More to life than growth?

So says the FT (hat tip to Dan Harris).

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.

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.

Those numbers are significantly gamed, since the US housing market was basically peaking in 2005/06 and began to collapse shortly thereafter, whereas 20 years ago (back when Clinton was first running for president) the US economy was in the toilet and Japan was still in the midst of its landing from the bubble. But you get the point.

I had a conversation with a local lawyer friend a few nights ago, part of which went something like this:

FRIEND: Man, this place is dead. No business, no innovation. Even the population is declining. Some guys respond “uhhh! uhhh! immigration will fix it all!” but I don’t buy that crap.

JOE: Well… [pause for effect] that’s one way to look at it. Tokyo is still growing even if the regions are hollowing out. Infrastructure is getting better. We can get real pizza and Mexican food now.

FRIEND: Yeah, but so what? There’s still no activity, no buzz, no meaningful deals in the pipeline. Everyone is just sticking their heads in the sand or living off of their savings.

JOE: It says a lot that they actually have savings. Anyway, if this is what an apocalypse looks like, none of us have much to worry about. I’m not in a rush to escape. Crowding and corporate lameness aside, life is pretty good here.

FRIEND: Ehhh, I just don’t see a future here.

JOE: Yeah, well, even when people “see a future,” they often get nasty surprises. (NOTE: It’s possible that being in Japan for a while has simply eroded my personal risk appetite.)

54 thoughts on “More to life than growth?”

  1. Nice post. while I would sometimes personally like some of the hustle and bustle your lawyer friend mentions, that is a personal desire/lifestyle desire etc. rather than a necessity to be considered successful I suppose.

    The question that arises for me and I can not give a clear answer to is: While GDP per capita is another way to look at things, that too is another measure, but does it really answer your first question about there being more to life? For young people facing a tough job market, is the economy reasonably providing them with what they want and is society/education giving them what they need to find meaningful employment elsewhere if that is the solution? The issue of stagnation has many effects, effects felt differently by different people, and definitely felt differently across regions. So while its correct that focusing on falling to no3 may be misguided – what is the correct standard for people who are left out or are being pushed out of the system?

  2. Admittedly life is good in Japan… for the lucky people with jobs with high incomes or potential of future income increases. We should probably consider ourselves in a minority though.

    But you make a good point: Japan isn’t crumbling in real terms but lacks a certain “excitement” at the moment that was one of its clear draws back in the day.

  3. I hear the economy of Bangladesh grew nearly 6% last year. And sub-Saharan Africans always lead world happiness polls. Sorry, I’m not going.

    “No business, no innovation.”

    I’m not sure that the world really works like that anymore. What is the most vital party of the American economy over the last 25 years? No doubt it is silicon valley, especially Apple and the big I Innovators. What is America’s most bankable export industry – Hollywood. Now what is the most crappy, broke, decaying region of the US with 4 of the worst 5 cities on Forbes’ “misery list”? California, of course. These companies don’t necessarily create local jobs (have seen estimates that Apple or subcontractors employ 75 overseas employees for every one in the US), they’ve crawled all over each other to outsource manufacturing – the poor raised to middle class jobs – to the point where everyone smiles awkwardly if someone tactlessly asks what percentage of the iPhone is made in the USA. The huge fortunes and profits support the gated communities and legions of McWorkers, but the majority gets invested offshore in high growth areas.

    How many people make a living as creatives in manga, an industry considered to be one of Japan’s signature cultural exports? Estimates place it at about 400 (more if you count self-publishing).

    Sure it would be great if Japan was smoking with innovative business ideas, but I don’t think that this actually matters for local lifestyles in the current global system.

  4. “for the lucky people with jobs with high incomes or potential of future income increases. We should probably consider ourselves in a minority though.”

    Wait a second.I think those “lucky people” are minority in any country.At least so they were in the 80’s here.

    My old man used to work for the largest steel company in the world in the 80’s.He bought a house in Tokorozawa on lone that requires him to pay up to 25 years.
    I don’t get paid well as much as him,but I might buy one next to his in this year or the next for about 30% of what he had paid.Most of my friend either owns an apartment in Tokyo or house with yard in the suburb.And they all live within 45minuites from their office.Something that was unthinkable back in the day.
    I’m probably included in the lucky class myself.But is Japan that bad even if you are living in poverty?I’ve met numbers of unemployed Brazilians here in Aichi and they are the ultimate have-nots in J-society.And many chose to stay because the level of “low life” here is better than Brazil and you can live in much safer environment in most of the skid row around the world.

    No business?
    There has been more business for both foreign firms and individuals here than ever before.The place looks dead if you are hedge fund manager working for Goldman Sachs.But J-firms are hiring more foreign students and more foreign firm entering Japanese market.10 years ago,Japanese consumers would never dream about choosing new mobile phone between American or Korean company.And the world called us” shutting ourselves from imported goods”.Now we buy products from foreign firms and we are dismissed for “losing industiral clout”?

    No innovation?When did Japan known for innovation?
    Japan has been know as international copy cat and the secret of the nation’s success uncovered by foreigners were.
    a)We cheat in trade.
    b)We are free riders in maintaining world peace.
    c)We don’t work to live.We live to work.

    “Even the population is declining”
    Nearly all of the industrial countries are either aging or declining.And Japan was notoriously overcrowded.One of the first things that the foreign TV crew filmed in Tokyo used be Shinjuku station in rush hour where JR men push the back of salarymen and squeeze him in the Yamanote line.If anyone wish to see the population booming,they should go to Pakistan.

    “uhhh! uhhh! immigration will fix it all!” but I don’t buy that crap.”

    If I may use the entomological analogy on foreigners in Japan,we have two types.
    The butterflies and the ants.And the butterflies probably won’t survive the winter approaching so it would be better for them to fly off to other flower.
    But We have more “ant”type immigrants living in the society then ever before and they may be the landing pad for more newcomers or at least they help to change the insular mindset of the locals.If some one tells me twenty years ago,that I would marry a foreign woman and adopt her son,I would laugh and it won’t happen since this is Japan.

    To me life is more exciting simply because all the exisiting social order is collapsing but not in the way like Egypt.Leaders here leave their office without people occuping the streets for two weeks.We have less riot and cleaner air than China with wages 10 times more.I imagine life in Vegas is far more exciting than living in Japan.But then,nothing prevents me to move there if I want to.Yet I stay here for the numbers of reasons.

  5. Of course the country is pretty livable, but there’s a feeling of despair when real wages are going down, immigration growing while unemployment is on record levels, the state is bankrupt, political reform not happening, all while traditional industries are losing clout to those two hated neighbours. Even while living standards are good enough, the lack of opportunities for upward mobility a very depressing on a personal level. Hence all this 草食系 guys (some OL acquaintances of mine even call them 絶食系 now)

    I also feel the historian’s excitement with seeing a culture collapse on itself. But its gonna be ugly.

