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Reining in Japan’s bureaucracy

15 Comments
By Peter Dyloco

Eighteen months ago, the Democratic Party of Japan won a landslide victory under the leadership of then-party leader Yukio Hatoyama, ousting the LDP from power after nearly 50 four years of rule. After botching talks with the United States in an attempt to relocate the U.S. air base at Futenma, Hatoyama resigned after a mere 10 months. He was replaced by party veteran Naoto Kan – an individual many believed would bring change to the Land of the Rising Sun. Unlike the political blue bloods, Kan was a self-made man, who was better equipped to relate to the general public and bring about change through popular and political support.

Fast forward eight months, and it becomes evident as to how wrong they were. A recent poll by TBS revealed that only one out of every five Japanese support the beleaguered politician. Critics are calling him indecisive, while internal strife in the DPJ is threatening to tear the bulk of his propositions apart. With political opponents calling for his resignation and a snap election looming in the horizon, Kan is set to become another victim of Japan’s conveyor belt political system and endless political deadlock.

The calls for Kan’s head, however, are only a symptom of a larger underlying issue. Many in Japan have grown sick of the petty squabbling at the government offices in Nagatacho, and are frustrated by the lack of decisive government action in resolving the problems of the financially stricken country. With a debt to GDP ratio approaching, if not exceeding two hundred percent, little to no economic growth and a population aging faster than any other in the world, timidity and political discord are the last things Japan needs. So what is the country to do?

Fire the bureaucrats.

Though politicians are partly to blame, unelected public servants in Japan are equally guilty – but not equally responsible – for the country’s continued socioeconomic stagnation. In Aki Wakabayashi’s “The Bizarre World of the Public Servant,” Wakabayashi reveals the obscene amount of waste that goes on in various departments of the Japanese government. Budget surpluses, for instance, are used to purchase wine and champagne in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials live in housing at little to no cost to them, and many put expensive trips abroad on the government’s tab under thinly veiled excuses. The average bureaucrat makes nearly double the average salaryman’s income (7 million yen); gets a retirement allowance of approximately 27 million yen and begins utterly useless yet needlessly expensive pork barrel projects. There’s a bonus for having children, a bonus for not having children (irony at its finest), a bonus for travel, a bonus for not getting promoted, a bonus for working with the unemployed and a general bonus for all public employees regardless of Japan’s economic condition. The Japanese bureaucrats have enjoyed a superfluity of benefits over the years that the Japanese government can simply no longer afford to maintain.

The cost, however, is only part of the problem. Japan’s bureaucracy wields an enormous influence over policymaking – greater than that of any political party, including the LDP. In the words of University of California, San Diego professor Chalmers Johnson, “the elite bureaucracy of Japan makes most major decisions, drafts virtually all legislation, controls the national budget and is the source of all major policy innovations in the system.” Unfortunately, however, such “policy innovations” have been unable to bring Japan back to economic growth since the asset price bubble burst more than twenty years ago. Rules and regulations established by the ministries stifle entrepreneurship and foreign investment – two potential sources of economic growth that Japan has yet to tap into. And let’s not forget the fundamental issue at hand: with bureaucrats controlling much of Japan’s affairs, the country’s political system is a mere shell of democracy, and things are unlikely to change for the better regardless of the party in power.

Laden with wasteful spending and a chokehold on political power, it’s clear that reform must come to Japan’s bureaucracy. It’s just a matter of time before someone takes a stand to say that enough is enough.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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"Fire the bureaucrats"

Sounds great! Uh, who's doing the firing?

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"Fire the bureaucrats" is most challenging mission Modern Japan has encountered, but where to begin?

Honestly to say, Japanese people know it, but they pretend not to know it because ... Japanese people are supposed to live Japanese way. I heard one Japanese economist say ... He wishes another "Black Ships" come to Japan in order to fire all the bureaucrats"... Japan cannot do it alone.

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sounds like the CCCP, unelected and unaccountable

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Check out "Staightjacket Society" for an insiders look at the absolute uselessness of the J-bureaucracy.

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Moreover, they not only get their salary, they also can be "legally" bribed!

The bureaucrat receives job offers while he is in charge, so it's common practice to approve projects and budgets for that company that is going to hire him when he leaves!

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LDP hasn't been able to rein Japanese bureaucrats over a half century ... a reason is ... DPJ is struggling in a trap ... created by LDP ...

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I agree with everything being said until I got to the last line:

It’s just a matter of time before someone takes a stand to say that enough is enough.

No it ain`t. You name me one single person in this country willing and able to stand up and stick their neck out like this. It is never going to happen, because the bureaucrats have set up the system to make sure it never happens, from kindergarten upwards. And even if someone does have the balls to do it, they will be shot down faster than you can say "shouganai".

While these people are still making a mint out of Japan`s bureaucracy, nothing is going to change. Meanwhile, the rest of the country slowly disappears down the plughole.

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Rules and regulations established by the ministries stifle entrepreneurship and foreign investment – two potential sources of economic growth that Japan has yet to tap into.

Amen to that. The ministries set up all the laws, taxes, etc. to benefit and protect Japan Inc. But, that model died nearly 20 years ago. But they still cannot make the needed changes -- too many vested interests. And, this article fails to even mention the good old "descent from heaven" practice. Amakudari costs billions of yen each year here and just fosters lack of any real price competition on most major bids.

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Well all know these are the real bad guys! These are the ones to worry about..they are the very core of the problems...It`s not that hard to see!

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Also: A revolution bottom line

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Japanese people are doing ...in response ...culturally and economically

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Like I said, just like the CCCP and then they have the gall to point fingers across the sea at the excesses of the CCCP, how they control the press and dictate policy, like they dont do the same here. The politicians here are just for show so they can claim it is a democracy.

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The bureaucracy has caused this jigoku for real

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“the elite bureaucracy of Japan makes most major decisions, drafts virtually all legislation, controls the national budget and is the source of all major policy innovations in the system.” Unfortunately, however, such “policy innovations” have been unable to bring Japan back to economic growth since the asset price bubble burst more than twenty years ago.

Of course unelected officials need to be held accountable for underperformance. That's part of creating govts that are transparent, efficient, and not corrupt.

Reminds me of a complaint from an activist in China (not Japan), she complained "high officials' (the bureaucracy) attitude can be very different to problems but in local government, all they want to do is pay lip service."

High time that we put these people under microscope.

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I always laughed years back when all the foreign commentators raved about J-bureaucrates & how they shaped this, did that, were responsible for Japans success...........WTF, before the bubble popped Japan succeded DESPITE the bureaucrates & since the late 80s these tools have been burying this country, destroying it.

The single fastest way to change this crap is to have the govt cut all ministries budgets by 30% starting this April, they all cud easily still do the damned jobs & be forced cut their own damned fat instead of porking out at MY EXPENSE!

But alas wont happen yet, everyone is waitng to go down in flames so they can start anew, a frigging shame

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