So much for that huge “dose of fresh air” from Japan now that Yukio Hatoyama, the former Stanford doctoral student, has become Japan’s first opposition prime minister in nearly 20 years.
Hatoyama was candid enough to admit to his people that his administration will be characterized by a “process of trial and error and there will be some mistakes.”
At a time when the Japanese yen is soaring –a big hurt to exporters like Honda and Nintendo — he appointed the spry Hirohisa Fujii, aged 77, to be Finance Minister — the same position he held 16 years ago when an opposition party held the reins of power for 11 months. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, diffident and unflashy, will ensure that relations with Washington don’t go off the rails.
However, my FAVORITE Japanese politician has also found his way into the new, uh “reform” Cabinet. Shizuka Kamei, leader of the splinter People’s New Party, will be in charge of “postal and financial affairs” –which is like putting Al Capone in charge of the Federal Reserve.
Kamei, 72, is the Japanese leader most like a classic Chicago wardheeler in the days of “The Boss” Richard J. Daley. (Yes I once covered politics in Chicago.) Kamei firmly believes in spending goverment largesse on dams, subways, highways and whatever else will give people jobs. He’s now been put in charge of the agency that was supposed to break up the world’s largest bank — the Japanese Postal Savings system — and get that money flowing into private and commercial accounts where it could be better spent.
Kamei opposed the postal privatization agenda of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the maverick who kept ruling LDP from killing itself off in the mid-1990s, and subsequently left the party in which he had been a powerhouse for decades.
Now he turns up as a Cabinet member in a so-called “reform” government. Of course this is a political “payoff” for supporting of the Democrats in the Japanese parliament. But it bodes ill for the sort of deep and drastic reform the country needs if it is ever to emerge from its financial “black hole.”
Kamei is likely to push the use of postal savings to prop up small and medium industries that have been going broke for years. He has already proposed a three-year debt moratorium, and could conceivably force the postal savings system to issue more “life support” loans to so-called “zombie” firms. These firms are the “living dead” – no longer economically functional, but still not killed off.
Japan needs a healthy dose of entrepreneurship, innovation and new business creation. That can’t happen if so much of its capital is tied up in moribund firms that are kept in business.
The clash between the OLD and NEW Japan will be fought even within Hatoyama’s new cabinet. Kamei’s first name –Shizuka– can be rendered to mean “quiet.” Kamei, a blustery, barrel- chested old-school pol, is anything but. He would endorse the comments of a famous old Windy City pol who once said, “Chicago ain’t ready for reform.”