(Discover unique Japanese products in the eBay-affiliated iKjeld Japan Shop)
(Receive headlines like these in the Daily Newsletter. Sign up above!)
(More in Japan Links)
The DPJ this week published its manifesto for the August 30 Lower House elections. It makes for very interesting reading if you are interested in changing Japan’s political landscape.
From the manifesto’s introduction:
Make Politics Work for People’s Lives
A society where each and every person’s life matters, a society in which people view others’ happiness as their own: that is the fraternal society I wish to build. Ending wasteful spending and using the money instead to rebuild people’s lives: that is what a transfer of power to the Democratic Party of Japan will mean.
This may seem mere common sense: people’s lives matter, taxes shouldn’t be wasted. And yet that “common sense” has broken down.
Today there are children of single mothers who can’t take part in class trips, who can’t go to high school. There are seniors who can’t go to the doctor when they are ill.
Every day, in this country, over a hundred people take their own lives.
Meanwhile the government is so out of touch with reality that it goes on pouring huge sum of taxpayers’ money into construction projects.
What has become of politics in Japan?
True politics means setting priorities in policy-making and in spending. I want a world where politics values people above concrete projects.
I want to approach policy from the perspective of the citizen, not leaving it to the hands of bureaucracy.
I want to create a horizontal society bound by human ties, not a vertically connected society of vested interests.
I want to create a society where everyone can be useful to one another, and everyone can discover their place.
The Democratic Party of Japan’s philosophy is “Putting People’s Lives First.” Based on this new scale of priorities, we will rework the budget and focus the use of taxpayers’ money on child-rearing and education, on pensions and medical care, on regional sovereignty, and on employment and the economy.
Hope will be born in the hearts of people who no longer feel anxiety about their lives, and their positive spirits will give impetus to the nation as a whole.
I ask you to join with the DPJ in ending an outdated system that is causing people to suffer, and in building a nation where everyone can find fulfillment in their work and in their lives.
The time has come for a change of government.
President, Democratic Party of Japan
The DPJ‘s manifesto especially focuses on five areas:
1. The end of wasteful spending
2. Child-rearing and education
3. Pensions and medical care
4. Regional sovereignty
5. Employment and the economy
The DPJ aims to completely overhaul the government budget and cut out wasteful spending. This includes selling of land and buildings owned by the government and ending amakudari practices.
The DPJ also wants to pay a child allowance of JPY 312,000 per year for all children younger than 16. Additionally it wants to effectively make high school education free and university scholarship open to all.
Lost pensions have been a major issue over the past few years and the reason that many people have stopped putting money into the system. The DPJ aims to issue pension passbooks so that each person has a clear oversight of what he or she has paid into the system and what will he or she will receive. It also wants to offer a minimum guaranteed pension of at least JPY 70,000 per month.
This week, Yokohama mayor Hiroshi Nakada resigned his post to concentrate on finding ways to transfer power in Japan from Tokyo to the regions. Decentralization is urgently needed in Japan. The DPJ aims to establish such regional sovereignty. As a first step it wants to increase funds that are under local governments’ independent control. It eventually wants a change to an equal and cooperative relationship between the central government and local autonomous bodies, instead of the present relations of superior to inferior, dominant to subservient. Expect the ivory towered Tokyo bureaucrats to fight this one with tooth and nail.
The global recession has especially hit Japan hard. But the DPJ’s plans come across as hodge-podge and not well-thought through. There is little to solve the underlying structural problems. For example, among other initiatives to make the country’s economy healthy again, the DPJ wants to reduce the corporate tax rate for small and medium sized companies from 18 to 11%, and offer financial aid to job-seekers during job training.
Another important point in the DPJ manifesto is the transfer of power from bureaucrats to politicians. Now government policy is made in the back-rooms of LDP headquarters in collusion with bureaucrats and large organizations. The DPJ aims to have transparent “cabinet-centered” policy making for which the ruling party holds full responsibility. Now policy making and responsibility is extremely opaque.
To give an example of how ridiculously powerful Japanese bureaucrats are: when LDP politicians ask for information or data from a ministry they receive a report that is specifically researched and put together for them, when opposition politicians do the same, they receive available printed material. The communist party usually just gets a simple one page pamphlet. Information is kept very close to the chest, making it virtually impossible for opposition parties to get accurate information about anything.
There are also scary contradictions in the manifesto. Although the DPJ aims to put heavy emphasis on greening Japan—for example by reducing CO2 emissions by 24 percent (from 1990 levels) by 2020 and fostering new green industries—, it also wants to eliminate highway tolls and lower tax rates on gasoline, oil and car purchases.
However, according to a theory of Krugman, Fujita, and Venables (The Spatial Economy – Cities, Regions and International Trade), eliminating highway tolls promotes regionalization and decentralization, so this is clearly a policy that Japan needs in order to solve its problem of the countryside dying a slow death.
Internationally, the DPJ aims to play a pro-active role in peacekeeping operations, and a leading role in fighting global warming and the eradication of nuclear weapons. However, the manifesto does not say what that means and how the DPJ aims to do that.
In general, though, the manifesto offers several specific suggestions for solving many of Japan’s ills. Many of them are both needed and attractive, although perhaps extremely difficult to achieve, if at all possible.
One of my favorite ones that I found surprising to find in a political manifesto is the following:
Promote wooden housing construction as a key “local resource utilization industry.” Encourage skilled craftsmen to carry on traditional building techniques, and foster the sound development of local construction and building industries.
Another one I like is making it possible for politicians to use the internet during elections. Amazingly this is now forbidden in Japan. Even collecting political donations on the Internet has been virtually non-existent in Japan. This is finally starting to change. This week, Rakuten Inc. launched LOVE JAPAN, a site to solicit political donations from individuals.
The manifesto has been translated into English: DPJ Manifesto (pdf file, 2MB).
For a critical analysis, see Tobias Harris’s articles on the DPJ manifesto.