Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Big Step

I am deeply impressed by the Japanese election -- they've thrown out the LDP[1], which has been in power almost continuously since 1955, the end of the American occupation. It's funny -- I started studying Japanese in 1997, a mere three years since the "interregnum" (1993-1994) so to me it has always vaguely seemed plausible, and yet, having just screwed up their first chance at power, the DPJ has always seemed vaguely comical to me: they're the ultimate "those other guys," who it seems to me served as the stick half of the LDP's carrot-and-stick approach to the voters.

The "carrot" of course is the large-scale spending programs, particularly road construction. Japan has a lot of concrete. There are a lot of "bridges to nowhere" -- and even entire new towns on the other ends of those bridges. (Ghost towns are also not uncommon.) People who are better economists than I am have alternately railed against the construction regime as a drag, and hailed it as keeping the Japanese economy afloat, though I gather that the former opinion has more currency. Either way, the DPJ is surely going to put a halt to it, as they have said they intend to focus on the social safety net, and find ways to encourage Japanese people to have more children.

I'll be watching with a lot of curiosity. I still have a soft spot for Japan after my semester there, and I do hope the country does well. I suspect that the DPJ will have an easier time organizing itself this time around (it basically fell apart in 1994, like a dog that never expected to catch its car) but it's not clear that they actually have a mandate. They have an outright majority in the legislature, which is nothing to sneeze at, but they're going to face an entrenched bureaucracy that the LDP will surely try to make use of: after all, it's going to look to them that the shortest path back to power will be to make the DPJ look just as incompetent as they are. (And hey: Better the fool you know, right?)

[1] Note, by the way, that I don't bother to spell out the party names, as I consider them meaningless. They seem to be not so much descriptive as the result of that particular East Asian combination of eagerness and earnestness that can sometimes be very hard to describe. If you've ever met a South Korean Evangelical Christian, or seen a Japanese rapper, you probably know what I mean.

No comments:

Post a Comment