Fachgruppensitzung Politik und Wirtschaft 2016

Joint Section Meeting: Economic Studies and Political Science 2016

This year the „Economics“ and the „Political Science“ sections conducted a joint meeting, the first part of which was dedicated to a panel discussion on the topic „Zero Growth, Post Growth, Degrowth: Can Japan become a Model of a Sustainable Eco-Economy?” The second part focused on the discussion of two ongoing political science-related doctoral projects. The joint section meeting was headed by Kerstin Lukner, Werner Pascha (both Duisburg-Essen University) and Franz Waldenberger (DIJ Tokyo).

“Zero growth, post growth, degrowth – can Japan become the model of a sustainable eco-economy?” For almost two decades, Japan employs a wide range of unorthodox and innovative measures to jumpstart economic growth after the burst of the bubble. Facing the persistence of stagnation, many observers started to wonder whether this heralds the arrival of a new regime of economic change, the ‘post growth’ society. Catchwords such as the ‘end of capitalism’ pinpoint the fact that, meanwhile, zero interest rate regimes proliferate globally, and that growth seems precarious even in the United States, given the lack of significant improvements in productivity. However, if one evaluates this situation from the viewpoint of ecological economics, this development may just lead to a sensible degrowth scenario, if only unintendedly. This idea is also reflected in the domestic debates, where concepts such as the ‘stationary economy’ have been popular for years. It has also triggered many civil society initiatives aiming at sustainability and societal renewal. The panel started with a presentation by Carsten Herrmann-Pillath (Max Weber Center Erfurt as well as Witten Herdecke University), who had proposed the idea of “degrowth” for the panel and who introduced the topic with a general overview of degrowth policies as established by ecological economists. Do Japanese realities match with these policy recommendations? In fact, the Japanese debates cover a wide range of topics, going far beyond ecological criteria in the narrow sense, such as radically restructuring the welfare system or administrative decentralization of government. Yet, all these topics are presented as being pertinent for establishing a new growth regime that meets challenges such as the rapid aging of society. The discussions pointed to contradictions in the way “growth” is used as the overall goal for economic policy. Productivity and welfare might be more adequate terms, though with less political appeal in the Japanese context. The savings-investment nexus, reforms of the energy sector, the employment system and regional development were taken up in the discussions as additional areas to exemplify Japan’s dilemma of having institutions and policies developed and applied under a growth environment being further used in a degrowth macro-setting.

Anna Wiemann (Hamburg University) started the second part of the meeting with a presentation on her doctoral project entitled “Organizational Structures of the Japanese Anti-Nuclear Movement after Fukushima”. In her talk, Wiemann introduced and analyzed the organizational structures of a Tokyo-based network coalition called e-shift, which consist of environmental, anti-nuclear, pro-renewable energy, and consumer organizations jointly engaging in policy-related activities for the promotion of a nuclear phase-out. After introducing her analytical model to study qualitative and quantitative aspects of such networks, she explained different layers of relational patterns (internal; towards the broader movement on a nuclear phase-out; external, i.e. towards the political arena and society) as discovered by her research. Furthermore, Wiemann explained the emergence and positioning of the network in Japan’s broader social movement context. Importantly, she showed that e-shift gained access to Diet members and Diet committees to offer expertise and advise (e.g. policy proposals). Thus, her case study on e-shift might put Robert Pekkanen’s description of a weak and politically hardly influential civil society (“Japan’s Dual Civil Society: Members Without Advocates”, 2006) to test.

Subsequently, Jan Niggemeier (Graduate School of East Asian Studies, Freie Universität Berlin) presented his doctoral project on “Going Global, but How? – Diversity in Transnational Processes of Labor Activism in Japan”. While the project’s broader research question asks for the impact of the transnational diffusion of institutionalized global frameworks of activism on different parts of the Japanese labor movement, Niggemeier particularly concentrated on grassroots labor activism and its transnational ties to similar movements abroad. Partly, the focus derives from the fact that Japan’s traditional and 2nd tier trade unions are rather resistant to comprehensively engage and adapt to global trends in labor-related issues. While in Japan, Niggemeier, who uses participant observation as one part of his methodological approach, accompanied members of the Fight For 15 (movement to improve minimum wage to USD 15 or Yen 1,500 respectively) to an international meeting on the issue in the US. Asking whether we can speak of a transnational movement in the Fight For 15 case, as US demands set the campaign’s overall tone, he reflected on similarities and differences in the two countries’ national movements’ characteristics. His talk ended by characterizing motivations and strategies, mechanisms, and the main obstacles to the Fight For 15 movements in Japan.

Both presentations instigated a lively discussion and were followed by feedback/advise from the approximately 15 participants of the joint meeting. While Anna Wiemann will soon hand in her dissertation and was particularly interested in discussing the key insights to be presented in her thesis concluding chapter, Jan Niggemeier had recently returned from a field trip to Japan and was keen on reflecting on the analytical categories to be applied in his study.

Kerstin Lukner, Werner Pascha, Franz Waldenberger