Japan keeps getting it in the neck. Outsiders just love to instruct its state and citizenry on how it ought to behave. Apparently the world knows far better than this supposedly beleagered nation on all the superior ways to run an economy, conduct a democracy and act cooperatively overseas.
Others, it would seem, have digested the required lessons from Japan's infamous "lost decade" of zombie banks, fiscal mismanagement and minimal growth. Wiser men in North America, Europe and Asia keep on telling us that the Japanese authorities were guilty of multiple foul-ups in the 1990s and that there is absolutely no way that the clever guys abroad are going to repeat the same old mistakes.
Under their scenario, the early summer of 2009 is already seeing those "green shoots" of recovery beloved of the official hand-outs and PR guys. As evidence, they are quick to point to the fact that global stock markets are already anticipating a return to the good years, government debt is under control and a nice bit of controlled inflation will do wonders for all that red on slack balance sheets.
The hurrah-crowd reckons that by next year, the biggest problems will be comfortably behind us and the supposedly great recession of 2007-2009 will all turn out to have been no more than a great aberration.
But hold your horses folks. The latest stories from the U.S. suggest that the housing market has yet to really hit bottom and that consumer confidence may be only slowly turning around.
Given that the very best news is little more than a reduction in the rate of the current slowdown, then it sounds as if the markets are getting ahead of themselves. It's hard to count even a few "green shoots" on this more realistic score card. The land of the bankruptcies of first Chrysler and now General Motors, plus the father of all Ponzi scams in the Bernie Madoff affair, is unlikely to be lecturing others on how to run their national economies in the foreseeable future.
Of course, Japan is still in the doldrums but take a look at the extraordinarily dismal figures now being reported out of Germany and the scale of projected unemployment in both Britain and across Euroland. Tokyo certainly wins no prizes at present but maybe jaundiced observers might do well to pin the tag of the sick man of the G-8 nations on someone else.
The same hesitancy surely ought to apply also to judging domestic politics. Japan has been rightly criticized for the fact that both leaders of its two main parties are heirs to well-established political dynasties. Prime Minister Taro Aso and Yukio Hatoyama, the newly elected leader of Japan's main opposition party, have undoubtedly been helped on their way through such close identification with earlier postwar premiers.
Yet the problem of inherited seats and the unfair advantage of possessing the right "name" is far from just a Japanese issue. It is pretty common across both democratic and absolutist states in Asia and is not unknown, of course, in Europe and North America. Think North Korea and India or the Kennedys in the U.S. and the prewar Chamberlains in Britain.
Given the magnitude of the present parliamentary scandals in Britain, it is also improbable that there is going to be much criticism of how Japan conducts its parliamentary affairs in the near future. Fresh and decidedly juicy revelations morning after morning on the expenses claimed by many MPs suggests that any who thought the Brits were in a different league for honesty and fair dealings will have to think again. The sums may be smaller than in Japanese scandals but the shadiness is the same.
Reform of the Westminster model with a less powerful executive and the need for fixed parliamentary terms is the probable outcome in Britain that could perhaps have possible implications too for the Japanese Diet. The right of both the British and Japanese leaders to call a general election when things are going their way is seen by many to be an unfair advantage that may well be on its way to the junkyard.
Clearly, neither the so-called Anglo-Saxon model of small government and neo-liberalism nor the more extensive and greater regulation of the continental "old" European schemes is looking particularly successful at the moment. Deregulation didn't work and the free-for-all approach has led to the de facto nationalization of UK and U.S. banks, but the more cosseted Eurozone economies are now entering deflationary territory and the scale of manufacturing problems in Germany is far larger than elsewhere.
The resulting global mess ought to leave at least one piece of welcome news for Japan. Since no one country is coming out of the global downturn with much to its credit, Japanese officials and the wider public should now be free from further lectures by others on how to run an economy or regulate a financial system or operate an open, democratic political system.
The "Japanese way" is performing just as inadequately as that of the Anglo-Saxons and the Europeans. Since there are mistakes everywhere, let's hope the critics of Japan will take aim instead at their own politicians and bankers. Japan deserves a decent period of silence.© Japan Today