North Korea and the maturity of Japan’s ‘enfant terrible’

Ryu_MurakamiRyu Murakami is apparently ‘the enfant terrible of contemporary Japanese literature’. I suppose I should start this review of his four books translated into English this year by making general comments about the strangeness of Japanese culture. Yet such observations have been made ad nauseum, and only reflect the Westerner’s shock that anything exists outside their sphere of influence.

Nevertheless it is worth mentioning how for Westerners Japan is intrinsically linked with neon-lights, karaoke, samurais and an opaque alphabet, sometimes pejoratively but more often than not with a sense of awe at its sheer otherness, an impression forged somewhere in the mix of Takeshi’s Castle, Hokusai’s erotic prints and the simple beauty of a haiku; a mishmash of the impossibly frantic and the impossibly serene. Any person who can stand out as an ‘enfant terrible’ in this mix is bound to be of interest.

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Abenomics: works in Japan, rejected by Osborne – and now Balls

Balls saysSince Shinzo Abe came to power, the Japanese stock market has risen an astonishing 50% in 5 months, and the replacement of the fatalism which has dogged Japan’s economy by a new burst of policy activism has profound implications for the UK. There is another precedent for this policy activism other than the General Theory of John Maynard Keynes in 1936 which transformed Western macroeconomic thinking till the high inflation of the 1970s caused by the sudden quadrupling of the oil price by the Shah of Persia and OPEC led to the eclipse of Keynesian stimulus theory and the rise of neo-liberal ultra-free-markets capitalism.

Keynesian analysis of course was not disproved by the 1970s experience because it was never designed to deal with hyper-inflation, but rather with the serious and prolonged loss of demand in a depression. That situation is now being repeated today, which is why Keynesian stimulus policies are once again highly relevant. But there is a Japanese precedent here too.

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Lessons from Japan

Japanese GDP contracted by an annualised 3.5% in the 3rd quarter of 2012. This annualised rate means that GDP fell by 0.9% in the quarter compared to the 2nd quarter. The Japanese economy had barely found its footing after the onset of the global economic crisis when it was hit by the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukishima. Government support for recovery has already ended. Continue reading

Japanisation: the economics of extended stagnation

Neologism of the week award goes to the Financial Times for coining the term ‘Japanisation’ as a shorthand description for current economic trends in Europe and North America.

You can read just what various commentators intend by the word here, but if you want it in plain English, the underlying idea is that the rest of the first world is set to repeat the extended period of stagnation that has beset the world’s third-largest economy since the early 1990s.

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Fukushima should end any nuclear revival in Britain

Angela Merkel rightly called Fukushima “a turning point for the world”. It is. This was no glitch in an unsophisticated backwater of a State that could be explained away by poor design or low operating standards; this happened in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world with an unsurpassed reputation for detail and precaution and a commitment to a major industry with 55 reactors. Continue reading