Current Institutional Affiliation
Research Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Pittsburgh

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Assistant Professor, Political Science, Columbia University
Liberalization and the distancing of politics: the case of agricultural reforms in Japan

This project examines how and why liberalization leads to de-politicization by studying the transformation of one of Japan's most politically controlled industries, agriculture. Many states protect their interests in food security and consumer safety by setting the price of produce or regulating agricultural land. Such state interference with market mechanisms can also provide an effective tool for politicians seeking to secure votes from farmers. In Japan, heavy state involvement in agriculture created a strong symbiotic relationship between farmers and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP): farmers organized through coops provided sure votes while the LDP protected farmers' incomes. In recent years, however, domestic and international forces have combined to gradually weaken political influence over agriculture. Farmers are aging at a faster rate than the rapidly graying population, creating labor shortages and stimulating debate about increasing immigration and allowing greater corporate ownership of farms and agricultural land. Pressure is mounting for Japan to join free trade agreements under conditions designed to reduce state price and production controls. Changing consumer demands have prompted more farmers to bypass coops and sell directly to select markets, forcing even the LDP to recognize the growing mismatch between farmers' needs and the workings of the national farmers' coop, Japan Agriculture (JA). In short, agriculture in Japan provides an ideal case for studying why and how states loosen their grip on a once tightly controlled industry, and how this process affects long established economic and political relationships. My findings have broader implications about how we understand the liberalization process in other industries including banking, insurance, and energy worldwide. This project focuses on three key areas of agricultural policy reform: subsidies, cooperatives, and land consolidation. In each of these issue areas, I study Japan comparatively to highlight the logic and consequences of contrasting policy approaches. First, agricultural subsidies in post-war Japan have been based on state controlled pricing while the EU and increasingly the US favor direct payments to farmers. Comparing Japan's system to that of the EU and the US reveals why and how the form of subsidies matter for both economic and political outcomes. Second, I examine the changing role of agricultural cooperatives, the basic unit of organization for agricultural interest groups. JA has held onto the egalitarian ideal of cooperatives by giving each member farmer one vote and equal access while cooperatives in South Korea have become business oriented, profit-maximizing organizations. Comparing the evolution of coops in Japan and South Korea illuminates when and how market pressures can trump cooperative principles to produce vastly different organizational structures. Lastly, I compare efforts to consolidate agricultural land in Japan and China where average plot sizes are small. While Japan struggles with familial conflicts and restrictions on corporate ownership, China has accelerated and commercialized rural land reform. I show how incentives created by local governments rather than differences in national regime type can better promote land consolidation. This project directly addresses the three areas of the Abe Program's research agenda. First, this project shows how agricultural liberalization occurs within the context of continued state concerns over food security. Second, this project addresses why opposition to liberalization has weakened in this most recent round of pressures from potential free trade agreements. Lastly, this project gives a concrete example of the consequences of demographic aging and resistance to immigration.