The LDP is shocked — shocked! — to find waste in the budget

I previously wrote that the LDP, in the midst of a debate over whether and when to raise the consumption tax to cover growing pensions liabilities, also organized a project team — headed by Sonoda Hiroyuki and staffed with fervent young reformists like Kono Taro and Yamamoto Ichita — with the purpose of identifying “waste” to remove from the budget.

The LDP hopes that “exterminating” waste will provide 200bn yen for the budget. To that end, the project team submitted a proposal to the prime minister on Tuesday. The proposal is something of a wish list, the items that the project team would most like to eliminate from the budget. There are the typical items one would find on such a list: “recreation,” late-night taxi rides for bureaucrats (the latest outrage), PR documents, no-bid contracts for public corporations (note how they slip that in among more trivial items), and subsidies to public corporations (ditto). The proposal also calls for reducing duplicated work and more oversight by auditors.

All of this sounds fine. These measures would undoubtedly help Japan tackle its budget difficulties and free up money to finance growing liabilities.

But then remember that the LDP has been in power for more than fifty years. It presided over the ballooning of Japan’s national debt, it dithered as Japan’s population aged, and it failed to refit Japan’s welfare institutions for the age of globalization. And now it wants to eliminate government waste to deal with these problems?

If the DPJ is smart, this should be a losing issue for the LDP, reminding voters how now, after years of mismanaging Japan’s finances and coddling the bureaucracy, the LDP is ready to crack down on wasteful spending. The LDP would prefer that the public didn’t think too much about wasteful spending in the first place, how it got there, how long it’s been there. It didn’t appear magically, and it didn’t appear overnight. It’s not a disease or a natural disaster. It is the product of decisions made by the Japanese government — by the LDP — over the course of decades. The DPJ would be wise to remind the Japanese people of this at every opportunity.

And people wonder whether the DPJ can be trusted with power. The DPJ will undoubtedly make mistakes of its own if and when it forms a government, but for now it is the LDP that should be judged in an election, not the DPJ.

Seems simple enough, right? And yet both the Japanese and the foreign press are obsessed with the idea that the DPJ might somehow be worse than the LDP at governing Japan.

Meanwhile, the DPJ might get an assist from the LDP’s zoku giin, who will undoubtedly fight tooth-and-nail to ensure that their pet projects aren’t classified as waste and eliminated, thereby exposing the LDP’s sordid underbelly to the public yet again.

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