Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer For Bureaucrats

While still in university, in 1989, I visited Japan for three months on an AIESEC traineeship. I was very impressed with Japan!

While I was there, I heard a number of different Japanese people spontaneously tell me, “Japan has no resources excepts its people”. Japanese companies put a lot of effort into developing their human resources and capital. And, they were beating the Americans in so many industries: steel, electronics, television, cars.

When I returned to university, I noted how Western companies essentially did no investment in their people. They wanted fully educated workers. And fully trained. But at the expense of another company. So they could just hire them away. Quite the contrast in HR policy.

This summer, I started watching a TV series on Japan’s NHK network, called “Summer For Bureaucrats”. It’s a docudrama about the history of the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry – MITI.

It starts about 1955, ten years after WWII. Each episode is a different drama, not only about MITI, but about Japan also.

The big theme that runs through the series is that of free trade versus trade barriers. MITI official Kazakoshi is for protection. Official Tamaki is for free trade. The debate ensues every episode in one way or another.

One episode concerns the pollution problem. After Japan industrializes, suddenly pollution becomes a problem. Minamata disease, chemical poisoning, develops near the Motouru factory. Fish are dying. And children are developing very strange diseases, and highly deformed bodies.

Fishermen demonstrate and say they only have an elementary education. But they do know that the fish are perfectly fine upstream, and all dead downstream. Not only that, but children are born or develop deformed. This is a very dramatic picture that appeared in Life Magazine, that I always remembered:

At first key MITI bureaucrats don't think it's an issue. The company has been working for ten years now. How could there suddenly be a problem now?

Japan has really not heard of pollution before. Eventually they realize what the issue is all about. Some have heard of pollution occurring in the USA. One official notes that the USA is big. But Japan is small. Pollution has the potential to affect the whole society! Not just economically, but the health of everyone. And thus the economic well being of the entire nation.

MITI official Tamaki, who pushes free trade, sees the danger first. MITI official Kazakoshi, who favors protectionism, actually recommends Tamaki-san to lead the drafting of an anti-pollution law.

The Vice Minister of MITI warns that Tamaki-san will get more politically powerful with his free trade bill if he leads the bill against pollution. Yet Kazakoshi-san says that Tamaki-san understands the issue best, better than him. Talk about team players!

Then there is the issue of financing. The banks ask, “what will we get in return?”. Which leaves the government to finance the plans through the budget. How will they pay for it all? More politics ensue.

Then there is the wise Prime Minister, who sees the really big picture. In one episode, he supports some measures. But not all. It is important to keep America, their ally, happy. Communist North Korea and China are not that far away.

What impresses me so much about the series, is how all the bureaucrats earnestly want the best for Japan, and work very hard to attain it. While they disagree on how to do it, such as free trade versus protectionism, they all want to “make Japan a first class country”.

This is in contrast to what I see in American politics today. Just what -is- the policy of the US government? Just what is the US government trying to do? In comparison to what I see in Summer For Bureaucrats, it’s just so bizarre.

I think that anyone in government, or, who keeps up with current events should watch this series. Actually, make that everyone who ever studied at university: political science, international relations, economics, business. And anyone in any kind of leadership position.

It’s fabulous!

Try to find it in your local listings.

See the cast here:

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