Japan Seeks to End Wasteful Spending on Projects, Meets Local Opposition

Japan wants to end its spending on wasteful construction projects, which are the cause of the country's massive debt. But for one small town on the verge of losing a dam, the "wasteful" project is the center of the local economy.
October 19, 2009, 11am PDT | Nate Berg
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"The Democratic Party government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has chosen this dam as the first of 48 national government-financed dams that it wants to scrap, worth tens of billions of dollars. Canceling it is widely seen here as the first major test of the new government's ability to deliver on campaign promises to revitalize Japan's ailing economy by ending wasteful projects, and in the process break the grip of the central planners in Tokyo's powerful ministries.

Decades of pouring concrete have been widely blamed in Japan for cluttering rural areas with needless dams and roads to nowhere. They have also saddled the country with the developed world's largest national debt - nearly twice its $5 trillion economy. Mr. Hatoyama's party has vowed to replace Japan's postwar "construction state" and the jobs it created with something closer to a European-style social welfare system."

The 6,400 residents of Naganohara are protesting the government's plans to stop construction on a dam that is providing jobs for locals. Curiously, the dam would also flood part of the town. But without it, many locals say they wouldn't be able to make ends meet.

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Published on Friday, October 16, 2009 in The New York Times
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