Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Human Rights

Q&A: Wanted: Economy at the Service of Mankind

Mutsuko Murakami interviews DR JUN NISHIKAWA, Japan’s leading advocate of solidarity economy

TOKYO, Nov 22 2009 (IPS) - The outbreak of the global financial crisis that followed the collapse of the U.S.’s major financial institutions last year sent many economies into a downward spiral. Many were also forced to rethink their economic development models.

For Dr Jun Nishikawa, professor emeritus at Waseda University in Tokyo, there is no more viable option than a solidarity-based economy, or one that promotes human and social development. This, in his view, contrasts with a profit- and greed-driven economy to which grassroots development is often hostage.

Dr Nishikawa is Japan’s leading theorist of the social development and solidarity economy (SE), an alternative framework for the development of grassroots people, which he thinks is not possible in a globalised market economy. He says it is a concept that seeks to transform a capitalist economy that advocates of solidarity economy like him believe engenders oppressive social conditions.

The concept of SE evolved during the first World Social Forum of civil society organizations in 2001. The forum sought to counter the ill effects of economic globalization and denounced the anti-human aspects of a market- oriented economy, where everything is “merchandised and transaction- based” and the environment is rapidly deteriorating, he says.

His dream is to see a society marked by a sustainable environment that can realise genuine human growth through the combined efforts of civil society and the public sector. This aspiration of his reverberated anew in the Asian Forum for Solidarity Economy, held in Tokyo last week.

In Japan the prospects for propagating SE appear promising against a backdrop of social and gender gaps, job insecurity and poverty, which have assumed disturbing proportions. In fact, Dr Nishikawa proudly says, a number of activities promoting solidarity economy are taking place in his country. These include social enterprises, social financing schemes, fair trade and non-profit undertakings in the fields of welfare, medical and care work and agriculture—all of which are intended to promote grassroots development.


He ponders the prospects for the pursuit of solidarity economy in Japan and elsewhere in the world.

IPS: What does SE mean in this time of economic crisis? JUN NISHIKAWA: The economic globalisation has in recent decades brought about increasing poverty, unemployment and social division on a global scale, and this was heavily criticised by civil society groups.

On the other hand, it has promoted money-oriented, or greed, economy among transnational corporations and financial institutions. Their collective failures led to a global financial crisis in 2007-08.

In this situation, the governments tend to promote various regional cooperation schemes such as free trade and economic partnership agreements. However, there are fears that such schemes will only lead to a failed regional globalisation.

IPS: What is the role of the SE forum in this regard? JN: The forum advocates a more humanistic economy and society both at the regional and global levels. This is particularly vital in Asia, where rapid economic growth has created enormous poverty, social division and environmental deterioration. IPS: What did the Asian Forum in Tokyo achieve that in your view can help address these issues? JN: On one hand, the Forum in Tokyo is a good departure point to develop further SE activities in Japan as well as in Asia. On the other, it is a good beginning to exchange experiences, mutual support and partnerships among SE advocates in the five continents of the world.

In fact, we were amazed to see so many delegates, not only from Asia but also from Europe, North America, Oceania and other parts of the world. It means that the role of the SE movement in Asia is considered important not only among Asian nations but also in other parts of the world.

IPS: How would you describe Japan in the post-World War II era and what does its current mean for promoting SE in the world’s second largest economy? JN: The post-World War II economy in Japan is marked by “development- oriented dictatorship,” which was led by a coalition of politicians, business groups and bureaucrats. The non-profit sector that existed in the form of cooperatives, however, largely survived within the said development-oriented regime. The force of civil society organisations has long been weak.

But the situation started to rapidly change after the collapse of the bubble economy, which took place through the 1990s. As a result, the development- oriented dictatorship ceased to function properly. It was prompted by the rise of civil society and people’s movements in this decade, which are seeking more public sector accountability and democratisation.

After 1993, the domination of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which symbolised the development-oriented dictatorship, ended and the Japanese politics entered a new era of coalition government made up of a plurality of parties. This change was accelerated by a change in the international environment, where the East-West Cold war ended and where the world has become more multilateral.

After the Asian currency and financial crisis between 1997 and 1998, and during the incumbency of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who promoted globalisation and liberalisation in Japan, the ill effects of globalisation became visible in this country, where 90 percent of the population thought they belonged to the middle class.

These international and domestic changes have pushed democratisation in Japan—a boost to CSO activities.

All this bodes well for pushing a solidarity-based economy.

IPS: Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has vowed to support civil society, non-profit and citizens’ actions. How do you view his leadership and what does it imply for the pursuit of SE in Japan? JN: The election of Prime Minister Hatoyama brought an end to the old-style development-oriented political regime. He equates politics with ‘yuai’ (fraternity). This means giving a voice to marginalised sectors, including minority groups, and pursuing an economic programme that is fundamentally based on human development.

The ‘yuai’ is in stark contrast to the rapid marketisation pursued by past governments that created a lot of unemployment and poverty. In today’s Japan, the Democratic Party is committed to addressing these issues more than pursuing a growth-based economy as advocated by LDP.

All this means that the new government is keen to address social issues and involve the CSOs in resolving them.

IPS: Are you optimistic about the potential of SE to gain more adherents in Japan and consequently take root in the country? JN: In a situation where major enterprises are moving their factories abroad and the government is running a heavy deficit every year, and poverty and job loss are on the rise, the people have no other choice but to depend on grassroots-led development or entrepreneurship.

In Japan, public-private sector collaboration has traditionally involved government and big private enterprises. Today we need to promote collaboration between the government and civil society to resolve the failures that have accumulated through the years under the traditional setup.

IPS: What is the role of Japan in promoting SE across Asia and the rest of the globe? JN: Many Asian countries have followed the Japanese way of growth based on export-oriented industrialisation. Japan should lead the way in reversing this cycle, among others through a change of lifestyle—one that emphasizes responsible citizenship, positive social ties and sustainable environment.

These are not alien to Japanese and Asian cultures on the whole. SE is showing both Japan and other Asian countries that an alternative way of living is not only possible but also inevitable.

IPS: How do you expect the Japanese people act to respond to the SE challenge? JN: Many Japanese have become conscious of the necessity to reverse today’s trends. This is evident in their overwhelming support for a new government during the election, inspired by the chain of events leading to President Barack Obama’s victory. A positive social development combined with environment conservation efforts will strengthen the people’s resolve toward an alternative lifestyle that is consistent with the ethos of solidarity economy.

 
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