Japan — which is set to see its sixth prime minister in five years — has fumbled recently to find leadership to tackle formidable challenges, including recovery from a massive earthquake and tsunami in March and the battle to bring a nuclear power plant sent into meltdown by the disasters under control.

Even before the disasters hit, the nation was already ailing with serious problems such as an aging population and stagnant economy.

None of the five candidates looking to replace Naoto Kan as prime minister is expected to win the needed majority of 200 votes in balloting among legislators in the ruling Democratic Party in the first round of voting, set for Monday. If no one gets a majority, a run-off between the top two candidates would follow.

The winner of the Democrats’ leadership vote is almost certain to become the nation’s next prime minister because the party controls the lower house of Parliament, which chooses Japan’s chief.

Public interest has been stunningly low, underlining the widespread disenchantment with politics.A debate Sunday among the candidates was not carried live on any of the major TV networks.

via Japan faces more confusion amid leadership vote – Yahoo! News.

Ayn Rand on the nature of politicians in a mixed economy:

“In a controlled (or mixed) economy, a legislator’s job consists in sacrificing some men to others. No matter what choice he makes, no choice of this kind can be morally justified (and never has been). Proceeding from an immoral base, no decision of his can be honest or dishonest, just or unjust – these concepts are inapplicable. He becomes, therefore, an easy target for the promptings of any pressure group, any lobbyist, any influence-peddler, any manipulator – he has no standards by which to judge or to resist them. You do not know what hidden powers drive him or what he is doing. Neither does he.

From the above Yahoo! News article:

At Sunday’s debate at a Tokyo hotel, candidates appeared in agreement, all promising a revived Japanese economy and a resolution of the nuclear crisis in comments heavy on rhetoric but scant on concrete proposals.

Ayn Rand on the pretense of knowledge (my emphasis):

Now observe the results of such policies and their effect on the country[the U.S.A.]. You
have seen that Nixon’s wage-price controls, imposed two years ago [this article was written in 1973] for the purpose of slowing down inflation, have accelerated it. You have seen that a shortage of soybeans, which you probably do not buy, has led to the shortage of most of the food items which you do buy and need. You have seen a demonstration of the fact that a country’s economy is an integrated (and self-integrating) whole – and that the biggest computer would not be able to predict all the consequences of an edict controlling the price of milk, let alone an edict controlling the price, the costs, the sales, the amounts of wheat or beef or steel or oil or electricity. Can you hold in mind the total of a country’s economy, including every detail of the interrelationships of every group, every profession, every kind of goods and services? Can you determine which controls are proper or improper, practical or impractical, beneficent or disastrous? If you cannot do it, what makes you assume that a politician can? In fact, there is no such thing as proper, practical or beneficent controls. [The Ayn Rand Letter, July 16, 1973, PDF.]

“Managing the economy”, according to “the pretence of knowledge” as expressed by thinkers such as Hayek, is impossible for anyone or any group of people, however good their computers are. “formidable challenges, including recovery from a massive earthquake and tsunami in March and the battle to bring a nuclear power plant sent into meltdown by the disasters under control…an aging population and stagnant economy.”

Politicians always promise more than they can deliver. And the voters always seem to believe them, and then complain bitterly when the politicians don’t deliver.  Sometimes I almost feel sorry for the politicians. Almost. From the Diplomat:

The Japanese people want a lot of nice things from their government: the rebuilding of the areas devastated by the triple disaster, a comfortable retirement, affordable, high-quality healthcare, a vibrant public education system, secure borders, etc. But quite how the government will provide for these desires, if indeed such a task is at all possible, is another issue dividing the candidates.

Ayn Rand comments on the type of consciousness that does not consider ideas important in themselves, only as means to a pragmatic end:

A perceptual consciousness is unable to believe that ideas can be of personal importance to anyone; it regards ideas as a matter of arbitrary choice, as means to some immediate ends. On this view, a man does not seek to be elected to a public office in order to carry out certain policies – he advocates certain policies in order to be elected. If so, then why on earth should he want to be elected? [The Ayn Rand Letter, June 4 1973, PDF.]

