Are you tired of worrying about what these new “reforms” are going to do to screw over America? Well, you’re in luck, because if you read this post, you can think about how they might screw over our loyal ally Japan.
You feel better already, right? Consider it a present from me.
The lead editorial in Wednesday’s Nikkei carried the headline “America’s direction after conclusion of historic health-care reform bill”:
It’s an event that will surely leave a mark on US history. Sweeping reforms of health care, under consideration for years, have been realized through the leadership of President Obama. Word is that the bill passed by the United States Congress will allocate approximately 85 trillion yen over ten years and decrease the number of people uninsured by 3.2 million.
On the other hand, there were almost as many votes against as for, with congresspersons, centered around the Republican Party, concerned about the tilt toward “big government.” It boosts taxes levied on the high-income brackets, and it gave rise to splits between left and right, high- and low-income brackets. That will have its effect on economic policy and policies toward Japan as well.
In order to wipe out the clash of interests between high- and low-income strata, expanding the economy as a whole would be the best thing. It will also be necessary to promote growth in order to achieve real-term containment of the ballooning public-debt burden. The direction the Obama administration is taking will use growth as the driving force, in the next five years doubling exports rather than household consumption, which has taken a beating from the Lehman Shock.
What’s the Nikkei afraid of? That the US, desperate to come up with money for this venture in egalitarianism, will start leaning on its trading partners to be more open to exports from here than they would otherwise have desired to be based on their own markets.
In that context, there is the possibility that demands from the US toward its ally Japan will grow more stern. The backblow against Japanese products such as automobiles is forceful. There are also many fronts on which the opening of markets, such as that for agricultural products, is sought. Even if [Washington] continues to show concern for Japan, which has gone to a lot of trouble over the Futenma military facility, it’s also a fact that there’s less willingness to go the extra mile than before.
Both the US and Japan have painful domestic situations on their hands. When affairs at home aren’t going well, it’s standard political practice, anywhere and everywhere, to draw the attention of the citizenry to foreign relations; however, the possibility cannot be ruled out that that will cause a rift in the US-Japan alliance if pushed too far. And that should be avoided. Not even for Japan will the wounds left on American society by the debate over health-care reform be someone else’s problem.
Tokyo has little moral ground to claim when it comes to manipulating trading partners for the interests of its own enterprises, but the Nikkei itself is a pretty consistent supporter of free markets, so it seems unfair to wave away its concerns. The Japanese government knows a thing or two about mushrooming health-care entitlements squeezed from a shrinking pool of workers, so it’s no wonder it’s looking eastward and feeling afraid.