|

Think tanks offer Japan plenty of personnel with policymaking potential

by Yoshio Nakamura

The 21st Century Public Policy Institute (21PPI) is a think tank established by Keidanren in 1997. As it enters its 10th year this month, a revamp is in progress to beef up its activities.

Over the past decade, the institute has worked on a wide range of topics ranging from structural reforms of the Japanese economy to international relations. When it was founded, the bad-loan woes of the banking sector and Japan’s options for averting a financial crisis were the main topics of discussion. In recent years, it has organized symposiums and other events to promote the privatization of the state-run postal services.

Effective April 1, Kenji Miyahara, chairman of Sumitomo Corp. and a Keidanren vice chairman, became the new president of 21PPI. Under his leadership, the institute plans to build a new research system that will allow it to work with researchers from both Japanese and foreign universities as well as think tanks.

For the time being, it is working on six new research projects that include tax and fiscal reforms, administrative reforms, the labor market and technological innovations.

In the past, it was often said that Kasumigaseki — the district that serves as home to the central government bureaucracy — was Japan’s most powerful think tank. But government bureaucrats aren’t up to providing what the Japanese economy needs today — a revamping of the nation’s socioeconomic machinery.

21PPI will try to gather the wisdom of various sectors of the market to ensure private-sector voices are heard. These activities will also help foster human resources capable of filling government positions as political appointees.

Nippon Keidanren plans to maximize the results of the research conducted by 21PPI. Today’s government must contend with a mountain of challenges, including globalization and the aging of society.

To beef up its policy-proposing functions, it is important that Keidanren utilize the wide range of policy research networks available at home and abroad.

In western countries, think tanks play an important role in policymaking decisions. In many cases, lawmakers push for legislation based on the ideas they propose. These institutions constitute a sort of revolving door in the political world, one from which many researchers are appointed government jobs.

Today, the Japanese political scene is changing rapidly, and policies — rather than special interests, family and local community ties — are beginning to hold the key to political victory. Proof of this was seen recently in the national elections, where voters paid keen attention to the parties’ “manifestos.”

Also, individuals from the private sectors are beginning to play increasingly important roles in policymaking, as illustrated by the inclusion of business leaders in the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy.

These developments indicate that think tanks can play even greater roles in this country. To accelerate reforms, Keidanren plans to support the activities of 21PPI while strengthening its own policy-formulating functions.