Amartya Sen and Sadako Ogata: Their Views on Japan

On July 22nd, Hitachi sponsored a forum where Amartya Sen (Harvard professor, recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics) and Sadako Ogata (President, Japan International Cooperation Agency) exchanged their views about Japan’s future in the coming century.

Sen, the first to talk at the podium, provided an in-depth analysis of the oft-pervasive “culture-based accounting of economic values” In other words, was Japanese culture – in particular its “samurai tradition” – the explanation for its explosive economic growth, as Eiko Ikegami had proposed?

Drawing upon the words of Max Weber (Sen alludes to the links that Weber saw between Protestantism and economic development in Weber’s book “The Protestant Ethic and the Development of Capitalism”) and Michio Morishima, Sen describes the notion of how the “Japanese ethos” and its emphasis on rule-based behavior values (which can be classified as somewhat Weberian) is one convincing explanation of Japan’s growth.

However, Sen is quick to note that the aforementioned thesis was quickly disproved by the rise of the NIES countries in the 20th century, and added that Confucianism cannot account for the “Asian Miracle” considering how Thailand is a Buddhist nation.

Sen concludes his observations regarding the culture-based assertion that the “explanation of economic dynamism [through cultural explanations has] clearly strong arbitrariness.”

Instead of looking at Japan’s culture as the key ingredient in its growth throughout the past half-century, Sen looks at developments during the Meiji Restoration. According to Sen, Japan’s renewed emphasis on global openness and education were key towards positioning itself as a future economic power to be reckoned with.

Sen added that Tadayoshi Kito put it most succinctly when Kito observed, “it only depends on education, or lack of education.”

By 1910, Japan was almost fully literate, and by 1913, Japan was publishing more books than Britain. A rise in literacy rate, Sen observes, is cardinal towards the “expansion of human capability.”

As such,¬†Sen places great emphasis on Japan’s education-oriented approach to economic development, and notes, “widespread participation in the global economy would have been difficult if people could not read or write,” and that “there is much to learn still in Japanese educational expansion.”

In conclusion, Sen stresses the emphasis on human capability and public dialogue, and warned against the obstructive nature of “dialogic neglect.”

Sadako Ogata, whose speech followed Sen’s, was no less visionary and deeply rooted in political realism.

Asked what is meant by “human security,” Ogata first responded that “it started in the 1990′s when the question was, ‘what is needed for development?’” and then added, “it was this background that Kofi Annan saw the need for ‘freedom from fear and freedom from want.’”

Ogata, one of the most well-known figures in Japan for her continued diligence towards overseas¬†aid and her work towards alleviating the woes of refugees, repeatedly emphasized the importance of education, such as when she said during her concluding remarks, “education will have a big role with human equality [...] people should become a bit more sensitive to inequalness, to insecurity,” and noted the role of JICA by adding, “my organization JICA [advances] inclusiveness [...] bring all the people who need more help into the equation – our slogan is inclusiveness.”

Sen was quick to contribute his final words towards stressing the importance of education as well. He proclaimed, “basic education is absolutely essential for living an intellectual life [...] it’s a huge value [...] literacy is a tool for political participation and economic participation.”

Two individuals who both command enormous respect, both Sen and Ogata realized not just the importance of education, but Japan’s success in embracing it.

Geopolitically, Japan is sandwiched between America and China, two polarities vying for the reins of global authority. But Japan’s importance as a role model in the world cannot be overlooked – it has shown itself to be a clear leader in economic growth through the “educational approach,” and still offers a sound method of growth for other like-minded countries to follow today.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

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