotes the juche philosophy. Some people think it is discriminatory that these schools do not receive the same Japanese government financial assistance as Japanese schools.

Uchinaanchu: That’s what some Okinawans call themselves in the Okinawan dialect/language. Everyone else in Japan calls them “Okinawans” when a distinction is necessary. The museum’s choice of that term suggests they might support a separatist movement. Most Okinawans don’t. In fact, the younger they are, the less likely they are to be separatists. The museum’s choice of the term also suggests an eagerness to be me-too multiculturalists. Can’t miss that progressive bus!

I watch Okinawan Japanese interacting with non-Okinawan Japanese all the time. I have never seen or heard non-Okinawan Japanese discriminating against Okinawan Japanese. Or even make jokes about them. Doesn’t happen.

The Ainu: Perhaps some of this ethnic minority are still discriminated against, if anyone could find any of them. There aren’t that many left, their numbers are dwindling, and the government is already paying people to be Ainu for a living.

Women: With his new Cabinet evenly split 50-50 between men and women, French President François Hollande has shown he thinks gender is a more important qualification for high-level personnel appointments than competence. Some Japanese think it is discrimination to not behave as M. Hollande. That opinion even extends to the personnel choices of  private sector companies, which are nobody’s business but the companies.

Then again, if the Cabinet ministers in France are anything like those in Japan, competence is not one of the criteria for their selection to begin with.

Sexual minorities: Some Japanese men have become fabulously well-to-do by queening it up on national television for decades. (I can think of six off the top of my head, and I almost never watch television.) This week, Tokyo Disney Resort — yes, Tokyo Disneyland — said two lesbians can have a wedding ceremony at a hotel on the site.

As the AFP news agency puts it:

“Homosexuality in Japan is widely accepted but not openly discussed.”

What’s to discuss? You either do it or you don’t. If you don’t believe the AFP, by the way, hit the link to the Beautiful Way of the Samurai on the right sidebar.

John McKeller, the leader of HOPE (Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism, has an answer for that — and many other things besides:

“(E)ven as a young, radical college student, I had no time for the clubby, leftist lemmings who comprised the early gay activists. They were dull, they were depressing, they always looked and acted as if they were born to be offended and victimized, they could never discourse for more than 5 minutes without hitting some tiresome barrier of resentment or ideology…

…In 1967, Pierre Trudeau supposedly liberated us when he said “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”. Subsequently, matters of privacy and discrimination were laudably and necessarily dealt with in the early 1970’s. But today, the bedrooms of the nation are in everybody’s faces. Today, it’s all about benefits, privileges, social engineering, nihilism and redefining normalcy. Today, it’s all about blurring every distinction between personal and political issues and vigorously stifling any attempts at discussion or debate.”

Ignore the false front of idealism and look at the reality: the objective of the museum and the similar activities of NGOs and GOs the world over is not “equality”, but power. Fertilize it with public money and it will reward the behavior of such grifters as Harvard professor and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. Or even this guy.

The inspiration is not positive, but punitive. Among the fellow travelers on the same road are those whose taste in intellectual fashion favors the jackboot. Here’s an impressive display of semi-literacy and word manipulation from a woman in Britain, who concludes that it’s all very sweet. Read it all the way through and see if you don’t feel like throwing a satsuma at her.

Some elements of the ruling DPJ are at the forefront of the Japanese vanguard of rights hucksterism. They slipped into the election manifesto of 2009 the establishment of a “human rights committee” as a wing of the Justice Ministry. Prime Minister Noda (further to the left than is generally recognized) thought it was so important, he wanted to submit a bill creating that committee to the Diet this year. He didn’t explain why it was important, but explanations are not his forte. Justice Minister Ogawa Toshio also thinks “it is essential to establish a human rights committee that can respond appropriately to human rights violations.”

