The greatly hyped “third arrow” of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic plans has fallen spectacularly by the wayside. The stock prices on which Abe & Co. had staked their all began falling even as he was explaining his economic strategy in a speech.
Given the failure of the third arrow to impress, Abe is now talking about a fourth and even a fifth arrow to accommodate market demands for more content. Specifically, he now seems committed to corporate tax reductions in a big way, the details of which are apparently to be revealed come September. Thus the government is now completely at the market’s beck and call. This is what you get when you become too preoccupied with market dialogue. Place too much value in that dialogue and very soon the conversation becomes a one-way street through which the market’s orders come flying at you relentlessly and endlessly.
All this being said, the speech itself was actually quite a remarkable one, in a rather chilly fashion. A very simple exercise in word counting reveals that the word “growth” was uttered 41 times (in Japanese) within an hour or so. That in itself is not so surprising. After all, the speech was actually about his growth strategy.
The word “world” came up 37 times. Again, perhaps not so remarkable in a speech given by the prime minister of a member of the G-8 gathering. What is interesting, however, is the context in which the word was used. Of its 37 appearances, no fewer than 17 referred to Japanese global dominance, in one form or another.
Japan “can once more lead the world,” “find itself once more at the center of the world,” “shall achieve a cutting-edge position in the world,” and even “can win against the world.”
Meanwhile, the word “people” turned up a mere three times in the entire speech. “Inequality” boasts zero appearances, as does any reference to local communities or regional economies.
Nor do such words as “poverty,” “non-permanent workers” and “income disparity” crop up.
Abe’s arrows are clearly not designed to address any of Japan’s pressing issues of today. They are all attuned toward coming first in the race for global conquest. However ineffectual Abe’s efforts ultimately turn out to be, it is still disquieting that such ambitions are being harbored by the people currently in government.
At this point, I am reminded of a centuries-old Japanese legend about the superhero Tawara-no-Tota, who sets out to kill a giant centipede that threatens to kill off all the fish in Biwako, the great lake situated in what is now Shiga Prefecture.
He is a marksman nonpareil. He sets off with three arrows to put the monster down. To his great chagrin, the first two are easily deflected by the creature’s iron-hard scales. Only on the hero’s third and last attempt does the arrow manage to pierce the beast’s thick armor and kill it.
Yet the success of the arrow is not due to newfound prowess on the hero’s part. He succeeds only because by the third try he has shed all his pride and self-serving ambitions. No longer does he rely on his own powers. He prays to the gods in total humility for assistance. This awakening of the soul is duly rewarded by the gods inspiring him to wet the tip of the arrow with his spittle, which turns out to be a deadly poison to his opponent.
Less market dialogue and a bit more mythical reading might serve the Abe government well at this stage.
Noriko Hama is an economist and a professor at the Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.
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