Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Douglas MacArthur has Wrought

Japan and the United States are arguably the two largest economies and most industrialized nations in the world, yet according to Adolino and Blake they: “been among the lowest spenders”(37) among the nations analyzed, putting some pains to the postulation that with increased wealth comes increased spending. Looking at table 2-1 we also see that the Japanese and American populations have lower regard for government intervention than all other nations averaging 75% and 71% in the average “attitude” toward government responsibility in the policy areas considered. On most of the policy areas the Japanese and Americans seem to have similar viewpoints and tend to be lower than other states: jobs, unemployment, income disparity are markedly below average, with healthcare, environmental protection and elderly benefits higher on the scale, but still lower than the overall group average. The one area of marked dissimilarity is on price controls where the Japanese favor far more government intervention.

The results on table 2-1 and 2-2 broadly point to the problems that one would face if one were to rely on polling as an analytical tool. For example in both Japan and the U.S. a clear majority of individuals favor cutting spending, however, on each of the identified policy areas the majority is for maintaining effort or increasing effort (spending). There is no clarity on what voter sentiments, and a politician would be hard pressed to cut in any policy area, lest they bear the brunt of voter outrage. In addition, polls are heavily dependent on the economic/political context within which they were taken, they are ever changing and unless long term trends are deduced, one can not rely on them as a consistent policy analysis tool. However, we can make some tentative judgments about the potential hot-button issues or areas where the public may consider added government effort to be necessary. For example, American’s would seem to favor increased spending on healthcare (80; 65), education (83; 53) and retirement spending (65; 56), these results may point to areas that are in the systemic agenda, though we can not ascertain if they have made it to the institutional agenda. The environment, unemployment benefits and defense spending would seem (at least in 2006 and only if measured by attitudes toward spending) to not have been salient issues in either country.

I found the “Family of Nations” approach to be quite thought provoking, if ultimately unconvincing. My interest in this approach stems from the possible implications of these ‘families” on their former colonies. Do Francophone, Lusophone or Anglophone nations exhibit similar approaches to policy making as their former colonial masters? Considering the significant social, cultural, political and institutional legacies that the former colonizers left behind, is it possible that one could trace similar “familial” tendencies across the globe? Equally intriguing, would the domination of Japan by the U.S. (no matter how brief) explain some of the similarities in policy attitudes in these two giants? Is this all MacArthur's fault?

Without greater study of the cultural approach, I would be hesitant to accept its conclusions, especially considering its limited geographic scope and applicability.

For me a combination of the economic and political approaches is most appealing. Nary a day goes by in any industrialized nation (and non-industrialized ones to) where policy discussions do not revolve around the ideological leanings of those involved in the debate or their policy preferences, but always within the larger context of short term economic performance and long term growth. These approaches do not provide an overarching perspective, but they do capture a significant portion of the public policy terrain, because ultimately everything boils down to politics and money.


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