Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What's in a name?

Quite a bit, when the name is that of an important government policy document, and when that name is missing a phrase near and dear to the former prime minister's heart.

So suggests the Asahi Shimbun in its editorial on the Abe government's recently announced 2007 fiscal policy plan.

Unlike the title of the annual fiscal policy plans produced under Koizumi's watch — "Basic policies for economic and fiscal management and structural reform" — the Abe's Cabinet's program is called simply "Basic policies for economic and fiscal management." And so, concludes Asahi, "the flag of 'structural reform' has vanished."

To Asahi, this is yet another sign, perhaps the clearest yet, that the Abe Cabinet has discarded the Koizumi Cabinet's "no growth without reform" motto and the policy perspective behind it. The policies in this program timid — a hodgepodge of vague "pro-growth" policies including more funding for universities, "investigating" economic partnership agreements with the EU and the US, "drastic [but unspecified] tax reform," and a ludicrous promise to double Japan's OECD-worst productivity in five years (see Ken Worsley on this point in particular), packed into fifty-two pages, the longest such report since the government first began drafting them. Not only is there no overall vision beyond the Abe program, but the lack of detail leaves room for bureaucrats to muscle back in, as Asahi noted when a first draft was issued to the public.

Yomiuri, for its part, also noted the lack of details in the program — and a lack of priorities. At the same time, however, Yomiuri seems to give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt, gently chiding Abe for not giving enough details now, but assuming he'll get around to it eventually.

Considering the point I raised in this post earlier today, this damp squib of a document is not just another dull, useless policy report issued by the government — it is a sign of the utter failure of imagination that characterizes policy making throughout the developed world.

No comments: