There is no question that the devastation caused by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accidents in Japan, already estimated at $180 billion, will get worse before it gets better. With thousands dead and thousands displaced, the damage is staggering and heartbreaking.
Japan will require a massive reconstruction, including a dramatic reconstruction effort to rebuild the nation with the world’s third largest economy. They will need the help of the world, and the U.S. is certain to provide leadership in the effort, as it should.
I’m betting on Japan to win this, with their ganbatte spirit, highly educated workforce, long-term strategy and dedication to technological advancement. As a student of the country who once lived in the country and worked in corporate Japan, I have a particular viewpoint on the subject.
Japan has one thing in its favor - it is not the U.S. When it is time for America to require its own reconstruction - that time being yesterday - I seriously question whether it would even happen. To elaborate, there are two things working against America. First, the U.S. political system is a shambles, operating under a system of legalized bribery called campaign finance. Under this system, the top 400 earners make more money than the bottom 150 million. Public policy revolves around these 400, who are getting exactly what they want, which is almost the entire pie. All of the money in the system has their name on it, and even that isn’t enough for them.
Second, the nation’s minority party - the unruly, untutored mob working at the behest of the 400 - has convinced enough of us, for now, that they actually are in the majority. Characterized by an unsavory combination of ignorance, callousness and raw greed, members of this party control one chamber of Congress, and a number of state legislatures and governorships around the country. And their goal, it seems, is to fall all over themselves, in an effort to prove that one of them is more bigoted and batshit insane than the other.
If reconstruction ever comes to America, these are the people who will stop it dead in its tracks: the plutocrats, the oligarchs, the kleptocrats and their enablers. The battle taking place across the land, the reinvigoration of the American labor movement as the next civil rights movement, is a test to see whether they can be stopped.
America has had experience with reconstruction efforts, and it is a checkered past. America’s first Reconstruction was a time of promise and unfulfilled dreams, of universal public education and the Freedmen’s Bureau, of 40 acres and a mule rescinded, and of federal troops leaving freed slaves to the whims of the Klan and the Crow - Jim Crow, that is. A quite different group of radical Republicans had the opportunity to see how far America would go to live up to its promise.
The second Reconstruction was the New Deal, an effort to save the public from predatory capitalism, if not to save predatory capitalism from itself. It was also the era of a regulatory regime that kept greed in check, and believed that workers should provide exist in a balance of power with government and corporations. Much of the New Deal legacy of relief, recovery and reform that has not already been eliminated is under siege.
When the U.S. did reconstruction in other countries after the Second World War, with the Marshall Plan for Europe and Japan, it worked. Rep. Keith Ellison’s idea of a New Global Marshall Plan to invest 1-2 percent of America’s Gross Domestic Product in aid to poor countries sounds like a fantastic idea. The senseless and parasitic war profiteering taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan is another story altogether.
But can you imagine what would happen if and when reconstruction comes to America? Conservative lawmakers, wallowing in their own backwardness and incalcitrance, would condemn the very idea as a socialist plot, wasteful spending and an infringement on states’ rights. Just as the dyed-in-the-wool racist fights against universal health care because black people could also benefit from it, the hard right would resist foreign assistance and investment in infrastructure like it was a stimulus check signed by President Obama himself.
America does need to get its act together soon, but we are our own worst enemy. The land of the free finds itself in a struggle to determine whether it will continue to stand in its own way, in the way of progress, economic justice and fairness. What happens next is a matter of speculation and finger-crossing. But in the meantime, it’s time to help Japan.