Gregory Noble - Professor, Institute of Social Science at the University of Tokyo
Despite the storied role of particularistic spending in postwar Japanese politics, expenditures on roads, bridges, agricultural projects and the like have steadily lost ground to more programmatic outlays on social welfare, education, science and technology, and public safety (but not defense or foreign aid). Former Prime Minister Koizumi played an important role in this shift, but the trends preceded him and have continued under his much weaker successors. The shift away from particularism reflects the interaction of three loose policy coalitions: neo-liberals, social democrats, and fiscal conservatives. The three groups differ on ultimate goals, but agree on the need to cut particularistic spending first. The predominance of these policy coalitions, in turn, reflects the changing environment surrounding Japanese economic policy: weak economic growth that has hardened the constraints on Japanese budgets; increasing dependence on international financial markets; demands for social welfare from a rapidly aging society; electoral and administrative reforms; and, largely as a result, mass and elite opinion increasingly intolerant of wasteful spending. Programmatic politics now dominates Japanese politics, and may motivate partisan reshuffling.