Friday, January 7, 2011

japanese decroissance

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:

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.”

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:


  1. There was an interesting piece about this on Common Dreams recently:

    Peter Dorman at EconSpeak (do you ever read that?) was violently hostile to it but I thought it made some valid points.

  2. I think the link you shared is spot on:

    "The world needs to figure out how advanced economies can provide for their people without having roaring growth rates driven by asset bubbles. If consumer-driven growth was the order of the day in the post-World War II era, going forward it is going to be steady-state economic growth -- growing not too fast, but not too slowly -- and learning to do more with less. Yet stimulus hawks like Krugman don't seem to get this; they want to crank the "growth machine" into full gear with huge government stimulus spending."

    Krugman does love to make fun of GDP as a measure of welfare (there's a fun piece I assign to my students about Viagra that he wrote a while back) but here we see the underlying fetishism with market indicators in its true form in Krugman. Yeah he's a lefty, but it's a market-based social democracy which is, I think quite different than how the leftists understand such things in other parts of the world. It is one of the core reasons why I remain skeptical of his policy discussions.

    Don't read EconSpeak but I'll check it out for sure; this is one of my favorite (albeit simplified) debates in economics.