, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 201–239 | Cite as

The economic costs of sleaze or how replacing samurai with bureaucrats boosted regional growth in Meiji Japan

  • Katharina MuehlhoffEmail author
Original Paper


The notion that professional, efficient and non-corrupt bureaucracies foster economic growth is virtually uncontested. In spite of this wide consensus, central questions remain unanswered. Thus, while the harmful effects of dysfunctional administrations are extensively covered in the theoretical literature, little is known about the empirical relevance and the expected costs of insufficient administrative rationalization. And while efficient bureaucracies are considered a key ingredient to institutional performance, the existing research rarely investigates how desirable administrative structures have been implemented in history or which concrete policy measures constitute feasible reform strategies for present-day development countries. The present paper therefore aims at providing empirical evidence to dose this lacuna; to do so, it relies on the case of administrative reforms in the last three decades of the nineteenth century in Meiji Japan. Building on an exceptionally detailed set of official statistics and documentary sources, it constructs a panel of 45 Japanese prefectures and assesses the impact of heterogeneous reform implementation on canonical indicators of economic performance including measures of regional GDP, business activity and financial market development. The central results of the econometric analysis are that delayed administrative rationalization came along with a statistically significant and robust penalty on all development indicators. Moreover, this effect was remarkably persistent over time, as the data show that late-reforming prefectures performed systematically worse than the administrative forerunners until well into the twentieth century.


Meiji Japan Administrative reform Economic development 

JEL Classification

N40 N45 O17 


Printed sources and statistical compendia

  1. Bank of Japan First Hundred Years’ Editing Committee [ed.], Bank of Japan: The First Hundred Years: Materials, Tokyo 1986Google Scholar
  2. Gabe, Masao [ed.], Meiji-15nen-Meiji-16nen-chiho-junsatsushi-fukumeisho (Collected Reports of Local Police Officers 1882–1883), reprint of original source, Tokyo 1980Google Scholar
  3. MacLaren, Walter W. [ed.], Japanese government documents, Tokyo, 1914Google Scholar
  4. Meiji-6-society (Meirokusha) [ed.], Meiroku Zasshi (Journal of the Meiji-6-society), Tokyo 1874–1876Google Scholar
  5. National Statistical Office (Naikaku-Tôkei-Kyoku) [ed.], Nihon Teikoku Tôkei Nenkan (Statistical Annuals of the Japanese Empire), Tokyo various yearsGoogle Scholar
  6. National Print Office at the Ministry of Finance [ed.], Kan-in Roku (later renamed Shoku-in Roku) (List of Government Officials), Tokyo various yearsGoogle Scholar
  7. Statistical Offices of the Japanese Prefectures (Fu-Ken Tôkei-Kyaku) [ed.], Fu-Ken Tôkeisho (Statistical Annuals of the Prefectures), various years 1881–1902Google Scholar
  8. Ministry of Education [ed.], Nihon Kyouiku-shi Shiryou (Documents on the History of Education in Japan), Tokyo 1890Google Scholar
  9. Ôkawa, Kazushi, Shinohara Miyohei [ed.], Shôhi Shijutsu (Private Consumption), Tokyo 1967Google Scholar
  10. Ôkawa, Kazushi [ed.], Chôki-Keizai-Tôkei—Bukka (Long Term Economic Statistics of Japan, Prices), Tokyo 1992Google Scholar
  11. Ôkawa, Kazushi [ed.], Chôki-Keizai-Tôkei—Suikei to Bunseki (Long Term Economic Statistics of Japan, Regional Statistics), Tokyo 1992Google Scholar
  12. Special Government Committee for Historical Research [ed.], Hansei Ichiran (A Summary of the Domain System), reprint Tokyo 1967Google Scholar


