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Ramseyer and Rosenbluth: Japan's political marketplace

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Ramseyer and Rosenbluth. 1993. Japan's political marketplace. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


They examine four delegations: voters -> legislators; backbenchers -> LDP leaders; LDP leaders -> bureaucrats; LDP leaders -> judges. Where transaction costs of overcoming hidden information and hidden action problems are highest, there is the most agency slack (loss). Agency slack is highest in the first delegation.

The main point (page 3) is "(1) that the institutional framework of government--the rules of the game among players--decisively shapes the character of political competition in Japan; (2) that the players in this competitive political market try to build organizations adapted to that framework; and (3) that these players also try to manipulate the framework to their private advantage. The rest is detail."

Chapter-by-Chapter Noes

Chapters 2-3: Delegation by Voters to Legislators

Chapters 4-5: Delegation from Backbenchers to Leaders

Chapters 6-7: Political Control of the Bureaucracy

The LDP does maintain control over the bureaucracy, even though it isn't apparent. The bureaucracy would act the same whether (1) it were completely independent or (2) it were doing only what the LDP wants (i.e. observational equivalence). But in fact, the LDP has several ways of keeping the bureaucracy under control:

  • They can easily veto any bureaucratic actions
  • They have control over promotion
  • They encourage dissatisfied constituents to report complaints to the LDP
  • Would-be politicians work in the bureaucracy and have to please the party if they want to run
  • Ministries compete for policy influence
  • The LDP requires "large portions of [bureaucrats'] lifetime earnings as bonds contingent on faithful performance" (120)

Chapters 8-9: Delegation from Politicians to Judges

Implications of the 1993 Reforms for the Argument

In 1993, the LDP lost control of the Diet for a short time, and the electoral system was changed. The old multimember districts were replaced with three hundred single-member districts and two-hundred PR (party-list) districts. In the preface to the 1997 edition, the authors apply their argument to make the following predictions:

  • Intraparty competition will reduce, and there will be a shift toward issue-based politics.
  • With the decline of intraparty competition, factionalism will decrease. Depending on how parties select candidates and platforms, party leaders might be strengthened considerably.
  • Bureaucrats will "generally remain loyal" [unclear to whom; presumably to the current Diet majority]. Though some of the things that kept bureaucrats tied to the LDP might be weakened, the majority politicians will still be able to use indirect monitoring (fire alarms) and ex post vetoes.
  • But bureaucrats will find their discretion constrained; earlier, the LDP allowed greater discretion because it filled the bureaucracy with sympathizers. But if the majority won't consistently be the LDP, then bureaucrats will receive different policy instructions depending on who is in power. Thus, discretion will need to be reduced.
  • Courts may come to appear more independent.


In his review for Political Science Quarterly, David Arase (1994) made some heavily criticisms of the book's approach. The following two paragraphs give the general flavor:

"The theoretical assumption in this book is: if institution X, then behaviors a, b, c, . . . n. Their hypothesis is: if behaviors a, b, c, . . . n, then institution X. This latter proposition cannot be established deductively. This would be the fallacy: if A then B; therefore, if B then A. It must be established inductively. The authors looked for and found evidence that the LDP serves the interests of younger backbench Diet members, and they also argued that the bureaucracy followed LDP dictates.

"The fall of the LDP in 1993 provides a timely and powerful test for Ramseyer and Rosenbluth's argument. Unfortunately, events contradict their interpretation of Japanese politics. It was predominantly frutstrated younger back bench members who defected from the corrupt and ossifiefd LDP and brought about its downfall. And the bureaucracy successfully pushed its fiscal stringency and consumption tax agendas onto the new parties in power, even as the latter tried unsuccessfully to impose bureaucratic reform and consumption-oriented measures on an unwilling bureaucracy. This book should serve as a cautionary example to those who would mechanically apply to Japan or to other nonwestern societies theoretical approaches currently popular in the analysis of American politics."