Syncretism: The Politics of Japan’s Financial Reforms

This paper examines how diversely organized capitalist societies evolve by analyzing the transformation of Japan’s financial system since the 1990s. The banking, securities and insurance, as well as the postal financial institutions changed significantly, but are hardly converging to Anglo-American or ‘liberal market’ models. The authors contend that Japan’s new financial system is best characterized as syncretic, with new, traditional and hybrid forms of practices, organizations and norms coexisting. Syncretism in industry was driven by a distinctive pattern of interest group politics we call syncretization. Strong political leadership, facing serious electoral threats, shifted the policy logic from gradual incremental reforms following traditional interest group dynamics, to rapid reforms that excluded the traditionally powerful interest groups most affected by these reforms. We support the notion that diverse industry outcomes can be complementary to broader political economic reforms that take Japan away from its traditional model, part of a broader ‘convergence towards diversity.’