On Wednesday, November 28, 21JPSI’s interdisciplinary “Japan Politics and Society” speaker series concluded its Fall 2018 lineup with a public lecture by political scientist Dr. Megumi Naoi (University of California, San Diego), an expert on the politics of international trade. During her visit, Dr. Naoi gave a public talk on the extremely timely topic of “U.S.-Japan Economic Frictions in the ‘Trump Era’: Beyond the Trans-Pacific Partnership?”. In addition, she joined 21JPSI Director Adam Liff and 57 students in his “Rise of China” (E190) undergraduate class for an informal discussion on U.S.-Japan trade frictions in the 1980s and the U.S.-China “trade war” today. 21JPSI also hosted a lunch workshop with faculty and graduate students, during which Dr. Naoi presented and received feedback on a draft chapter from her second book-length manuscript, which examines the differential responses of the U.S. and Japan to the 2007-2009 Global Recession, especially as it concerns protectionist policies and elite and popular opinion.
The highlight of Dr. Naoi’s visit was a 70-minute public lecture/discussion on contemporary U.S.-Japan economic frictions, which was attended by an engaged audience of 73 faculty, students, and staff from across the IU campus. In her 40-minute prepared remarks Dr. Naoi highlighted three “sea changes” in U.S.-Japan trade relations since 2009: that the U.S. government is now more protectionist than the Japanese government; that Republican voters are now more supportive of trade protectionism than Democrats; and that, relative to its predecessor, the Trump administration evinces a strong preference for bilateral as opposed to multilateral trade negotiations.
In introducing her explanations for why the U.S. government has become more protectionist, Dr. Naoi engaged the primarily Hoosier audience by referencing an hour-long conversation the night before with a local resident: her airport shuttle driver, “Amy.” Before becoming a shuttle driver, Amy had worked in a factory near Bloomington, which was shut down in 2004 after the company announced it was moving production to Mexico. She lost her union job, and found work as a driver. This personal story provided a very localized illustration of the effect that globalization can have on communities in Indiana, and helps to explain the backlash against it. Dr. Naoi also stressed that many jobs in the Midwest did not move overseas: rather, another recent trend has been companies relocating production from the traditionally Democratic and unionized snow belt to the Republican and non-unionized South. In explaining why Japan has become increasingly supportive of free trade, Dr. Naoi argued that demographic and other factors had made it so that “the Japanese government cannot afford to be protectionist.” One major such factor is Japan’s rapidly aging population and its effect on the labor market—a clear point of synergy with 21JPSI’s previous (November 5) speaker, Professor Joe Coleman.
Next, Dr. Naoi discussed reasons why Republican voters are showing higher support for trade protectionism than Democratic voters—a shift she took pains to stress significantly predated Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. She presented a series of data to support her argument that it was the financial crisis and political polarization over the stimulus that contributed to the reversal. As Dr. Naoi noted, “Trump is not the cause; he is the result.” Lastly, she explained why the Trump administration prefers bilateralism over multilateralism, arguing that the relative lack of transparency in bilateral negotiations creates opportunities for side payments, in addition to making it easier for the administration to leverage the U.S.-Japan security relationship.
A supporter of free trade and opponent of protectionism for a manifold array of reasons, Dr. Naoi closed her remarks with a discussion of how U.S. leaders could reverse the trend toward greater protectionism through policy changes: beefing up the social safety net and investing more in education; educating citizens to explain how free trade agreements like TPP help create a more “level playing field” vis-à-vis China and other economies by improving labor conditions and raising environmental standards; and issue linkages.
During the 30-minute Q&A session, faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates from across the campus asked a series of questions on topics running the gamut from the degree of support for free trade among Japan’s opposition parties to the importance of high-quality primary, secondary and tertiary education for creating a Hoosier workforce that can be maximally competitive in the 21st century. In the course of answering these and other questions, Dr. Naoi also suggested various books and articles for further reading on related topics, such as Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and the works of economist Raj Chetty.
The “Japan Politics and Society” Speaker Series will be on hiatus during the month of December for final exams and winter break, but will restart early in Spring 2019!*The 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI) was launched at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2018. Under the leadership of Founding Director (and HLS) faculty member Adam Liff, 21JPSI aims to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on contemporary Japanese politics, society, and international (esp. U.S.-Japan) relations, and to educate, raise awareness, and debate policy responses to the various political, social, and foreign policy challenges that Japan faces in this extremely dynamic era of 21st-century change. Supported by a generous $900,000 grant from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, in its first five years 21JPSI will enable a new tenure-track faculty search in summer/fall 2019; two new courses on contemporary Japan; a speaker series on Japanese Politics and Society; biennial conferences on U.S.-Japan relations; graduate research fellowships, and faculty travel grants. For more information, please see jpsi.indiana.edu/ or write to firstname.lastname@example.org