February 09, 2024 TOPICS

[Visiting Centers of Knowledge] Building the Legal and Political Infrastructure for a Better Society:Research Center for Legal and Political Infrastructure

In today's rapidly changing world, many problems arise that cannot be solved by law as a social rule or norm. For example, the current law has yet to provide a clear answer to the question of who is responsible for accidents caused by self-driving cars and how to assign that responsibility. The issue of global environmental destruction is also similar in the sense that it is not clear where the responsibility lies. Can people who make money selling and buying products really be ignorant of the fact that CO₂ emitted from factories in developing countries is polluting the global environment?

What solutions can law and politics offer to these complex social problems unique to modern society? What kind of legal and political infrastructure should we need to put in place to lead society towards a better future? The Ritsumeikan University Research Center for Legal and Political Infrastructure was established in 2022 as a center that conducts comprehensive research on these kinds of issues. We interviewed center director Professor Nozomi Yamada (Department of Law, College of Law) and steering committee member Professor Chika Mochizuki (Department of Law, College of Law) about the Center's founding objectives and its activities.

Studying how law and politics create social systems

The Center for Legal and Political Infrastructure was formerly known as the Center for Finance, Law, and Taxation, which was established in 2005. With the aim of bridging the gap between increasingly complex financial and taxation practices and legal theory, the center conducted joint research between researchers and practitioners, as well as pioneering research on real-life legal issues. It also served as a hub to disseminate the latest financial and tax information to practitioners.

In 2015, it evolved into the Research Center for Financial Gerontology and Finance/Legal Education. Financial gerontology is a comprehensive and interdisciplinary field of study of financial issues in old age, and it has been explored mainly in the United States since the 1990s against the backdrop of the rapid aging of the population. This center was the first research organization in Japan to place a central focus on financial gerontology research. Its primary research topics have always been ahead of the times, including the examination and development of new financial products for an aging society with a declining birthrate, financial regulation from the standpoint of financial gerontology, and literacy education for institutions and the general public based on findings in the field of financial gerontology.

Rooted in these research activities, the current Center for Legal and Political Infrastructure was established in April 2022. Its research areas were expanded to cover the entirety of law and political science, with the aim of promoting research activities aimed at "building a legal and political infrastructure that can respond to the rapid changes in Japanese society.” Professor Yamada explains this objective as follows.

“No matter how you slice it, the society of today is changing at a very rapid pace. Moreover, all of the changes we are grappling with, such as digitalization, environmental issues as represented by global warming, and the declining birthrate coupled with the aging population, are so great that we must fundamentally rethink the structure of society as we know it.

For example, in the area of digitalization, since the 1990s, new information devices and services, including personal computers, the internet, smartphones, and social media, have come to market in rapid succession thanks to technological innovations. As a result of the chaotic progression of these developments, only digital platform companies like GAFAM (the acronym for the five big tech companies of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft) have accumulated enormous wealth, while consumer privacy has been eroded. In addition, as generative AI and robots equipped with such technology become more widespread, new legal issues, such as copyright infringement and liability in the event of damage, are likely to arise in the future.

The field of positive law, which refers the actual law in jurisprudence, focuses on the study of judicial norms, that is, what rules are applied when a case goes to trial. However, what is needed more in times of social transformation like we are seeing today, is research on the earlier stages, such as how politics creates social structures and how law and politics pave the way for the future of society. We set out to establish this Center with this in mind.”

Professor Nozomi Yamada

Financial gerontology; judicial infrastructure; and peace, human rights, and democracy

The Center’s research revolves around three main pillars.
The first, financial gerontology, was handed down from its predecessor. This project started by considering the means for people to lead fulfilling lives in the so-called era of 100-year lifespans, taking into account both financial and economic perspectives. Professor Mochizuki told us that the Center is currently expanding its research topics into a wide range of fields, beyond just finance and law, and he discussed the unique features of the Center's financial gerontology research.

