Japan’s Government of Fools: Enough is Enough

Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s incompetent leadership at home and abroad is damaging Japan’s national interest. The time has come for the Japanese people to face up to the seriousness of the situation they are in and boot this blundering government out of office, writes economist Nariai Osamu.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s incompetent leadership at home and abroad is damaging Japan’s national interest. The time has come for the Japanese people to face up to the seriousness of the situation they are in and boot this blundering government out of office, writes economist Nariai Osamu.

So the G8 Summit in Deauville has come to an end. Prime Minister Kan Naoto chose the occasion to announce to the world that Japan would follow standards “of the greatest possible transparency” in sharing with the international community all the information at its disposal regarding the nuclear accident in Fukushima. By an ironic stroke of bad timing, almost at the same time the Japanese media back home started to expose the major inconsistencies that existed in the early days of the crisis between chain-of-command instructions issuing from the Kantei and decisions being taken on the ground in terms of making an initial response to the situation in the Unit 1 reactor. It was also revealed that the government had totally neglected its responsibility to keep the public informed about shifting developments in those early stages.

Kan’s other major G8 announcement had to do with plans for Japan to increase its reliance on renewable energy to more than 20 percent by the early 2020s. This promise came totally out of the blue, with no prior debate. As if on a whim, Kan made a serious pledge to the international community without even bothering to discuss it with his own government first.

Waning International Confidence in Japan

This conduct is typical of an administration that has become rudderless and hollow. Kan’s promise at the summit of concrete plans to install solar panels in 10 million houses—a number seemingly plucked out of thin air, without any relationship to what might actually be feasible—was just the latest in a series of gaffes that have contributed to waning international confidence in Japan.

Nuclear power was not the only issue at stake at the summit. Other important items on the G8 agenda included measures to address growing imbalances in the global economy, as well as the movement toward democratization in the Middle East, including its possible impact on the world’s energy supplies. The prime minister needed to adopt a global perspective in setting out Japan’s position. Instead, Kan made the major blunder of persuading himself that he was the central player. In fact, the opposite was true. After the recent summit, the world is more skeptical about Japan than ever.

The Need for Real Leadership

The number of people still eking out an existence in evacuation shelters remains stubbornly high. The fact that the lives of more than 100,000 people remain in tatters, nearly three months after the disaster, is an indication of just how catastrophically inadequate the government’s response has been. One of Kan’s favorite turns of phrase is to say that “steady measures are being taken.” Even in speaking about the movement within his own party to oust him, he said that “steady” measures would be taken within the Democratic Party of Japan. The phrase is utterly meaningless. It is language unbefitting a national leader.

The Kan government is relying on populist gestures at home and abroad in an attempt to keep itself afloat. Meanwhile, local leaders and regular citizens in the disaster areas have despaired of the government’s Reconstruction Design Council and its empty rhetoric, and are working swiftly to rebuild the foundations of people’s daily lives and a revitalized fishing industry based on local government ideas. Compared to this kind of well-measured response to local conditions, it is painfully clear that the national government has lost its ability to respond to the crisis.

Prime Minister Kan has previously seemed ready to engage with the idea of a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, but a moratorium has been imposed on further discussions for the next two or three years. South Korea’s FTA with the EU comes into effect in July. Japan’s response has been far too slow. The time has come for the Japanese people to call time on a government and a way of doing politics that continue to damage the national interest. We can no longer afford for matters of such importance to be dealt with on a murky political stage that lacks transparency.  (Written on May 29, 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.