War and Authoritarianism in the Formation of the Japanese Welfare State

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
CLM.3.07 (Clement House)
Anna K.M. Skarpelis, New York University, New York, NY
Theories of development and expansion of the welfare state have invoked arguments of working class strength or cross-class coalitions, institutional determinants (Pontusson 2005) or electoral systems (Estevez-Abe 2008). Still missing are analyses of the impact of dramatic shifts associated with the rise of authoritarianism in the long-run growth of state institutions and social welfare policies. My paper adds to the burgeoning field of non-democratic social policy studies by contributing evidence from social policy and welfare state transformation under Japanese ‘fascism’ in the years 1920 until 1945. It examines how the Japanese authoritarian military regime significantly altered existing welfare state institutions in Japan, as well as created an entirely new set of social insurance type institutions that form the basis of the contemporary Japanese welfare state.

Ideas on social policy transformation based on contemporary understandings of ‘social problems’ had gained in importance in the early 20th century already, and the field of social and relief work underwent significant changes during the Taishō period (1912-1926) in response to widespread protest during the 1918 Rice Riots. However, it was only during authoritarian governance and under total war that significant social insurance institutions were set up. What explains this peculiar timing, as well as selective focus on health and pensions, rather than educational reform or labor-containment policies?

My paper draws on a vast array of Japanese-language archival documents to show (1) the nature of institutional social policy change and its impact outlasting the period of World War II, and (2) the importance of authoritarian and war logics in shaping type, scope and form of implemented policies. I use historical legislative documents, government statistics and briefs and publications by relevant stakeholders (e.g. Social Work Association, Japanese Association for the Study of Social Policy, District Councilor’s Association, Trade Unions) to trace the legislative history, and historical materials of the leading government-affiliated think tanks of the Showa period, namely the Showa Research Association (1930-1940) and the Imperial Rule Association (1940-1945), as well as op-eds and recollections of former statesmen and military personnel to trace the logic of policy expansion.