Media Mix, Apr. 8, 2012

If you don't pass it, I'll shoot myself

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the mainstream media’s general support for the government’s plan to double the consumption tax. I should point out that while this support is editorially pervasive it is not complete. The article I cite at the end, written by Masato Hara, adheres to the Asahi Shimbun’s stance but the paper will offer differing opinions depending on the writer and the subject. One recent essay, in fact, seems to challenge Hara’s position, pointing out that Minna no To (Your Party) has been publicly skeptical about the consumption tax plan simply because of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s avid declaration that his administration should work with the Ministry of Finance after the Democratic Party of Japan had pledged for years that it would not countenance an increase. Such a bold turnabout, without proper explanation, is suspicious, and the essay suggested that Noda had cut some sort of deal with the finance ministry before he became prime minister to push for the increase in exchange for support for the child allowance. If that’s true then the ministry seems to have reneged on its part of the deal. But the essay also expanded on Hara’s assertion that the finance ministry is the “guardian” of Japan’s economic well-being by saying that it, in fact, is the guardian of the whole central government bureaucracy, and thus their ultimate purpose is to pursue their own interests, presumably over those of the country as a whole. Of course, the DPJ’s main election promise was that the party would take control of the country away from the bureaucracy, which is why Minna no To, which has made the same pledge, is so critical of Noda’s intentions.

This morning, Gucci-san, who I also mentioned in the column, weighed in again on the consumption tax issue in his Aera column, saying he was “surprised” when he read Noda’s assertion in a published interview that the consumption tax was the “fairest” means of raising revenues. This is sarcasm. Gucci was not surprised at all, since Noda has been saying that for a while now. What he meant to drive home was the inherent unreliability of Noda’s logic. If Noda were completely honest, he would have said that the consumption tax is the “easiest” means of raising revenue, because the burden falls on those with less power to object, namely the young and the economically marginalized. That, Gucci says, is “clear.” Holding that the consumption tax is “fair” is like saying that “the earth is the center of the universe,” meaning it’s been empirically proved to be false for so long that saying it out loud is bound to evoke the surprise he felt when he read it the first time. More significantly, the nature of a consumption tax contradicts one of Noda’s justifications for it. The prime minister constantly says that we need a consumption tax to pay down the national debt because it’s irresponsible to leave such a debt to future generations. But since the tax penalizes young people now (no assets) more than older people (with savings), it’s already placing a burden on them, even before they “inherit” the debt. There have been a number of articles, especially in the U.S., that have argued whether the current recession exposes a class war or an inter-generational one. In Japan, the two are almost indistinguishable, but anyone, young or old, who is finding it difficult to make ends meet now will find it even more difficult when the consumption tax goes up. It’s the only thing that’s inherently “clear” about the issue.

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