“To lead a prosperous and active life in old age, an individual needs to have a foundation for living. This includes money to live independently, medicine and medical care for the maintenance of health, and participation in society to make life worth living. It is safe to say that financial gerontology deals with all areas of building a foundation for living in old age, to ensure that everyone can lead enriching and healthy second lives.

In addition to issues related to the necessary basis for livelihood, such as the formation and maintenance of financial assets and the maintenance and improvement of a physical and mental health, there is a need for research that focuses on individual awareness and activities, such as ways of living and thinking that lead to the formation of a basis for livelihood in old age, or in other words, how to acquire the ‘literacy’ to live through one' golden years in an enriched and fulfilling manner.

On the other hand, the aging of society means that both individual attitudes and society as a whole must change. The financial gerontology research at the Center is unique in that it attempts to understand the nature of a society in which the elderly can live enriching lives as well as individual problems from a diverse range of perspectives, including the legal, political, economic, social, and medical.”

Professor Chika Mochizuki

The Center’s second main project is judicial infrastructure. Under this project, the Center conducts research on legal and judicial infrastructure in response to social changes, such as digitization and global environmental issues, and it also examines problems such as how these can be provided in a fair and impartial manner.

According to Professor Yamada. one of the difficulties in this field is that if strict rules and regulations are created to prevent risks arising from new technologies, there is a danger of stifling innovation.

“This is why we consider legal mechanisms that do not take the form of a liability claim. There may be a way for manufacturers to provide compensation in the form of insurance by providing funding to each other, or for the government to set up a compensation fund or similar mechanism to compensate people irrespective of a single company’s responsibility.”

This means that laws and institutions are needed that will come to terms with social development and technological progress without impeding them.
Professor Yamada added that the Center’s young researchers are actively pursuing research in this field. Cutting-edge research is being conducted focusing on issues that arise in combination with technological innovation, such as what kind of rules should be established to avoid the risk of copyright infringement by generative AI.

The third main project focuses on peace, human rights, and democracy, or the major framework that can truly be considered the foundation of society. A key concept in this field is solidarity. One of the research topics the Center is paying particular attention to is global tax (international solidarity tax).

A global tax is a system of taxing economic activities that cross national borders and globally held assets. For example, the airline ticket solidarity tax and financial transaction tax, which would be levied on sectors benefiting from globalization such as international aviation and international finance, and the international carbon tax, which would be levied on CO2 emitted from domestically manufactured products and imported goods, are among the concepts that have been floated. The airline ticket solidarity tax was introduced mainly in France in 2006, and the financial transaction tax and international carbon tax are being actively discussed by the EU, the UN, and other organizations.

Professor Mochizuki explains global tax as follows.

“Traditionally, it was thought that the right to tax was the exclusive domain of the state and that it would be difficult to tax beyond the realm of the state. In recent years, however, more attention is being paid to global tax as global problems that cannot be solved at the level of a single country, such as pandemics, global warming, poverty in developing countries, and the destabilization of financial transactions, have become increasingly severe. The Center is conducting joint research with researchers within and outside the university, and we hope to further collaborate with NGOs and researchers overseas in the future.”

Another idea is that a similar international taxation framework could be applied to solving environmental problems in space, and the Center has a plan in place to conduct research in cooperation with related research centers within the university. While it is surprising that space also has environmental problems, the amount of space debris, such as decommissioned satellites and spent rockets, in orbit around the Earth is increasing. If left unchecked, this poses a serious risk to the future use and development of space, but it requires a massive amount of money to eliminate. The Ritsumeikan University Earth & Space Exploration Center, which was established last spring, is currently conducting research into a space environmental tax that would balance space development with the protection of the environment in space as a solution to this problem. It also plans to cooperate with the Research Center for Legal and Political Infrastructure to study the legal framework for making this tax a reality.

Looking for “soft law” that can respond to an ever-changing society

As we asked the Professors Yamada and Mochizuki to provide details about their research, it seemed to us that their approach goes beyond just considering existing laws and institutions. They described the features of the Center as follows.