  6. “Of course the country is pretty livable, but there’s a feeling of despair when real wages are going down, immigration growing while unemployment is on record levels, the state is bankrupt, political reform not happening, all while traditional industries are losing clout to those two hated neighbours. Even while living standards are good enough, the lack of opportunities for upward mobility a very depressing on a personal level.”

    From what you’ve written, minus the herbivore bit, you could just as well be describing the current American situation. Not a bad place to live if you’re not poor, but the economic situation is very uncertain, premised as it is on finance capitalism, the military-industrial complex, domestic consumption fueled (until recently) by consumer debt, and continued increasing reliance on cheap foreign labor–both unskilled and skilled, which is squeezing the middle class as income disparity reaches new heights. There definitely is an on-going political-economic crisis testing the vision and political mettle of leadership in capitalist liberal-democratic states across the world, I just fail to see how Japan is an exceedingly worse position (which apparently necessitates doomsday scenarios) than the rest.

  7. I agree with a lot of the counterpoint of Aceface above, but:

    When did Japan known for innovation?

    I think this is a major cop-out to say that no one ever looked to Japan for “innovation.” Japan had a clear and prominent tech lead in a vast number of electronic fields — TVs, mobile phones, gaming, portable music players, general gadgets — that has almost completely evaporated overnight. This was a core attribute to the Japan brand. Even if Japan did not come up with concepts, they usually were at least first to market. In 2002, the average Japanese cell phone was legions ahead of what Americans were using. And there was also incredible consumer “sophistication” based on the level of goods being consumed compared to parallel markets.

    Japanese electronics makers are no longer world leading, and most young Japanese now have primitive cell phones, eat most meals at Matsuya, drink fake beer, and wear bags that came free in a magazine. That doesn’t make Japan “a disaster” or “broken society” by any means, but there is a “loss” of narrative momentum or status that cannot be ignored.

  8. I reckon Joe’s getting laid and his friend isn’t.

    Seriously though, we all know that it is jaw-boning season in Japan. people love to see other’s fail, especially the Japanese, so they can say “told you so!”
    it’s been going on since the Jon Woodruff days.

  9. oh yeah just a couple of other points I forgot to mention about a soceity that “might”
    just need some fixing . .

    If you are a woman and you report rape to the police they may well ask you what you did wrong to deserve it

    forced confessions under duress are legit baby !!

    you are allowed to posses child porn. Cool !! Great when you are trying to rehabilitate pederasts….or maybe not !!!

    millions of men commute to their daily hell in a sea of monster-hunting with constant voice-overs telling you stuff like “if you are getting off at the next stop, please get off. For those not getting off, please be careful not to get off and stay on the train”. Cool !!

  10. “but there’s a feeling of despair when real wages are going down”

    But that feeling can be changed overnight if we pump the money into Dentsu,No?
    Japan will instantly gets 100million big spenders that’ll blow away the recession.

    It could be a serious problem if the price of basic living goods and the rents go up.
    But it’s not.Plus yen is higher than ever before.More important thing is no one feels left behind if you are the only one with wage going down.And again,it’s not.

    “immigration growing while unemployment is on record levels”

    “Record levels”in Japanese standard.Unemployment rate is half of the U.S.Foreign workers both legal and illegal is less than 1% of entire population.Meaning it’s manageble level.

    ” the state is bankrupt, political reform not happening”
    The state,yes.But that also means the have-nots get money from the government.

    Political reform IS happening.That’s why we only have 1year life span PMs and DPJ getting the government.

    “all while traditional industries are losing clout to those two hated neighbours.”

    Two things.
    1)We don’t have them.They hate us.
    2)Japan has trade surplus against both China and Korea.And we may buy tons of made in China products.They are sold by Japanese companies. Samusung bailed out from Japanese commercial electric market except smart phones sold under NTT Docomo franchaise.Hyundai also bailed out from J-automarket.No hostility on these two nations over economic competition.

    ” the lack of opportunities for upward mobility a very depressing on a personal level. ”

    Here in Japan,you don’t get promoted until you get old enough.So the young kids can wait and maybe the things can get better.Us middle aged men are thanking everyday for our jobs still exisit.

    ” Hence all this 草食系 guys (some OL acquaintances of mine even call them 絶食系 now)”

    草食系is probably the creation of Dentsu.And your acquaintances are all on pay-roll from clandestine Dentsu network.Don’t trust any word from them!

    “And there was also incredible consumer “sophistication” based on the level of goods being consumed compared to parallel markets.”

    So I’ve noticed from various “Crazy Japanese invention”stories on English papers….

    Just walked pass a Nissan show window with it’s newest “Leaf”.I’m not so enthusiastic to drive an electiric car especially on rainy day.But it can be a sign of Japanese innovation that is live and well.

    I do realize people throw away Walkman and listening i-Pod.And LG selling more TV than SONY except in Japanese market.But that just means Japanese triumphantalism of the 80’s that”the foreigners-being-lazy-and-stupid-thus-can’t-compete-the-Japanese”was wrong and we are paying the price now.
    However,that doesn’t mean we will all go down under the pacific ocean any day.

    “most young Japanese now have primitive cell phones, eat most meals at Matsuya, drink fake beer, and wear bags that came free in a magazine.”

    Many young Japanese are now rushing store to buy either i-Phone or Samusung Galaxy just like everybody else in the world does.
    The youth in Japan have been eating at Matsuya,or maybe in Yoshinoya long before the bubble burst.And we used to drink beer to get drunk,not to enjoy what it’s taste like.I would’ve buy “fake beer”had they were sold at conbini for 88 yen a can.
    Free bags in a magazine is the sign of dying publishing industry where ads being stolen to internet.Sad news for the industry.But that’s the price needs to be paid in digital age.

  11. I think everyone is used to my bad English,but what I was about to say was

    “More important thing is no one feels left behind if you are NOT the only one with wage going down.Everyone else does.”

  12. I think I’ve mentioned before on Mutant Frog how the international press had a much darker story to tell about Britain for many years. IRA terrorism moved to the mainland in the 70s, beginning a series of atrocities. The country had to apply to the IMF for emergency assistance on three occasions, the last leading to a headline in “The Sun” of “Britain’s Shame”. Labour strife was endemic and the “Winter of Discontent” saw widespread public sectors including firemen, hospital workers, rubbish collectors and gravediggers. England were football World Champions in 1966 but failed even to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 tournaments. Not a problem for the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish but a crisis for most of the population and a national sport increasingly disfigured by hooliganism. If you wanted to find a bad story to tell, Britain provided rich pickings, especially against the backdrop of “end of Empire”.

    Britain isn’t in marvellous shape right now, and we might yet come to see the the last 25 years as a journey down the wrong road. It’s certainly a far cry from when our government thought it could lecture France and Germany on how to run an economy. There are plenty of people today foreseeing the collapse of public services, bemoaning the lack of an industrial base and warning that the country is on the verge of becoming an Islamic state. Japan isn’t alone in getting ugly coverage today.