It was stymied not by the opposition parties, but by opposition within the ruling party. Enough people in the DPJ thought the whole business was a violation of free speech and Article 21 of the Constitution. Finally the bureaucrats stepped in and said “it was too early” because there has been no debate among the people. If a debate eventually does occur, it would be helpful to translate Mark Steyn into Japanese:

“I regard (human rights commissions) as an abomination. All the key protections of common law, the presumption of innocence, truth as a defence, the right to due process, the right to confront your accuser in open court, all these things go by the board under a human rights commission system, which is essentially a hierarchy of fashionable victim groups…essentially if someone feels offended by you, you are guilty…because we have elevated the human right not to be offended into a bedrock human right. I think particularly in multicultural societies that governments are very comfortable with this because they regard themselves as the sole legitimate arbiter of acceptable public discourse between different social groups.”

Alas, Mr. Hashimoto drops the ball in the end. He wants to have museums of modern history that present both sides of historical arguments. Just call the whole thing off. Historical arguments are as hardy as cultural activities, and have no trouble surviving on their own.

Money

Amamiya Masayoshi, the Bank of Japan’s Executive Director of Monetary Affairs and Financial Markets, was recently appointed the head of the bank’s Osaka branch. The Osaka office serves as the primary cash backup for the Tokyo office. (It took three hours to transfer stewardship of the funds when Mr. Amamiya assumed his duties.). The appointment caught even some inside the BOJ by surprise. Most speculation has it that the bank wanted someone in Osaka capable of explaining the economic facts of life to Mr. Hashimoto.

One of the Osaka mayor’s primary advisors is former Finance Ministry official Takahashi Yoichi, so it does seem odd that he would need additional tutoring. Then again, Mr. Hashimoto has some odd ideas that he got from somewhere. For example, he wants to amend the Bank of Japan law to permit the government to establish price targets.

Godfrey Daniel!

Prices are established by all of us acting alone together in our best legal interests. It’s called the Invisible Hand. The Visible Ham-Hand of the public sector is incapable of establishing prices that are legitimate. If it were, the Soviet bloc would still exist.

But that’s not all. The mayor also thinks the BOJ is too independent and the government should also set monetary policy targets.

Mother of Pearl!

If that happens, we should get the government to provide everyone with free yoga lessons. All the better to kiss our backsides goodbye. Society’s weak will need a Head Start on the physical training.

If anything is sure to screw things even further up than the financial bureaucracy has already screwed things up, it would be to allow the human airbag ventilating system in Nagata-cho/Washington/Brussels/Anywhere Else to determine prices and monetary policy.

Spit on a stick!

The man whispering these sour nothings into the Osaka mayor’s ear is likely the aforementioned Takahashi Yoichi, who also advises Your Party. One thing all these people have in common is an admirable understanding of the problems and an execrable understanding of the solutions. It is all the more puzzling because Mr. Takahashi was closely involved with the Japan Post privatization of Koizumi Jun’ichiro.

The first thing Mr. Amamiya of the BOJ should whisper in Mr. Hashimoto’s ear when they meet is that the government is no more capable of handling the market for money than it is for cars, cabbages, or medical care.

Most people thought Frederich Hayek was whacked when he called for the denationalization of money. But read what he wrote:

“Since the function of government in issuing money is no longer one of merely certifying the weight and fineness of a certain piece of metal, but involves a deliberate determination of the quantity of money to be issued, governments have become wholly inadequate for the task and, it can be said without qualifications, have incessantly and everywhere abused their trust to defraud the people.”

And:

“The government monopoly of the issue of money was bad enough so long as metallic money predominated. But it became an unrelieved calamity since paper money (or other token money), which can provide the best and the worst money, came under political control. A money deliberately controlled in supply by an agency whose self-interest forced it to satisfy the wishes of the users might be the best. A money regulated to satisfy the demands of group interests is bound to be the worst possible.”

Now those are ideas whose time has come. While few people expect a legitimate free market in money to emerge any time soon (underground markets are a different story), it should be now clear to most people that a government which regulates money or monetary policy will always do so to satisfy the demands of group interests. (That includes businesses too big to fail.) It should be especially clear to the people who operate human rights museums. They’re working the same street corner, after all.

