Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With economic-stimulus measures having had only moderate impact, Japan remains ranked near the middle of the pack for economic policy (rank 24). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

A three-prong plan of monetary easing, deficit-financed spending and structural reform has fallen short of goals, producing moderate but fluctuating growth, and failing to reach inflation targets. Structural reforms have been slow. The TPP trade pact could liberalize important domestic markets, but ratification is uncertain.

Unemployment rates have been moderate to low, though irregular jobs have become more common. Pressure to engage in labor-market reforms has diminished. VAT rates have been raised somewhat, but further planned increases have been delayed. The high corporate-tax rate is being cut.

Public debt is very high and continuing to rise, with deficits large. R&D continues to receive considerable attention and funding.

Social Policies

Facing equity and sustainability concerns, Japan receives middling scores overall (rank 23) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure is unchanged since 2014.

The education system is generally strong. Reforms have subsidized top universities and high schools, and streamlined school and exam structures. Income inequality and poverty have risen in recent years. Ongoing government reforms seek to integrate disadvantaged groups more deeply into the labor force.

The high-quality health care system offers universal access, but has high costs. Deregulation in the sector has been delayed. The labor market features high gender gaps in wages and achievement. Child-care provision has been improved.

Population aging threatens pension-system viability. Despite a policy targeting high-skilled foreign professionals, immigration policies are very restrictive, with little focus on integration. Crime rates are low. Development aid has been aligned with external-security concerns.

Environmental Policies

With post-Fukushima energy policy remaining controversial, Japan’s environmental policies receive middling scores (rank 23) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Nuclear power plants have begun restarting, but this remains extremely controversial. The government has said nuclear power will retain an important role, but is seeking to increase the low share of renewable energy. Waste-water and forest management are strengths.

Post-Fukushima revisions of emissions-reductions targets now target a decline of 26% relative to 2013, when they reached record levels. The country has agreed to tackle regional environmental issues jointly with China and South Korea.



Quality of Democracy

Despite fair and open elections, Japan’s democratic system scores relatively poorly in international comparison (rank 33). Its score on this measure has fallen by 0.2 points since 2014.

The voting age has been reduced from 20 to 19. The party- and campaign-financing system lacks transparency. Electoral districts have been redrawn to diminish size disparities, but may still violate constitutional norms.

The government has sought to wield political influence over the public broadcaster, while mainstream private-sector organizations largely avoid anti-government stances. A new state-secrets act has been criticized as a threat to press freedom and information access. The print and broadcast-media sectors are oligopolistically controlled.

Civil rights and political liberties are generally protected, but gender discrimination remains significant, and the justice system is not in line with international standards. Judicial appointments lack transparency. The incidence of administrative office abuse has declined, though scandals involving politicians continue to emerge periodically.



Executive Capacity

Despite a shift of power toward the core executive, Japan receives middling scores overall (rank 19) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

The LDP government has deepened strategic-planning capacity in the core executive. The large Kantei secretariat, which assists the prime minister, has significant sectoral expertise. The current government agenda appears driven by the prime minister’s office. Government tensions with the powerful bureaucracy have eased. Many sensitive issues are negotiated informally, with cabinet meetings largely a formality.

RIAs are widely performed, but do not routinely examine sustainability. Alignment between the business sector and the state has been weak due to firms’ global orientation. The LDP government has been successful in implementing many of its policies, but growth-oriented reforms have shown less progress than hoped.

Despite widespread opposition, new security laws allow military intervention overseas in defense of allies.

Executive Accountability

With a mixed record on accountability structures, Japan falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 26) with regard to executive accountability. After a slight drop last year, its score has returned to its 2014 level.

Citizen policy knowledge is reasonably robust. However, the 3/11 disasters undermined public trust in government information and in leading media organizations, with recovery slow. Traditionally in-depth policy reporting may be further compromised by an avowedly pro-government management at NHK, the public broadcaster.

The parliament has broad oversight powers, and members have substantial policy-assessment resources at their disposal. The Board of Audit successfully plays a watchdog role.

Political parties tend to be insider-oriented and hierarchically driven. Economic organizations are well-funded and sophisticated, while civil-society groups have played an increasing role in expressing public concern and organizing mass rallies.
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