    Nevertheless, I’d agree Japan does get a bad press overseas but I really don’t think it’s worse than anything Britain received. People like to look at the world in terms of winners and losers where the flaws of the winners are overlooked and the strengths of the losers go unexamined.

    In fact, Japan was given the benefit of the doubt for a long time. Plenty of commentators expected Japan to bounce back from the bursting of the bubble and it was only around the time of the bankruptcies of Long Term Credit Bank and Yamaichi that the tide began to turn for good in international coverage. Japan watchers simply gave up calling the recovery because they had been proved wrong so often. Also, there was money to be made elsewhere in the world so, for all those writing obituaries, there were more who followed the lead of one investment banker who wrote a report entitled “The Irrelevance of Japan”.

    I’ve met a number of people recently who are searching for promising signs in Japan. By and large, they are thinking of moving money from China. They aren’t expecting the kind of returns they saw there but do want lower risk. They know if China implodes, it will hit Japan but they are looking for reassurance that the kind of positives Aceface outlines can help make the country a safe haven for their investments.

    It’s interesting Marxy used the word “narrative” in his comment above because that’s the core of the problem for many. You could switch your attention to Japan simply on the basis of “it can’t get any worse from here” or, as bankers like to say, “all the bad news is in the price”. The trouble there is that investors have used that justification for Japan several times before and caught a cold. On top of that, there’s a larger, much repeated macro narrative of Japan’s impending fiscal doom. Even those who doubt that outcome need a strong counter-narrative in place before they place their bets. No-one wants to be the mug caught walking into a widely-predicted crisis like that without a good justification.

    The dilemma, of course, is that by the time you have your nicely constructed narrative, you’ve missed a good part of the best returns. It’s one reason why journalists, who need to tell stories, are so often lagging indicators to world events. Sometimes it’s just a glass half-full, glass half-empty distinction. Looking at Aceface’s list again, you could just as easily interpret the same details in a negative light.

    — People can now afford to live within 45 minutes of the city centre. That same phenomenon contributes to depopulation in the regions as others move into the more distant districts those people might have lived in before. You don’t have to go to isolated villages to see the way regional economies offer few of the safety nets and amenities available in the metropolitan centres. Nor is that just a hobby horse of the foreign media. Shuichi Yoshida’s bestseller “Akunin”, turned into an award-winning film, paints a depressing portrait of malaise in parts of Kyushu.

    — There are certainly more foreign students in Japan and some major companies are also going on high profile recruitment drives for foreign graduates. It’s too early to say that translates already into more job openings overall for foreigners. It’s not just overseas financiers who have been losing their jobs in Japan: overall employment levels are still down. Moreover, any developed economy can increase foreign students and foreign graduate employment if it chooses to grant them visas. The questions are whether it can attract the best the world has to offer and whether employers can retain them.

    The Asahi ran a series of articles in December reporting that the best Chinese students are now less interested in Japan. Japanese companies have a poor record to date of hanging on to decent foreign employees. Recent surveys show a high proportion of foreign graduates see Japanese employers as a stepping stone to jobs elsewhere so the jury is out on how that exercise will go.

    — Japanese consumers are buying more foreign goods now? If so, then it ought to show up in the trade numbers but that’s not happening. Partly because they are buying less in other categories like luxury goods but also because the local distribution system remains a tough nut to crack. Agricultural imports would be an obvious area of potential growth but politicians are already concerned about the country’s food self-sufficiency ratio.

    — As for innovation, Marxy has already given one view of that aspect. I’d frame it slightly differently and say that one of the most enduring images for a long time, in overseas coverage, was of Japan as a hi-tech paradise. At the very least, you can say Japan no longer has that edge over other countries and many would argue it now lags behind, particularly in the adoption of new technology by private sector companies and public sector bodies.

    — On population decline, it’s a big topic which shouldn’t be handled in a throwaway paragraph. I’d feel more comfortable, though, if I thought Japan had decided to accept it, and proposed to lead the world in re-engineering its economy to adapt to the challenge. Instead, you’ve got unchanged goals which rely on there being a an adequate workforce, without the policies to ensure it will exist. Japan certainly was overcrowded. However, with all those people now moving within 45 minutes of the city centre, the population has actually increased in metropolitan areas. If reducing overcrowding is a policy goal, what will be the mechanism to bring it about?

    I’m not putting forward that alternative narrative to defeat the points Aceface makes but it helps explain why people will continue to be slow to credit Japan for its strengths before more evidence is in. It was a while before people began to look at Britain in a different light and, as I mentioned earlier, some now believe that we just spent the last couple of decades papering over the cracks anyway.

  13. “From what you’ve written, minus the herbivore bit, you could just as well be describing the current American situation.”
    True, but a different story. America’s problems are as dire as Japan’s but of a different nature. We could bet who’s gonna collapse earlier, hah.

    ““Record levels”in Japanese standard.Unemployment rate is half of the U.S.Foreign workers both legal and illegal is less than 1% of entire population.Meaning it’s manageble level.”
    I know, I know. But Japan has a problem because companies only hire 新卒. So when the hiring rate for new graduates is 68%, it means 32% of people are condemned to unstable employment for the rest of their lives. How long will that be manageable? And where’s the political reform concerning the labor market, huh? 再チャレンジ社会 anyone? nah, who needs immigrants when you can exploit your own people?

    “1)We don’t have them.They hate us.”
    Hah. They hate you, you despise them. Whatever. Japan does retain a lead in high level manufacturing (those parts they sell to Samsung et al), but lets see how long you can keep it.

    ”草食系is probably the creation of Dentsu.And your acquaintances are all on pay-roll from clandestine Dentsu network.Don’t trust any word from them!“
    LOL, my acquaintances are just normal woman who follow the fashions that are set up above them. Anyway a broken clock is right twice a day: the fact that guys are giving up is real.
    btw hey you can credit Marxy for the Dentsu conspiracy theory. I agree with it though.

  14. “I’d agree Japan does get a bad press overseas but I really don’t think it’s worse than anything Britain received.”

    Difference is,that the Britons can control the narratives in the language they speak and by the media owned by their country such as BBC,Reuters,The Economist,Financial Times etc.

    ” Japan watchers simply gave up calling the recovery because they had been proved wrong so often. ”

    So I’ve noticed.Japan watchers has also been talked about rise of militarism.And they have been wrong all along too.And we both know the reason why they keep making mistakes.

    “Looking at Aceface’s list again, you could just as easily interpret the same details in a negative light.”

