Is Japan Reviving?

Japan Can Teach U.S. How to Overcome National Rot

While more people in the U.S. are noticing a period of institutional sclerosis and Europe suffers from its paralyzed politics and  high unemployment, Noah argues that Japan has managed to mostly pull itself out of a long period of paralysis. Despite of Japan’s seemingly endless dysfunction following the bursting of its real estate and stock-market bubbles, he claims that the perception that Japan is mired in an eternal “lost decade” is now out of date.

Yes, Japan’s economy has a number of long-term structural problems, most significantly its aging, shrinking population. But in most areas, Japan has overcome its bout of sclerosis, and in many ways is looking healthier than any other major economy.

The areas he mentioned are:

1) GDP:
While total GDP figure, or fail to account for inflation understate Japan’s performance,  the country’s real output per working-age population has outpaced the U.S.’s since 2000, despite the fact that Japan’s working-age population has aged much more.

2) Employment:
In Japan now, practically everyone who wants a job has a job

スクリーンショット 2017-04-17 19.09.57スクリーンショット 2017-04-17 19.10.24

Though women in Japan still haven’t won economic equality in the workplace, they now have jobs at higher rates than their American counterparts.imrs

3) Companies:
Though Japanese companies are simply employing too many people, they also have managed to improve profitability a lot. Margins are higher than they’ve been since the Great Recession.

スクリーンショット 2017-04-17 19.17.25

4) Many social indicators:
Fertility, tough at very low level in developed countries, has begun to inch up.
Japan’s violent crime rate is still legendarily low.
High suicide rate has also come down substantially.

Noah lay the cause of these healthy indicators on good leadership who were willing to confront issues like unproductive workplaces and pervasive sexism head-on, as well as on companies’ effort endeavored in waves of consolidation that helped raise profitability in industries from autos to banking to electronics.

However, as a student of Japanese economic history and a foreigner living in Japan, I really doubt that if two lost-decades has made Japan to collectively realize that the old growth and social models weren’t working.

 

Firstly, despite of the growing GDP per capita at all, Japan is a country famous for its low white-collar productivity which is borne out by the statistics. And thus the full employment is still strayed from perfect stage as the substantial growth of employment since 1990 is mainly driven by part-time workers, who are arguably offered jobs that  even a Robot shouldn’t do. [1]

Secondly, my own research finds that the waves of consolidation is nothing but a boom stimulated by changes on laws and the level of firm reorganization is still way lower comparing to UK or US market. Moreover, based on the data of listed firms in Tokyo exchange, I find that that despite of increasing turbulence on the economic environment as well as the technology revolution, the risk of bankruptcy on big firms in Japan are becoming lower in recent decade, which might imply a more stable and rigid market environment.

The case in Japan is not like what Chandler said “structure follows strategy” but the verse. So the main question is if the structure (inter-firm, intro-firm, market) has changed institutionally or not. Or in a more pessimistic sense, is Japan able to get rid of its institutional sclerosis formed and trapped in its economic heyday in principle?

 

[1]

“Some of that comes from the reluctance by tradition-minded companies to adopt modern workplace technologies — there are still companies using fax machines or copying electronic documents onto paper. Some of it is from outdated management practices. Some of it is from employees staying at work for too many hours, long after their productivity has gone into free-fall. But some of it is certainly just a function of useless jobs. There are Japanese people being paid to do things that no one, not even a robot, should be paid to do.”

Appendix: Aging and Shrinking population in Japan

The population of Japan is estimated to drop below 100 million in 2053, and the most pessimistic calculation is that Japan will diminish in 3766. Immigration is the only way in the short to medium term to solve Japan’s pension deficit and manpower issues, and Japan is relaxing its some of its immigration rules. However, Japan’s government has claimed that this is only foreign-skilled variety and it will never welcome the word of immigration but only guest worker.

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