Japan Since 1980.
Traditionally, social scientists have been attracted to postwar Japan more for what persisted than for what changed, and this is true whether we are talking about Japan's postwar economic trajectory, which was defined for so many years by high levels of growth, or its postwar electoral politics, which for more than three decades was characterized by single-party predominance. This is not to suggest that there is no scholarly work that has focused on change in postwar Japan, but rather to note the main reason why most scholarly work on the postwar Japanese political and economic systems focused on explaining why certain patterns persisted.
To be sure, existing scholarship has provided interesting explanations for why Japan's postwar political-economic trajectory involved certain ongoing patterns, but this focus on stability has been partner to certain costs in that either the changes that did occur were not anticipated or their significance was understated when they were anticipated. This general orientation in the literature has led to a need for more scholarly attention to what has changed in postwar Japan, particularly the dramatic political and economic shifts that render the last two and a half decades distinct from the four or more decades that preceded them. Japan Since 1980 by Thomas Cargill and Takayuki Sakamoto helps fill this need by offering a detailed account of not only the dramatic alterations that the bursting of Japan's economic bubble brought to Japan, but also the conditions from which they sprang and why the negative implications of the changes that occurred continued for so long.
Cargill and Sakamoto's discussion begins with an overview of the 1970s, the decade on which Japan's post-1980s changes rested, and then turns to the bubble and post-bubble periods. The authors subdivide Japan's bubble and post-bubble periods into discrete periods of time not simply because they are distinct in terms of the economic and political events that occurred during them. They also proceed in this way because doing so allows them to organize their narrative around themes that help explain how the events of each period fit into the larger story of Japan coming to face the economic and financial challenges that in many ways it has yet to overcome. These discussions begin with the five years leading up to the bubble economy, 1980-1985, which the authors refer to as the "high-water mark" of the postwar Japanese economy. The discussion of this period is followed by one focused on the five years of the bubble economy, 1985-1990, which the authors note contained the seeds of Japan's economic downfall. Cargill and Sakamoto then turn their attention to the government's response to the collapse of the bubble economy by focusing on what has come to be known as Japan's lost decade. Given that the primary emphasis of the book is to explain why conditions led to the economic bubble, why the bubble collapsed, and why the years that followed have involved little or no economic growth, a period that persists almost to the present day, they follow up this discussion with another chapter devoted to related aspects of the same issue.
The chapters that follow these period discussions contain extensive treatments of a variety of topics that form important parts to the story of how Japan ended up the way it did in the post-bubble period. These include discussions of Japan's General Account Budget and its Fiscal Investment and Loan Plan and how these two important tools of fiscal policy were reformed to help address the challenges the post-bubble period brought. No discussion of these aspects of fiscal policy would be complete without a focus on Japan's Postal Savings System and the efforts by former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to reform them in what many felt were perhaps radical ways. In this reviewer's view, this is the most interesting chapter in the volume for two reasons. The discussion of the Koizumi period brings together in a coherent narrative the policies that were devised and implemented by one of Japan's most interesting yet controversial elected leaders, and it also offers an intuitive and plausible explanation for how Prime Minister Koizumi was able to have the dramatic impact that he did on political and economic outcomes during his prime ministership and beyond. The importance of the Koizumi administration, as Cargill and Sakamoto note, is not to be underestimated--yet recognizing his impact does not mean that areas of economic and financial policy that were not as directly associated with his efforts should be ignored. To avoid this shortcoming, Cargill and Sakamoto provide extensive discussions of corporate governance and labor markets in post-1980s Japan as well as a treatment of how recent social and demographic changes are likely to affect Japan's ability to deal with its current challenges.
Taken together, the chapters in this book are essential reading for social scientists interested in what has occurred in the political-economic system of the world's second largest economy throughout the bubble and post-bubble periods. Readers should understand, however, that the discussions in this volume are dedicated more to economic and financial issues than to electoral politics. This is not necessarily problematic, because the authors' goal was to uncover the roots and persistence of Japan's long period of economic stagnation rather than to explain why electoral politics followed the trajectory it did. Moreover, this does not mean that issues related to electoral politics were completely ignored, because the authors do discuss such important political changes as the replacement of the old multimember, single nontransferable vote electoral system with the parallel system of single-member districts with proportional representation. Rather, the point is that the book's discussion of financial and economic issues implicitly presupposes that the impact of electoral politics was less important than the influence of bureaucratic and private actors. Unfortunately, there is much in the literature that shows that electoral influences and changes were an essential part of the story told by Cargill and Sakamoto, and those influences were not reported in this book. Nonetheless, this shortcoming should not keep interested readers from enjoying this book.
* Dennis P. Patterson
Department of Political Science
Texas Tech University
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|Author:||Patterson, Dennis P.|
|Publication:||Journal of East Asian Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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