George Will

Japan is recovering its vitality partly because it is becoming somewhat less Japanese. Although the LDP is conservative, it has long reflected elemental Japanese values, hewing to what a senior economic official calls a ``severe,'' even ``socialist'' aversion to large income disparities. In the debate about equity versus economic efficiency, Japan has listed toward equity, as egalitarians understand that.

But Japan is not impervious to the typhoon-strength winds of globalization. Demands of efficiency must be accommodated, particularly now that Koizumi has pruned public works spending as part of his double commitment to smaller government and a less imperial LDP.

Recently, three things happened that suggest Japan's evolved economic engagement with the world. In the first five months of this year, U.S. consumers -- excluding rental car agencies and other fleet purchasers -- for the first time bought more cars and trucks built by foreign manufacturers, mostly Japanese, than by the three domestic manufacturers. Second, Toyota outsold Ford in July. The third significant thing that happened was that nothing then happened: There was no American political turbulence.

Twenty-five years ago, so alarmed were Americas about Japanese imports that President Reagan, although a supporter of free trade, pressured Japan into ``voluntary'' automobile export limits. And Japanese auto manufacturers -- bowing to American pressure to manufacture where their customers are -- began building plants in America. Today many states, including Michigan, compete to attract such plants.

Koizumi, who has compared himself to Galileo, wants Japanese society to revolve less around the LDP and more around private power centers. As Blair has done in Britain, Koizumi has introduced into Japan something like presidential politics -- personal and charismatic, claiming a national mandate superior to mere parliamentary majorities.

The peril of such personality-driven politics, however, is that, inevitably, the personality departs and the legislative branch, having bided its time, remains, nursing grudges and planning the reversal of reforms. Koizumi has tried to prevent this by selecting his successor. By appointing Shinzo Abe, 51, chief Cabinet secretary and government spokesman, Koizumi made him almost certain to be chosen prime minister by the LDP next month. But the eventful theater of Koizumi's politics has given Abe a difficult act to follow.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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