Doing Battle with Neoliberalism
The Abe Administration and the Counterattack of Vested Interests
The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeitō scored an overwhelming victory in the July 21 House of Councillors election, bringing an end to the so-called twisted Diet that saw Japan’s upper and lower houses controlled by different parties. At the same time, particular note must be made of the fact that when the seats controlled by the Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party (JRP), two parties that can be considered complementary to the LDP, are added, the combination of the LDP, Komeitō, Your Party, and JRP has secured an overwhelmingly large number of seats in both houses of the Diet. These four parties control 397 of the 480 seats (83%) in the House of Representatives and 163 of the 242 seats (67%) in the House of Councillors. In both houses, that exceeds the two-thirds of seats required for proposing revisions to the Constitution.
Moreover, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which, following its crushing defeat in July, holds 57 seats in the lower house and 51 in the upper house, is also to a considerable degree a force that complements the LDP. So in short, the bulk of Japan’s parliament has been captured by the LDP-Komeitō pair and powers complementing them. It probably would not be an exaggeration to say that the capture of the Diet by these five powers signifies the start of a new era of single-minded politics recalling the style of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association in the early 1940s.
The reason why these five political forces are bound together is that they are the five representing Japan’s vested interests. I present Japan’s vested interests in the form of a pentagon whose five corners consist of the United States, the bureaucracy, industry, politicians, and the airwaves. The United States stands at the center of this formation, with Japan placed under a US-controlled political structure.
The biggest feature of this political force is that the management of economic policy rests on a cornerstone founded on the Japan-US alliance, the US military-industrial complex, and big US finance. This policy line was clearly exhibited by the administration of Junichirō Koizumi that took office in 2001. The distortion produced by the neoliberal economic policies that the Koizumi administration spearheaded was laid out in striking form at the time of the slump induced by the subprime mortgage crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the shock it delivered to Japanese financial markets. The New Year’s tent village for laid-off temporary workers created in Tokyo at the end of 2008 was its symbolic embodiment.
The citizens of Japan, the nation’s sovereign rulers, were released from the false “we endure the pain of the present in our quest for a better tomorrow” magic spell that the Koizumi administration had intoned. This awakening was the driving force behind the change of government in September 2009. However, the counterattack of the vested interests, from whom political leadership had been wrested, was ferocious. They truly committed many atrocities by fair means or foul toward their objective, and the result was the reversal of Japanese politics once again in December 2012. Furthermore, through the House of Councillors election in July of this year, these vested interests have solidified an unprecedentedly strong political base.
The direction promoted by the Abe administration is positioned as an extension of that pursued by the Koizumi administration. The resulting situation is one in which the basic policy line of subservience to the United States, bureaucratic predominance, and the basic law of the jungle will be made even more solid, while the structure of Japanese society is completely transformed.
From a “Sharing–with–One–Another Society” to a “Competing–with–One–Another Society”
The five most important issues basically in contention during the upper house election were nuclear power, the Constitution, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the consumption tax, and Okinawa. All of these problems are of sufficient consequence to control Japan’s destiny. When the citizens, the nation’s sovereign rulers, participate in an election, they offer up their final judgment on such issues of serious consequence. That is the proper nature of national elections in a state where the people are sovereign. The vested interests and the country’s sovereign citizens were clearly split in two and in a face-off with one another over the pros and cons of these five problems.
In synch with the US military-industrial complex, led by the bureaucracy, and pursuing the logic of capitalism, the vested interests made their stance vividly clear in their promotion of nuclear power, constitutional revision, TPP participation, a consumption tax hike, and the construction of a base at Henoko in Okinawa. In contrast, the sovereign citizens voiced exactly the opposite views on all five issues.
The contrast in views over nuclear power, the TPP, and the consumption tax—the issues in contention related to economic concerns—rotate around the interests of the “nuclear power village,” the achievements of the logic of capitalism, and the pros and cons of imposing burdens on the common people. Will the rights and interests of the nuclear power village be pursued before our very eyes, even if it means sacrificing the lives and long-term health of the citizenry? Will the rights and interests of big finance be pursued even if it means sacrificing those of the Japanese people and their lives and health? Will corporate tax levels be slashed and the tax levy on the common people increased even further? The differences are extremely clear.
If you ponder this in depth, you eventually realize that the question involves a fundamental choice between turning the basic structure of Japanese society into either that of an “unequal society” or that of a “society whose members coexist.” The structure of society sought by the vested interests is a “law of the jungle” society, an unequal society, a society in which only the strong survive and the weak are exploited. It would be a society that accepts abandonment of the weak and in which the strong forcefully protect only the rights and interests of the strong. One can imagine a US-style law-of-the-jungle society being portrayed as its ideal form.
