Casting off Negative Legacies

A year has passed since the outbreak of the worldwide simultaneous recession, and now we are in the midst of the year-end sales battle. Thanks to the backing of the eco-point system, televisions continue to sell like hot cakes. Though not to the same extent as TV sets, other energy-saving household appliances to which the eco-point system applies are doing well, too, and distribution companies are notably beginning to make upward revisions of their settlement forecasts. On the other hand, though, prices are continuing to fall and, partly because of the impact, manufacturers are finding it hard to make profits on a financial base. The outcome of corporate settlements at the end of the fiscal year in March will probably be decided by results in the year-end sales battle. Whatever the case, it has been a very tough year.

For corporate management and for household budgets as well, the impact has been mercilessly severe. It has been a year in which people have been making earlier and earlier moves in order just to survive, but the situation has simply gone on deteriorating. On the macro level the economy might have turned positive, but on the micro level people do not have any real sense of recovery. Small and medium-sized companies in particular are continuing to find it hard just to stay afloat.

The worldwide simultaneous recession has resulted in political changes, too. In the United States Barack Obama was elected as the forty-fourth president of that country on November 4 of last year, and he has brought change to the establishment. He has released the United States from the nightmares of unilateralism and market fundamentalism under the Bush administration and shifted toward a democratic state that is strongly people-oriented and toward a country that seeks to restore prosperity and promote peace. One year later, the mood in the world has changed completely.

Almost in concert with the democratic revolution in the United States, in Japan also a change of government took place during the hot summer. This saw the selection of a new prime minister not through a game of musical chairs within the ruling party itself but through a general election. It is no exaggeration to say that this was a real revolution in Japan.

In his first policy speech to the Diet, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama proclaimed, "Japan is a country that 140 years ago achieved the drastic reforms of the Meiji Restoration. Now, the undertakings of the Hatoyama government are a 'bloodless Heisei Restoration,' so to speak. The current restoration returns sovereign power to the people, breaking from a system dependent on the bureaucracy. It is also an attempt to transform the very shape of our nation from a centralized state to one of regional and local sovereignty, and from an island nation to an open maritime state." He also quoted Albert Einstein: "One exists for other people-first of all, for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy."

The Hatoyama administration is advocating the principle of politics of fraternity in the implementation of its measures. The prime minister's policy speech was criticized for only trumpeting principles and lacking specifics, but I do not think there is anything wrong with this approach. All the cabinets we have had so far have been totally without principles. Revolutionary cabinets that advocate change in the world should first of all clarify their principles on national development and then act specifically on them.

For the time being both President Obama and Prime Minister Hatoyama must face the negative legacies of their previous administrations, implement policies based on principles, and produce results. Surely I was not the only person who, seeing those scenes of budget screening, felt that things really are different, that change is coming.

Fortunately it has been decided to continue the eco-point system for energy-saving household appliances. A proposal has also emerged for housing eco-points. This is a tailwind for the industry, but still the collapse in prices means that companies are unable to yield profits. Unless efforts are made to penetrate profitable businesses and invigorate consumer demand, the present situation will not lead to genuine buoyancy.