Darkness

Mr. Hashimoto can be fairly charged with populism for his anti-nuclear power stance justified solely by emotional harangues, without offering an alternative of any sort. But that’s not the worst part. Here’s the mayor as quoted by the 14 May Yomiuri Shimbun on the question of restarting the Oi nuclear power plant in the Kansai area:

“There will never be a situation such as this again. The next generation must fully experience what it will be like to live under government decree to restrict energy usage.”

Jesus Menstruating Goldfishes! What tar pit of the soul did that bubble up from?

Emotional distortions projected in public have nothing to do with logic, but since this is a policy question, let’s apply it as logic — “The next generation must fully experience what it will be like to live under government decree to restrict bandage and antiseptic usage and apply buffalo dung poultices instead.”

Even in the event that he one day becomes prime minister, his own supporters wouldn’t let him get away with that. In fact, his closest political ally, Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro, already has objected:

“Last year’s rolling blackouts had a major impact on the economy. There’s no reason to so facilely accept restricted energy usage.”

And if you use too much energy? Mr. Hashimoto didn’t come up with a solution for that, but the Energy Strategy Conference of the city and prefecture of Osaka did. According to the 15 May Osaka edition of the Mainichi Shimbun, they suggest creating an Energy Conservation Notification Center to which citizens could report offices and shops that they think are too bright.

Sorry. All out of colorful oaths.

The standards these neighborhood informants would use to determine whether the illumination of the establishments was too bright were not specified. Human nature being what it is, however, one of the standards will surely become, “That guy/company/shop clerk is a creep.”

They also suggest shutting down government offices during the hotter hours of the day in summer, which is not a bad idea in theory. I’m self-employed and work at home, and I often take a siesta or read at those times. But I can work at night, on weekends, and whenever I feel like it, deadlines permitting. What would employees do with two or three hours of free time at a job site far from their home? (Stop that snickering!) Returning home is not possible for most people. Will they be made to stay late at night to catch up?

Rather than the idea of government restriction of energy usage, they should be focusing on deregulation that permits increased energy supply and distribution. A system will go into effect this July in which the existing utilities will be forced to pay roughly twice the cost of nuclear-generated power to enterprises generating energy from alternative sources. Of course the people really paying for it will be the consumers.

See what happens when the government sets price targets?

But since the government. or a government monopoly, is as incapable of dealing with the power market as it is with anything else, the plan should be to borrow the idea of that crazy guy Hayek and denationalize/deregulate supply as well as production (and prices), create smart grids, and throw the market open to everyone.

That brings us to the most puzzling and exasperating aspect of all. Those people who, like Hashimoto Toru, talk about privatizing the public sector and operating the government on businesslike principles, are usually the same people who immediately understand the problems with culture subsidies and human rights scams. They are seldom the people who think government control of prices and money is a good idea. They are almost never the people who talk about the need to experience life with government restrictions on power. (That’s what these people do.)

I would have thought it impossible for these ideas to coexist. Hashimoto The Exasperating has achieved the impossible.

Afterwords:

These are serious questions about the role of government in society, but the story in the English-language media about Hashimoto Toru this week was his prohibition of tattoos for Osaka city employees. Such is the media’s four-panel comic strip approach to the world. While they noted that most public establishments, including public baths, and several large private companies have the same prohibitions due to the association with yakuza, they missed one of the key parts of the story. More than half of the 110 or so city employees with tattoos are employed at the Environmental Division, which is a euphemism for garbage collectors. There are unlikely to be many gangsters on the garbage trucks. In Osaka, those trucks are much more likely to be manned by burakumin.

*****

In a demonstration of non-government funded cultural diversity, Kevin Kmetz plays a Bach prelude on the shamisen in Tokyo.

 

2 Responses to “Hashimoto Toru (7): Exasperation”

  1. Tony said

    That seems to be standard for populist politicians. In aggregate they make statements and take stands void of political theory and ideology other than “the current form of government is terrible”.

  2. zam said

    RE:sexual minorities

    Nice quote you got from PFOX, a seedy “ex-gay” group known for pushing discredited conversion therapy and making false statements against individuals who oppose their agenda.

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