Sometimes, Really Strange Stuff Happens

Voters seem to be in rebellion in a great many places. Occasionally they can really upset the apple cart, as has just happened in Greece earlier this year. The reason is easy to detect: growing economic hardship and a feeling that the wrong guys were bailed out after the 2008 crisis, tend to be good for political fringe groups. In spite of rising stock markets in many countries, the social mood seemingly remains negative. The problem is that most of these fringe groups tend to be even bigger statists and authoritarians than their political enemies (there are a few exceptions).

 

Symbol_of_jcp

 

Flag of Japan’s Communist Party – as far as we can tell, it depicts a cog wheel and an ear of wheat, representing the two classes (workers and farmers), that are usually supposed to bring communists to power, who will then proceed to show them what oppression really means. Image author: グラインドマーチャーシュ

 

However, the phenomenon has so far been mainly confined to Europe, for obvious reasons. The most hard hit and economically weakest countries have seen support for either far-left or far-right parties soar, whereby one must evaluate each of these parties on its own merits. Some are simply dreadful, others are wrongly smeared in the mainstream press as being no different from the dreadful ones, although they clearly are different (UKIP in the UK and Germany’s AfD e.g. belong to the latter group).

Japan seems a particularly unlikely place for a voter rebellion, especially one that ends up strengthening the communist party of all groups. And yet, that is precisely what has happened in local elections over the weekend, in which the communists under the leadership of comrade (rather primus among the comrades) Kazuo Shii, just became the second strongest political force in the country, pushing the DPJ, the party that governed Japan a mere four years ago, into fourth place.

We must admit this left-of-field development still has us scratching our head. One would normally have expected a protest vote against the LDP and Shinzo Abe to help the DPJ, instead of almost destroying it. Moreover, the LDP actually won the election, so it seems it was not the main target of this protest vote, in spite of its incumbent status and its stubborn and vain attempt to end Japan’s economic funk by the same means that have failed with unwavering regularity for more than 25 years running. As an aside to this, we have actually no idea why the standard establishment doomed-to-make-things-worse program of printing a lot of money and running a huge deficit was ever dubbed “Abenomics”. It should really be called “same sh*t that’s been tried a thousand times already and never works”. Just saying. Given that Abe now “owns” the policy, he would certainly deserve to be on the receiving end of a voter protest.

 

kazuo shii-1Comrade Kazuo Shii, Japan’s wanna-be Lenin, comments on the surprising election result.

Photo credit: Shigetaka Kodama

 

Communism Won’t Magically Start to Work

The Economist provides some color on the Communist Party of Japan:

 

“Though the Communist party has never looked remotely close to taking power (its best electoral performance yet was in 1979, when it won 39 seats out of a total of 511), it remains a force in Japanese politics. The party has over 300,000 members, including 10,000 it says it recruited in 2014 (the LDP claims around 790,000). It also publishes a newspaper, Akahata (“Red Flag”), which has a daily circulation of about 1.2m.

The JCP’s platform has changed little in decades: its main aims are to overturn capitalism; to scrap Japan’s armed forces eventually; and to end the country’s 60-year-old military alliance with America. The party’s renewed popularity is mostly a measure of the public’s frustration with mainstream politics, says Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Tokyo. It has capitalised on the electorate’s concerns about the right-wing government of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, by rejecting his attempts to restart nuclear plants, cut corporate taxes and weaken restrictions on Japan’s military forces—all of which have gathered pace this year under Mr Abe’s stewardship. The JCP’s recent popularity boost is also a result of its stand against an unpopular hike in the consumption tax last year.

The party’s increased representation since December has allowed it to propose new laws, for the first time in years. Though its website pledges to end Japan’s “extraordinary subordinate relationship” to America, in practice the JCP focuses on narrower struggles. The bills it has submitted this year attempt to limit corporate funding for political parties and to place tighter controls on companies that overwork young employees. One a perennial gripe of voters and the other a recent grievance, they are both bound to be popular with the public.”

 

(emphasis added)

One must concede that the comrades have a point: Japan is essentially a vassal state of the US. However, there once was a time when Japan’s leadership indulged in expansionist militarism, and its population ultimately paid a heavy price. The decades of peace and prosperity since then surely have been preferable, and its pacifist constitution keeps Japan from getting involved in any military adventures. In the same vein, their critique of Abe’s militarism certainly cannot be faulted – we have been highly critical of this aspect of Abe’s policies as well (see: “Shinzo Abe’s True Agenda” for details on this), apart from our assessment of his cunning economic plans. Voters are evidently more focused on the party’s populist demands rather than the fact that it is, well, communist.

That is however the main problem with the communists becoming the main opposition to the LDP: they are communists. One of their major goals is therefore “to overturn capitalism”. Similar to many industrialized nations, Japan has a severely hampered market economy, in which central planning, government intervention and cronyism have always played a big role – often to an even greater degree than elsewhere. Nevertheless, the means of production are largely privately owned, and that still makes a big difference to a communist system.

The difference, in a nutshell is this: there can be no rational economy if the State owns the means of production and private property is abolished. This is due to the fact that without market prices for capital, economic calculation becomes impossible. A central planner can never hope to optimally allocate scarce resources – regardless of how well-meaning and well-informed he is.

 

Berlin2Under the rule of the “economically most efficient communist regime” in the GDR, East Berlin decayed into a crumbling ruin (many more pictures here). Environmental pollution was such that by the time the regime fell, the GDR had become dotted with toxic waste, with the air barely breathable in many regions.

Photo via Pinterest / Monstermiez

 

The only reason why the former Soviet Eastern Bloc didn’t immediately fall back into the stone age was that its planners could observe prices in the capitalist West and were thus able to engage in a rudimentary form of economic calculation. Even so, in the end most of the capital that had been accumulated by previous generations had been consumed. What remained was de facto worthless. We still remember in this context how shocked Western economists and observers were when the GDR, long held to be the “economically strongest” communist country, turned out to be nothing but a collection of total bankruptcies garnished with pools of toxic waste.

Of course, anyone who happened to have read and understood Mises’ arguments about economic calculation under socialism wasn’t really surprised. The biggest surprise was for how long these countries were able to muddle on.

 

Conclusion

It seems Japan has been bitten by the protest bug as well. It is generally a good thing when the establishment gets jolted a bit now and then, but the Japanese have made a strange choice by supporting the communists. Under the cover of popular policies and even a number of ideas that seem per se worthy of support, they still remain intent on overthrowing the market order (or what is left of it). Without a market order, there can neither be liberty, nor a rational economy.

 

 

 

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