27 August 2009

Japan elections - Update - 30-Aug-09 21:14 PST

UPDATE (30-Aug-09, 21:14 PST) - results are in, and it's a WOLLOP: The DPJ has won 308 seats, the Communists 9 seats, and the Social Democratic Party is on 7. Anything over 300 would be considered a landslide. Let's see what the DPJ can do - their challenges are huge.

Japan goes to the polls on Sunday, have you heard?

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party ("LDP") has been in power pretty much since the end of WWII (except for 10 months in the 90's), and they've had a good run. A small, crowded island nation absolutely devastated by war, with no natural resources, managed to make itself into the 2nd largest economy in the world behind only the United States - a position it still holds, depending on how you count the EU. It's an achievement unparalleled in human history, and one of which the Japanese people are justifiably proud. The Japanese in their 70's in Japan - those born in the 40's - were born into an impoverished, humiliated nation hated by its neighbors; experienced food rationing for decades; and were saddled with a government structure they didn't choose. Despite this, they toiled and sacrificed and rebuilt, giving their children more prosperity than nearly anyone on the planet had ever achieved. They had participatory electoral politics, broadly recognized freedoms of expression and association, and an independent judiciary. They worked long days for the new emerging industries and saw as a common goal the achievements of the nation. Their children continued the social contract - working very hard their whole lives for country and employer, still often conflated, knowing that they had social peace, liftetime employment, security and prosperity. Their grandkids, however - well, not so much. Which collapsed first - the social contract or the broad consensus among Japanese to support it? The end of lifetime employment or the broad Japanese commitment to working uninteresting jobs for a lifetime? Good question, and one for a PhD in socio-economics thesis.

In 2009, the Japanese economy is in a mess. Headline from today's Japan Times reads: "Unemployment hits all time high of 5.7%" - not exactly what you want to hear if you're the ruling party heading into an election on Sunday.

The graphic to the left shows what economic growth has looked like in Japan since their own bubble burst in 1991 - a cautionary tale for Mr. Obama and economic policy makers in DC, perhaps - and it's been grim. Stagflation, deflation, a collapse of exports as local competitors have underbid them and oversold them, and a sclerotic political system with a complete inability to reform itself have all left Japan with decreasing confidence, stagnant prosperity, increasing unrest, unemployment, and poverty, and the social problems concomitant with each.

As if that weren't enough, Japan has absolutely no plan to deal with its own depopulation. Its domestic market is shrinking, its population is greying, and its culture has so far been hyper resistant to solutions to declining populations that other nations have pursued - i.e., immigration. Until some political party or leader is willing to talk about this elephant in the room - Japan's population is predicted to contract under 110 million, down from over 140 million, in twenty years - there is likely little that a new ruling coaltion (or government, if the predictions of voter anger at the LDP are accurate and the DPJ [Democratic Party of Japan] wins a majority outright) can do to alter the landscape of Japan's economic malaise.

Election results should start coming in around 5 pm PST (Sunday, 30-Aug). Stay tuned...

No comments: