Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Negative Aspects of Labelling Neoliberalism
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

March 1, 2022
Among the developed countries in the world, Japan is extremely allergic to "neoliberalism" and "globalism. These words are associated with such policies as "regulatory reform," "competition" and "market-driven economy”. But in the case of Japan, this has often been perceived as a short-sighted policy of leaving people exposed to the rough wind of the wilderness" or a policy of“the strong preying upon the weak”, and has been used as a reason to reject reform and competition. There is little ground in general terms to dispute the claim that the Kishida administration’s "new capitalism" is meant to be a reexamination of the nature of capitalism. But I am concerned that this can be used as a reason to neglect reform and competition.

The terms "regulatory reform" and "market-driven economy" were used in the most positive way in Japanese society was in the early to late 1990s, when the end of the Cold War accelerated globalization. This was due to the neoliberal policies of Reagan and Thatcher from the end of the 1970s.

Neoliberal economic policies such as regulatory reform, competition, and market-driven economy, especially in the U.S. and the U.K., allowed capitalism to overpower socialism based on planned economy. This led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In turn, neoliberal policies were introduced in the world, especially in developed countries.

In Japan, too, neoliberalism and globalism were seen as a way to eliminate excessive regulations in the traditional political and economic system, to break open the closed society, and to bring Japan closer to the global standard. As a specific policy, there was a strong call for "regulatory reform" and "market-driven economy".

In my view, this positive evaluation shifted to skepticism in Japan between 1997 and 1998, when the economic crisis became more serious. Financial institutions such as Yamaichi Securities went bankrupt one after another, and currency crises broke out in Asia, which had been a growth center of the world, and distrust and skepticism toward deregulation and market-driven economy rapidly mounted. Then came the Lehman shock in 2008, followed by the Euro crisis.

As a correspondent for more than nine years from the mid-1980s to the end of the 1990s, I closely observed the debate on neoliberalism and globalism in Europe. Even within a country, there are differences in temperature among business people, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens, but roughly speaking, Britain is positive, followed by Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, then the strongest anti-globalist sentiment is in France and Italy.

France, like Japan, is a society with solid vested interests protected by a variety of regulations. Successive governments have attempted to liberalize the labor market and reform the pension and welfare systems, but each attempt has been thwarted by large-scale demonstrations and resistance movements with violence. There is a strong allergy to neoliberalism and globalism, especially among intellectuals and workers, and it is interpreted as “Americanism of the law of the jungle”.

The German economy dynamism is often compared to the sinking of the French economy. Germany, although once called the "sick man of Europe," implemented labor market reforms and other measures under the center-left Schröder Social Democratic Party (SDP) government (1998-2005). There is no doubt that this led to the subsequent buoying-up of the German economy and Merkel's long-term administration.

Christine Lagarde, a French and President of the European Central Bank, once said in an interview, "French people are against globalization while benefiting from globalism. I want them to take a broader look at the reality." "The French media focuses a lot on the negative aspects of globalism and does not want to touch on the positive aspects," she said of the social atmosphere of France.

The debate about neoliberalism and globalism in Japan is similar to that in France. It is stuck in the pitfall of a fundamentalist dichotomy between “for” and “against”. There is no debate on how to pragmatically introduce regulatory reform and competition in order to create social dynamism.

In this connection, the problem is that so-called zombie companies, due for retirement because of inefficiency, are being preserved, preventing metabolic change. This is also linked to the resistance by vested interests that are bent on preserving the old industries.

Architect Kengo Kuma recently said in a magazine that post-war Japan relied on the construction and real estate industries as economic engines more than the U.S. did. “In the U.S., after the bubble burst, new industries such as IT and art were responsible for rebuilding the economy, while Japan focused on physically piling up things vertically in order to keep the construction and real estate industries alive. This is why other industries did not grow. I think that is the reason why companies like Google were not born in Japan, and that is the reason why Japan feels hemmed in today”. “Piling things up vertically” refers to the deregulation that made it easier to build high-rise buildings such as apartments and condominiums.

Up until now, including during the Koizumi administration, I do not believe that neoliberal policies in Japan have gone to the extent of “leaving people exposed to the rough wind of the wilderness”. We need to provide enough safety net, but we should stop using the label of "neoliberalism" as a reason to reject regulatory reform and competition.

Megumi Nishikawa is a contributing editor of Mainichi Shimbun
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2022年 3月 1日







フランス経済の沈滞と比較されて語られるのがドイツ経済の活況だ。「欧州の病人」とまで言われたドイツは、中道左派のシュレーダー社民党政権(1998年~ ?2005年)の下で労働市場改革などを断行。これはその後の経済浮揚を実現し、メルケル長期政権につながったことは疑いない事実である。






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Negative Aspects of Labelling Neoliberalism