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Thursday
Feb162012

Waste not, want not

   When I wrote in an earlier post of Japan’s need to reduce wasteful spending, I was thinking first and foremost about the need to reduce both the number of lawmakers in the national and local assemblies and to cut the generous emolument paid to politicians.

   The Japanese Diet has 722 members, 480 in the House of Representatives—the Lower House in which real power lies—and 242 in the House of Councillors, or Upper House. In a country that has only 40% of America’s population, there is no reason it should have 35% more representatives in its national assembly. You could cut the number of politicians by about half to say 350—250 in the lower house and 100 in the upper house—and there would still be more than enough representation.

   As for the salaries of Japan’s politicians, I first became concerned when my wife, who was working in the local mayor’s office, told me that the city assembly members earned some ¥800,000 per month whether they were in session or not. Whenever the assembly did meet, they were given an additional per diem just for showing up. Biannual bonuses and first-class “fact-finding” trips abroad at public expense were a matter of course, and when they completed their term they received another bonus. Not a bad deal—almost made me want to change my citizenship and become a politician—but when the city had been struggling with debt brought on by misguided projects, for which these feckless leaders voted, I couldn’t help feeling that something was wrong.

   An interesting article last year in the Japanese Times, which goes into detail about the finances of the Tokyo metropolitan government, headed today by his majesty Shintarô Ishihara, shows that Fukuoka is not alone in overspending and overcompensating its "leaders".

   The article says, “At ¥11.8 trillion, the metro government’s budget for fiscal 2011 is equal to Saudi Arabia’s, and was barely eclipsed by South Korea’s ¥14 trillion and Norway’s ¥12.7 trillion budget in fiscal 2010.”

   I don’t know about you, but I was flabbergasted when I read that. Granted, the yen has been riding high lately which has a way inflating the price of everything, but Korea, a country that is technically at war and has the world’s sixth largest standing army at 653,000 troops, and a population 3.7 times larger than the city of Tokyo, spends only 19% more to run an entire country than Ishihara spends to run the Tokyo metropolitan government.

   What’s more: “According to the metro government, Gov. Shintarô Ishihara will receive ¥1,359,900 a month in fiscal 2010. His bonus, paid in June and December, totaled about ¥6.6 million, bringing his annual income to about ¥26 million. At the end of each four-year term, Ishihara also received retirement benefits. He received more than ¥47.2 million at the end of the first term in 2003, followed by over ¥45.2 million at the end of his second term in 2007. He is expected to receive ¥43.5 million after his third term expires in April.”

   That’s a hell of a lot of money. In his first term in office alone Ishihara earned a total of about ¥151,200,000 (between $1.3 ~ 2 million, depending on the exchange rate). By comparison, Obama earns roughly the same amount of money—$400,000 per year (about ¥31 million)—as the so-called "leader of the free world".

   Something is very, very wrong with this picture and the sooner Japanese cotton on to this, the better. It's high time for a "Green Tea Party" to shake this country up and end politics as usual.

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