Nation builder's debt lesson should be heeded
Writer and educator Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901), who played a prominent role in Japan's nation building during its period of cultural enlightenment, made many profound remarks. "Setting aside assassination, there is nothing more terrifying in this world than debts," he stated in his autobiography. Coming from the man whose image is printed on 10,000-yen notes, the lesson carries weight.
Fukuzawa would roll over in his grave if he knew about this nation's soaring debts that keep swelling. Combined with debts accrued by local governments, the nation owes a total of 800 trillion yen. If companies or households were saddled with snowballing debts of such magnitude, they would have stopped functioning a long time ago.
The government submitted a supplementary budget bill that finances a package of economic stimulus measures worth 15 trillion yen to the Diet on Monday. With the additional spending, the annual budget for fiscal 2009 will top 100 trillion yen for the first time ever.
While pump-priming measures are needed to cope with the recession, the issuance of new government bonds would also be the highest ever, at 44 trillion yen. I am told the figure is more or less equivalent to total tax revenues. If it were a household, it means it can barely make ends meet with new borrowing matching income.
Be that as it may, before we knew it, the phrase "once in a century" has virtually become a talisman for the government and the ruling parties. In the face of a once-in-a-century recession, they say, "This is no time to dissolve the Lower House (for a snap election)." "Therefore, we need to implement a bold stimulus package," they say.
It is being used as an excuse for any situation. Both the "1,000-yen" expressway tolls on weekends and holidays for passenger cars equipped with electronic toll collection systems and the generous extra budget bill have come to look like election measures stuck with talismans.
Fukuzawa feared debts apparently because they must be repaid without fail. The same goes for national debts. Future generations must foot the bill. We can hear the approaching sound of a tax increase.
Incidentally, not only Fukuzawa but also Higuchi Ichiyo (1872-1896) and Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928), whose portraits adorn 5,000-yen and 1,000-yen notes, respectively, were born to impoverished families. Despite their poor circumstances, they grew to be influential people. In heaven, they must be watching over the Diet debate and discussing with one another "wise ways" to spend the budget to stimulate the economy, as the government says.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 29(IHT/Asahi: April 30,2009)