January 22, 2012 4 Comments
“If you could become the Prime Minister of Japan, what would you like to see accomplished during your tenure?” Fully aware of my ambitions of eventually joining the Japanese political sphere, a friend of mine posed this question while we travelled home after a long day’s work. Although his inquiry itself was an honest and legitimate one, I quickly realized that I never really (seriously) thought about this question.
If I had the power to reform Japan, what would it look like? Which issues would I focus on in office, and how would I address these issues? How would I put Japan back on track? What would my platform look like?
(Do keep in mind that I am still quite young. There are several things that I have yet to understand, and I would rather not have blog posts I wrote based on a kid’s understanding of the world to be used against me in a gubernatorial race in twenty years’ time. These are my positions at present.)
Emulate Singapore. In many ways, Singapore is very similar to Japan. Singapore is powered by American-style capitalism run under the guise of democracy, when really everyone knows it’s a technocratic wonderland controlled by Lee Kuan Yew and friends a la Ichiro Ozawa. Yet somehow, it manages to be a mini, more efficient version of Japan. Like Japan, Singapore’s economy is driven by exports. Their workforces are highly educated. Both invest a ton of money into R&D, and geographically both are resource-poor countries with high population densities.
And that’s where the similarities come to an end. For the most part, Singapore remains corruption-free. The Ministry of Finance effects quasi-free market policies. Its corporate tax rate is half Japan’s; consumption tax sits at 3 percent; its business environment remains open and transparent; its infrastructure up to date; and unknown to many, Singapore is one of the top three refineries of crude oil in the world. Unlike Japan, it’s actually growing at a rapid clip and manages its finances very, very well.
Granted, each country has its quirks; certainly, a solution in one case may not necessarily transition well to resolving another problem. In terms of economic policy, however, Singapore serves as a powerful model to which Japan can look up to in restructuring what many consider to be a rather inefficient form of economic governance.
Although mainstream media both inside and outside Japan have remained mum on the issue, pushing forward with the newest initiative to implement a Canada-esque, points based immigration system seems like the right way forward.
Gay marriage and the like will likely not be key issues in the near to immediate future, as individuals in Japan tend to keep that sort of thing to themselves and in the warm embraces of love hotels.
Healthcare is a tricky one. I won’t claim to know enough about the Japanese healthcare system to make any assertions, but last I checked, healthcare and pensions are becoming the biggest public expenses as the population ages. Will it be unpopular to cut it down? Certainly. But when one side of the balance sheet is outpacing the other, at some point something is going to give. Ensuring that the basics are covered while tying the extras of healthcare benefits and pensions to the country’s economic performance may be an unpopular move, but it will be an ideal one in moving towards a more sustainable Japan.
A Nordic-style education, rather than the traditional, rote memorization model used for so many years, may be the way forward in making Japan a more innovative society. You can find more information about this an article I wrote earlier wherein I used the Finnish education system as a model for Japan’s future:
“Though its education system is paradoxical to Japan’s in every conceivable way, Finland beat the East Asian nation in ranking third overall in the OECD’s test of junior high school students. It would be difficult for the average Japanese (or average East Asian, for that matter) to understand why. According to the OECD, the Finnish spend the least amount of time in school and begin their schooling a full two years later than their peers in the rest of the world. Mention cram schools to the average Finn and he will look at you in utter bewilderment. There is only one (yes, one) mandatory exam, taken at the end of one’s secondary schooling. In contrast to many of the equally high ranking countries in East Asia (Japan included), Finland’s education system seems to be too relaxed and too unorthodox to perform well on any standardized test – yet it does.”
A Japan that is less focused on the “guilty until proven innocent” notion would certainly be an ideal one, particularly when you take the country’s 99 percent conviction rate into account.
Cut down electricity usage not only to keep Japan’s carbon footprint steady, but to minimize Japan’s dependence on imported energy and mitigate the necessity of restarting its highly unpopular nuclear power plants. The growing popularity of electric cars are likely to put increased strain on the power grid; cutting away at the fat, such as blasting the aircon with the door open to attract customers, will negate the powerful drain of electric cars. Hopefully.
Status quo. Japan is getting a great deal: the best military of its strongest ally protecting the country with a relatively low cost. Development of its own, in-house weaponry could certainly be encouraged. Joint development alongside South Korea would serve both countries’ interests in deterring China and North Korea as well.
Dedicated to Tetsuya (pseudonym)