The Political Economy of Japanese Pollution Regulation
Posted: 1 Jul 2008
Japan has long been commended for its quick and decisive action to clean up pollution and to impose strict anti-pollution regulations in the late 1960sand early 1970s. But recent reports indicate that Japan's pollution problem is worse than previously thought, and even worse than in most advanced industrial countries. Highly visible and relatively easily regulated air pollution has been curtailed (albeit not as well as reported), but less visible and trickier pollutants in the water and soil (e.g., dioxin) remain unchecked. In this paper, we argue that Japanese political institutions, especially before the 1994 Lower House electoral reform, were biased in favor of business interest, and against any serious, sustained effort to regulate environmental pollution. Gains in this area should have occurred via local politics, but even these have been modest. We close, however, with an optimistic note concerning the electoral reform. The higher probability of coalition governments and the higher electoral thresholds in the new single-member districts should combine to cause a moderation of traditional "business-first" policies, in favor of stronger anti-pollution laws.
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