Friday, February 21, 2014
Abe Shinzo's World, Framed
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo chairing a meeting of the Ministerial Council on Monthly Economic Report and Other Relative Issues on 19 February 2014. Image courtesy the Prime Minister's Residence website.
It is a good day when one article helps illuminate the substrate of reality beneath the facade of events.
If so, yesterday was an amazing day.
- In refutation of Abe Shinzo's remarks in Davos on the severity of the threat posed by China's rise (Link), Robert Dujarric takes apart the idea that China is this century's Wilhelmine Germany. (Link)
Dujarric's arguments notwithstanding, Abe was not wrong to at least try an association of 2014 with 1914 (Link). He seems to have a sense, and it is not an unreasonable one, that the rest of the world has caught up with where he and his friends were on China during the first Abe Administration. Abe and Company's Sinophobia made them freaks in 2006. In 2014, their paranoia is mainstream. (Link)
An acid "We told you so!" from Abe and his supporters would not be out of place.
- Illustrating the extent to which a desperate desire for autonomy (What I have identified as the revisionist right's fervent and quixotic hope that Japan can become the Turkey of East Asia) drives even the Abe Administration's macroeconomic policies is Andrew Browne's interview of Abe economics guru Honda Etsuro (Link). There is nothing in Honda's righteous and occasionally maudlin performance that should come as a surprise to anyone who has listened to Japanese business executives, politicians and academics -- men and women -- talk these past two decades. The huge audience for the the books of Hyakuta Naoki (Link) and the big turnout for General Tamogami Toshio in the Tokyo gubernatorial election show that a sizable fraction of the general population is sympathetic to the revisionist project as well -- far more than Japan explainers have been willing to admit. What is interesting is Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide reached into to his rapidly depleting store of credibility to deny in the Diet that Abenomics has a military objective. (Link)
The inescapable problem with the Japanese revisionist quest for autonomy (the right, for example, for Japanese school curricula to be as crammed with nationalist claptrap as the school curricula of China and South Korea) is, beyond all else, where to get the money for it. The governments national and local are in debt up to their eyeballs, the national government relying on ridiculous levels of deficit financing to keep the economy from cratering. Demographics is hammering down Japan's potential rate of growth. Raising Japan's defense spending to meet the challenge of China's rise would require either heftier taxation or nonsensical cuts in current government spending on non-security programs.
Abenomics, if a full program of easing, stimulus and restructuring were carried out, would go part way toward funding a more autonomous Japan -- but only part way. What the revisionists would never admit is they have no answers for how to pay for the whole journey.