In contrast, in Japan, an older virtual one-party state, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (which has continuously been in power since 1955 -- longer than the Chinese Communist Party, if we count the period between 1948 and 1955 when the LDP's two constituents alternated in power) has talked right and walked center, much to the dissatisfaction of neoliberals at home and abroad who demand more "labor flexibility." Despite over a decade of deflation and stagnation, real hourly earnings in the manufacturing sector indicate that a full force of neoliberal reforms have yet to be unleashed on Japanese workers. Paul Burkett and Martin Hart-Landsberg document:
[D]uring both the 1983-92 period, and up until the most recent nonrecession years, the only reason that real unit labor cost fell more in the United States than in Japan in nonrecession years was because of relatively stagnant or declining real wages in the United States compared to Japan. It is only in the most recent years that real hourly earnings grew more slowly in Japan than in the United States, and this explains why the reduction in Japan’s real unit labor cost compared “favorably” with that of the United States in the nonrecession years of 1999 and 2000. ("The Economic Crisis in Japan: Mainstream Perspectives and an Alternative View," Critical Asian Studies 35.3 (2003), p. 350)See, also, "Table 6. Productivity and Labor Cost in Manufacturing" (p. 349) in Burkett and Hart-Landsberg's essay.
Given the enduring power of a faction of the LDP that is dedicated to the maintenance of doken kokka (the construction state) -- an alliance of LDP politicians, powerful bureaucrats, general contractors, and gangsters built on the use of public works projects for patronage -- the LDP may not be up to the task of restructuring Japan in neoliberalism's image:
Takeo Hiranuma, a senior member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party who wants to ease curbs on public spending, said he might try to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister when the 62-year old leader steps down.If and when a full-fledged neoliberalism arrives in Japan, the most likely vehicle for it will be the Democratic Party of Japan:
"If I got the chance and conditions were right, I would take the post," Hiranuma said in an interview.
Koizumi, who has said he will step down when his term as LDP president ends in September 2006, faces a national election in July to pick 121 the nation's 242 upper house lawmakers. A loss of seats in that poll would encourage LDP conservatives, who want to undo his spending cuts and divert more money to road construction and other public works. (Tim Kelly, "Japan's Hiranuma Aims to Succeed Koizumi, Ease Curbs [Update2)]," April 23, 2004)
The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) supported by the biggest trade union federation “Rengo” (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), increased its representation by 40 seats to 177. *2 It gained more than 22 million in total votes from the regional proportional representative constituencies which elect 180 seats, more than the LDP’s vote of less than 21 million. The DPJ, which merged with the smaller right-wing nationalist Liberal Party (LP) just before the general election, is an amalgam of former members of the Social Democratic Party and a conservative split from the LDP. It is now the only opposition party in parliament which is capable of challenging the LDP's monopoly of government for nearly 50 years. . . .
All the spokespersons of the ruling class and the mainstream mass media welcomed the results of the general election [the Lower House elections on November 9, 2003]. They claimed that a “realistic two-party system” which enabled a smooth change of regime had been established for the first time and that through electoral competition between these two parties, the LDP-Komei bloc and the DPJ, Japan could resolve its imminent economic and social crisis by eliminating the old-style corporatist system. Supported by the “Rengo” trade union bureaucracy, the DPJ has presented itself as a neo-liberal “reformer” party. Naoto Kan, the DPJ's president, said “We should carry out both Margaret Thatcher's and Tony Blair's projects at the same time”. When Jun'ichiro Koizumi took office after victory in the LDP’s presidential race in April 2001 saying “I will break with the LDP if the majority of the party does not accept my ‘reform project’”, Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ's leader at that time, welcomed Koizumi's discourse to facilitate neoliberal policies. The DPJ's platform at the election campaign proposed speeding up privatization of public services and deregulation of job security. It stressed the destruction of an outdated social system controlled by the state bureaucracy and encouraged free competition of the private sector. In the name of “civil society”, DPJ represents the interests of big business. (Jun'ichi Hirai, "Japan: After the Elections," International Viewpoint 356, February 2004)