Event Report “Dismantling Japanese Developmentalism”

The Munk School of Global Affairs, in conjunction with the Consulate General of Japan, regularly hosts the JAPAN NOW lecture series regarding issues in contemporary Japan. On 22 September 2017, the newly established Centre for the Study of Global Japan sponsored one such lecture titled “Dismantling Japanese Developmentalism” at Massey College, co-sponsored by the Consulate General and the Asian Institute. The speaker was T.J. Pempel, the Jack M. Forcey Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and the lecture was chaired by Louis Pauly, the interim director at the Centre for the Study of Global Japan. Before the lecture began, opening remarks were made by the Consul-General of Japan, Yasunori Nakayama.

“Dismantling Japanese Developmentalism” outlined the causes and effects of Japan’s booming economy in the mid-twentieth century. According to Pempel, the boom was primarily due to what he calls “developmentalism,” but the conditions that allowed such “developmentalism” to arise were already dismantled in the late twentieth century. Pempel then probed three possible pathways, titled the “three I’s,” that Japan might pursue as it seeks to replace “developmentalism”: innovation, immigration, and inclusion. However, he noted that one of the main barriers to these pathways was the “stickiness” of the old developmentalist systems, which remain in some form or another in contemporary Japan.

Pempel outlined the “domestic” and the “international” causes of Japan’s 1950s-1990s boom: domestically, a “virtuous cycle” was created between the political party LPP and economic growth, while internationally, friendly relations with the United States created a wider export market. As the global market changed and Japan’s population aged, the LPP party also became unstable. In his summary of the three “I’s,” Pempel noted the difficulties of “immigration,” as Japanese citizenship remains very difficult to acquire, and “inclusion,” as Japan lags far behind other developed countries in terms of gender equality. He also mentioned Japan’s recent challenges in maintaining a relationship with the United States through the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the Trump administration grows increasingly unstable.

In the Q&A session that followed the lecture, audience members challenged the premise that Japan’s economy was stagnating, not innovating. One cited Japan’s broad market in producing component parts for technology at corporations like Apple, while another pointed out that the standard of living in Japan remains high. In response, Pempel emphasized that there is a lack of optimism, as people in Japan feel they are not participating in Japan’s success story as the did in the past, and that productivity is low in Japan when looking at the ratio of time spent working to things getting done. He concluded that it is easy to agree on reform in theory but hard to focus on the practical details and that Japan must invigorate its politics and its corporations to move forward.

Sooyun (Clara) Hong is a fifth-year student at the University of Toronto, pursuing majors in East Asian Studies and Neuroscience.

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