Japan worse than a convenience store

Tobias Harris has a great post at Observing Japan looking at a recent essay in Chuo Koron by Yƍichi Masuzoe, Japan’s minister of health, labor and welfare. Masuzoe blames the government itself for the scandal of the missing social security payment information. He paints the Japanese bureaucracy as a system of irresponsibility and equates it to the pre-war Japanese Imperial Army (!) Masuzoe finally proposes a new structure for Japanese bureaucracy which is top-down with accountability.

Harris writes:

Mr. Masuzoe clearly recognizes that Japan is missing the institutional checks present in other democracies that ferret out and punish wrongdoing by legislators and bureaucrats. Its courts are weak, its prosecutors face a standard of evidence that keeps many cases from going to trial, its agencies lack ombudsmen and inspectors general, its journalists and media outlets have all-too-cozy relationships with those in power (without a tradition of investigative journalism), and the political parties and the Diet, thanks the LDP’s nearly uninterrupted hold on power, is an enabler of bureaucratic incompetence and corruption rather than a check on administrative abuses.

My reaction is that it’s great to see a minister looking in his own back yard for the problems, because that’s clearly where the problems lie. It’s also great to see a proposal, not more theoretical discussion on what ought to be done. Masuzoe has a course of action described (however broad.) My concern, which I also posted to Observing Japan, is that people are creatures of habit and that we cannot expect a bureaucracy which has been in a system of unaccountability for decades to suddenly change how they work and act merely by decree. I’m heartened by Masuzoe’s call to action- it’s certainly more than we’ve seen from most in the government. But practically speaking it’s going to be really hard. Many mid-to-high-level bureaucrats need to be taken out and fired in order for the system to change. That’s highly unlikely and thus real change is highly unlikely.

Observing Japan: “The state is less dependable than a convenience store”

1 Comment on “Japan worse than a convenience store

  1. Gen,
    Thank you for your comments. My apologies for not replying to them sooner.
    It is indeed encouraging to see a minister who has clearly thought long and hard about the problems that ail Japan, but as we all seem to recognize, there is no way to tackle the problems piecemeal.
    The system is the problem, and as we’ve seen from modern Japanese history, systemic change usually follows from an external shock of some sort. Barring that, it is altogether too easy for those with a stake in the system to resist anything but cosmetic change.