Abstract: In the 1960s, the former Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) controlled key industries through its industrial policy. It is commonly believed that this policy was based on an economic rationale. In particular, the MITI justified what are known as recession cartels on the grounds that reducing production volume would prevent destructive competition. Our purpose is to go beyond this current economic understanding via a sociopsychological analysis. We focus on the so-called Sumitomo Metals incident of 1965 when the Sumitomo Metals Company refused to follow the MITI guideline demanding a reduction in steel production. This was the first such incident in which a private company explicitly refused to abide by MITI administrative guidance. We hold that the industrial policy was not necessarily based on an economic rationale. Sumitomo was alone enjoying profit while all other companies were suffering loss. The MITI and major steel manufacturers insisted, without economically sound reasoning, that Sumitomo should reduce its steel exports. On an economic basis, however, steel exports should have been promoted, not restricted, to counterbalance the domestic recession. The whole incident was a sociopsychological battle disguised as an economic debate, and the economic argument of the MITI and other steel manufacturers was actually an elaborate scheme of psychological rationalization. Their severe denouncement of Sumitomo is best explained by the psychological defense mechanisms of projection and displacement. Furthermore, the recession cartel in this case was essentially a ritual of collective suffering under the orchestration of state authority.
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