What it Means to Take Japan Seriously
Chapter 3: Land reform and Japan's economic development: a reactionary thesis*
Chapter 3 05/12/2000 13:33 Page 1 3. Land reform and Japan’s economic development: a reactionary thesis* There is general agreement among the students of Japan’s economic development that agriculture’s contribution to the task of building a strong industrial base was a considerable one. It provided export earnings and import substitutes which helped in acquiring the machinery and raw materials which had to be bought abroad. It managed a steady expansion of the supply of staple foods which enabled a growing town population to be fed reasonably cheap food. It contributed through the land tax a substantial portion of the funds which provided the infrastructure of communications, government and education, and through the profits of the landlords some of the capital which developed especially the small industries. And it was in part a growth in productivity which made this ‘squeeze’ possible without such a drastic lowering of rural living standards as to cause uncontrollable political instability. Was this in part because of, or in spite of, the nature of the land tenure system? It has by now become a truism that one important factor determining the productivity of agriculture is the system of property institutions under which land is owned and used. The question which naturally arises, therefore, is this: granted that agriculture made a substantial contribution to Japan’s economic growth, was it the best that it could have made? Or is it possible that under a different land tenure system it could have done more? This question, like all...
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