While there are many roads to democracy and prosperity, in Japan it is roads that may take the country in a different direction. In their latest book on construction in Japan, “Doro o do suru ka” (“What to do about the roads?”), lawyer Takayoshi Igarashi and journalist Akio Ogawa paint a bleak picture of how the “road tribes” — the impenetrable scrum of bureaucrats, politicians and industry that benefit from an ever-expanding program of road construction — are literally paving the road to national ruin.

Road policy received a great deal of attention in early 2008 with the so-called “gasoline Diet.” Having lost control of the Upper House, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition was unable to have the Diet rubber-stamp the renewal of a “temporary” gasoline tax set to expire in March of that year. Ultimately, they were able to use their majority in the Lower House to renew that tax through a legislative override, but not before it expired briefly (resulting in a period during which the price of gasoline dropped by about ¥25 a liter) and generated widespread debate about this seemingly innocuous source of government revenue.

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