    Just read over Newsweek Japan website an essay by Colin Joyce called “The line,the order and the Englishman”.In that essay Joyce quotes from some anthoropologist claiming Englishman has natural talent in waiting in lines and that could be the sign of Britons have more sensitive with ideas like “equality,fairness and patience”.
    Funny all that sounds to me nothing but an “Igirisu-jin-ron”,because I know for certain that the Japanese and the Mongolians also have that talent for different reasons and it’s not particulary Anglo-thing.Yet that gave me some food for thought on what would Britons would write on Japanese talent in waiting paptiently in line.My guess is there will be less about “equality,fairness and patience”but more on “feudalism,fascims and robotics”.
    The diffrence here is, Britons can portray their “oddity” as representation of humour and free thinking.While Japanese do the same it will be presented as just another”Whacky Japan”story.

    “People can now afford to live within 45 minutes of the city centre. That same phenomenon contributes to depopulation in the regions as others move into the more distant districts those people might have lived in before”

    But it’s a phenomenon that has been seen through out Japan’s modernization process.And labor movement from agricultural sector in the rural areas to industrial sector in the metropolitan areas in Pacific side was the main engine of the rapid growth of post-war Japan.If we have more population moving to the city,Japan can cut down more budget that use to build road to nowhere in the country side and maybe able to open the agro-sector for international competition.

    “Shuichi Yoshida’s bestseller “Akunin”, turned into an award-winning film, paints a depressing portrait of malaise in parts of Kyushu.” “The questions are whether it can attract the best the world has to offer and whether employers can retain them.”

    Sure.But check the name of the director of “Akunin”again,Mulboune.Lee sang-il,though born in Niigata,he still is a card carrying citizen of DPRK.

    “The Asahi ran a series of articles in December reporting that the best Chinese students are now less interested in Japan. Japanese companies have a poor record to date of hanging on to decent foreign employees. Recent surveys show a high proportion of foreign graduates see Japanese employers as a stepping stone to jobs elsewhere so the jury is out on how that exercise will go.”

    Yeah,But the best Korean/IndianAmerican/and European students have been less interested in Japan or see Japanese employers as a stepping stone to jobs elsewhere for decades.I don’t surprise to hear if the Chinese join them.
    But is this that important?I know Toyota don’t hire the best American students in America.But seemingly it gets pretty good amount of shares in the U.S automarkets.Apple don’t seem to have the best and brightest of Japan either.But the i-Phone hits big among the youth in Japan.What the J-firm needs in China is mid-level talent with Japanese ability as white color and young blue collars with low wages.The management position will be occupied by best and brightest from Japan or those who studied in Japan.I agree that the J firm will be contested in dealing with these talents in wages and promotions.But there has been some argument that J-firm hire more Chinese born in mainland while many Western firms hire overseas Chinese and Hong Konger for management position.
    http://www.step-to-china.com/blog/2010102745/
    So I’d say there are lots of hype that does not reflect the actual practice in the argument on this issue.

    I also just read an essay from Noguchi Yukio on this week’s Shukan Toyo Keizai saying now China has 12 times more college graduates than Japan.There would be more than enough for J-firm to find potential employees in need.

    “Japanese consumers are buying more foreign goods now? If so, then it ought to show up in the trade numbers but that’s not happening.”

    I think it’s evident if you look the graph on Sino-Japanese trade.Cheap goods made in China broght deflation in Japan and at the same time contribute in lowering living cost.See companies like Nitori and Uniclo.

    “also because the local distribution system remains a tough nut to crack. ”

    Opening more Toy’s”r”us outlets was one of the subject between Miyazawa-Bush Summit back in 92,but now it’s everywhere.Amazon.com never existed ten years ago.Asahi reported on Feb 6,that there’s more than 40 outlet moles through nation wide and it may need to attract more Chinese tourists to continue the business.
    I type this with Dell computer connected on Hewlett-Packard printer of which I both got from local Yamada Denki and Sankei reported just yesterday that foreign electronic products are invading Japan for Japanese myth on made in Japan is now fading.It also says China’s Haier now has 50% share on refrigerator smaller than 100 litter.UK’s Dyson has been occupying the top share on cyclone cleaner.

    “However, with all those people now moving within 45 minutes of the city centre, the population has actually increased in metropolitan areas. If reducing overcrowding is a policy goal, what will be the mechanism to bring it about?”

    You might know that average building inside of Yamanote-line is less than second stories high.Now there’s less restriction on making higher residential building,hence the tower mansions.Also met are has more retired people.Less crowded than the rush hours.We probably need more beds at the hospitals though.

    “The trouble there is that investors have used that justification for Japan several times before and caught a cold. On top of that, there’s a larger, much repeated macro narrative of Japan’s impending fiscal doom. Even those who doubt that outcome need a strong counter-narrative in place before they place their bets. No-one wants to be the mug caught walking into a widely-predicted crisis like that without a good justification.”

    It’s a fair statement.I’d rather put my money investing Brazil than to Japan.
    But as we see the movement of people,more come from Brazil to Japan than the other way around.Same can be said with China.And that tells you something that is not being reflected in report written by financial analyst.That’s not a big surprise for many investment bankers don’t choose to live in India.Turkey or Vietnam just because they invest in these countries.
    What I can’t understand is invester’s viewpoint becoming the only judging standard in protraying the state of nation that is Japan.

  15. “But Japan has a problem because companies only hire 新卒. So when the hiring rate for new graduates is 68%, it means 32% of people are condemned to unstable employment for the rest of their lives. How long will that be manageable? And where’s the political reform concerning the labor market, huh? 再チャレンジ社会 anyone?”

    You just answered your own question.There will be the political reform concerning the labor market when it no longer will be manageable.And when the time comes,that won’t be the bad news for those 32%.

    We need immigrants for variety of reasons.
    1)They work in cheaper wages.
    2)They can empower the shrinking work force and population
    3)Will be the window of opprotunity for Japanese economy in global market and vice versa.
    4)We need get some tarento for TV industry from somewhere.

    “Hah. They hate you, you despise them. Whatever. Japan does retain a lead in high level manufacturing (those parts they sell to Samsung et al), but lets see how long you can keep it.”

    Well,”I” despise them.But lots of people here simply feel guilty and befriend with them.Anyway the same problem Japan is facing now will come at Koreans and Chinese with in 15years.Plus Koreans have to take care of the bretheren up north of the 38th parrarell and China simply can’t depend on immigrants because their elderly population is just too big.

    “Anyway a broken clock is right twice a day: the fact that guys are giving up is real.”

    Then the “hervivores”will see the ultimate consequences,Not Japan.Having said that,we should feel lucky that those “those who gives up”normally kill themselves instead of turning into drug addicts or start shooting in schools.

    “America’s problems are as dire as Japan’s but of a different nature. We could bet who’s gonna collapse earlier, hah.”

    I think we already have the answer after that Lehman crisis.

    BTW Spandrell,if my fading memory is accurate,you did introduce yourself as some one from Euroland especially we know as Spain.Correct?

  16. So many interesting comments, so little time….

    It is interesting, however, to see America is doomed and the UK is doomed comments coming into this. Mulboyne is right – this isn’t simply a Japan in decline narrative – Ireland, Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, most of the developed world has similar scare scenarios all over the place in both domestic and international press – this is simply the way it is done.

