Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Crisis of the Mind

Masaru Tamamoto of The World Policy Institute has written an Op-Ed for the NYT: Japan's Crisis of the Mind:

Recent events mark Japan’s return to the world’s stage, or at least so it seems...this suggests that Washington sees Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, as a powerful nation. If only we saw ourselves the same way.The truth is, Japan is a mess.

Some will disagree that Washington really sees Japan as a powerful nation, but nobody in his/her right mind would disagree with idea that Japan is a mess.

Conservative pundits here like to speak of this equality and sameness as being cornerstones of “Japanese” tradition. Nonsense. Throughout much of its history, Japan has had social stratification and great inequality of wealth and privilege. The “egalitarian” Japan was a creature of the 1970s, with its progressive taxation, redistribution of wealth, subsidies and the dampening of competition through regulation.

This is a key point, I think. Much of what is supposedly due to some unique Japanese tradition or culture barely predates WW2. The so-called lifetime employment, and the submissive unions would be but two examples.

Tamamoto argues that the crisis is not political, but psychological and that Japan's ability to imitate other systems has been mistaken for progress. He argues than in order for Japan to change it must take risks, and although in the last 60 some years after the end of the war the bureaucratic government (and much of society) have done everything possible to avoid risk, that risk avoidance is not a part of Japanese culture.

I'm afraid that I agree too much with what he wrote, which means it must be wrong somewhere. (He did not mention that Japan must stay safe by discriminating against others, which may rile certain Japan Times ranters from Australia. In fact, he says that Japan must get over its fear of immigration. Little hope there, I'm afraid.)

It's well worth reading if only to see what Japan could do, but likely won't.

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