From Technocracy to Aristocracy: The Changing Career Paths of Japanese Politicians
North, Christopher Titus, Journal of East Asian Studies
My study investigates whether there has been a relative decline in the position of the Japanese bureaucracy in their relationship with politicians in recent decades. My hypothesis is that the loss of bureaucratic influence has been a function of the declining position of former bureaucrats within the ruling Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), and that politicians who were able to enter the Diet at a young age (due to hereditary recruitment) have gained influence. Their seniority has placed them at an advantage in promotion to key party and government posts. I use probit and logit analysis of LDP cabinet and Diet members (1955-2003) to demonstrate the decline of former bureaucrats within the LDP in terms of their overall numbers and their occupancy of key posts.
KEYWORDS: administrative, reform, zoku, bureaucracy, Japan, LDP, second-generation, cabinet, politicians, seniority
The core issue underlying the bulk of scholarly research into the Japanese political economy is the relationship between the bureaucracy and the politicians. A debate has raged between scholars who contend that politicians have little choice than to delegate huge amounts of authority to the bureaucracy and those who insist that politicians take a very active role in policymaking.
Those who contend that politicians should delegate a substantial amount of policymaking authority to the bureaucracy cite the large number of former bureaucrats in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and their institutional loyalty to (as well as faith in) the bureaucracy. Chalmers Johnson and Daniel Okimoto are among scholars who emphasize the prominent role of former bureaucrats within the LDP. (1) Other scholars say that once politicians developed policymaking capabilities of their own they ceased delegating so much authority to the bureaucracy. Takashi Inoguchi and Michio Muramatsu both put forth such arguments. (2) I argue that politicians did reduce their tendency to delegate policymaking to the bureaucracy, but not because of any increase in their own expertise. Rather, the former bureaucrats within the LDP lost their preeminent position, allowing politicians without personal ties to the bureaucracy to take control of the LDP and policymaking. Moreover, second-generation politicians (the heirs of political families such as the sons, daughters, and sons-in-law of politicians) were best situated to take the place of the displaced former bureaucrats.
In this article I examine statistical data on the career paths of politicians during the LDP era in order to discover whether or not there has been a significant shift in the backgrounds of the people at the pinnacle of political power in Japan. The article has two basic goals. The first is to show that during the period of LDP rule there was a shift in recruitment of new politicians from former bureaucrats to the hereditary heirs of departing politicians. The second goal is to demonstrate that preferential promotion of former bureaucrats to important cabinet and party posts gave way to a seniority system based on the number of times a Diet member had been elected. This seniority system initially favored former bureaucrats, thus allowing bureaucratic domination to continue even as the Yoshida School ceased to be a factor in promotion to high office. However, it will be argued that over time the seniority system came to favor second-generation politicians because they were able to get an early start on their political careers and amass seniority at a relatively younger age, turning the LDP from a technocracy run by former bureaucrats to an aristocracy dominated by hereditary politicians.
Much has been written about the role of former bureaucrats in Japan. During his seven years in office, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida recruited large numbers of former bureaucrats into his party, which was one of the forebears of the LDP. He then stocked his cabinets with these former bureaucrats. The practice of actively recruiting and rapidly promoting former bureaucrats became known as "the Yoshida School." Prime Minister Yoshida was replaced in 1954 by Ichiro Hatoyama, who succeeded the next year in amalgamating the conservative political forces in Japan into the LDP. The first question I examine is how long the Yoshida School of bureaucratic domination continued into the LDP era.
The first part of the article, which focuses on the Diet, investigates changes in the makeup of the LDP's delegation in the Diet's more powerful lower house, not only in terms of the number of former bureaucrats but also whether they had reached the upper echelons of the bureaucracy before starting their political careers. This will be contrasted to changes in the number of second-generation politicians. In this way, the first part looks at the recruitment aspect of the Yoshida School. The second part examines the cabinet, which is the seat of executive authority in Japan. A look at the cabinet then allows for an investigation of the other aspect of the Yoshida School, namely, the preferential promotion of former bureaucrats to key government and party posts. The second part thus tries to determine whether there was a transition from preferential promotion of bureaucrats to a straight seniority system, and at what time such a transformation occurred.
In this article I attempt to demonstrate that in terms of recruitment of candidates, the Yoshida School was upstaged by a huge increase in the recruitment of family heirs of retiring or expiring politicians. Furthermore, I show that not only did hereditary recruitment tend to crowd out the recruitment of retiring bureaucrats, but also that the bureaucrats who did enter politics did so with less and less experience in the bureaucracy (and presumably less institutional loyalty) as time went on. As for the promotion aspect of the Yoshida School, it was replaced by the seniority system of promotion, which I examine using probit and logit analysis of the cabinets selected from selected Diets.