    Just about the only country that you don’t here them for is Canada – a first world economy with great oil reserves. However, there is lots of domestic commentary that suggests that if the US goes, Canada goes.

    Just about every developed economy having a narrative cloud hanging over it doesn’t make things any better for Japan, but it also means that there are likely to be repeated shakeups all over the place.

    Really, the only spot that has a positive narrative is China – but wouldn’t American and Japanese collapse lead to Chinese (export) collapse as well? Japanese collapse would probably look like an Ozu film compared to China’s given that booming China is seeing thousands of often violent rural protests yearly.There is an interesting post-apocalyptic manga called Yokohama Kaidashi Kiko where the main concern of the central character after Japan’s collapse is how far they have to ride their scooter to get decent coffee beans….

  17. “You just answered your own question.There will be the political reform concerning the labor market when it no longer will be manageable.And when the time comes,that won’t be the bad news for those 32%.”

    So you´re saying we should just wait for the economy to collapse for reform. Cool.
    Immigration is another debate so I wont enter it.
    Its funny you style yourself as a rightist who wants a new constitution, nuclear weapons and despises koreans/chinese, while normal people are guilty ridden peaceniks. Maybe its your profession that is full of leftists, but I’d say dislike for China (maybe not for Korea after 韓流) is pretty common out there. And the fact is most Japanese won’t be caught dead buying a Korean TV or car.

    “we should feel lucky that those “those who gives up”normally kill themselves instead of turning into drug addicts or start shooting in schools.”
    Agreed. Or killing babies in pre-school like last year in China.

    And yes I am from the quickly collapsing state called Spain. Not Euroland much longer probably.

  18. “So you´re saying we should just wait for the economy to collapse for reform. Cool.”

    Well,after seeing what IMF crisis did to South Korea and Sumsung, the prospect of economic hard landing doesn’t look too bad to me.
    Anyway,you don’t have to worry so much about the judgement day because you are not the part of “we” any more.

    “Its funny you style yourself as a rightist who wants a new constitution, nuclear weapons and despises koreans/chinese, while normal people are guilty ridden peaceniks.”

    In Japan,you are rightwing if you want a new constitution and nuclear weapon at the same time.You against that,you are leftwing.Simple as that.

    Even though there’s a big trading places in economic status,Japan is still the largest donor of Overseas Development Aid to China.Japanese TV covers extensibly on Korean drama and K-pop every day,yet still you can’t officially air Japanese songs in terrestrial wave in Korea.That’s possible because there is popular support.]
    I would brand “normal people”that allow this happening “guilt ridden peaceniks”.but I imagine they probably have other title for themselves.

    “Maybe its your profession that is full of leftists,I’d say dislike for China (maybe not for Korea after 韓流) is pretty common out there. And the fact is most Japanese won’t be caught dead buying a Korean TV or car.”

    That actually contradict your thesis that Japanese are conformist who take propagandas from mass media at face value.Spandrell.

    Japanese have strong love-hate sentiment on China.So far “the hate”isn’t strong enough to reject the Chinese from the society or to have interest in the culture and the language.
    Maybe “love”may overcome “hate”just like back in the pre-Tienanmen years if China value just a little bit more in the Japanese effort of trying to turn the relation for good.

    People don’t buy Korean car and TV simply they are not being sold in Japanese market.And Japanese still beleive in brands that makes those products.It makes sense that Korean competitor chose other market as the battle ground.But if you can buy Chinese ice box,you can probably watch K-drama with Sumsung TV without any psychological barrier,Me thinks.

  19. “all while traditional industries are losing clout to those two hated neighbours.”

    Yes because the Japanese have figured out they can make more money supplying components to countries like Korea so that the latter can make its TV sets. It is called conducting market intelligence and moving on. Some people might call it innovation. Anyway, there is no reason why Japan needs to stick to “traditional industries.” Who has the trade surplus in the bilateral relationship, hmmm?

  20. “Well,after seeing what IMF crisis did to South Korea and Sumsung, the prospect of economic hard landing doesn’t look too bad to me.
    Anyway,you don’t have to worry so much about the judgement day because you are not the part of “we” any more.”

    Well that´s a way of seeing it. I wonder if the IMF could handle an economy as big as Japan´s though.
    I don´t personally worry, but I have dear friends there whom I wish no ill.

    About neighbourliness: whenenever I mentioned I speak Chinese and been around China most people would react badly and just mention how uncivililized Chinese are and how scary China is. And back in college chinese classes were empty. So not much interest out there. Of course I dont know how were things pre-Tiananmen. Was the prevalent attitude friendly to China? Even the warring factions at 2chan nowadays all agree that China is the enemy.

    “Who has the trade surplus in the bilateral relationship, hmmm?”
    We´ve been through this, I know it, I have a close friend in a component maker who´s making more money than it can count.
    That´s all good but component makers are no way as big as traditional “makers” are. If Sony or Toyota goes under, no component makers are going to compensate for it. And God forbid China ever learns to make its own components.
    And Japan still sucks at software.

  21. “We´ve been through this.”

    No, we haven’t. I introduced the topic on another thread, and you batted it away by saying that there were lots of people making lots of money, but that doesn’t change the fact that Japan sucks. Or something. In any case, if it were just one or two companies choosing to focus their product lines to be more efficient, you might have a point. But it is whole range of them, and it includes big names like Panasonic. If the big companies go under it was because they are dinosaurs that couldn’t adapt to the new market, and isn’t the death of an inefficient company a good thing now that we are no longer in administrative guidance mode? I’m sure the Koreans and the Chinese will understand this one day, when they have caught up to where Japan is now.

  22. “and it includes big names like Panasonic. If the big companies go under it was because they are dinosaurs that couldn’t adapt to the new market, and isn’t the death of an inefficient company a good thing now that we are no longer in administrative guidance mode? ”

    So why does Panasonic bother making crap like this? http://av.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/news/20110214_426285.html

    Hey of course bankrupcy isn’t a necessary part of a free market. But it will hurt. A lot.

  23. Ace, you were giving answers there to questions I wasn’t asking.

    On your last point, Japan isn’t judged only by the standard of investment worthiness. In the straitjacket narrative framework of “winners” and “losers”, however, it’s one of the primary ways every country is judged, certainly in times of relative peace.

    There’s a very good argument to be had about how appropriate it is to look at countries this way – which is partly the point of Joe’s original post here, I would think – but Japan hasn’t been victimized by that viewpoint any more than other nations which have fallen out of favour with international capital looking for returns.

    More importantly, it’s a framework which Japanese also use extensively to categorize the world: it hasn’t been the for the exclusive use of Anglo Saxon elites for a long time, if it ever was.

    In fact, one of the ironies of Japan’s situation is that it has a relatively low dependence on foreign capital. One popular counter argument to the “fiscal time bomb” narrative highlights how much of Japan’s debt is owed to itself.

