Interests great and petty : Japan's nonperforming loans debates, 1991-1998

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Bloch, Jonathan Adam

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This dissertation considers the failure of the Japanese government from 1991 through late-1998 to take measures to bring swiftly under control the threat to the nation's finance system posed by nonperforming loans that arose with the collapse of the late-1980s land-price bubble. While some works plausibly argue that this record of delay, and a larger failure of the Japanese state to adjust its general economic policy strategy, can be attributed largely to a progressive fracturing of a 1950s consensus on basic economic policy objectives between relatively internationally competitive firms and firms more dependent on state protection of their business opportunities, this insight has led few scholars to enquire into the role played by advocates of the policy interests of Japan's most competitive large firms in producing the widely lamented policy of delay on nonperforming loans. Counter to the literature's preponderant emphasis on political pressure from protection-dependent firms as impediment to swift state adjustment to nonperforming loans and other economic policy challenges of the late-20th century Japanese state, this dissertation finds that state officials and expert commentators who in debates on nonperforming loans and closely related policy issues strongly advocated dismantling protections on which large numbers of firms depended and in their stead adopting policies more favorable to the firms best able to weather the harsh economic conditions of the 1990s, displayed willingness to tolerate further delay comparable to (and sometimes greater than) that shown by state officials and expert commentators who advocated greater solicitude for the protection-dependent. This finding is based chiefly on a reading of official Ministry of Finance policy statements, transcripts of hearings of relevant Japanese House of Representatives committees, public opinion polls, reporting and commentary published in two national-circulation and two local Japanese newspapers, and a variety of books and longer articles published in the mass-audience Japanese business press. This finding, I argue, suggests a need for more sustained critical analysis of the role of leading business interests in Japan's political processes, which in turn argues for a closer engagement than is now commonly attempted with the work of Karl Marx and Chalmers Johnson, and for following up some preliminary suggestions in the existing literature of an emergent economic policy dimension of Diet party competition.