Misesians in Japan — Marc Abela in the November 2013 issue of The Free Market

The Mises Institute has an interview with TLC member Marc Abela in the latest issue of The Free Market.

I take the liberty of posting the interview verbatim below (with thanks to their use of Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0.)[emphasis added]:

Misesians in Japan

Marc Abela talks with us about the state of Austrian economics
and the freedom philosophy in Japan. Abela, a Canadian by
birth, has lived in Japan for almost 20 years and has organized
the Mises Meeting in recent years, at which Japanese scholars
in the Austrian tradition gather to discuss their scholarship.
He also organized the recent birthday celebration for Toshio
Murata, who introduced Austrian economics to Japan. Abela
was one of the founders of the Tokyo Tea Party and continues to
be involved with Japanese for Tax Reform and other free-market
groups in Japan. He recently visited the campus of the Mises
Institute. (MarcAbela@gmail.com)

Mises Institute: What is the state of free-market thinking
in Japan?
Marc Abela: Professor Hiroyuki Okon, an Austrian School
economist here in Japan, once described Japan as a
“desert of liberty” and I am forced to admit that is what
Japan is today.

Japan suffers the universal results of high taxation and the
wide variety of social problems that follow. One of the more
recent developments is “tomobataraki,” or the dual income
family. No longer is one income enough to make ends meet
and so both parents must enter the workforce.

Following in the footsteps of Thatcher, Reagan, and
Gorbachev, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, in the
1980s, attempted to privatize some heavily nationalized
industries, such as Japan Airlines, Japan Railways, Nippon
Telegraph and Telephone, Japan Tobacco and Salt Corp.
In the early 2000s, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi tried,
with limited success, to privatize the bloated “National
Post Office,” which also behaves like a semi-nationalized
bank here in Japan. The Western concepts of “liberty” and
“freedom,” however, remain unpopular here and the work
of both Nakasone and Koizumi are only seen today at best
as the acts of drunken doctors who left unnecessary scars
on a patient with a common cold.

MI: What effect has the “Lost 20 Years” had in Japan on
thinking about the economy?

MA: Japanese people are more and more noticing
society is drifting away from sanity, and young people,
thanks to the internet and all the new media, are
seeking out new ideas. Unfortunately, they have no
intellectual and significant sources to which to turn
for an honest and reasonable answer in their own
language. Also, the simple idea that taxation is at the
root of most of the social ills they are now experiencing
is viewed as too simplistic an answer for many here
to embrace. This is no surprise because children are
taught from kindergarten on to memorize and repeat
the three supreme tenants of Japan: kyoiku, kinro, and
nouzei (education, labor, and taxes).

Japan is celebrating its 2,673th birthday this year. It has
a rich history, but one that is dominated by heavenly
emperors and autocratic taxing warlords. So the last
20 years with its social and economic woes is more the
result of 2,000-plus years of state-managed education
and a militaristic mindset, than to just economic
mistakes.

Young people today are clearly searching for an
answer, but no Japanese source is helping them
understand from where the problems stem. And
before they are old enough to understand things for
themselves, they may wake up already hired and
working in some government position.

MI: Although it’s a highly regulated economy, we are
told that Japan enjoys one of the world’s highest
standards of living.

MA: The lie is very pervasive today across the globe
about how many countries succeed in being “very
prosperous together with a very big government and a
highly-taxed and regulated economy.” As is the case with
Canada and Sweden, Japan has succeeded in achieving
a relatively decent economy despite the very invasive
and massive burden imposed by the taxing authorities.
Taxes are very high at all levels in Japan. The rate is 50
percent for inheritance and death taxes; corporate taxes
hit 40 percent very rapidly for almost all businesses; any
decent individual income will put you in the 40 percent
bracket; and then you have municipal taxes, prefectural
taxes, property, vehicle, liquor, tobacco, gasoline, and
others taxes. The list is nearly endless. Numerous and
cumbersome government regulations prevent new entries
to industry and being able to compete with the archaic
corporate mammoths known as zaibatsu (Mitsubishi,
Mitsui, Sumitomo, Yasuda, and a few others) who control
and own most of the industries, and make changes at a
glacial pace. In fact, since government regulations are so
exceedingly high, it can be argued that most businesses and most industries are de-facto “nationalized” and behave like state-owned enterprises.

As is the case in many countries, the numbers provided
by the government to the public about the economy
are false, and figures such as the GDP, the CPI, and
the unemployment measurements are all incorrect or
fabricated in order to mask the damage and to pretend
things are going well when in fact most Japanese in the
private sector are working inhuman hours. This results in a
lot of very overworked people, record-breaking debts every
year, and record numbers of suicides. On the other hand,
those working in the public sector are doing much better,
and the public sector enjoys fewer work hours, higher pay,
and generous holidays.

MI: We’ve recently heard that Mises’s student, Toshio
Murata, is still speaking on Misesian economics in Japan.
What has his role been in introducing Austrian economics
there?

MA: Ludwig von Mises received one single Japanese
student while he was teaching in New York in the 1950s
and this student, Toshio Murata, has become a shining
beacon of courage and a lighthouse of liberty since his
return to Japan. Murata-sensei took on the courageous
task of translating Human Action into Japanese. In fact, to
make the book more accessible to Japanese students and to allow them to communicate easily with foreigners, Murata-sensei ensured that each
page in the English version would correspond to
the identical page number in the first edition of
the Japanese version. In other words, if a Japanese student had a question
about something on page 613 of the book, all he had to say was “page
613” and any English speaker would immediately know what the Japanese
student was referring to.

Murata-sensei also went on to become the dean of the Yokohama College
of Commerce and spent much time promoting the work of Mises and other
like-minded intellectuals. But throughout his life he unfortunately faced great
resistance (at times directly from his own students) and had to endure much
adversity, which obviously limited his reach. Today however (at the age of
90) he still gives yearly lectures where he talks to us about his years with
Mises, about his vivid memories of living as a student surrounded by great
minds such as Henry Hazlitt and Bettina Greaves, and how it felt to be a
Japanese student in the post-WW2 period in New York. Although he had
been hand-picked by Mises for a fellowship, some American students back
then apparently argued openly against him being granted funds from an
“American Scholarship” since he was a “Japanese national.”

MI: Although free-market beliefs are not widespread, there does appear to be
at least some interest, as we’ve seen some new translations in recent years.

MA: The internet revolution and all the new social media, Facebook,
YouTube, and Wikipedia, along with the Japanese counterparts, Mixi and
2channel, have allowed for completely new and fresh discussions to be
nourished and grow, even if they are anonymous most of the time. As a
result of Murata and the internet, young people in Japan are discovering the
work of the Austrian School, largely through the expansive Mises Institute
website. Also, thanks in large part to Amazon, an increasing number of
Japanese translations are being made available, among them books by
Hoppe, Rothbard, Mises, Rockwell, and others.

About TokyoTom

Unconventional Right-leaning enviro-libertarian. Anti-corporatism/-govt-enabled MoralHzd/risk-shifting; pro-property-rts (for indigenous too). A founder of #WBOS; founder of #FOTB, #WHATPG, #CurC and #BMT. Yes, I actually reside in Tokyo, though the whole universe is my playground. MAIN blog: tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/ Twitter activity: https://www.rebelmouse.com/TokyoTom/ Law blog: blogs.law.harvard.edu/tokyotom/
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