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Japan sinks into recession – however there’s extra to the story than the mainstream narrative would care to confess


Final week (February 15, 2024), the Japanese Cupboard Workplace launched the newest nationwide accounts estimates for the December-quarter 2023 – Quarterly Estimates of GDP for Oct.-Dec. 2023 (The First preliminary) – which confirmed that the economic system had slipped into an official recession (two consecutive quarters of damaging GDP progress) and within the course of had moved from being the third largest economic system on the earth to change into the fourth behind the US, China and Germany. In keeping with the media launch – 2023年10~12月期四半期別GDP速報 – the quarterly progress price was -0.1 per cent (annual -0.4 per cent). Home demand was weak, contributing -0.3 per cent whereas internet exports contributed +0.2 per cent. A part of the story is expounded to a ‘valuation drop’ as a result of the yen has depreciated in latest months, undermining the worth of exports and rising the worth of imports. However whereas there’s some hysteria within the ‘markets’ and the mainstream economics commentary in regards to the consequence, warning is required as a result of the info shall be revised (it was solely preliminary) as extra information is available in and it’s extremely doable for the damaging to change into a constructive. However, I additionally take a unique perspective on this from the dominant narrative within the media as you will notice in the event you learn on.

There’s fairly a deal of confusion in regards to the so-called ‘misplaced decade’ in Japan, following its dramatic actual property crash within the early Nineteen Nineties.

The present narrative builds on these misunderstandings and constructs the GDP outcomes as if low progress is an issue.

When you take a look at the subsequent graph you’ll begin to get the purpose.

It reveals inhabitants progress for Australia and Japan listed to 100 in 1980.

In 1980, the inhabitants of Australia was 14.8 million and by 2022 it was recorded at 25.9 million and the annual progress price is about 1.6 per cent on common per yr.

There was a hunch within the inhabitants progress throughout the early years of the pandemic, as the federal government closed the exterior border and migration was extremely restricted.

In stark distinction, Japan’s inhabitants is now shrinking slowly and there are projection that by 2025, the Japanese inhabitants shall be round 121 million

The subsequent graph comes Japan’s Statistical Workplace and gives a unique perspective of the inhabitants state of affairs in Japan over an extended interval.

It’s clear that the inhabitants in Japan is in decline and that decline is accelerating.

Japan has one of many world’s oldest populations, which is resulting in a declining workforce and elevated healthcare and pension bills.

There are many sensible facets to this dynamic which the coverage makers must deal with – for instance, the way to shift productive sources from servicing kids to servicing the aged.

The federal government must work on stimulating productiveness progress (be aware: which is a separate idea to GDP progress) in order that the shrinking workforce can more and more present the for the fabric wants of the rising retirement group, provided that internet inward migration is unlikely to alleviate the shortages.

However the comparative inhabitants dynamics between Australia and Japan helps us put the claims a few ‘misplaced decade’ right into a extra significant perspective.

GDP per capita tells us how the scale of the economic system has moved in relation to the underlying inhabitants dynamics.

It’s no shock that the majority economies have progress in GDP phrases quicker than Japan over the previous few a long time given the divergences in inhabitants progress.

However how has GDP per capita advanced?

The next graph compares Australia to Japan from 1980 to 2022 (listed to 100 in 1980).

Previous to Japan’s asset crash in 1991, GDP per capita was rising way more shortly in that nation relative to Australia.

The 1991 disaster ended that interval of accelerating prosperity and GDP per capita elevated slowly after that in Japan.

Within the early 2000s, GDP per capita was rising nearly on the similar price in each international locations.

The International Monetary Disaster (GFC) was extra damaging for Japan than it was for Australia, partially, as a result of the federal government fiscal help was comparatively bigger within the latter.

We will additionally see proof that the Japanese gross sales tax hike in Could 1997 when family consumption progress slumped, and GDP declined.

The salient level although within the context of this comparative evaluation, is that over the 40-year interval, the evolution of GDP per capita in each international locations doesn’t justify categorising Japan as a failed economic system, alongside the traces of the ‘misplaced decade’ narrative, whereas on the similar time holding Australia out as a well-performed economic system.

The subsequent graph gives a comparability of the evolution of GDP per capita publish pandemic (the info is listed at 100 in 2020).

GDP per capita in Japan has grown by 7 per cent since 2020 to the top of 2023, whereas for Australia it has grown simply 6.5 per cent (the final quarter of 2023 is estimated for Australia given the official information is just not but out).

Nevertheless, the info for Japan contains the latest nationwide accounts launch which incorporates two damaging GDP progress quarters (September and December).

