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    Japan Post really at t – 3

    The Japan Post privatization bill has made it through committee in the House of Councillors and will go to the floor at the Monday plenary meeting. Every legislator and his grandmother has been interviewed on NHK today; no one said anything enlightening or new.

    It’s helpful to remember, BTW, that the bill that the upper house is getting is different in a lot of significant ways from the original proposal–and from what you’d normally think of as privatization. There will be a semi-governmental holding company (essentially the existing Japan Post central organization) and four individual companies for counter services, actual mail transport and delivery, savings accounts, and insurance.

    The government will not be required to sell its shares in the provider companies by 2017 as had originally been proposed, which allows plenty of time for chummy relationships between officials and top managers to form. In fact, they’ll be there from the get-go. Additionally, the ability for companies to engage in mutual shareholding has not been precluded.

    There’s also a government fund of ¥2 trillion that’s to be used to insulate the service providers against losses from the providing of deliveries and financial services to rural areas. The official line is that it can only be used to bail out local providers that are going under, and that probably is the intention; but critics say it could be used to allow Japan Post spinoff companies to undercut private providers. (Is it time for a reference to the California energy fiasco? I think it is.)

    Furthermore, the idea that Ministry of Finance officials who have depended on the money in postal savings–all ¥250 trillion of it–as part of the shadow budget are just going to sit back and watch while it disappears is hard to swallow; and then there’s the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which more directly controls the post-ier part of Japan Post.

    Of course, the privatization bill has meaning as a symbolic gesture as well as a concrete move to reform a given set of public services. We’ll have to wait and see whether it ends up being more symbolic than concrete. Well, we’ll have to wait and see whether the bill passes at all.

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