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    The Iron Triangle

    Kyouri Kai

    Knowledge :

    The Iron Triangle

    Post by Kyouri Kai on Fri 22 Feb 2008, 2:43 pm

    These terms are the lowest common denominators of how things run in Japan. The Iron Triangle is the Japanese System -- the politicians, Big Business/Special Interests, and the bloated bureaucracy. So who runs the country? None of them, really. Each is engaged in a tug-of-war for their own interests. The politicians want re-election, the bureaucrats want cushy jobs and bigger budgets (and fight reform and any attempt to streamline themselves out of a job) and Big Business/Special interests want protection, public works projects, subsidies, and freedom from the other 2 groups' meddling. And each coddles or lambastes the others to get what they want. The bureaucratic ministries themselves are often at war with eachother, with one department or ministry fighting another in turf battles. The winner gets more clout and a bigger budget. What happens when something goes wrong? Each side points their fingers at the other, and plays the blame game. Since Japanese do things by consensus, getting a consensus means a lot of negociation and horse-trading (nemawashi). In Japan even the smallest problem must turn into a major crisis before something is done about it. Even if some reform is passed, it's up to the bureaucrats to implement it; and by tacking on numerous procedures and red tape (called gyosei shido, or "administrative guidance") they can severely water down its effects. People vote for politicians who can bring home the most pork. Fully 10% of the Japanese people are employed in the construction industry, a major beneficiary of public-works spending. With Japan's post-war economic miracle and rapid urbanization, but no change in the distribution of political power, today's dwindling rural voter has 4 votes to every urbanite--and they continue to pursue protectionism and pork at the expense of everyone. And politicians are more than happy to oblige for the votes. Today Japan's budget deficit is officially over 140% of GDP (unofficial estimates put it at over 270% of GDP) and rising. And these practices show no sign of ending soon. And in many industries, the mafia (yakuza) carry considerable influence. (For a comparitive study, look at Italy's history for the last 100 years. The parallels are uncanny).

    So how can such a system exist in a "democracy"? In part because there is no accountability or taking of responsibility -- nor any effective Freedom of Information Law where the public can see how its tax money is being spent. In other nations, there is the public "right to know", but in Japan info is only disclosed if there is a "need to know", and so far the government feels the public doesn't need to know. Only in 2001, after a full 22 years of Liberal-Democratic Party stonewalling, will any such law come into effect -- and the politicians and bureaucrats can still withhold any info if they feel there are "sufficient reasons". To sum up their attitude, one LDP Diet member warned that the law could give "a mistaken notion of direct supervision by the people".

    The Empty Center is another term for the Japanese System. In short, the person at the top is not the person in charge. The Prime Minister is not the most powerful man in the country, but the puppet-masters who put him there are. The person with the most business contacts and bureaucrats in his hip pocket stays in the shadows and exerts influence from there. This is not new. Historically, for centuries the Emperor was a powerless figurehead -- it was the Shogun who ruled. Yet to maintain order, the Shogun always said he ruled in the Emperor's name -- never was there a declaration of a new dynasty. Often when scandals errupt, it is the president of the company who resigns -- even if he didn't have any connection -- out of a sense of giri, or a duty to fufill social obligations. In fact, by the time a proposal reaches the CEO, it's more or less decided by the underlings and consensus already. The top-down, take charge approach is not common in Japan. However, for small companies and the like, the manager may exercise total control. For you, maybe in a small school or firm, you might face a petty-dictator or a control-freak. Power is the ultimate drug -- if you come here, you can't get it, but you may have to deal with those that are addicted to it.

    taken from Japanese Culture: A Primer for Newcomers