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June 2009

A recent lecture in Sydney by Meiji University Professor Keizo Yamawaki reminded me that every country has its myths or somewhat warped perspectives concerning its own national identity. Australia’s include the idea that it was traditionally English at its core, even though many of its organising principles – egalitarianism, respect for the state, yet a certain larrikanism – were arguably Irish (Patrick O’Farrell, The Irish in Australia, 3rd ed 2000, UNSW Press, Sydney, p 21). Another was that Australia centres on rural communities and ‘the bush’, even in the case of its greatest sporting hero (Brett Hutchins, Don Bradman: Challenging the Myth, 2001, Cambridge UP). A related but debatable motif is that Australia can and should enlighten the world - be “better than the British”. Such thinking underpinned the Chifley government’s push to entrench human rights in Europe and the fledgling United Nations, and to promote a politically radical labour movement in Occupation Japan. Yet the latter policy also involved deeply pragmatic assumptions (Christine de Matos, Imposing Peace and Prosperity, 2008, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne). And the former push has failed to result, even now, in an enforceable Bill of Rights throughout Australia itself (Geoffrey Robertson, The Statute of Liberty: How Australians Can Take Back Their Rights, 2009, Vintage, North Sydney).

In Japan, one of the most persistent myths or over-exaggerations has been that of national homogeneity. Yet this is being increasingly undermined by new initiatives to bolster long-term immigration into Japan, building off a significant rise in foreign residents since the 1990s.

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Responding partly to the May judgment of the German Constitutional Court upholding a ban on hyphenated triple-barrelled surnames, Lisa Pryor suggests we adopt 'the Spanish solution' ('Repetitive name injury', Sydney Morning Herald, 6-7 June, News Review p7). That is, children get two surnames, one from each parent. She also suggests we ditch middle names. But middle names already can be used to good effect to address her concerns, especially in the Australia-Japan context.

On the other hand, there remains a problem with Japan's Nationality Law, despite its recent amendments, that might catch out children of Australian and Japanese parents.

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A lively and long-overdue debate has emerged recently on the now widely-read East Asia Forum blog. Leading in to their forthcoming 6th edition textbook, economists McTaggart, Findlay and Parkin defended "The state of economics" against charges it failed to anticipate and address well the GFC. Another Australian economist, Steve Keen from UWS, responded with: "Why neoclassical economics is dead". So Richard Pomfret from Adelaide objects that it is: "Too soon for obituaries: economics is alive and (reasonably) well".

I can't resist adding my two yen's worth. Contrary to Pomfret, unfortunately 'neoclassical economics' is not a 'straw man' set up by Keen. Nor has it 'moved on' - enough, especially these days. To give only one example relevant to Australasia: J Mark Ramseyer's simplistic application of Chicago School methodology to the economic analysis of virtually all aspects of Japanese law and the economy.

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