2011年1月12日 星期三

Japan finds there is more to life than growth

2011年01月11日 07:25 AM

Japan finds there is more to life than growth

Is Japan the most successful society in the world? Even the question is likely (all right, designed) to provoke ridicule and have you spluttering over your breakfast. The very notion flies in the face of everything we have heard about Japan’s economic stagnation, indebtedness and corporate decline.


Ask a Korean, Hong Kong or US businessman what they think of Japan, and nine out of 10 will shake their head in sorrow, offering the sort of mournful look normally reserved for Bangladeshi flood victims. “It’s so sad what has happened to that country,” one prominent Singaporean diplomat told me recently. “They have just lost their way.” It is easy to make the case for Japan’s decline. Nominal gross domestic product is roughly where it was in 1991, a sobering fact that appears to confirm the existence of not one, but two, lost decades. In 1994, Japan’s share of global GDP was 17.9 per cent, according to JPMorgan. Last year it had halved to 8.76 per cent. Over roughly the same period, Japan’s share of global trade fell even more steeply to 4 per cent. The stock market continues to thrash around at one-quarter of its 1990 level, deflation saps animal spirits – a common observation is that Japan has lost its “mojo” – and private equity investors have given up on their fantasy that Japanese businesses will one day put shareholders first.

随便问韩国、香港或者美国商人是如何看待日本的,他们十有八九会痛心摇头,脸上是一副 通常会留给孟加拉洪水灾民的悲天悯人的神情。“这个国家发生的一切着实让人哀叹,”新加坡某知名外交官近日对我说。“他们迷失了方向。”如今很容易为日本 的衰落找到理由。名义国内生产总值与1991年大致相当,这个冷峻的事实似乎证实,日本失落的不是十年,而是二十年。据JP摩根(JPMorgan)统 计,1994年,日本在全球GDP中所占比重为17.9%。去年,这个比重下降了一半,只有8.76%。大约在同期,日本占全球贸易的份额也锐减至4%。 股票市场继续在1990年四分之一所有的水平震荡。通货紧缩侵蚀了动物精神——人们普遍观察认为日本已经失去了“勇猛”——私人股本投资者也放弃了日本企 业有一天会把股东权益放在首位的幻想。

Certainly, these facts tell a story. But it is only partial. Underlying much of the head-shaking about Japan are two assumptions. The first is that a successful economy is one in which foreign businesses find it easy to make money. By that yardstick Japan is a failure and post-war Iraq a glittering triumph. The second is that the purpose of a national economy is to outperform its peers.

当然,这些说的是实情,但仅仅是部分事实。对日本摇头的主要原因基于两个假设。第一个 假设是,一个成功经济体就是外国企业容易挣钱的经济体。按照这个标准,日本无疑是个失败者,而海湾战争后的伊拉克则是光彩照人的胜利典范。第二个假设是, 一国发展经济的目的就是要超越其它国家。

If one starts from a different proposition, that the business of a state is to serve its own people, the picture looks rather different, even in the narrowest economic sense. Japan’s real performance has been masked by deflation and a stagnant population. But look at real per capita income – what people in the country actually care about – and things are far less bleak.


By that measure, according to figures compiled by Paul Sheard, chief economist at Nomura, Japan has grown at an annual 0.3 per cent in the past five years. That may not sound like much. But the US is worse, with real per capita income rising 0.0 per cent over the same period. In the past decade, Japanese and US real per capita growth are evenly pegged, at 0.7 per cent a year. One has to go back 20 years for the US to do better – 1.4 per cent against 0.8 per cent. In Japan’s two decades of misery, American wealth creation has outpaced that of Japan, but not by much.

按照这个衡量标准,根据野村(Nomura)首席经济学家保罗•谢尔德(Paul Sheard)编撰的数据,过去5年,日本的年增长率为0.3%。这听起来不算啥,但美国的情况更糟糕,同期实际人均收入增幅为0.0%。过去10年,日 本与美国实际人均收入增长持平,每年0.7%。要往前追溯20年,美国的表现才强于日本——1.4%对0.8%。在日本境况凄凉的20年中,美国的财富创 造超过了日本,但并不太多。

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.

日本人自己经常使用非GDP的福祉衡量标准,如日本的安全、整洁、世界级的烹饪以及社 会压力小。为免人们指责他们(和我)思想天马行空,让我们来看看一些不容争辩的事实。日本人比其它任何大国的公民活得都长,平均寿命达到82.17岁,比 美国人的78岁高出一大截。日本的失业率为5%,以日本的标准衡量算是高的,但只有许多西方国家的一半。按比例测算,日本关押的囚犯只有美国的二十分之 一,然而犯罪率为全球最低。

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’s Freedom, 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.”

文学教授加藤典洋(Norihiro Kato)去年在《纽约时报》(The New York Times)上发表了一篇发人深省的文章。他提出,日本已经进入“后增长时代”,即经济无限扩张的幻想已让位于更深层次的内容。他表示,日本不消费的年轻 人是“经济规模缩减的主力军”。他听上去有点象乔纳森•弗兰岑(Jonathan Franzen)所著《自由》(Freedom)中疯狂的主人公沃特•贝尔格伦德(Walter Berglund)——后者辩称,就像成熟的有机体一样,成熟经济体的增长并不健康,而是弊病丛生。“日本不需要成为世界第二,也不需要成为世界第五或者 第十五,”加藤教授写道。“如今应该关注更重要的事情。”

Patrick Smith, an expert on Asia, agrees that Japan is more of a model than a laggard. “They have overcome the impulse – and this is something where the Chinese need to catch up – to westernise radically as a necessity of modernisation.” Japan, more than any other non-western advanced nation, has preserved its culture and rhythms of life, he says.

亚洲问题专家帕特里克•史密斯(Patrick Smith)也认同,日本更象是个榜样,而不是个落伍者。“他们克服了实现现代化就必须全盘西化的冲动——这正是中国人需要学习的。”在保留自身文化和生活节奏方面,日本比其他任何非西方发达国家都做得更好,他说。

One must not overdo it. High suicide rates, a subdued role for women and, indeed, the answers that Japanese themselves provide to questionnaires about their happiness, do not speak of a nation entirely at ease with itself in the 21st century. It is also possible that Japan is living on borrowed time. Public debt is among the highest in the world – though, significantly, almost none of it is owed to foreigners – and a younger, poorer-paid generation will struggle to build up the fat savings on which the country is now comfortably slumbering.

万事不能过头。高自杀率、女性处于屈从地位,甚至日本人自己提供的幸福问卷答案,均表 明它在21世纪不能完全做到坦然自若。也可能日本人必须得分秒必争。它的公共债务属全球最高之列——虽说值得注意的是,几乎所有债务都是欠本国国民的—— 收入更低的年轻一代很难积攒出如今这么丰厚的储蓄,供国家安心地躺在上面睡大觉。

If the business of a state is to project economic vigour, then Japan is failing badly. But if it is to keep its citizens employed, safe, economically comfortable and living longer lives, it is not making such a terrible hash of things.