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  • Reasonable Men, Powerful Words: Political Culture and Expertise in Twentieth-Century Japan
  • Janis A. Mimura
Reasonable Men, Powerful Words: Political Culture and Expertise in Twentieth-Century Japan. By Laura Hein (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2004) 328 pp. $45.00

Hein's multifaceted portrait of six Japanese economists is a poignant account of the struggles of progressive social scientists to promote an alternate vision of society in twentieth-century Japan. Öuchi Hyoe (1888–1980) and his students Arisawa Hiromi, Minobe Ryokichi, Ömori Yoshitaro. Takahashi Masao, and Wakimura Yoshitaro were among Japan's leading Marxist economists. In the prewar era, their engagement in social science and politics was primarily via Marxism. As a result, they became frequent targets for censorship, arrest, and incarceration by the state. After the war, they boldly took center stage in the major policy debates to advance their socialist agenda of reducing poverty and economic inequality and promoting pacifism and a citizen-centered democratic society. Their legacy, Hein concludes, was mixed but important. Their commitment to social science gave them the courage to challenge an increasingly repressive wartime state, though at great personal cost, and to take the postwar conservative cabinets to task for neglecting the needs of ordinary citizens. Moreover, their technocratic concerns for rationality and efficiency encouraged them to be "reasonable men"—to reach across ideological lines to find common ground with conservative technocrats and ultimately to compromise their vision.

Adopting an approach similar to that of her previous work, Fueling Growth (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), Hein deftly shifts the focus away from the predominant themes of postwar economic growth and political consensus to the conflicts, debates, and compromises that made growth possible. Total defeat opened up a new political space that these economists occupied in important ways: demanding fiscally responsible policies to protect the savings of citizens; encouraging greater government transparency through reliable and publicly accessible statistics; decoupling remilitarization from economic growth; and promoting a consumer-oriented, high-wage, productive labor strategy to provide the social vision behind Japan's income-doubling plan. Hein skillfully examines the postwar political tensions and clashes between economists and groups on both the right and the left, particularly the Japan Socialist Party. In highlighting the differences between the strategies of the Öuchi group and the government, however, she downplays the shared technocratic vision among progressive social scientists and conservative planners who had their own version of a technology-driven, high-wage, high–value-added economy.

Hein raises intriguing questions about the transformation of these economists from prewar Marxists, who took up non-Marxist economics "to find employment," to postwar technocrats who commanded authority on the basis of their expertise in these areas. Her book focuses more on the intellectual strategies adopted and difficult personal choices that helped these men to survive in the changing political environment [End Page 341] than on the formation and evolution of their economic ideas and broader technocratic vision.

Hein's book gives due respect to these men, for the breadth of their activities and their tireless personal commitment to democracy, and it provides a deeper understanding of the important role of social scientists in prewar and early postwar Japan.

Janis A. Mimura
State University of New York, Stony Brook


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pp. 341-342
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