Structural Reform in Japan: Breaking the Iron Triangle

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Structural Reform in Japan: Breaking the Iron Triangle

By Eisuke Sakakibara
Brookings Institution Press, 2003
167 pp. $34.95
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Sakakibara, known as "Mr. Yen" when he was vice-minister of finance in the late 1990s, is one of the mandarins of Japan's financial elite, noted for his vigorous defense of Japan's brand of capitalism. This book, translated from the Japanese, presents his analysis of what currently ails the Japanese economy -- and, indeed, Japanese society -- and how to fix it. Sakakibara believes that the problems are deeply structural, not superficial, and inhere in a failure of the historically successful "iron triangle" of Liberal Democratic Party politicians, senior bureaucrats, and vested interests to adapt to the requirements of global networks and information technology. In his view, Japan must do far more than just tinker with the banking system, as key elements in Japanese society maintain; real reform must cut deep and will take at least a decade to complete. The book contains highly critical discussions of agricultural policy, the health care system, and education policy (which unfortunately seems to be moving in the wrong direction, favoring "zest for life" over lifelong learning); it also advocates the creation of a new intelligence agency (independent of the dominant Foreign Affairs Ministry) and relaxation of Japan's restrictive immigration and citizenship laws.