A generation ago, Japan was widely admired — and feared — as an economic paragon. Business best sellers put samurai warriors on their covers, promising to teach you the secrets of Japanese management; thrillers by the likes of Michael Crichton portrayed Japanese corporations as unstoppable juggernauts rapidly consolidating their domination of world markets.
Then Japan fell into a seemingly endless slump, and most of the world lost interest. The main exceptions were a relative handful of economists, a group that happened to include Ben Bernanke, now the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and yours truly. These Japan-obsessed economists viewed the island nation’s economic troubles, not as a demonstration of Japanese incompetence, but as an omen for all of us. If one big, wealthy, politically stable country could stumble so badly, they wondered, couldn’t much the same thing happen to other such countries?
Fred R. Conrad/The New York TimesPaul Krugman
Sure enough, it both could and did. These days we are, in economic terms, all Japanese — which is why the ongoing economic experiment in the country that started it all is so important, not just for Japan, but for the world.
In a sense, the really remarkable thing about “Abenomics” — the sharp turn toward monetary and fiscal stimulus adopted by the government of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe — is that nobody else in the advanced world is trying anything similar. In fact, the Western world seems overtaken by economic defeatism.
In America, for example, there are still more than four times as many long-term unemployed workers as there were before the economic crisis, but Republicans only seem to want to talk about fake scandals. And, to be fair, it has also been a long time since President Obama said anything forceful publicly about job creation.
Still, at least we’re growing. Europe’s economy is back in recession, and it has actually grown a bit less over the past six years than it did between 1929 and 1935; meanwhile, it keeps hitting new highs for unemployment. Yet there is no hint of a major change in policy. At best, we may be looking at a slight relaxation of the savage austerity programs Brussels and Berlin are imposing on debtor nations.
It would be easy for Japanese officials to make the same excuses for inaction that we hear all around the North Atlantic: they are hamstrung by a rapidly aging population; the economy is weighed down by structural problems (and Japan’s structural problems, especially its discrimination against women, are legendary); debt is too high (far higher, as a share of the economy, than that of Greece). And in the past, Japanese officials have, indeed, been very fond of making such excuses.
The truth, however — a truth that the Abe government apparently gets — is that all of these problems are made worse by economic stagnation. A short-term boost to growth won’t cure all of Japan’s ills, but, if it can be achieved, it can be the first step toward a much brighter future.
So, how is Abenomics working? The safe answer is that it’s too soon to tell. But the early signs are good — and, no, Thursday’s sudden drop in Japanese stocks doesn’t change that story.
The good news starts with surprisingly rapid Japanese economic growth in the first quarter of this year — actually, substantially faster growth than that in the United States, while Europe’s economy continued to shrink. You never want to make too much of one quarter’s numbers, but that’s the kind of thing we want to see.
Meanwhile, Japanese stocks have soared, while the yen has fallen. And, in case you’re wondering, a weak yen is very good news for Japan because it makes the country’s export industries more competitive.
Some observers have raised the alarm over rising Japanese long-term interest rates, even though these rates are still less than 1 percent. But the combination of rising interest rates and rising stock prices suggests that both reflect an increase in optimism, not worries about Japanese solvency.
To be sure, Thursday’s sell-off in Japanese stocks put a small dent in that optimistic assessment. But stocks are still way up from last year, and I’m old enough to remember Black Monday in 1987, when U.S. stocks suddenly fell more than 20 percent for no obvious reason, and the ongoing economic recovery suffered not at all.
So the overall verdict on Japan’s effort to turn its economy around is so far, so good. And let’s hope that this verdict both stands and strengthens over time. For if Abenomics works, it will serve a dual purpose, giving Japan itself a much-needed boost and the rest of us an even more-needed antidote to policy lethargy.
As I said at the beginning, at this point the Western world has seemingly succumbed to a severe case of economic defeatism; we’re not even trying to solve our problems. That needs to change — and maybe, just maybe, Japan can be the instrument of that change.David Brooks is off today.
Japan the Model
May 27, 2013
然後，日本墜入了看似無止境的衰退之中，多數人對它失去了 興趣。仍對日本感興趣的，主要是人數相對較少的一些經濟學家。這群人恰好包括本·伯南克(Ben Bernanke)，現任的美聯儲(Federal Reserve)主席，還有我自己。這些痴迷於日本的經濟學家認為，島國日本的經濟困境不僅顯示了日本人的無能，還警示着我們所有人。他們想的是：如果一 個強國既富裕又政治穩定，都能栽得如此之慘，難道同樣的事情不會發生在其他類似的國家？
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times保羅·克魯格曼
當然，我們至少還在增長。而歐洲經濟卻又重新陷入衰退。而 且，過去六年歐洲經濟的增長其實略低於1929年到1935年的水平；同時，歐洲失業率屢創新高。但是，並沒有會發生重大政策變化的跡象。最好的情況也只 是我們可能會看到，布魯塞爾和柏林強加給債務國的沉重的緊縮計劃能夠略微鬆一口氣。
日本官員能很容易找許多借口為毫不作為辯護，就是現在我們 聽北大西洋沿岸各國說的那些借口：人口迅速老齡化帶來破壞；經濟被結構性問題拖垮（而且日本的結構性問題臭名昭著，尤其是該國對女性的歧視）；債台高築 （日本債務占日本經濟總量的份額遠遠高於希臘）。而且，日本官員曾經的確很喜歡找這種借口。
因此，對日本逆轉其經濟低迷之勢的努力，我們總體的評價 是：到現在來看還不錯。讓我們希望這個結論能保持下去，並隨時間慢慢加強。因為如果安倍經濟學奏效，將具有一箭雙鵰的作用，給日本帶來它所繼續的增長，另 外，針對政策的軟弱無力，它也會給我們其他人帶來一劑更加需要的解藥。