ELECTION 2000: VOX POPULI

Public ‘on strike’ against state

Empty economic policy nets voter apathy, distrust: exec

by Tomoko Otake

The economy has stayed in a prolonged slump because the public is “subconsciously” on strike against lawmakers for their lack of vision for the future, said Mizue Tsukushi, president of The Good Bankers asset management firm.

“Lawmakers are obsessed with protecting their vested interests and continue to engage in pork-barrel politics,” she said. “The current political system makes it extremely difficult for diverse opinions to be reflected in politics. This is why voter apathy is prevalent.”

As a result, no matter how much money the state pours into public works projects to prop up the economy, the public has refused to consume or invest — in silent protest of the government, she said.

Unless political leaders present a clear vision for the future, the economic doldrums will persist, Tsukushi added.

“Without consumption, the economy will not recover, and without an economic recovery, no Cabinet will last,” said Tsukushi, a former employee with UBS Trust and Banking.

Her company is trying to promote “socially responsible investment” in Japan. SRI is a well-established investment style in the United States and Europe, where companies are ranked on certain criteria — whether that be environmental awareness or ethical hiring practices — and picked for — or excluded from — investment trust portfolios.

To invest in such funds is “an alternative to going to the polls,” especially since democracy is paralyzed in Japan, Tsukushi claimed.

Through SRI, people can influence society by choosing a firm to invest in, much like choosing a political candidate to vote for, Tsukushi said.

SRI has gained public acceptance in the West, with a huge amount of money flowing into such investment trusts from individuals. This has prompted corporations to act responsibly and ethically, she said.

Tsukushi is trying to bring the same kind of success into Japan. Last summer, she introduced the nation’s first “eco-fund” — which stands for both “ecological” and “economical” investment trust funds.

So far, her drive to change Japanese society through investment is gaining support. The “eco-funds” developed by her company have grown steadily, now with some 158.3 billion yen in assets under management, accounting for 85 percent of the market for such funds in Japan.

Eventually, Tsukushi hopes to see more SRI funds born, such as those that would invest in firms keen to hire working mothers or those that would exclude firms with questionable ties to politicians.

But to truly change the nation, individuals will have to get involved in politics more actively, Tsukushi said. To allow ordinary people to run for office, which is a prohibitively expensive process in Japan, the government should, for example, subsidize candidates, she said.

Tsukushi cited the case of Germany, where individuals can get their expenses for running for an election reimbursed. Anyone can run for office as long as the person forms a political party, which is authorized with 100 or more signatures, she said.

Also in Germany, if candidates lose in elections, their right to return to previously held jobs is legally guaranteed, she said.

In contrast, the common practice in Japan is to quit a job before running for office. “Here, if people lose their bids, they are left jobless,” she said.