Saturday, September 22, 2007

A new era dawns?

On the brink of today's LDP election, the government dissolved the "Building a beautiful country" planning group that was to be the vanguard of Mr. Abe's campaign to leave the "postwar regime" behind. The Abe revolution is over.

But what will replace it?

As LDP members vote today, I think that my assessment is correct: an Aso insurgency has not materialized. While Mr. Aso may get a few more defections from among Diet members than initially expected after the factions threw their weight behind Mr. Fukuda, it seems that Mr. Fukuda still enjoys the support of more than two-thirds of Diet members, and the early returns are strongly in Mr. Fukuda's favor — Asahi reports that he has already secured 61 votes to Mr. Aso's 44. Even if Mr. Aso were to sweep up the remaining prefectural chapters (and receive all three votes from each), his victory would be relatively small, winning fewer than two-thirds of the prefectural vote, not nearly high enough to embarrass the faction heads and Mr. Fukuda.

Now to governing. It is unclear what the rise of Mr. Fukuda, the awkward, impolitic reluctant politician — he has actually said that he doesn't really want the job — who apparently resembles Homer Simpson and wears glasses that haven't been style since the 1970s, if ever, presages. To take up Devin Stewart's post asking whether "it's 1975," the emergence of Mr. Fukuda might suggest to some that Japan is going back to the future politically (given the role of the factions in Mr. Fukuda's candidacy).

But for Japan, the US (the subject of Stewart's post), and for Europe, there is no going back to 1975. I view this question from a "Tofflerian" perspective (Future Shock and The Third Wave in particular). The crisis faced by the industrial democracies in the 1970s was effectively the end of industrial society — the end of plans, the end of confidence in the ability of technocratic elites to control reality. Whatever the superficial resemblance of current events to the 1970s, it is only that. The challenge of the present in Japan, the US, and throughout Europe is to build a new order for the post-industrial age. The problem is probably most acute for Japan, which has been slow to de-centralize, is more hierarchical than the other post-industrial democracies, and has had a relatively higher share of its population engaged in agriculture. Of course, in cultural terms, Japan is probably leading the way into the future as its cities grow and urban culture evolves (and influences the rest of the world).

The challenge for Mr. Fukuda, and for his successors for years to come, is to build political and economic institutions for an urban, post-industrial Japan: an education system that prepares children for work other than that in large, hierarchical organizations; trade policy, especially in agriculture, that acknowledges that Japan will not be self-sufficient and thus puts consumer interests ahead of producer interests; a pension system in which the burden for supporting retirees shifts from the private sector to the government. The list goes on and on. Japan is in dire need of institutions befitting an urban society.

Mr. Koizumi understood that without change the LDP would be unfit to lead Japan into a new era. Does Mr. Fukuda recognize this, and is he prepared to do something about it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think your focus on "institutions" is exactly right. To your list I'd add:

* a university system not dependent on government funding

* a participatory civil court system

* a child care system

* an electoral system that allows campaign advertising; preferably one that allows direct election of the chief executive