The cabinet office of Japanese Government declared the “New Public Commons” on June 4, 2010. The idea is originated in the former Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, who suddenly resigned from his position just before the declaration. The concept of the New Public Commons is to encourage citizens, nonprofits, private businesses, and other parties to play an active role in providing public services that governments are used to provide. The declaration starts by stating, “A vibrant civil society in which people support one another ― this is the basic concept presented by the New Public Commons Roundtable set up by the Hatoyama Government. In such a society, various stakeholders voluntarily work together to create a “New Public Commons.”” This might be able to be true. Also, the New Public Commons is pretty similar to the way many other countries including the United States do. Thus, it might be one of the most acceptable directions for Japan’s future. However, is it the best direction? Should the “old” or “traditional” public commons be forgotten or eliminated?
Being absolutely charmed by new possibilities of the “New Public Commons”, forgetting original points, would encourage people in Japan to go a long way around. What is the “Original Public Commons? It is, for example, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” declared by Abraham Lincoln. Have Japanese been able to achieve this original point? Absolutely, they have not yet. Since 1978, which is my birth year, seven prime ministers have resigned in about a year. This unstable political situation indicates that there is a considerable distance between governments and the people. Japanese citizens have not participated in politics enough. Also, the government has not worked well to provide enough public services to the people. Originally, the needs of the New Public Commons are mainly caused by the collapse of the “Original Public Commons”.
There are three problems in the New Public Commons. First of all, as I stated above, the way of it is not prevention for the collapse of the original one but just treatment for it. It is clear that unless the original commons collapses, the needs of the new one continue to be arisen. Is it too busy with their present work to see through the essence of the matter?
The second problem is that the United States, which has been practicing the similar way to the New Public Commons with a lot of nonprofits for a long time, is not always doing great with it. As the book “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded” shows the fact that many more nonprofits and other citizen groups in the country give up their original missions to get money for their activities from their sponsors that can be government, foundations, private corporations etc. For example, in 1999, growing tension between Sisters in Portland Impacting Real Issues Together (SPIRIT) and its parental organization, The Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO) ended up to make the SPIRIT shut down. The two organizations were originated in one organization. As SPIRT made a success and the movements became larger, their foundations and supporters encouraged it to enlarge the scope of their activities. As a result, SPIRIT came to face numbers of limitation originated in the foundations and the parental organization. They no longer continued to work on their tasks without money from the foundations and help from CTWO. Finally, SPIRIT ended up to be shut down. The book introduces many similar organizations whose revolution did not be funded.
The final point is that the degree of citizen participation is limited with the New Public Commons. It expects spontaneously arising citizen’s voluntary activities. However, Japan doesn’t have any community structures that help citizens form a voluntary group. Also, the citizen’s spontaneous activities will create a lot of small “birds of feathers”. They might get along with one another but are unlikely to include different people that give dynamism derived from diversity. Doesn’t Hatoyama expect too much of the spontaneity from the people.
I know some politicians strongly disagree with the idea Hatoyama declared like me. Also, I know some people criticizes them, saying that they just want to keep their citizens poor so that can easily exploit from the people. Of course, I admit that citizen will become wise and improve their participation to politics in some ways with the New Public Commons. But it’s not the point that I want to insist on.
I value the “Original Public Commons”. The type of public commons is to ensure that all citizens could participate in all public decision-making processes at each level of communities in direct or indirect ways. I will demonstrate how it crucial as my claim of value, providing three merits that would reduce the needs of the New Public Commons.
First, with the original public commons, people can be located on the superior part of government, foundations, private corporations etc. This is the most possible way that helps people as a group to accomplish their original missions. The article “A Ladder of Citizen Participation” shows that the ultimate state of citizen participation is “citizen control”. This means that any decision-makings by citizens could not be controlled by any private-oriented groups. The original public commons is the direct way to reach this state of citizen participation.
Second, the original public commons is most likely to include all people in the community. It is based on the place-based political communities such as prefectures and cities. Today, many Japanese don’t care about any levels of politics other than the national level, which citizens are unlikely to be able to influence. Actually, turnout rates are very low at the local level in Japan. Timothy Beatley states in the book “Native to Nowhere” that, “Politics should be viewed as a noble undertaking, and local politics the noblest of all”. He demonstrates how crucial the local governments are. Local governments might be still too big when you want to influence it. Then, neighborhood associations still exist at all corners of Japan as the smallest political community at the neighborhood level. Many of them have not worked very much but could work in the future by revitalizing them. This type of small sized yet all-inclusive communities would be the most possible one to include all the community members.
Third, the small place-based all-inclusive communities such as neighborhood associations help every community create diversity in it. It is not the interest-based community so likely to include different people in generation, gender, race, income, and occupation. Such diversity generates unexpected possibilities or dynamisms. Even conflicts between such different people improve the community because encountering conflicts among people is always a chance to improve. Therefore, the way of Original Public Commons is the seemingly longcut but is shortcut to achieve what it ought to be.
Many Japanese people have a bad tendency that encourages them to be absolutely charmed by something new and to replace old ones into the new ones without any attempts to make a valuation of the old ones. In this case, Japanese people view the old one of public commons as the current collapsed one Japanese have built for a long time. That is not the original public commons that we should really pay atte
ntion to at all. Also, the N
ew Public Commons might be better than the collapsed one but can be still just treatment for secondary disasters derived from the collapse of Original Public Commons. What Japanese really need is prevention to keep the original public commons stable. Therefore, the New Public Commons Hatoyama declared would prevent citizens from realizing the essences of matters and force them to go a long way around.