Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Japan A Suitable Place For Children?

The Japanese newspaper Asahi this weekend published the results of a survey carried out on behalf of the Japenese cabinet office into attitudes towards having children in Japan, South Korea, France, Sweden and the US.

Whereas in Europe and the United States respondents tended to indicate they expected to have all the children they wanted, of those Japanese interviewed who said that they want to have more children, 53.1 percent said they do not plan to do so. More than half of the South Koreans said the same.
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Recently I have been reading a lot of material about allocative decision processes coming from a branch of evolutionary anthropology known as Life History Theory (this is a reasonable summary paper). Now essentially life history theory is about the allocation of somatic energy resources to various competing demands (namely maintenance, growth and reproduction) in a way which has suprising parallels with the ways in which economic science tries to study how we take behavioural decisons between competing demands under similar resource constraints. Well, as I say I have been think about all this a lot, and then Lo and Behold:

Japan’s notoriously hard-working salarymen are being given a chance by the government to cut their hours in a bid to improve their health – and their fecundity.
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Japan revisited

The Japanese economy has certainly been a source of mixed signals since the BOJ decided to end the ultra-loose monetary policy and thus claimed to have ridden themself with the ugly beast of deflation. This subsequently prompted powerful opinion makers such as The Economist and the FT to hail Japan as an awoken tiger ready to take on the rest of the world.
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Crunchtime in Japan?

Well I have pointed to this several times and most recently as the CPI index was revised bringing Japan dangerously close to the 0% inflation mark amidst talks of business cycles topping and whether the BOJ should indeed raise rates any further. This is of course very unlikely now and the future road for Japan might very well be another period of deflation or at least no-one can rule out this possibility at the current juncture I think.

Now, a revision of the statistics might not be important in itself but let us take a quote from and article in The Economist I used as a source in one of my posts linked above.
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What is Happening to the Japanese Recovery?

Yep, what is indeed happening?

(From the FT Lex column - walled for non subscribers)

'What is happening to Japan’s economic recovery? Recent data shows workers are taking home only marginally bigger paycheques, and they are certainly not rushing to spend them: household spending, retail sales and housing starts all fell in the year to July.
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Japan’s Population Challenge

In one of those strange coincidences the world’s second and third largest economies are both scheduled to have elections next month - Japan on 11 September, and Germany on the 18th. The coincidences go further, since these two societies are leaders in another, non-economic, sense: they are leaders in the great global ageing revolution. Japan (at 42.64) and Germany (at 42.16) have the highest median ages of any OECD country (Italy comes third at 41.77, while the US is still a sprightly and young 36.27). The two countries also share the problem that they cannot pump up economic growth by introducing more liquidity (money) into the system, or at least the impact rates of doing so have become very low (see this post on the German problem)
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Why Worry About Japan?

Well I can think of several reasons, and none of them particularly related to the lamentable lack of security at nuclear power stations that was recently revealed there.

One good reason to worry might be the use and abuse of economic statistics that goes on in the Japanese context. I don’t know whether it is the fact that the Japanese economy is a topic which the majority of English language readers know so little about that means that normal caution is thrown to the winds, or whether Japanese obscurantism with the numbers themselves is the real culprit.
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