In This Review
Japan's Political Marketplace

Japan's Political Marketplace

By J. Mark Ramseyer and Frances McCall Rosenbluth

Harvard University Press, 1993, 262 pp.

Against those who believe that Japan is closed and inscrutable, run by a mysterious and unique "system," the authors of this volume argue that the nature of Japanese politics, and particularly of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), rests largely on the multi-member electoral system. Employing the new mantra of some American social scientists, rational choice theory, the authors argue that the electoral system explains why LDP members are forced to spend enormous sums of money to organize and maintain extensive personal-support networks. Furthermore, if the electoral system is changed in favor of single-member districts, the authors insist, this will have major-and largely beneficial-consequences for Japan and its trading partners. Factions will atrophy. LDP electoral strategy and policy decisions will be centralized. The LDP will be free to compete with other parties on the basis of issues as opposed to constituency favors. The LDP will reduce its dependence on farmers and small business. And the relationship between the LDP and the bureaucracy will change as well.

All of this is a heavy burden to place on the electoral system. But since electoral reform in Japan now seems to be on the way, we may soon be able to test the authors' predictions.