Again, from the above Yahoo! News article:

At Sunday’s debate at a Tokyo hotel, candidates appeared in agreement, all promising a revived Japanese economy and a resolution of the nuclear crisis in comments heavy on rhetoric but scant on concrete proposals.

The ideas of the various candidates apparently are relatively unimportant in themselves; they are merely means to an end – getting elected (or in this case, chosen by Mr. Ozawa). (More in the small differences between the 5 candidates can be found at the end of this AP article on Yahoo! Nuclear power key topic in close Japan leader race. Sat Aug 27, and in the Diplomat article Why DPJ Leadership Race Matters, August 29, 2011 (or read the comment by mareo2 ]

Mr. Ozawa is a political genius, says the Diplomat, no doubt echoing the opinion of many.  Political genius seems to mean someone who has contributed little to solving Japan’s major challenges, as listed above in the AP article. A hint at the true nature of Mr. Ozawa’s “political genius” might be seen in his reasons for not supporting the publicly popular former diplomat, Mr. Maehara, and for supporting the somewhat emotional and eccentric Mr. Kaeda:

“Kaieda was also the first lawmaker to raise the prospect of restoring Ozawa’s party privileges, suspended after his indictment” [Kaieda’s weakness wins Ozawa’s support, Asahi.com 2011/08/28]

“Maehara expressed eagerness to meet with Ozawa … But he would not budge on Ozawa’s party privileges, which were revoked by Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other senior party officials over a funding scandal.” [Maehara’s economic, security policies likely center of debate. Asahi.com 2011/08/25]

“Maehara also talked with former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who reportedly asked Maehara, if he wins, to consider offering Ozawa a senior party post.” [Maehara’s overture to Ozawa. Japan Times, Thursday, August 25th, 2011]

Why might revoking Ozawa’s party privileges be a bad idea? “When he was secretary general of the party during the brief Hatoyama administration, he obliterated all the DPJ’s and the government’s policy crafting institutions, leaving himself as the sole guide of the nation’s policy making. It was this power grab that turned the other major party leaders against him” [The Diplomat, ibid.]

Why did “the other major party leaders” turn against him? Was it because they believed that it was a bad idea for a single person to have their hands only on national policy-making? Or because they wanted to be that person?

Fumbling leadership

Back to the AP article Japan faces more confusion amid leadership vote: “Japan — which is set to see its sixth prime minister in five years — has fumbled recently to find leadership to tackle formidable challenges”

Recently? Define, “recently”? As VOA reporter Steve Herman tweeted, “No Japanese prime minister has spent 500 days in office since Koizumi”.

The Diplomat article begins, “ It’s easy to make light of the proceedings, which will elect the seventh prime minister Japan has had in the last five years. Just another election, some might argue, giving the country a leader without giving it leadership.  There’s certainly much merit in such scepticism. Given that the partisan political divisions that bedevilled the premiership of Kan – both of the Diet (Japan’s parliament) and the DPJ – will still be present and waiting to shackle the initiatives of the new DPJ leader, there’s little hope of Japan’s next leader’s lasting any longer than his five immediate predecessors. “

Yet the article makes little attempt to explain why Japan will have 7 prime ministers in 5 years, why none has spent 500 days in office since Koizumi. The nearest writer Michael Cucek comes is to explain the split within the DPJ that occurred as a result of Ozawa’s power-grab described above, which led to : the division of the DPJ into two streams: a ‘mainstream’ group whose guiding principle is to keeping Ozawa away from the levers of power, and an ‘anti-mainstream’ group of both Ozawa loyalists and DPJ members who have noticed that since Ozawa’s ouster, the DPJ has known only electoral failure.

Blogger EX-SKF summarises the Japanese attitude nicely: “”It doesn’t matter who’s at the top, they’re all the same” has been the attitude of most Japanese from the time immemorial. At the same time, they trust the government authority (yes, even today) and clamor for a strong leader to guide them.

The voting is taking place now, and is live on the Internet here. The two runoff candidates, Noda and Kaeda have spoken, and the doors have been closed. Voting is now taking place.http://www.dpj.or.jp/presidentialelection2011 The names of the legislators are called one by one, they come up on stage, go to a booth to write their choice and put their ballot in the box.