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Yoroku: Faulty statistics bring the very soundness of reforms into question

In the spring of 1946, the year after Japan's defeat in World War II, then Japanese Foreign Minister Shigeru Yoshida made a visit to Gen. Douglas MacArthur of the Allied occupation forces in Japan. MacArthur rebuked Yoshida, saying that while Japan had sought quite a bit of assistance from the occupation powers to get through the winter, citing statistics projecting that several million Japanese would die from starvation without it, the figure was far from being that significant. MacArthur argued that Japan's statistics was just a bunch of baloney.

Unfazed, Yoshida is said to have responded that the projections were obviously hogwash. If the statistics had been accurate, he continued, Japan wouldn't have entered such a stupid war. Rather, he said, if everything had gone as projected, the war would've unfolded in Japan's favor.

Yoshida himself referred to this interaction with MacArthur as what helped the two men develop mutual trust.

Seventy-two years have passed since that conversation. We believed that the reliability of statistics gathered by the Japanese bureaucracy today was top-class worldwide, but the latest debacle is proof that that is simply not the case. A proposal for work-style reform highly touted by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has found itself in a tough spot even before the bill's submission to the Diet, due to flawed data provided by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The work-style reform bill is a combination of stricter regulations on overtime caps being sought by workers, and a relaxation of labor regulations, such as the expansion of so-called discretionary labor, being sought by employers. The government has presented a slew of inconceivable data as the basis for its reforms on discretionary labor. It all began to unwind when the prime minister retracted his Diet statement referring to data supporting that those working under discretionary labor arrangements worked shorter hours than those paid based on the hours they spend on the job. This faulty comparison of data had been used as a reference for a while, but the data itself is now being called into question. It's only natural that opposition parties have demanded a resurvey.

The British politician Winston Churchill is known to have said, "Statistics are like a drunk with a lamppost: used more for support than illumination." What will happen with the government's work-style reforms, which incorporate seemingly contradictory demands? Faulty statistics are the only support for this far too threadbare bill. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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