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2009年9月13日 (日)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 11(IHT/Asahi: September 12,2009)
EDITORIAL: Down to business

The business world, traditionally a staunch supporter of administrations led by the Liberal Democratic Party, is being pressed to alter its stance toward politics.

This begs the question: What role will it play after the inauguration of the coalition government led by Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan?

Under the outgoing coalition setup of the LDP and its junior partner New Komeito, business leaders, such as the chairman of Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), were closely involved in policymaking as private-sector members of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy.

The new administration plans to abolish the council and formulate policy under the proposed National Strategy Bureau. Some business leaders have expressed concern that their voices would no longer be heard.

However, with a change of government, we are entering a new age. The business world needs to review its role and have the courage to push for change in response to the political upheaval.

The LDP-New Komeito government formed in the late 1990s put priority on economic reconstruction. To grapple with the so-called lost decade, it had to promote policies to enhance industrial competitiveness.

Thus, the voices of industry were heard when the government came up with various policy measures. These included revisions to the Commercial Law to give more freedom to corporate activities as well as the law governing dispatched workers. The business community became more influential as industrial sectors spoke with one voice.

Up to now, it was common for business circles to act as a monolithic body to press the ruling parties for favorable economic policies. But this structure now seems consigned to the past. One example will revolve around policies to curb global warming.

DPJ President Hatoyama has announced a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from the 1990 level by 2020. While the steel and electric power industries, which are major emitters, are digging their heels in, some sectors welcome the proposal because they expect it to boost demand for green products. The business community will likely find itself divided over the new administration's environmental policies.

Looking back, the business world and LDP governments have not always been in harmony. During the period of high economic growth, the business world tried to cold-shoulder government efforts to intervene in the way companies are run. It was also unhappy with the LDP's agricultural policy, which for a long time kept the nation's rice market closed.

In the past, the chairman of what was then Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) used to be dubbed the "prime minister of the business world." Taizo Ishizaka (1886-1975), who served as Keidanren's second chairman, is said to have argued violently with Cabinet ministers, telling them, "It's no use asking you any more."

While the new administration is calling for the abolition of political donations by companies and other organizations, the business world should take it upon itself to stop the practice. It should sever monetary ties with governing parties and restrict itself to exchanging views with the government on policy matters. Building such a relationship between business and political circles will be important for the development of democracy in this country.

As long as companies are making a positive contribution to society through business activities, paying taxes and securing employment, they are entitled to a voice. It shouldn't depend on making political donations.

Economic analyses and policy proposals from the standpoint of the business world are significant to any administration. The vitality of companies is also indispensable to the improvement of national life. We want the business circle to also speak freely about the future of industries and employment.

We hope the business community will voluntarily transform into an organization that makes policy proposals not only for commercial profit but also for a broad range of "public interests."


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