TOKYO -- Like many world leaders, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi will make a nationally televised address to the nation on the first day of the New Year. As a rule, these messages amount to little more than platitudes and prognostications for the coming year.
Behind the Screen has just obtained a top-secret document of what is believed to be Obuchi's New Year's resolutions list. Assuming that the document, scribbled on the back of an old pizza box, is accurate, Obuchi has startling plans for 2000. Here's a liberal translation of those highly classified jottings.
I resolve to hold a "sustainable-recovery" bash at my official residence for all those foreign analysts who keep saying the Japanese economy is powering into another growth era. They have proven stalwart allies. Their doom-and-gloom talk in 1998 helped sink my predecessor, former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Their current upbeat assessment of the economy is also helping out, even though consumption, which accounts for roughly 60% of GDP, continues to fall. They're talkin' the talk that's brought billions of foreign bucks into the Japanese market and sent the Nikkei more than 30% higher. Never forget your friends.
I resolve to keep telling the bond market that this fiscal year's 85 trillion-yen budget ($832 billion) -- the biggest in Japanese history -- is the last expansionary budget. Those bond trader punks deserved coal in their Christmas stockings for their supply-shock paranoia. So what if Japan's debt-to-GDP ratio will reach a mind-boggling 114% next year? Most of that debt is internal. I reserve the right, however, to fudge on this resolution later in the year. If the economy doesn't pick up, I might pass around another large slice of public-works pork to loyal supporters in the construction industry. Who can blame me? I have to hold a lower house election by Oct. 20. Never forget your friends.
I resolve to launch a whisper campaign to recruit Paul Krugman, professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as a member of the Bank of Japan's Policy Board. Those intractable, independent-minded officials over at BoJ are killing me with their refusal to further ease monetary policy. (Short-term interest rates have been around zero for months.) What is all this silly talk about the dangers of hyperinflation anyway? Aren't prices in Japan still falling? Krugman, an advocate of massive monetary expansion, might finally get BoJ Governor Masaru Hayami to play ball.
I resolve to aggressively court Japan's young women. They're buying Gucci bags, cellular phones and platform shoes like there's no tomorrow and that's helping to put some fire into this economy. Womenomics, baby. That's my official buzzword for 2000.
I resolve to muzzle the new 140-strong group of lawmakers in my ruling Liberal Democratic Party who are dedicated to rolling back deregulatory measures now in the pipeline. Wouldn't want the markets to get wind of the growing backlash against deregulation that's putting the hurt to all those small companies that vote for my party.
I resolve to keep throwing policy bones to the Komeito, one of my coalition partners, to ensure the party stays on board. Last year, I gave them their 20,000-yen spending coupons for senior citizens and families with children. This year, I'll make that insipid little Pokemon character Pikachu the national mascot and provide big tax cuts to parents who purchase all 150 of the cartoon monsters for their kids.
I resolve to shamelessly absorb my other coalition partner, the Liberal Party, into the LDP. Who cares if many of those Liberals are ex-LDP members who played a key role in ousting my party in 1993, bringing an end to 38 glorious years of uninterrupted rule. There will be no welcome mat for Liberal Party President Ichiro Ozawa. With all his bluster and high-minded talk of reform, the guy is getting on my nerves.
I resolve to ensure that no one gets in the way of my plans to buy off the Okinawans with 100 billion yen in economic aid over the next decade. (Yeah, yeah, I know this means more red ink.) Without this, however, I don't stand a chance of getting the people of that southernmost prefecture, Japan's poorest, to agree to a U.S. military base-reduction deal before the Group of Eight summit there in late July. That event will be one of my crowning foreign policy achievements as prime minister, so it's time to open the public spigots.
I resolve to put a lid on all this loose talk about Princess Masako being pregnant. The last thing this poor woman needs is more media pressure to produce a potential heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne. But hey, if she gives birth in early August, as the media suggest, don't hold it against me if I call a snap poll immediately afterwards. I gotta play all the angles.
Finally, I resolve to instruct my wife to refuse any more pizza deliveries. My fussy little Pekinese, Rinrin, is tired of the greasy leftovers. Moreover, I've milked that "cold pizza" nonsense for as much as it's worth. Time for Uncle Keizo to move on to a new food metaphor. Any good ideas?
There you have it. Obuchi's plans for 2000 -- big, bold and visionary. There's no guarantee the final draft of his resolutions will resemble these initial musings. But don't forget you heard it first from Behind the Screen on
. Happy New Year!
John F. Neuffer, a longtime observer of Japanese politics, is an analyst at Mitsui Kaijyo Research Institute (MKR). He writes biweekly commentary for TSC and publishes an in-depth roundup of Japanese politics on his Web site,
behindthescreen.com. The views expressed above are those of Neuffer and not necessarily those of MKR. This column is exclusive to TheStreet.com.