I ask my students whether they think Japan should join the TPP: some say ‘yes’; others ‘no’; and just as many look confused. The issue is one of the few things that Japan cannot get a consensus on. This is reflected at the very top: Prime Minister Noda doesn’t want to make a decision for fear of upsetting someone. And so he came up with the masterful non-decision of deciding that they would talk to the other countries who will be attending the TPP talks. He said in effect that he would talk about going to the talks. The world scratches its head at the Japanese behaving like a lawyer playing with words and procedures.
The only strong reaction in Japan has been from the JA – Japanese Agriculture thingy. They are a union, a bank, an energy provider and have an office in thousands of towns and cities up and down the Japanese islands. They have immense power because their members are easily persuaded to vote as the leadership commands. They have traditionally put their weight behind the Jiminto Party that has virtually owned the Diet since the end of the war.
It is a situation that is hard to comprehend when put in the light of the fact that agriculture only makes up 1.5% of the total Japanese economy; and yet JA wields such massive power. Agriculture is subsidized up to 700%. Traditionally the Japanese have resolutely protected their markets. They take pride in the fact that foreign giants give up on Japan as ‘Galapagos’: too alien, too far away; too differently evolved. While the rest of the world has understood that you don’t need a keyboard if you have a touchscreen, the Japanese continue to make ugly hybrid mobile phones.
It is no accident the Galapagos view of Japan. Across the board government ministries erect outrageous tariffs stopping foreign goods being competitive on the Japanese market. Rumour has it that they even buy their quotas of rice and food from other countries and just leave the produce to rot in warehouses. Ever since the 1970s the Americans have been coming to Japan and receiving assurances from Japanese ministers that the barriers will be dropped and that they will be able to fairly compete in the Japanese market. Within weeks of getting back to USA Inc. they discover that none of the promises have been acted upon. This is because elected ministers have less power than vice ministers who are career bureaucrats, who have spent many years building up influence and grooming their immediate subordinates. They hand over the baton to a hand-picked successor and take a tasty job on the board of a company that they have helped throughout their bureaucratic career. I’s called descended from heaven and it’s been going on since democracy started in Japan. Ministries set up the major corporations after the war and continue to help them. It is unlike other countries where business is separate to and independent from government. The two overlap in Japan and elected officials have always been unsuccessful at implementing their promises both to the Americans and the Japanese people because they don’t have the necessary connections in the ministries.
I suspect that Noda knows all of this. Even if he had a strong will to bring Japan into the TPP officialdom in Japan would silently scupper the agreement and the foreigners would eventually get the message and bugger off.
Here we see the limits of democracy in action. The government that is chosen by the people does not hold the power. They have to share the power with the ministries, big companies and organized crime. Every time one of these groups gains too much influence the others make temporary alliances to restore the balance of power. This is easily done as the education system and media in Japan is one of the best brainwashing set ups ever foisted upon a nation. They have turned most of the populace into robots who have been imprinted to love their company and to shun any type of important opinion. They spend endless hours at school achieving nothing and spend countless hours in the office also achieving nothing. Form has trumped content. It is more important to greet people properly than to make a pertinent comment. They wear bizarre uniforms at school and then wear bizarre uniforms at work. In times of great stress everyone dons a factory uniform. Subliminally this says everyone is the same; it also says that nobody takes responsibility. The ideal decision in Japan is one that arises by itself from the group without anyone suggesting it.
This is the problem with the TPP. The agriculture boys have donned headbands and paid for people to protest. The car and electronic lads who have something to lose by Japan not joining the TPP don’t want to marshal their resources into getting their headbands out on the streets. Conflict is bad form. The illusion of consensus is vital to keeping the populace robotized. Besides they know that even if Noda grew some balls and forced a law through the Diet enacting the essentials of the TPP the ministries would just find other ways to make sure foreign products failed in the Japanese markets.
In a way they are right to do so. The Americans have fallen in love with two very stupid ideas – deregulation and market forces. These two things have turned the world’s economic powerhouse into a laughing stock. Manufacturing has been outsourced so the working class has nothing to do, and deregulation has led to Goldman Sachs and their ilk stealing 700 trillion dollars from the world economy.
The Japanese are trying to hold the car companies in check who also want to outsource most of their jobs. They have never really believed in market forces: instead they set up chains of small companies all working for a few big companies. Prices are set and competition is only cosmetic. Their banks spunked away so much cash in the bubble economy that the card shark charms of the Goldman Sachs of the world have failed to convince a second time; besides the Yakuza would be employed by the traditional power holders in Japan to pull the pimps from the table of power.
It is no bad thing trying to protect your companies and trying to give everyone a job. This lowers crime rates and allows every family to waste their money on flat screen TVs and cars (made in Japan). Consumerism only works when the population has excess cash.
Wall Street has bankrupted its host and so it is pulling the strings to get the White House to open up new markets for American products. Japan and China are the tastiest looking victims for American food and pharmaceutical companies as well as American health providers. Hell they could do with buying American financial products as well. They aren’t offering much in return because Japan and Korea already boss the US car market. The world already knows that you would have to be a complete moron having a bad day to choose a computer made in China instead of one made in Japan.
The only way in which America and the TPP could help the Japanese people is by lowering food prices. Going to a Japanese supermarket is a shocking experience: one dollar for one poxy potato, two dollars for one lousy apple, one hundred dollars for a friggin water melon and eighty dollars for a bag of rice. It is an outrageous monopoly. The farmers are laughing when they can wrap up individual items and flog them as luxury items. Food is a basic necessity not a luxury. No wonder the Japanese are constantly giving each other food as presents. It is worth nearly as much as gold.
The population has been conned into going along with this absurd inflation of prices by being made to believe that Japanese food products are superior to similar items from other countries. This is not quite true. They use environmentally unfriendly fertilizers and pesticides like everyone else and they mistreat their cows, chickens and pigs like everyone else. Maybe they don’t use GM seeds and they don’t torture their animals quite as much as the Yanks, but the difference does not justify charging the prices that they do. It is impossible to convince Japanese people of this since they have been imprinted with these convictions from an early age. Every time a student returns from a foreign country they tell the class that foreign food sucks and that the class is so lucky to eat bland over-priced Nippon food. It is about the strongest opinion that is tolerated by the group.
So what will happen with the TPP? The Japanese will flirt like a high school virgin with America; they will let the Americans get to second base but will resolutely hold onto to their cherry. The CIA will then blow something up in America and will find a pair of chopsticks at the scene of the crime that has miraculously not gone up in flames. This will lead to a wasp Tea-Party nutter getting into the White House and declaring war on chopstick countries. They will suspend all civil liberties at home until all chopstick sympathizers have been weeded out. Congress will vote trillions of dollars to the military industrial complex to wage war on the chopstick axis of evil. This money they will borrow from China. Eventually the 1% of the 1% who pulls the strings in America and Northern Europe will have stolen so much from the world that they will have to move to another planet to avoid paying taxes or giving it back.
Kind thanks to Brad for explaining the TPP to me and to the Dutch bloke who wrote the book ‘The Enigma of Japanese Power’.