The Japan that Abe Shinzo made

From Noah Smith:

This is the fifth and final post in my series of posts about Japan. In the first post, I lamented Japan’s low-ish living standards and called for a cash-based welfare policy. In the second, I suggested some industrial policies that Japan might use to boost growth. In the third, I discussed Japan’s stagnant corporate culture and how to fix it. And in the fourth, I reviewed two books on Japanese pop culture and how it conquered the world even as the country’s economy languished.

I’ve been coming to Japan pretty regularly for 20 years now. But only this time did it really hit me how different this country feels from the place I first visited back in 2002. Not just all the shops and buildings — in fact, the building boom in big cities, though real, might be the least of the changes. Nor is it just the residue of the pandemic. Attitudes and lifestyles and culture are all different.

When I thought carefully about it, I realized that the changes mostly boiled down to three big things: The expansion of the labor force, the rise of immigration and diversity, and the country’s willingness to assert itself in the international security sphere. And although big changes like these are never the work of just one person, all of them can be traced directly to policy shifts under Japan’s longest-serving postwar Prime Minister, Abe Shinzo.

When Abe took over as PM in late 2012 (his second and much more consequential stint in that job), he inherited a country in deep trouble. It had been over two decades since the bursting of the famous land and stock bubbles, and although the country’s growth revived a bit in the 00s, it didn’t recover to previous levels. A rapidly aging and shrinking population, stagnant productivity growth, and the loss of global market share by many of Japan’s flagship companies all weighed heavily. And then in 2011, disaster struck — a massive tsunami that killed around 16,000 people and destroyed a nuclear plant, irradiating a city and leading to a popular backlash against nuclear electricity.

Abe set himself the task of turning this ship around, with a bold economic reform package called “Abenomics”, as well as some stealthier measures that may ultimately prove even more consequential. But on top of that, Abe set himself another task — the task of shedding Japan’s post-WW2 pacifism and turning it back into a “normal country” with a place in the global security framework.

To many in Japan’s expat press (which far too many Americans rely on for their news about the country), this latter goal immediately pegged Abe as a fascist. But in fact, Abe is a civic nationalist — a guy who wants to make his country stronger in any way he can. And the things Abe did to make Japan stronger — encouraging the hiring of more women, opening the country up to more immigration — often made it more liberal in the process.”

Continue reading here.

Posted by at 7:49 AM

Labels: Macro Demystified


Subscribe to: Posts