The opposing viewpoint advocates a “society whose members coexist.” The underlying idea here is that politics does not exist to make the strong stronger but rather to protect the basic human rights of the socially and economically weak. The portrayal to be imagined here is one of a “society of sharing with one another” rather than a “society of competing with one another.” If the economic fruits that society as a whole can obtain are limited, then the most important thing is a redistribution of income resulting in an equalization of income standards so that the lives and livelihoods of all members of society are protected. If there is no emphasis on equality in the results, then the very existence of those who are weak will not be protected.
A national election provides the only opportunity for the citizens who are nation’s sovereign rulers to make use of their position as sovereigns. They needed to vote in this election with this choice in mind, but their understanding of the choice was not fostered at all.
The Logic of Capitalism Running Through the Nuclear Power, TPP, and Consumption Tax Issues
The biggest reason for this is that the “airwaves industry,” the mass media, which is one of the vested interests, engages in information manipulation to obfuscate and conceal the most important points of contention in a national election. One can infer that the propaganda prior to the July election positing “Abenomics” as an issue of contention and the “twisted Diet” as a focal point, which was circulated along with predictions of an overwhelming LDP-Komeitō victory, artificially induced the election results. As a result, the media created an atmosphere in which those political forces standing on the side of the vested interests and advocating economic policies that would encourage the law of the jungle would capture the Diet.
In the area of nuclear power, work is being aggressively promoted to restart nuclear plants throughout the country even though the basic conditions remain unchanged, large amounts of radioactive water are still flowing into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and neighboring communities are being turned into lands of the dead.
The Abe administration claimed in last December’s general election to be adamantly opposed to the TPP, but in March of this year it decided to join the TPP negotiations and turned Japan’s participation in the agreement into an established policy. The crux of the TPP is the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause. If the ISDS clause is adopted, Japan’s sovereign authority to determine its own systems will be forfeited, and big finance operating around the globe will grab the authority to determine them instead. The fact that big finance pursues only its own rights and interests is as clear as day.
As preliminary arrangements, the Abe administration is starting to implement neoliberal policies in special economic zones before having obtained the consent of all concerned. What is being implemented in these zones is the liberalization of agriculture, medical care, and employment. A reality will be produced in which Japanese agriculture will be controlled by foreign capital and medical care, an area in which equality had been guaranteed, will be dominated by economic disparities. The liberalization of employment jeopardizes a worker’s right to a certain standard of living. Furthermore, even the minimum wage system will break down, and jobs for Japanese citizens will be stolen by foreign workers. All of these are changes to the system that capital makes for its self-propagation, and avaricious capitalism will do everything possible to completely destroy a Japanese society in which members coexist.
The betrayal of trust over the increase in the consumption tax has been nothing but brutal. From 1990 to 2010, Japan’s national tax revenues fell by one-third. In terms of the main tax items, income tax revenues were cut in half and corporate tax revenues fell sharply to one-third of their earlier level. While this was happening, only the consumption tax was hiked to triple its earlier amount. The bad revision in the taxation system that the Abe administration is now promoting would try to further increase the already tripled consumption tax while further cutting a corporate tax that has dropped to one-third of its previous level. The precondition cited for a consumption tax hike was elimination of the amakudari system, in which former government officials find jobs with companies in industries they once regulated, but that gambit has come to a complete standstill. Indeed, what has been happening is that there has been an aggressive cultivation of such “termites,” including an increase of parachuting from the Ministry of Finance.
The Abe administration is reinforcing its subordinate stance toward the United States, sacrificing the Japanese people in its wholehearted cooperation with the expansion of the rights and interests of US capital. Trying to revise the Constitution and modify the system that would allow Japan to participate in a US-led war is likewise part of a policy that would give away rights and interests to the US military-industrial complex. If things go on like this, Japan will wind up being completely consumed by the bald eagles of US capital, the termites of the bureaucracy, and the hyenas of avaricious capitalism. The Japanese people must wake up from their dreaming. Do we Japanese really want to have a law-of-the-jungle society? We must reflect on a reality in which we have been lured without realizing it by the bald eagles, termites, and hyenas to choose a road where we ourselves will become the prey of these vested interests.
To break out of this situation, a political power that stands with the sovereign rulers rather than the vested interests needs to be marshaled together, and a strong leader must appear who can stir the citizen sovereigns up from their sleep. If we continue to permit the recklessness of Abe’s neoliberal rule in this way, it is certain that Japan will be completely transformed, and our country, with its wonderful culture and traditions, will simply be no more.