If we conclude that the evolution of GDP per capita, which is a median measure, has been broadly related over this era, then the subsequent level of inquiry focuses on how nationwide revenue has been distributed over the interval.

If we contemplate the Gini coefficient measure, then Japan information a decrease degree of revenue inequality than Australia for comparable information.

The summation is that whereas GDP progress in Japan could be very low, inhabitants progress is equally low, which implies that the nation can maintain steady or bettering materials requirements of residing.

Australia, against this, should file increased charges of GDP progress to take care of an identical time path for GDP per capita as a result of its inhabitants progress is way increased.

Thus, discussions that concentrate on Japan’s low price of GDP progress fail to grasp the context of low inhabitants progress.

If Australia’s GDP progress fell to charges widespread in Japan over the past 20 years or so, then its unemployment price would rise considerably as a result of the inhabitants progress, mixed with productiveness progress locations a a lot increased actual GDP progress requirement for the unemployment price to stay steady.

When it comes to productiveness progress potential, I used to be analyzing some fascinating information over the weekend which comes from the – International Innovation Index 2023 – printed by the Swiss-based World Mental Property Group (WIPO).

We study that:

In each 2021 and 2022, Asia was the dominant pressure behind PCT filings, accounting for 54.7 p.c of all PCT purposes filed in 2022, with China, Japan and
the Republic of Korea the strongest Asian worldwide patent filers. In distinction, worldwide patent filings from chosen superior economies, corresponding to the USA (−0.6 p.c) and the UK (−1.7 p.c), underwent a decline.

The highest S&T cluster (that are “the geographical areas all over the world the place the very best density of inventors and scientific authors are situated”) was Tokyo-Yokohama (Japan) “adopted by Shenzhen–Hong Kong–Guangzhou (China and Hong Kong, China), Seoul (Republic of Korea), Beijing (China) and Shanghai–Suzhou (China).”

The highest applicant was Mitsubishi Electrical and the highest organisation was the College of Tokyo.

WIPO additionally supplied this Appendix Desk which reveals ranks clusters by patent purposes and scientific publications.

You possibly can see that the Tokyo-Yokohama cluster accounts for 11.7 per cent of the entire adopted by the Shenzhen–Hong Kong–Guangzhou cluster in China (11.1 per cent of complete).

Which implies the top-ranked cluster is method forward the opposite nations together with the US.

Australia are available in direction of the underside (Melbourne at 42/50 and Sydney 46/50) which displays the moribund nature of our company sector that prefers to cheat employees to make income or plunder public belongings by way of privatisations moderately than spend money on R&D and innovate in new applied sciences.

The International Innovation Index additionally supplied an fascinating graph (Determine 9 Years of life past 60), which I reproduce right here.

It notes that:

Wholesome life expectancy past 60 years of age is longest in Japan, with an extra 14 years of wholesome residing plus an extra 10 years of much less wholesome residing

Degrowth potential

The ageing inhabitants in Japan has motivated commentators to assemble the difficulty as a significant drawback going through authorities and all types of spurious treatments are advocated.

Clearly, the talent scarcity state of affairs that’s commonly rehearsed within the media is tied in with the ageing society debate, the place superior nations are going through so-called demographic ‘time bombs’, with fewer folks of working age left to provide for an rising quantity of people that now not work.

The mainstream narrative paints these traits as main issues that should be confronted by governments, and, sometimes, due to defective understandings of the fiscal capacities of governments, suggest deeply flawed options.

I see these challenges in a really totally different gentle.

Somewhat than assemble the difficulties that corporations is perhaps going through attracting ample labour (the ‘abilities shortages’ narrative), I want to see the state of affairs as offering an indicator of the bounds of financial exercise or the area that nations should implement a reasonably rapid degrowth technique.

I mentioned that difficulty on this weblog publish – Degrowth, deep adaptation, and abilities shortages – Half 4 (October 31, 2022).

I shall be increasing on that in a brand new e book that I hope to get out early 2025 in collaboration with my analysis colleagues at Kyoto College.

The purpose is {that a} low progress situations, the place persons are nonetheless well-off and residing lengthy lives with good well being care and dietary potentialities would seem like higher than pushing for prime progress charges the place persons are sad and sick (I’ll report on some new information about that quickly).

All of which is strengthened by the worldwide emergency to scale back our demand on the world’s sources and decarbonise our economies.

Japan will want much less output as a result of it’ll have much less folks.

The coverage problem is to handle that transition moderately than declare extra progress is required.


I’ll write extra about how degrowth can unfold in Japan whereas nonetheless preserve the integrity of the society.

That’s sufficient for at present!

(c) Copyright 2024 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.




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