  1. Acemoglu D, Johnson S, Robinson JA (2008) Persistence of power, elites, and institutions. Am Econ Rev 98(1):267–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aoki K (1967) Meiji Nômin Sôjô no Nenjiteki Kenkyû (chronological research on peasant uprisings in the Meiji period), Tokyo ShinsenshaGoogle Scholar
  3. Aoki K (1974) Hyakushô Ikki no Nenjiteki Kenkyû (chronological research on peasant uprisings), Tokyo ShinsenshaGoogle Scholar
  4. Baxter JC (1994) The Meiji unification through the lens of Ishikawa prefecture. Harvard University Asia Center, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. Besley TJ, Ghatak M (2009) Property rights and economic development. CEPR Discussion Papers 7243Google Scholar
  6. Beasley WG (1972) The Meiji Restoration, 1st edn. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Befu H (1966) Duty, reward, sanction, and power. The four-cornered office of the Tokugawa Village Headman. In: Silberman BS, Haroothunian HD (eds) Modern Japanese leadership, 1st edn. University of Arizona, Tucson, pp 25–50Google Scholar
  8. Befu H (1968) Village autonomy and articulation with the state. In: Hall JW, Hansen MB (eds) Studies in the institutional history of early modern Japan, 1st edn. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  9. Buchheim C (2006) What causes late development? Insights from history. S Afr J Econ Hist 21(1):52–83Google Scholar
  10. De Long JB, Shleifer A (1993) Princes and merchants: European city growth before the industrial revolution. J Law Econ 36(2):671–702Google Scholar
  11. DeVere B (1966) Sidney, Okubo Toshimichi and the first home ministry bureaucracy 1873–1878. In: Harootunain HD, Silberman B (eds) Modern Japanese leadership. Transition and change, 1st ed. University of Arizona, Tucson, pp 195–232Google Scholar
  12. Epstein L (2000) Freedom and growth, markets and states in Europe, 1300–1750, 1st edn. Routledge, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Francks P (2002) Rural industry, growth linkages, and economic development in nineteenth-century Japan. J Asian Stud 61(1):33–55Google Scholar
  14. Fukao K et al (2009) Zensôki Nihon no Ken-nai Sôseisan to Sangyô Kôzô, Hitotsubashi University Global COE Hi-Stat Discussion Paper Series 071Google Scholar
  15. Harootunian HD (1970) Toward restoration, 1st edn. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  16. Honmi Y (1898) Satsuma Kenbun-Roku (Memoirs of Satsuma), TokyoGoogle Scholar
  17. Howell DL (1992) Proto-industrial origins of Japanese capitalism. J Asian Stud 51(2):269–286Google Scholar
  18. Izumi S (2001) Bakufu no Chiki Shihai to Daikan, 1st edn. Koeibunkasha, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  19. Jansen MB, Roszman G (1986) Japan in transition, 1st edn. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  20. Kasuya M (2005) Continuity and change in the employment and promotion of Japanese white-collar employees: the case of the house of Mitsui. Enterp Soc 6(2):224–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Koh BC (1991) Japan’s administrative elite, 1st edn. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  22. La Porta R, Lopez-de-Silanes F, Shleifer A, Vishny R (1999) The quality of government. J Law Econ Organ 15(1):222–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Machlup F, Taber M (1960) Bilateral monopoly, successive monopoly, and vertical integration. Econ New Ser 27(106):101–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McLaren WW (1916) A political history of Japan during the Meiji era 1867–1912, 1st edn. Frank Cass & Co., LondonGoogle Scholar
  25. Matsushita S (2006) Kagoshima Han no Minshu to Seikatsu, 1st edn. Nanpoushinsha, KagoshimaGoogle Scholar
  26. Mizu no Tomenaga (1980/1981) Yoshi no Sasshi, vol 8–9. Choukaironsha, reprint of historical documents, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  27. Mosk C (2011) Traps embraced or escaped: elites in the economic development of modern Japan and China, 1st edn. World Scientific, SingaporeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Motoyama Y (1997) Proliferating talent: essays on politics, thought, and education, in the Meiji Era, 1st edn. University of Hawai Press, HonoluluGoogle Scholar
  29. Murakami T (1997) Edo Bakufu no Daikan, 1st edn. Dohsei, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  30. Nakamura JI (1966) Agricultural production and the economic development of Japan, 1873–1922. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  31. Nishizawa A (2004) Daikan no Ichijou Seikatsu, 1st edn. Kodansha, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  32. North D (2009) Violence and social orders: a conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history, 1st edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ohkawa K (1957) The growth rate of the Japanese economy since 1878, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  34. Ohshima M (1994) Meiji Kokka to Chiiki Shakai, 1st edn. Iwanami Shoten, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  35. Ono T (1932) Kinsei Chihou Keizai Shiryou, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  36. Ôtsu J (1881) Nihon Kanri Ninyôron, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  37. Paik C, Steele A, Tanaka S (2012) Rebellion and taxation: evidence from early modern Japan (working paper)Google Scholar
  38. Ramseyer JM, Rosenbluth FM (1998) The politics of oligarchy: institutional choice in imperial Japan, 1st edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  39. Ravina M (1998) Land and lordship in early modern Japan, 1st edn. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  40. Shleifer A, Vishny RW (1993) Corruption. Q J Econ 108(3):599–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Smith TC (1988) Native sources of Japanese industrialization, 1750–1920, 1st edn. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  42. Soseki N (1914) Kokoro, Maddison Books (1992, Reprint of 1914); New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Spaulding RM (1967) Imperial Japan's higher civil service examinations, 1st edn. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  44. Steenstrup C (1996) A history of law in Japan until 1868, 1st edn. Brill, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  45. Steiner K (1965) Local government in Japan, 1st edn. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  46. Tacke V (1975) Die Entwicklung der japanischen Landwirtschaft in der Tokugawa- und Meji-Periode. Dissertation University of Basel, BaselGoogle Scholar
  47. Tang J (2011) Technological leadership and late development: evidence from Meiji Japan, 1868–1912. Econ Hist Rev 64(1):99–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Westney ED (1987) Imitation and innovation, 1st edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wilson GM (1992) George, patriots and redeemers in Japan: motives in the Meiji Restoration, 1st edn. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  50. Yamamura K (1974) A study of samurai income and entrepreneurship, 1st edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of MannheimMannheimGermany

Personalised recommendations