“Are we Japan?” What Japan are you talking about?

Via Andrew Sullivan, a terrible, terrible example of punditry asking if the US is on the verge of a Japan style “lost generation,” which includes the following particularly wretched paragraph, in which John B. Judis of The New Republic shows he knows nothing about Japan:

If you want to imagine what American politics will be like, think about Japan…. Japan had a remarkably stable leadership from the end of World War II until their bubble burst in the 1990s. As the country has stumbled over the last two decades, unable finally to extricate from its slump, it has suffered through a rapid of succession of leaders, several of whom, like Obama, have stirred hopes of renewal and reform, only to create disillusionment and despair within the electorate…. That kind of political instability is both cause and effect of Japan’s inability to transform its economy and international relations to meet the challenges of a new century.

Judis here is making a fundamental mistake of confusing Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party majority rule, which began in 1955 and was nearly continuous  until last year, with the longevity of Prime Ministers. Needless to say, anybody with even a passing familiarity with post-war Japan is well aware that despite the LDP’s “remarkably stable” monopoly on power, there was far less than “remarkably stable leadership” in the office of the Prime Minister.

Taking a look at the list of PM’s and how many days each of them served, it is obvious that not only were extremely short lived administrations far more common than longer ones throughout the entire postwar period, but that the Junichiro Koizuimi term of 2001-2006 (a total of 1,979 days) was the third longest since WW2, and the longest since Eisaku Satō, who was PM between 1964 and 1972.

Since his factual premise is so obviously false (and I have to run to campus soon) I will not even bother to get into analyzing his equally spurious claim that this “rapid of succession of leaders [...] like Obama, have stirred hopes of renewal and reform, only to create disillusionment and despair within the electorate,” much less looking at how crappy his analysis of US politics probably is, but please do fire away in the comments!

9 thoughts on ““Are we Japan?” What Japan are you talking about?

  1. You are being very harsh. It’s not well expressed but basically he’s right. Japan has had several PMs who prompted hope of reform, notably Koizumi and Hatoyama. It was the LDP (+ industry and bureaucrats) who gave Japan stable leadership for decades, even though individual political leaders were often ineffectual.

  2. He seems to be operating on the assumption that a strong leader is like a magic beat stick for taking care of economic problems. I think that criticisms are warranted – lots of reporters get by by replacing economic and structural analysis with “personality” writing. Audiences might eat it up, but do people really think that if McCain had been elected in 2008 (or Gore in 2000) that things would really be so different economically? It makes a difference for wars, ideological stuff (abortion, stem cell research), but barring radical, epoch making cuts in public spending or taxes (of the type we’re seeing in the UK now – Japanese politicians wouldn’t have the stomach, nor would Republicans) the current system means low growth.

    Sullivan also writes like the bubble came out of nowhere. Didn’t that “remarkably stable leadership” have a decades long strategy that caused it in the first place?

    People will be talking about China in the same way – the CCP leaders aren’t brilliant, they are taking advantage of cheap labor to drive export, will cause a bubble, and then people will be wondering why a new generation of Chinese leaders can only manage 2% growth rates when their brilliant illustrious forerunners were getting 12%. Even if things are not so bad for China and they are averaging 6 or 7% through the 2020s, there will no doubt be people blaming the new leaders. They cut the growth rate in HALF! What would Deng think?

    Check out R Taggart Murphy’s most recent piece on Japan Focus – he makes a strong argument that political instability doesn’t matter as much as people think (it has already been proven that between 1990-2006, Japan economy grew at the same rate as that of the US on a per worker basis, but how do you compete with a country that had 15,000,000 legal and 15,000,000 illegal immigrants during that time? Japan has that option too, but if it doesn’t take it, it flat out shouldn’t expect to grow at anything close to the same absolute rate). Structurally across the board we may very well be in an era when developed economies just cannot expect even moderate growth rates.

  3. I think the old line that bureaucrats were in charge of the country is a bit of a myth. Particular administrations did make a difference, even if they were short-lived.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t call Japan from 1955 a poster-child for stability: widespread protest throughout the country right up until the early 70s, the Police Law, Anpo controversy, protest over recognition of South Korea, Sato trying to establish himself as an anti-nuclear campaigner because the hawks in his party wanted Japan to get nukes, Nakasone lending Mishima the means by which to stage his own snuff drama, Okinawa reversion, widespread protest over Vietnam, the foundation of the JRA and the re-foundation of the JRCL, Nakasone trying to turn the SDF into an army in the mid 1970s, the Lockheed scandals, the political confusion after Ohira’s death, depression after the oil shocks…

    Stable? It cries out for a Japanese Billy Joel.

  4. I think, it’s not hard to make parliamentary systems look chaotic to a readership used to a presidential system. They’re not designed to work the same way…

  5. Anyone still remember Karel van Wolfren?
    I just bought his new book アメリカとともに沈みゆく自由世界”America’s Tragedy and the Blind Free world”,yet another published-only-in-Japan Wolfren work on America.Actually,it seems worth reading for those who can read Japanese…

  6. Wow, I had no idea he was still writing – and certainly not that he was publishing Japan exclusive stuff!

  7. I think I remember you and I talking about his crossover with Benjamin Fulford on Coming Anarchy a bit over a year ago…. as for the America book – since Omae Kenichi flipped, I don’t think it is much of a surprise that Wolferen is chasing this market and conspiracies are the last defense of the clueless. Seriously, do you even need conspiracies to make points about how fugged up things are getting?

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