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    Shopping for voters

    So the composition of Fukuda’s cabinet is nearly the same as that of Abe’s most recent one. (Two ministers who supported Taro Aso for prime minister were apparently surprised to be retained.) The approval rating for the new cabinet is 53%.

    No, make that 59%.

    Oops! I mean, 58%.

    Whatever. It looks as if a majority-and-change of voters approve of the new Fukuda administration, though that may change once it’s had a chance to start doing things. (And to look at it from another angle, 74% of eligible voters think the lower house should be dissolved at some point within the year.)

    Most of us foreign bloggers who write about Japanese politics pay a lot of attention to foreign policy, for obvious reasons. But domestic policy is a potential cause for worry, too, in ways that could eventually affect the balance of power in East Asia.

    There’s been a lot of talk that the recent economic recovery has disproportionally benefited urban areas and [ominous radio soap opera organ music] “big business.” Fukuda and Aso both made a point of talking about assistance to rural areas, which have traditionally been a crucial part of the LDP voting base. I can’t find the Japanese report I originally saw, but the AP noted one of Fukuda’s statements before the election:

    “I’ll seriously consider the rural problems and will listen to the voices of the residents,” Fukuda, 71, said as he walked through a shopping arcade near a local train station. “I see a lot of shops that had been closed down. We must take care of the problem.”

    Reforms in recent years have allowed the economy’s steady expansion after long years of stagnation, but critics say the benefits are limited to big corporations and are not reaching small business and rural towns.

    Dissatisfaction over the slow economic recovery among rural voters was also considered a major cause for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s loss in the July elections for the upper house of parliament.

    I’m not sure that rural areas can realistically recover without undergoing even more pain in the short term. During the era of economic hypergrowth, Japan did not encourage its workers to expect shocks and be adaptable. Small, depopulating towns have done a terrible job of capitalizing on opportunities for tourism and niche-market manufacturing. (In that sense, they’re following the leads of the major cities, with their ridiculous high-tech “new city” boondoggles, but at least the metro agglomerations have wealth-creating enterprises to counterbalance them.) The laws governing urban planning and large-scale retail stores have morphed over the years, and there’s more regulatory control in the hands of local governments; but the fact remains that the poorest parts of Japan are places where the potential for cheap distribution is least capitalized on. Not that big corporations are benefiting solely because of greater efficiency and quality control; they know how to leverage their longstanding relationships with the bureaucrats that effectively regulate them to their benefit, too.

    Japan is still stuck in the mindset of trying to predict and then micromanage the future. That may provide a comforting sense of stability in the short term, and it enables politicians to unveil grand plans that show they’re “getting things done,” but it’s a recipe for disaster when the world changes in unanticipated ways. Me, what I anticipate is more rhetoric and economy-distorting subsidies.

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