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Trench warfare on the tax fields : fiscal sociology and Japan’s centralized tax state Dewit, Andrew Pieter James


According to the World Bank, over 80 countries currently plan some form of fiscal decentralization. This group includes Japan, a highly centralized tax state, which in 1995 put in place a law and associated high-profile institutions to promote fiscal and administrative decentralization. But the process in Japan has quickly become bogged down. This dissertation asks why there are hurdles confronting fiscal decentralization in Japan. My research uses the fiscal sociology approach and highlights bureaucratic interests in Japan's intergovernmental tax regime, one that is especially interesting in comparison with other advanced industrial countries. Fully 70 percent of all government spending in Japan is done by subnational levels of government, and 51 percent of the central state's current operating expenditures are transfers downward that serve to support that high rate of local spending. And though Japan is a centralized state, over a third of its taxation is collected locallly. In consequence, Japan is quite anomalous when set alongside a representrative sample of federal and unitary states. No other country among the nine OECD nations used, for comparative purposes, in this dissertation combines such high fiscal transfers with heavy levels of subnational spending and taxation. And no other country gives close control over a large terrain of subnational taxation to a central-state agency (the Ministry of Home Affairs). The ministry's vast bureaucratic turf brings it into conflict with the Ministry of Finance, as both seek to maintain or expand their fiscal jurisdiction. They are thus not interested in fiscal decentralization in large part because they are busy fighting "trench wars" with each other on these tax fields. This dissertation hence undertakes a detailed analysis of intergovernmental fiscal history in Japan, focusing in particular on the Ministry of Home Affairs' ambiguous role in the Japanese state. The case studies of inter-bureaucratic fiscal politics include the Local Allocation Tax (a large general subsidy) as well as an array of taxes on the fields of income, assets and consumption.

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