The Japanese themselves frequently refer to non-GDP measures of welfare, such as Japan’s safety, cleanliness, world-class cuisine and lack of social tension. Lest they (and I) be accused of wishy-washy thinking, here are a few hard facts. The Japanese live longer than citizens of any other large country, boasting a life expectancy at birth of 82.17 years, much higher than the US at 78. Unemployment is 5 per cent, high by Japanese standards, but half the level of many western countries. Japan locks up, proportionately, one-twentieth of those incarcerated in the US, yet enjoys among the lowest crime levels in the world.
In a thought-provoking article in The New York Times last year, Norihiro Kato, a professor of literature, suggested that Japan had entered a “post-growth era” in which the illusion of limitless expansion had given way to something more profound. Japan’s non-consuming youth was at the “vanguard of the downsizing movement”, he said. He sounded a little like Walter Berglund, the heroic crank of Jonathan Franzen’sFreedom, who argues that growth in a mature economy, like that in a mature organism, is not healthy but cancerous. “Japan doesn’t need to be No 2 in the world, nor No 5 or 15,” Prof Kato wrote. “It’s time to look to more important things.”
Friday, January 7, 2011
This piece on modern Japanese economic history really struck me. Especially coming from the Financial Times. Read it here:
I don't know whether Japanese culture has really reached this stage of acceptance, but I would certainly not argue that American relative decline will lead to wider cultural decay (this relationship in its various causal forms has been put forward lately by Thomas Friedman for one).
At any rate, I liked this paragraph:
Nevertheless, the article is quite controversial and thought-provoking throughout. It calls to mind a number of related theses. For example, Cowen has claimed at times over at Marginal Revolution that we should be thinking more optimistically about the recent recession as a time of reflection on what matters most in our lives. And (in another thread of the article's argument, distinct from decroissance) Keynes, in "Economic Possibilities", placed enormous emphasis during the Great Depression on the outlook for a post-growth society, where a nation's "economic problem" is solved.
By the way, the title of this post is inspired by the French decroissance, or "degrowth" movement. Read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degrowth