Yamada: “The key word is soft law. In contrast to hard law, which constitutes legally binding laws and ordinances, soft law refers to social norms that are not binding but are followed by citizens and businesses. It is a broad concept that includes things like guidelines voluntarily set by the private sector and the government’s interpretations of laws. I think it is possible to start with soft law, rather than having the government lead the way in setting rules to deal with changes in society. If a rule is accepted by everyone, then it will survive. Our goal is to identify this kind of soft law. Perhaps what you could consider as one of the Center's strengths is our focus not on rules themselves, but on the kind of negotiation, communication, and consensus-building that goes into making them.

Rules that are acceptable to many people are born out of cooperation, solidarity, and teamwork. Since financial gerontology is an interdisciplinary discipline that examines ways of life in the era of super-aging from a through as variety of lenses, we can expect new knowledge to be generated by way of collaboration across a wide range of disciplines. New frameworks to address issues like digitalization, environmental issues, and global tax will not be realized without solidarity and cooperation. I think the Center is also unique in that it considers legal and political infrastructure from a planet-wide perspective.”

Mochizuki: “It is often said that laws and institutions lag behind because they cannot respond to the rapid pace of social change, but I believe there is a need for a research center that contemplates the rules that will serve as a foundation that anticipates social change, rather than considering ways to bail someone out after something happens.”

Aiming to be a platform for solving social problems

Inasmuch as its primary research topic is to develop a foundation for the carving out the future of people and society, the Center is actively involved in feeding the outcomes of its research back into society.

One example of this is providing financial literacy education. Having offered courses for the general public on financial gerontology since the time of its predecessor, the Center focuses on the importance of thinking about your assets from a young age to ensure a prosperous life. Furthermore, the lowering of the age of adulthood to 18 has increased the risk of young people getting into trouble with contracts and other things, so the Center has decided to conduct financial literacy education in cooperation with the affiliated schools.

One of the Center’s initiatives related to legal research is its cooperation with the activities of Innocence Project Japan. The Innocence Project is an initiative that began in the United States in the 1990s to prevent wrongful convictions in criminal cases by using DNA analysis and other types of scientific testing. In 2016, the Innocence Project Japan (formerly the Center for Wrongful Conviction Relief) was launched by a group of judicial practitioners, legal scholars, and citizen volunteers, led by faculty members of Ritsumeikan University, to help victims of wrongful convictions using scientific testing. The Research Center for Legal and Political Infrastructure also supports the project’s activities with public relations efforts.

With a diverse array of researchers engaged in various activities, it seems that the Center is able to give something back to society in many ways. Professor Mochizuki says he hopes to continue to successfully apply the members' research to many areas in society.

Although not much time has passed since the Center was rebranded, the seeds of many different kinds of research have started to sprout. In closing, we asked both of the professors to share their thoughts on the future of the Center.

Professor Yamada sees the Center becoming a "platform for solving social problems” in the future.

“I would like to see Center play a pivotal role in a system to solve social problems, to contemplate how to approach all the projects it is involved in, and gather the people to work on those projects. We aim to become a Center for building the foundation of a society where interdisciplinary research is constantly practiced, not only in law and political science, but also in fields like medicine and psychology.”

Meanwhile, the goal that Professor Mochizuki has in mind is to "foster and support young researchers,” which is an essential part of enhancing the functionality of the platform mentioned by Professor Yamada.

“In the Graduate School of Law at Ritsumeikan University as well, we are seeing innovative research conducted by promising doctoral students who are tackling the latest research topics start to bear fruit. By providing an incubator-like environment where young researchers can tackle their own topics, we hope to activate research on legal and political infrastructure.”

In today's rapidly changing and complex world, the Center is sure to play a major role in exploring how we should create our future. We look forward to seeing how it expands upon its collaborative ties and what new proposals its researchers will bring up going forward.

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