What my findings indicate clearly is that the LDP is no longer dominated by former high-ranking bureaucrats, as it was during its first quarter century, but rather by second-generation politicians who owe their careers to the accident of birth in a political family. This should be interesting for any student of Japanese politics, and quite important to the many scholars who already believe that a Diet member's prepolitical career has a great impact on his or her actions as a lawmaker, particularly regarding delegation of authority to the bureaucracy. In sum, career path matters. (3)
Chalmers Johnson contended that nonmarket forces were the primary reasons for Japan's economic success, and he put special emphasis on the role of the bureaucracy in general and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) in particular. Johnson's rejection of liberal, market-based explanations for Japan's economic success earned him the label of "revisionist" from earlier neoliberal writers. He and writers on Japanese political economy associated with the "revisionist school" have consistently pointed to the powerful bureaucracy as the hallmark of the Japanese political system. Johnson wrote in 1982 that "the elite bureaucracy of Japan makes most major decisions, drafts virtually all legislation, controls the national budget, and is the source of all major policy innovations in the system." (4) In 1995 he reiterated that "who governs is Japan's elite state bureaucracy." (5)
Johnson argued that politicians lack the resources to formulate policy on their own, and the former bureaucrats that run the LDP realize this and give the bureaucracy free rein. His proposition that bureaucrats dominate politicians via their alumni in the LDP became a recurring theme in analysis of the Japanese political economy. In his 1983 comparative essay on the financial systems of leading capitalist economies, Governments, Markets, and Growth, John Zysman quotes Johnson's "politicians reign but the bureaucrats rule" postulate in the first paragraph of the section on Japan. (6) Clyde Prestowitz, a Reagan administration trade negotiator, quoted the same Johnson adage and repeated Johnson's assertions that politicians acknowledge the elite status of bureaucrats (derived largely from their educational background), have inadequate resources and stall to formulate policy on their own, and have had their ranks infiltrated with former bureaucrats. (7)
During the 1980s. Japan's trade surplus and the domination of Japanese companies in a variety of important industries prompted many foreign analysts to follow up on Johnson's line of inquiry. James Fallows, Karel Van Wolferen, and Clyde Prestowitz were among revisionist writers who focused on the bureaucracy's control over the economy. These writers did not give much of a role to politicians or democratic processes in their explanations of Japan's success. Van Wolferen in particular decries the lack of political leadership and accountability in Japan's bureaucrat-led state. (8)
In 1988 Gerald Curtis wrote about the institutionalization of the seniority system within the LDP for cabinet selections. (9) He observed that this system tended to displace the preferential treatment that former bureaucrats enjoyed under the Yoshida School, and he also noted that the LDP's former bureaucrat contingent was increasingly made up of people who left their ministries midcareer, rather than of the top-level bureaucrats who were the mainstays of early LDP cabinets. My research confirms these trends. Curtis also noted the influx of second-generation politicians into the LDE although he made no mention of how the seniority system worked to their advantage. While a prediction that the second-generation politicians would benefit from seniority because of the young age at which they enter politics could have been made, second-generation politicians at the time Curtis was writing did not yet dominate the LDP to the extent that they later came to. Nowadays, their domination can be observed rather than predicted. However, Curtis does credit second-generation politicians with bringing a "more modern look" to the LDP, thanks to their diverse prepolitical careers. (10) This assertion is dubious, because the corollary to the early start that second-generation politicians get in their political careers is the typically unsubstantial experience these politicians have between finishing university and their first election. In spring 2004, Prime Minister Koizumi revealed, during Diet debate on a pension scandal, that the president of the real estate company he worked for after college did not actually require him to show up for work, but merely wanted him to win the next election. The lack of an uproar from Koizumi's colleagues would indicate that his experience with this company was not that unusual. (11)
Steven Vogel wrote in 1996 that the Japanese Ministry of Finance (MOF) is not simply a powerful bureaucracy but also a singularly political institution, and that "even among Japan's elite ministries, the MOF enjoys unusual power and prestige." (12) He goes on to characterize the ongoing reforms of MOF and the bureaucracy not as deregulation but as re-regulation whereby the bureaucracy maintains its power. He does not deny that politicians are engaged in the policy process but contends that they intervene selectively when they see political advantage. Politicians join zoku ("tribe"--see below) in order to gain access to campaign contributions and other resources that can be mobilized at election time to their benefit. (13)
Like Johnson, Daniel Okimoto emphasizes that the LDP is dominated by former bureaucrats who delegate considerable powers to the bureaucracy. (14) However, what sets Okimoto apart from Johnson is his claim that the LDP takes advantage of the experience of the retired bureaucrats within their ranks to exercise control over the active bureaucracy. Okimoto sees the penetration of retired bureaucrats into the LDP as being a two-edged sword. He describes retired bureaucrats in the LDP as being adept at implementing political control over the bureaucracy, and not simply a vehicle for bureaucratic control over the ruling party, as Johnson argues.
Kenichi Ohmae is representative of a new breed of liberals. He agrees with much of what Johnson and the "revisionists" say about the vital role of Japanese bureaucrats in developing the postwar economy and agrees that bureaucrats dominate politics (and indeed dominate all three branches of government). (15) However, in Ohmae's view, the independence of the bureaucracy is compromised by the amakudari system (the practice of retiring bureaucrats taking jobs in the industries they oversaw), at least vis-a-vis the private sector. Bureaucrats work extremely long hours for mediocre pay and do not get their financial rewards until alter they retire from the civil service and take high paying jobs in companies they once oversaw. Because active bureaucrats expect to be hired for lucrative positions by the companies they oversee, they naturally tend to pursue policies that are favorable to those companies. (16)
By and large, pluralists do not agree that bureaucrats have dominated the policymaking process. A number of scholars insist that Japan is a pluralistic society with various groups …
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Publication information: Article title: From Technocracy to Aristocracy: The Changing Career Paths of Japanese Politicians. Contributors: North, Christopher Titus - Author. Journal title: Journal of East Asian Studies. Volume: 5. Issue: 2 Publication date: May-August 2005. Page number: 239+. © 2009 Lynne Rienner Publishers. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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