    Foreign capital frequently sets prices at the margin, and foreign ownership pf Japanese listed companies is still quite high even after the recent evacuation. However, there’s plenty of money in Japan for domestic capital to own just as much of the stock market as it does of the bond market.

    So why doesn’t it? For the simple reason that there isn’t a strong enough narrative to guide it there. Risk averse money stays in the banks while risk capital searches for better returns overseas. If there is a strong narrative for Japan – sufficient to outgun the negative – and foreign observers are missing it, I can only conclude that most Japanese seem to be missing it too.

  24. “That´s all good but component makers are no way as big as traditional “makers” are.”

    Size maybe so,but not the profitability.

    “If Sony or Toyota goes under, no component makers are going to compensate for it.”

    Which is a big if.But if that ever appens Panasonic and Honda would probably take their shares.
    Also you might want to know that Korean makers has been buying more parts from Japan(The sale has been increased eight times since 2000).And Korean economy is being monopolized by handful of big firms.I don’t think any company can replace Hyundai and Samsung.

    “God forbid China ever learns to make its own components”

    And why should they?The only reason Korean and Chinese maker could grow so fast is because they didn’t build up the whole Keiretsu like Japanese from scratch.There’s more than hundred auto makers in China.It would be a lot more easier for any Chinese auto firm to buy cutting edge auto parts from somewhere and build new model.And without doing that,the company will be wiped out by other Chinese firm that gets technology from abroad.

    Anyway,Chinese don’t have that much of time to for it will be the most rapid aging society within fifteen years.And there could be some colorful events awaits their economy start from their real estate bubble bursts or vital oversea market in the U.S,EU or Japan suddenly shrink because of new financial crisis or social upheaval that may go out of control of the government.

    “About neighbourliness: whenenever I mentioned I speak Chinese and been around China most people would react badly and just mention how uncivililized Chinese are and how scary China is.”

    I think it has more to do with your personality than the Japanese general public,No?I remember you react badly and mentioned how uncivilized Muslims are over Cominganarchy.
    Uyghur uprising in Xinjiang=Spandrel l”Han Chinese should hang them by the street”.
    Revolution in Egypt=Spandrell “Let them burn”.

    As old saying puts it.Birds of the same feather flock together.And you don’t have to be rightwing racist to find China scary these days.

    “Even the warring factions at 2chan nowadays all agree that China is the enemy.”

    Compare to it’s full blown anti-Koreaness among some posters,I’d say 2channeler’s opinion toward China is divided.Not everything about China is negative.And Russia is overall regarded as postive and Putin being popular world figure.2channelers simply go the opposite of mainstream media.Won’t be the sample data of general public feeling in Japan.

    “And back in college chinese classes were empty”

    Chinese,along with Korean is now being taught in highschool.And there are students going China to study.Maybe your class in college was indeed empty,but that’s not what the data says nor the class in my college back in 1992.The empty class back then was the Russian.Anyway this conversation is getting meaning less for you know there are tons of China related books(both pro and anti)in the bookshop.

  25. “On your last point, Japan isn’t judged only by the standard of investment worthiness. ”

    Yeah.Also by the comsumption of marine life.

    “More importantly, it’s a framework which Japanese also use extensively to categorize the world: it hasn’t been the for the exclusive use of Anglo Saxon elites for a long time, if it ever was.”

    While I agree with that to certain extent,Japanese public discourse has plaised UK for “aging gracefully with pride”.I have been told China believes in something more superior than us “economic animals”.

    “However, there’s plenty of money in Japan for domestic capital to own just as much of the stock market as it does of the bond market.So why doesn’t it? For the simple reason that there isn’t a strong enough narrative to guide it there. ”

    I started to by index fund through Ameritrade right after I read a book written by R.Taggart Murphy and Eric Gowar called “日本は金持ち、あなたは貧乏、なぜ?”back in 1999 when Japan was still considered “rich”.

    Let me go back to my oldman.He has siginificant amount of his wealth poured into Tokyo stock exchange before the bubble.And lost quite a big amount of money and eventually,we had to sell the house we used to live at the time.Lots of Japanese experienced that in 1992.And they got their lessons.Plus back in 80’s,people can get 8%interest a year just have your money in post office.It’s not a big surprise some cling onto keeping their money into bank account.

    There has been many mags specializing mutual fund and index fund.So there could be some change.But first,the nation needs financial education from the reliable sources.

  26. Spandrell, your point about Japanese hating on China has to be seen in the context of just about everyone hating on China. Views of China’s influence in the world as “mainly negative” are 59% in Japan. However, negative views are 52% in the Philippines, 64% in Turkey, between 68-70% in Italy, Germany, and France, 54% in Spain and 58% in Canada. China is one of the most disliked countries in the world and Japan is not exactly an outlier in this. Who likes China? Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, etc.

    Meanwhile, Japan is only over 50% “negative” in one country. Guess who?

    Interestingly, who do you think has the highest self rating of “positive”? China, greatly outstripping the US.

    16 of 18 countries surveyed rate Japan more positively than Japanese do.

    Country with the biggest chip on shoulder – Turkey. Apparently they hate China, India, Canada, the US, all of Europe, Egypt, Pakistan… they hate everybody.

  27. This series of comments reads like the minutes from a meeting of the male organ measuring club of the international press journal.
    Joe’s post is spot on, and all of you need to stop worrying about whether this narrative or that narrative, or this country or that country, is doing “better”. I recommend focus on what you are going to contribute to civilization and the world as an alternative use of your time, or really anything besides this futile pseudointellectual pursuit. Dare I say, that seems to be how a lot of people in Japan have moved on from obsession with being #1 in world GDP for a brief moment in the early 90’s, and they and the world are better for it.

  28. ”I recommend focus on what you are going to contribute to civilization and the world as an alternative use of your time,”

    First.Mine is 18cm.

  29. “This series of comments reads like the minutes from a meeting of the male organ measuring club of the international press journal.
    Joe’s post is spot on, and all of you need to stop worrying about whether this narrative or that narrative, or this country or that country, is doing “better”. I recommend focus on what you are going to contribute to civilization and the world as an alternative use of your time, or really anything besides this futile pseudointellectual pursuit. Dare I say, that seems to be how a lot of people in Japan have moved on from obsession with being #1 in world GDP for a brief moment in the early 90’s, and they and the world are better for it.”

    This.

  30. N H says “Dare I say, that seems to be how a lot of people in Japan have moved on from obsession with being #1 in world GDP for a brief moment in the early 90’s, and they and the world are better for it.”

    If that’s true, publishers ought to be bringing out new editions of E.F Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” to ride this new wave of holistic thinking. I don’t believe it is, however. I’d like it to be true, because the idea of Japan showing the world how to live comfortably and safely in an ex-growth society seems worth seeing.

    For me, “moved on” is too active a description of what seems to have taken place. If the country had done that in any sense aside from simply being resigned to not being number one, I doubt we’d see so much focus on Japan no longer being number two.

