Social capital, defined as relations of reciprocal support, is thought to enhance a group's capacity to attain a common good. In Japan, social capital ties permeate much of political society. One would expect that social capital would facilitate parties to arrive at equitable labor policies and reduce overt political conflict in Japan. Has this cooperation occurred, or has labor been coopted? My study addresses this question through the analysis of networks among organizations active in labor-related policy decisions. I focus on Japan with some reference to the United States. The analysis shows that, indeed, networks of social capital weave together government, business, and labor very tightly in Japan (but only labor in the U.S.). The more tightly social capital ties labor to the state, the less it differs from the state's preferred policy. Intense differences of material interests, though, as indicated by the case of a health care policy decision, weaken this integrative capacity of social capital. The Labor Ministry tries to use social capital to build consensus between labor and business, but diverging interests erode such consensus. These findings indicate that dense networks of social capital, while facilitating consensus, do not erase opposed material interests.
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The author wishes to thank the many people and sources of support that have made this analysis possible and improved its quality. David Knoke and Franz Pappi initiated this project as a U.S.–German comparison in 1986 and invited me to bring in the Japan case. I secured grants from the Japan–United States Educational Commission (JUSEC), USDOE Fulbright-Hays (Prog. 84.019, App. P019A80047), and NSF (NSF/INT-8821714), awarded for 1988–1990, for the original data collection. Professor Tsujinaka Yutaka helped greatly with data collection. The University of Minnesota, the Asia/Pacific Research Center (Stanford University) and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences enabled phases of this project as did Coye Cheshire, my research assistant at Stanford. A grant from the Pacific Basin Research Center for the 1999–2000 academic year enabled the present analysis, which was conducted with my research assistant at the University of Minnesota, Corwin Kruse. John D. Montgomery, Alex Inkeles, members of the PBRC workshops in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Berlin, Joe Galasckiewicz and many others provided helpful comments. I think them all for their profound help in carrying this project to its present stage.