Some decisive action on the policy front? More so, in line with the manifesto as promised?
Hatoyama after a number of days of being pushed around on this has come out and definitely stated that the full child allowance will be made available from 2011. Seemingly no ifs, no buts. He seems supremely confident that he will be able to make up this amount of money merely through cutting wasteful expenditure rather than adding to the national debt. This is the sort of decisive leadership that has been missing and one only hopes it is not too little, too late. Not so much for Hatoyama himself, as many of us are losing affection if we ever had any for his almost Scooby Doo (or is it Shaggy?) like premiership, but because when all is said and done, notwithstanding reports that the child allowance should be higher, it is as correctly identified by the party itself, a very important policy. This could be an opening shot in the “fight back”, which really is nothing more than doing something, preferably the things you said you would do. (Accepting that on a subtle constitutional level, and in IR also, the impact of the DPJ has been extraordinary – but that as we have seen lately, that is seemingly not what the media wants to discuss).
Even if the child allowance is somewhat useful as one social policy intervention hopefully amongst many, it will definitely ensure that unlike trifling stimulus handouts, that the money will go into supporting domestic consumption. I am not convinced by arguments that the money should be reinvested into the education system itself – having seen it work first hand I am neither convinced it would be particularly efficiently used, nor would any of the potential short term impacts, economic or social, be felt. Parents, especially those thinking of their second child (really what we are wanting here) don’t think that far into the future, and nor should they necessarily. The first three to four years or so is really what any of us want to be assured about when thinking about procreating and thus the simple handout is the best mechanism to do the job without incurring any more bureaucratic waste/complexity than is necessary. Sometimes the people closest to the action can best judge what the best use of money is – my experience of Japan suggests to me that the Japanese are particularly conscientious parents to a fault. I guess there is a need to head off the devastating self-reinforcing cultural impacts severe income equality has before it establishes itself and undermines this conscientiousness like it has in many Western countries*. The fact that Japanese are still genuinely outraged by deadbeats, Pachinko mothers and fathers and the other cultural memes you will see in the media about Japanese society falling apart is promising – it suggests that people have not just assumed that is the way of things.
* To be sure my fundamental philosophy requires that I support the need for some degree of inequality (loosely termed by some neo-liberals as “freedom”) but only in so far as it supports the capacity of individuals in a pluralistic society to (mostly) rationally act upon their potential, and does not do the opposite. I am a bit ‘early’ John Stuart Mill like that.