    The discussion of narratives isn’t some arcane sidetrack. We’re talking about the stories Japanese people tell themselves about how their lives are going. Aceface has got some positive views on the state of his country. I can continue lining up the kind of counter arguments that doubters would use to respond to him until the cows come home but, the truth is, I wish more people in Japan felt that way.

    Japan has a good deal to be positive about and it doesn’t all depend on its major competitors being brought down to earth. There’s no point pretending, though, that the country has moved on from an obsession with growth when so many of it’s economic, social and political institutions still depend on it, and have suffered in its absence.

  31. Yes, the BBC survey is the one. My apologies for not posting the link – the spam filter is mighty hungry.

    If anything, I think that the survey certainly vindicates our discussion of narratives. That the Turks, for example, see the world most negatively of any major country is worth knowing.

    Mulboyne – there have been a very large number of “back to Edo”, let’s age with grace sorts of books lately but you are correct in that they seem subcultural – swamped by panic books, laments, etc.

  32. “If that’s true, publishers ought to be bringing out new editions of E.F Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” to ride this new wave of holistic thinking. I don’t believe it is”

    It’s a bit complicated topic and I’m already having hard time putting everything into small comment.But there has been huge great Japanese debate ongoing especially after the bubble burst and the end of cold war and that’s been accelarated by the rise of State capitalist China.
    While I don’t see any manga version of“Small is Beautiful” on the bookshelf,just picked up book written by Togo Kazuhiko,the ex-diplomat and Russian specialist『戦後日本が失ったもの―風景・人間・国家』.And Togo praises Bhutan and it’s Growth National Happiness as the alternative of GNP.There’s very small yet influential circle of academics inspired by Bhutan like Sawa Takamitsu of Kyodai and Nakatani Iwao and Kaneko Masaru of Keio University and Usawa Hirofumi of Todai,But most of all by Fujiwara Masahiko of Ochanomizu University, They all see Bhutan as the alternative of post-war Japan.And that’s not surprise considering the baby-boomers has been highly critical of post-war Japanese capitalism.Which is why Koizumi-Takenaka economic reform has been under heavy fire among the intellecutal circles.
    And that’s not particularly unique to Japanese intellecutals.You can find similar ideas like Alex Kerr’s “Dog’s and Demons”and Gavan McCormack’s “JThe Emptiness of Japanese Affluence”.

    I’m not saying their idea would bring new Japan,but such discourse does effect policy debate after Koizumi.

    Re:BBC survey.

    Turkey is widely believed as the big Japanophile nation here in Japan.But seemingly that is proved wrong.And Russia find Japan’s influence positive was a bit of surprise.I guess pouring 900 billion yens of tax payers money into Russia had paid off even though Moscow is not giving us what we really want.

    I’d say Japan being No.2 in beauty contest of nations is pretty meaningless.

  33. I happen to know the lawyer in question here, and the problem is his alternative view and escape plan: go back to the US. Puh-leeeeze. Yes, Japan is dead, but so is the US, as is Europe. The developed world has seen most of the growth that it’s going to see.

    Sitting in Dubai, it is exciting to be in a place that is seeing lots of growth and development that you can witness firsthand, and what makes it better than Bangladesh or Botswana is that I can enjoy a first world lifestyle. The work is lots of fun. I’ve basically followed the lawyer’s advice — left Japan to go to a growth market. I have friends in the institutions of Abu Dhabi Inc. and they spend most of their work on airplanes managing investments across the globe.

    But Dubai (and the Middle East) is a place to stay for a time, and then leave. It’s not home. Japan is home, and that’s where I’ll return to when I’m done here. (I just need the yen to collapse so I can bring my money back with me.)

  34. I had a similar conversation – as it turns out, with some hotel staff in a pub in Tokyo. However, they said something at the end of it which I found interesting.

    “We’re Japanese. Even if we think Japan is great, we don’t actually say so.”

  35. Mulboyne:
    Those obsessed with ranking and narrative are a minority of commentators who write editorials in the Nikkei once every week or so but are drowned out ultimately by the practical articles by post-nationalists about how this or that Japanese company is doing something cool and/or planning to make 80% of its management trainees foreign. I acknowledge these organ-measurers still exist – those people who were obsessed with becoming #1 in the 80’s are in many cases still alive – but they stopped being Japan’s mainstream public opinion about a decade ago, and they stopped being relevant a decade before that.
    It’ll probably take the US at least 20 years to get to the same place, but it’s only a matter of time.

  36. Growth National Happiness

    This seems like a good direction to me, but despite the lack of economic growth, I don’t see Japanese social institutions freeing their charges from stressful hierarchies, long hours, and obligatory attendance in after-work affairs. Tokyo isn’t Sydney, San Francisco, or Stockholm yet. The streets are not overrun with people filing out of their jobs at 6:30pm to go enjoy the nightlife or their families. You can’t have society organized around labor responsibilities and then say, we don’t care about the actual fruits of that labor.

  37. Then again, N H. why are major companies now planning to employ large numbers of foreign graduates? Surely it’s because they want to embrace a different strategy for growth.

    I don’t think you can have it both ways. You can’t praise Japan and Japanese companies for developing new ways of dealing with the world, all of which are based on a desire for growth, and then declare it’s only Nikkei journalists who care about such things. Are companies like Rohm, Murata, Nidec and Kyocera willing to see their leading role in components overtaken by competitors? Was Renho celebrated when she questioned whether Japan needed to be no.1 in supercomputing?

    I mentioned Shumacher’s book earlier because it was a best seller in several countries, all facing growth challenges in the 70s, which then went to to ignore its lessons. Have the majority of Japanese really made the lifestyle choice you think they have, or is it the same middle-class conceit we saw in the West which was abandoned when good times returned?

  38. N.H. – Above, I mentioned that there are a variety of books pushing for alternatives to GDPism and discussing different lifestyle solutions including raiding Japan’s premodern past for hints for the good life. However, those books are, I believe, are out numbered 20 to 1 by scare scenarios or plans for renewed growth that take GDPism as their fundamental philosophy.

    In addition, when you look at surveys of the public, a super majority of Japanese express pessimism about the future and the demands placed on the government in those same surveys – guarantee pensions, promote economic growth, stable/lifetime employment – mirror precisely the world view and ambitions of the high growth era. There is no quantitative evidence that I know of of a public shift away from GDPism – even if you look at numbers that focus on under 30s.

    I will haul up the evidence if you insist, but first I want to hear if you have any non-anecdotal evidence of you own about the character of mainstream public opinion that you discuss above.

  39. Gross National Happiness is a great idea, but one has to wonder how much Gross National Sadness an infant mortality rate 15 times higher than Japan’s and 66% illiteracy rate for women and online access for only one in fifteen people is buying Bhutan.

