First published in Australia's Neighbours, Fourth Series, No. 88, November 1973- January 1974
TWO THINGS stand out in any survey of Japan over the past twenty years; ultra-rapid economic growth, and political stability under business-oriented conservative governments. Japan's economic growth is too familiar to Australians to require any documentation here. Her political stability, however, is perhaps less widely recognised since the more frenetic and sensational aspects of Japanese politics have tended to attract more attention from the mass media than the extraordinary stability that has underlain them.
For the first time in many years the Japanese economy faces a severe crisis, as a result of the Arab policies on oil supplies and rapid increases in basic raw material costs. The growth rate of around ten per cent per annum was already having to be cut back late in 1973; and were restrictions on oil supplies to continue or to become still tighter, then a zero or even negative growth.rate was widely expected for 1974. Although in its effects on the economy much depended on the duration and severity of the Arab embargo, the crisis graphically illustrated the extreme vulnerability of Japan's industrial machine to fluctuations in external supplies of oil, upon which she was dependent for some seventy per cent of her energy needs. It was also difficult to envisage a policy which could substantially reduce that dependence, or give cast-iron guarantees of adequate and sustained supplies, in the foreseeable future.
If at the time of writing (December 1973) the prospects for the Japanese economy seem unusually bleak, what of the future of Japanese politics? Can the stable conservative rule of recent years survive such drastic economic cutbacks as now seem inevitable, and which had already been preceded by a period of exceptionally severe inflation? Is some alternative government, or more broadly an alternative style of politics, a likely development either as an outcome of the economic crisis or as the cumulative result of long term shifts in the political allegiances of the electorate?
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been in power continuously since its formation in 1955. Previous to that, post-war governments were formed exclusively of conservative parties except for a few months in 1947-8 when the Socialists participated in a coalition government. No left wing party had ever come near to taking office, even as part of a coalition, before the war. Loss of