Nations Committing Suicide - Part 1, Japan

Japan is a country that I love for their food, their people, and many other things, but unfortunately, their culture and way of thinking has led them to slowly, but surely, make sure that they will shrink as a nation, and become less and less relevant, to the point of disappearing from the map...

  1. Their politicians — elected by the people! — and central bankers have created a long term depression that has been going on since 1990 and still no end in sight.
  2. Their birth rate doesn't renew generations, and the natality rate is directly related to the fact that most youngsters have been living their entire life in a depression economy and that social mood is very low.
  3. They have amassed a public debt of more than 200% their GDP and are on the verge of a currency crisis.
  4. The Fukushima incident, 100% caused by negligence, has made of Japan a nuclear waste zone — who knows what kinds of diseases will affect the people in the next 20 to 200 years?
  5. And now, I read that  a modern-day Adolf Hitler is running Osaka, and with the rise of the extremes, who knows where this is going to end? While the Bloomberg report below doesn't say much, and it seems like a big exaggeration, I've found another link with much more (I'm still doubtful he's a Hitler-like type of person though).
(Bloomberg) May 30, 2012 — Who knew a modern-day Adolf Hitler was running Osaka? 
Certainly not the majority of the 2.7 million people in the western Japanese city. Toru Hashimoto boasts an approval rating more than twice that of the prime minister. Osakans love their mayor’s crusade against Tokyo’s dysfunction and absolute power over the country. It has Japan’s old guard running scared and comparing Hashimoto to Europe’s most notorious genocidal fascist. 
If the world needs anything, it’s a moratorium on Hitler analogies. As much as one may dislike Barack Obama or George W. Bush, neither bears even the most fleeting resemblance to the maniacal German leader. Suggestions to the contrary are beyond ignorance and vandalize history. Yet for Japanese to turn to a man in this rarefied company speaks volumes about where Japan finds itself in a volatile global environment. 
The desire for change reached a fever pitch after last year’s earthquake and tsunami. Even before the earth shook, the waters rose and radiation leaked on March 11, 2011, Japanese sensed Tokyo had lost its way. Many just hadn’t realized how much. Hence the Tea Party-like dynamic inherent to Hashimoto’s popularity. His drive for greater accountability, decentralized decision making and fresh ideas is as well-timed as it is frightening to the establishment. 
The words “a future prime minister” routinely accompany discussions of Hashimoto’s rapid rise. At 42, he’s young and telegenic in a nation where the other best-known regional leader, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, is 79. Hashimoto is unusually blunt in his criticism of national leaders, and his vision is at odds with the prevailing wisdom in Tokyo.
Yet at a time when Japanese are grasping for change, Hashimoto is what passes for a breath of fresh air. Take his stance against relying on nuclear power, one that enraged the national government. Hashimoto is doing what any elected leader should: heeding the will of the people. The large majority of Japan’s 126 million people no longer trust power companies and bureaucrats to protect them from another Chernobyl. 
All Yoshihiko Noda has done since becoming prime minister in September is remind voters that the nuclear industry holds the puppet strings even after the Fukushima disaster. Hashimoto is fighting for people, not companies, and good for him. This gives you a sense of how dangerous divergent views are to vested interests in Tokyo -- and why Japan needs more of them. 
Hashimoto’s calls for greater accountability and competition are particularly welcome. His party favors direct elections for prime minister, which would be a genuine revolution in Japan. It wants to scrap one of the two chambers of the Diet to hasten decision making and reduce the gridlock that stops virtually all change in Japan.

The dark side of this would be a charismatic leader becoming too powerful -- even dictatorial. That has opponents calling the movement “Hashism,” a play on fascism. This is a minor risk in a nation with so many checks and balances embedded in its postwar system of government. What really worries the establishment is new ideas that leave its carefully built fiefdoms out of the loop. 
This really is the point. Japan is a prosperous, safe and politically stable place. Yet it may be a little too stable and, in turn, change-averse. Public debt is more than twice the size of Japan’s $5.5 trillion economy, the population is aging rapidly and its global competitiveness is waning. How is the government responding? All it seems capable of doing is naming a new prime minister every nine months and plotting tax increases.
Japan, it has long been said, needs a new generation of leaders to step forward and engineer a major course correction. Hashimoto, love him or hate him, personifies it, and the extent to which he makes the establishment squirm, and play the Hitler card, suggests this political upstart is on to something. 
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.) 

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