Sunday, December 30, 2012

Abe's new cabinet

Japan's new prime minister (for a second time), Shinzo Abe, has made statements that probably mean nuclear power will stay on in Japan as part of the energy mix. He has even hinted at the possibility of new nuclear plant construction.

That doesn't mean everything is okay in Japan, however. Far from it. Abe's new cabinet ministries demonstrate, with their Orwellian names and unnoticed irony, the intractable nature of some of Japan's problems.

Hakobun Shimomura is minister for, amongst other things, education reform. Judging by his party's record in past decades when it comes to education however, a more apt title would probably be Minister for the Prevention of Education Reform.

Akihiro Ota is the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism minister. Covering a wide array of sins, he bears responsibility for administering tens of trillions of yen of completely useless public works, plunging Japan's future generations into debt which it is statistically impossible to repay. The construction industry has been having continual celelebrations since the election. While the more realistic of Japan's commentators acknowledge that what the country really needs is a massive deconstruction program, this is very unlikely in what is basically a return to the dreamworld of the 60s and 70s. Looks like more bridges to nowhere and airports for cabbages. As for tourism, he will be managing the Irreversible Decline of Japanese Tourism as the country turns ever more inward.

Nobutera Ishihara is the State Minister of Nuclear Crisis Management. As the Daiichi plant in Fukushima achieved cold shutdown 12 months ago, and there have been no significant releases of radiactive materials since early 2011, it is hard to see what he will be managing. Having worked in a board of education office however, I can imagine what he will be doing. Having meetings about the chair arrangement in the next meeting, for example.

Masako Mori is the State Minister for Measures for the Declining Birthrate. If ever there is an impossible task, this is it. Japan's fertility is on a one-way trip to extinction, and real measures to address it (empowerment of women, free childcare, flexible work hours, immigration of young people) will certainly be out of her control. Possibly they chose her because it was thought she could reverse Japan's declining birthrate merely by virtue of being a woman herself. If she is planning to do it single handedly, she better get started.

Akira Amari is State Minister for Economic Revitalization. Another Mission Impossible. Japan's ageing and shrinking population, not mention moribund political, financial and cultural customs, make economic growth all but impossible.

Tomomi Inada is State Minister for Administrative Reforms and Public Servant System Reforms. Considering that real policy in Japan is controlled by the public servant system, which has no interest in reform and furthermore that the LDP campaigned more or less on a platform of reversing what reforms had been achieved by previous administrations, I predict that Tomomi Inada will be attending many meetings and not doing much else.

No comments: