Japan's political system in need of New Year resolutions
Every New Year is seen by many to be a fresh start: the closing of one chapter in life and the opening of another. Nonetheless, we are too often reminded of the baggage we carry into the next year.
Such has become none the more evident than in our transition from 2011 to 2012. Families affected by the March 11th disaster are finding it difficult to regain a semblance of normalcy to their lives. Fukushima remains on the minds of many across Japan and around the world, while the global economy struggles to regain lost footing through continued attempts at reform despite a floundering, indecisive public sector. New Year’s, it seems, only provides a temporary sense of relief before the holiday spirit wears off and reality smacks us hard across the face.
Crude as it may be, there is no other verb that better describes the discrepancy between expectation and reality than “smack.” We cannot expect Japan’s debt to GDP to be reduced to zero in the same way that we can no longer expect Santa Claus on Christmas Day. We cannot assume warmer relations between Japan and North Korea simply because there is a new guy at the top. We cannot presuppose safety around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant just because the government says that it is alright. Doing so would effectively imply that New Year’s is a reset button.
In fact, long-term improvement may have to come at the cost of circumstances getting a lot worse before they get any better. The BBC’s business and economy editor Douglas Fraser predicts that “a deeper crisis looks very likely” globally, while Mainichi News predicts an uphill struggle for Japan as a “stronger yen and the slowing world economy…lead(s) to weaker external demand”. Even German chancellor Angela Merkel notes that “next year will no doubt be more difficult than 2011.”
No; New Year’s is not a reset button, but rather a commitment to improvement based on current social, political, economic and personal circumstances. New Year’s is a time of introspection – of looking at a situation for what it is, and coming up with a solution to the situation that will either resolve or improve the underlying issues. Revisiting previously examined solutions simply will not do; after all, if they were previously examined and unsuccessful at resolving an issue in question, what makes you think it will work this time around?
Such logic is particularly pertinent to Japanese politicians and bureaucrats, who many a time fail to understand the concept of logic itself. As John Richards from the Financial Times notes, “while quantitative easing may help to solve the short-run liquidity problems that arise in times of extreme financial duress, it is not a substitute for some of the harder choices governments must make”.
Japan, however, has put off such difficult decisions with round after round of quantitative easing in the last decade alone. Government incentives have failed to spur consumer spending or boost its flagging birth rate. Pork barrel spending continues to be used as an excuse for regional economic growth; in reality, new construction projects funded by the Japanese government are being built on credit (in other words, money the government does not have). But they continue to offer the same in prettied-up words year after year without fail. It hasn’t worked.
New Year’s, then, calls for innovation and new measures. We should not be content with making empty resolutions; rather, we should be proactive in forging a new path and avoid rehashing the old in a sleeker package. Fire all the politicians, and put in new ones to do what the public expects (and pays them 15 million yen a year for) to do: fix the problem.
Japan is certainly carrying a lot of baggage into the New Year. That should not stop it from throwing the bags into the cargo bay and taking off into the orange, dawn sky.