Japan Needs to Be on a “Wartime” Footing

These are extraordinary times, and they call for extraordinary action. Economist Nariai Osamu criticizes the Japanese government’s failure to adequately lead the recovery effort, and argues that a new leadership structure must be established to cut through bureaucratic red tape and speed up the pace of rebuilding the affected areas.

These are extraordinary times, and they call for extraordinary action. Economist Nariai Osamu criticizes the Japanese government’s failure to adequately lead the recovery effort, and argues that a new leadership structure must be established to cut through bureaucratic red tape and speed up the pace of rebuilding the affected areas.

One month after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami struck, good news began to be heard. It was reported that the big automakers were resuming production and that breweries had gotten off to a fresh start, indicating that the first steps toward reconstruction were being taken. These moves toward recovery are a testament to the remarkable strength at the local level of Japan’s businesses and municipalities.

But major delays have been evident when it comes to providing essential assistance and shoring up the foundation for reconstruction, which are tasks for the central government to handle. In particular, the government has fallen short when it comes to building temporary housing, distributing relief money, rebuilding damaged infrastructure, and cleaning up after the nuclear disaster. Electricity shortages and radiation concerns have had a serious impact on industrial activities aimed at getting the domestic supply chain back into good working order. If a full-fledged production recovery cannot be accomplished within the next three months or so, Japan will find itself losing ground that cannot be recovered. The government seems to have lost the ability to think about external policies, such as its stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. Under these circumstances, there is a growing risk that Japanese companies will find themselves unable to keep pace with global developments.

Situation Calls for “Grown-up” Politics

Even with regard to such urgent tasks as clearing away rubble, it is easy to understand the delays that will be caused as long as the authorities insist on following the “peacetime” rules that require individuals to gain permission before doing anything. Erecting temporary housing is taking time because it falls under the jurisdiction of a number of public offices. The foremost cause of the delays is a crippling lack of leadership. To deal with the emergency properly, the government must adopt a “wartime” mode of planning and responding. But our leaders have not adopted a resolute posture of persuading the public of this necessity.

Because of the way the public is being informed about the impact of radiation, people are becoming more distrustful of the government and falling into despair. The administration, aiming to make a political show of how it is handling reconstruction, has set up number of committees and headquarters around the prime minister as advisory organs. However, it has left the all-important job of implementation in the hands of the respective ministries and agencies. This is not a setup that can deal promptly with critical tasks.

Just as Japan set up an Economic Stabilization Board after World War II to oversee the nation’s reconstruction, today it should establish a “Reconstruction Stabilization Board” and concentrate power in it. The board should be provided with unified authority and responsibility extending across the jurisdictions of ministries, agencies, and local government. Its membership should not consist only of politicians and bureaucrats. Experts from all concerned fields should be placed in key posts from the top down to the working level. Work should begin immediately to set up the board as a powerful implementation organization capable of making a supralegal response. To bring it into being, the government and opposition parties should join hands to enact a temporary law, engaging in the sort of “grown-up” politics that the situation requires. (Written on April 22, 2011.)

In This Series
An Economist’s View of the Disaster
A Fatal Lack of Urgency (July 26)
Japan’s Government of Fools: Enough is Enough (May 29)
Have the Current Generation Foot the Reconstruction Bill (May 8)
Japan Needs to Be on a “Wartime” Footing (April 22)
Four Priorities for Reconstruction (April 5)
Grasping the Nettle on Public Finance (March 23)

Nariai Osamu

Nariai Osamu

Graduated from the University of Tokyo, where he majored in economics. Served in various posts at the former Economic Planning Agency and as a senior economist at the Institute for International Policy Studies. Is now a professor at Reitaku University. Also active as an independent economist. His works include Exploring the Japanese Economy.