  40. Very unfair comparison. If I moved back to Florida (where I grew up) right now, I would take a severe pay cut (assuming I could get a job at all), would have to buy, fuel, insure and maintain at least one car, would have to pay out the nose for any kind of medical expenses, and would run the risk of assessments for repairs every time a hurricane blew through.

    Not to mention that any place with a shared pool and gym is bound to have hidden maintenance and management costs; those things never come free.

  41. Seemingly Naito has some problem defining the merit of living in Japan.
    http://www.shinoby.net/2011/02/post-2325.html

    “but interesting to see this point raised in Japanese…”

    I don’t know whether you realize this,But Japanese love dissing their own country in comparison with other countries.When I was 4th grader in Kichijoji back in 1980,the teacher of my class couldn’t believe what his eyes saw in Yugoslavia where he visited on a tour with fellow union buddies.

  42. Isn’t Naples a retirement community with no jobs around?

    This is also a strange time – my aunt owned a condo in Naples. Sold in 2009 for 1/4 what she paid for it.

  43. Living in Canada 2 hours from the US border, you earn 20% less, pay 20% more in taxes, and pay 20% more for identical consumer goods. But many people consider themselves much better off that way and Canada has been more “successful” as a growth state through the 2000s. Too many intangibles in these discussions.

    There’s also the matter of the US condo buyer paying as much over the life of the loan (let’s say 200,000 without condo fees, 30 year fixed in Naples gets you 5% rate) as a Japanese would for a 3800 man place (no down payment on either loan). In a Japanese city of 500,000 or so, that much money gets you a nice place.

  44. “This is also a strange time – my aunt owned a condo in Naples. Sold in 2009 for 1/4 what she paid for it.”

    Damn. Guess that’s what’ll happen in Spain with all those Brit and German bought villas.

    The biggest counter-argument to the anti-growth “let´s just enjoy family and nature” crowd is medical care. It´s the only point where everyone agrees technology has improved our lives.
    We realists know though that its national security that demands economical and technological progress. China was arguably very happy during the before 1840, how did that work for them?

  45. Gross Happiness Index may be a flawed measure to try and use instead of GDP, but it is possible to create alternative measurements that, rather than ignoring GDP, try and combine it with other lifestyle quality factors that can be measured in economic terms. While I have no idea how to properly combine or weight such factors – that’s really a job for an economist – I can at least think of some factors that could be relevant.

    A few examples:

    Life expectancy

    Environmental quality

    Leisure time

    Freedom index

    Crime levels

    Societal stability (chance of wide-scale social instability, rather than simple day-to-day crime rate)

    Health care index (including both maximal quality, where the US would rank very, very highly as well as availability of access, where the US would rank far lower on the list than most of Europe, and Japan)

    Happiness index (based on the aforementioned National Happiness Index, subjective opinion surveys, perhaps)

    And then of course there are improvements that may or may not be possible to measure in the kind of raw economic numbers that make for a valid comparison but still affect quality of life, such as improved communications and entertainment availability due to computer / information technology, a more globalized assortment of foods and other goods, wider variety of cultural goods, etc..

    “China was arguably very happy during the before 1840, how did that work for them?”
    On what grounds would you say that this was “arguably” true? Sure, you can claim anything that can’t be disproved but I hardly have an image of pre-Opium War Qing (I assume that was the date you meant) as a particularly happy place, even if they were likely happier than before being invaded.

  46. I don’t know whether you realize this, but Japanese love dissing their own country in comparison with other countries.

    Not sure you realized this, but being a “liberal” or progressive, regardless of nation, means that you take a critical eye on your own society as a means to identifying problems that can be fixed. Japan doesn’t have the weird mainstream of bombastic patriotism like in the U.S., but complaining constantly about the system in which you live is completely standard amongst people who want to improve their societies. If you read the Huffington Post, you can learn about lots and lots of problems in America (and also about the latest celebrity gossip.)

  47. Interestingly, when you look at the way Japanese and Americans do the critical eye, there is a big difference – Americans tend to use an ideal vision of the US as a critical standard (thus getting into unbridgeable ideological battles) while progressive Japanese tend to use other countries as points of comparison (sometimes ignoring structural factors – Singapore English cannot be duplicated). Conservatives are apt to use the mythical past as the standard in both Japan and the US (Bushido Vs. Jesus). I follow US education debates quite closely, but it is very, very rare to see commentators identify an outside model as an example to learn from. Instead, the debate tends to lean toward – here is an example of a US school or school board that is working, let’s extrapolate that nationwide (usually impossible because of class or other factors).

    A strong example of this – debates about neo-liberalism. Japanese newspapers, pop non-fiction are asking why Korea and China have a competitive edge. American coverage tends to focus more on “the government and corporations sending OUR jobs overseas” with the assumption if they could just knock that off, America would be the natural winner.

    Canadians basically only look south and since basic measures (healthcare bang per buck, average standard of coverage, crime, global comparative test achievement) tend to favor Canada, it turns into an excuse to not do anything.

  48. I’ve been interested in this for a while so I decided to finally look at weekday time use comparisons for working Japanese (Statistical Yearbook, 2010) and Americans (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009).

    Japanese get approx. 4 hours 10 minutes of leisure on weekdays (media consumption, R&R, sports, hobbies) while Americans get 4 hours 45 minutes. Japanese do end up working more, but Americans unsurprisingly end up pouring more into (non-childcare) housework and yard work.

    Japanese are up quite a bit since 2002 (anecdotally, I hear that obligatory after work drinking is way down – restaurant statistics sure play this out) and Americans are down overall. Of course, Japanese still get burned on vacation days, but get a few back by being tied for most public holidays of any country.

  49. Qing China was happy in the same way Bhutan today is happy: free to indulge in their own culture without much foreign intrusion. The same reason even today the Edo period is held as the golden age of japanese culture. They were free to be themselves.

    btw don´t compare leisure statistics to the US, you americans are overworked too. My impression is that Japan aspires more to a european lifestyle.

  50. “btw don´t compare leisure statistics to the US”

    I discovered that it is really, really, really hard to compare France and everyone else. The French have only marginally more leisure time than Japanese – 4 hours 20 compared to the Japanese 4 hours 10. However, they spend an extra hour and a bit eating and sleeping (insert favorite French stereotype here) which do not count as “leisure” in the surveys.

    Spanish stats are virtually identical to the USA, it seems.

    Interestingly, Japan does pretty damn well in time spent eating and drinking. Canada and the US are among the lowest at 75 min and Japan is neck and neck with Italy at just under 2 hours.

    Some thoughts – Theses surveys are based on diary keeping by thousands of households and seem very hard to game; just as the number of hours studied by students across the population has dramatically declined since 1990, Japan also seems to have “caught up” on leisure (at least is within the ballpark); if “service overtime” were eliminated, Japan would be vying for most leisure time among developed countries; we tend to overestimate European leisure time; Japanese have a bit of an advantage because they do considerably less unpaid housework while doing more paid work.

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