Japan's Policy Trap: Dollars, Deflation, and the Crisis of Japanese Finance

Brookings Institution Press
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Until quite recently, the Japanese inspired a kind of puzzled awe. They had pulled themselves together from the ruin of war, built at breakneck speed a formidable array of export champions, and emerged as the world's number-two economy and largest net creditor nation. And they did it by flouting every rule of economic orthodoxy. But today only the puzzlement remains—at Japan's inability to arrest its economic decline, at its festering banking crisis, and at the dithering of its policymakers. Why can't the Japanese government find the political will to fix the country's problems? Japan's Policy Trap offers a provocative new analysis of the country's protracted economic stagnation. Japanese insider Akio Mikuni and long-term Japan resident R. Taggart Murphy contend that the country has landed in a policy trap that defies easy solution. The authors, who have together spent decades at the heart of Japanese finance, expose the deep-rooted political arrangements that have distorted Japan's monetary policy in a deflationary direction. They link Japan's economic difficulties to the Achilles' heel of the U.S. economy: the U.S. trade and current accounts deficits. For the last twenty years, Japan's dollar-denominated trade surplus has outstripped official reserves and currency in circulation. These huge accumulated surpluses have long exercised a growing and perverse influence on monetary policy, forcing Japan's authorities to support a build-up of deflationary dollars. Mikuni and Murphy trace the origins of Japan's policy trap far back into history, in the measures taken by Japan's officials to preserve their economic independence in what they saw as a hostile world. Mobilizing every resource to accumulate precious dollars, the authorities eventually found themselves coping with a hoard they could neither use nor exchange. To counteract the deflationary impact, Japanese authorities resorted to the creation of yen liabilities unrelated to production via the largest financial bubble in history. The bursting of that bubble was followed by massive public works spending that has resulted in an explosion in public sector debt. Japan's Policy Trap points to the likelihood that Japan will run out of ways to support its vast pile of dollar claims. Should the day come when those claims can no longer be supported, the world could see a horrific deflationary spiral in Japan, a crash in the global value of the dollar, or both. The effects would reach far beyond Japan's borders. Mikuni and Murphy suggest that a reduction in Japan's surplus must be accompanied by a reduction in deficits somewhere else—most obviously through far-reaching shifts in the American economy.
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About the author

Akio Mikuni is one of the most universally respected analysts of the Japanese economy in the global financial community. He is the president and founder of Mikuni & Co. Ltd, Japan's leading independent, investor-supported bond-rating agency. Mikuni was named one of the fifty most influential individuals in Asia by Business Week in 1999. He also has been the subject of profiles in the Financial Times and Fortune. R. Taggart Murphy, a former investment banker, is foreign professor, College of International Studies, Tsukuba University, Japan, and a nonresident senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies program at the Brookings Institution. His recent books include The Weight of the Yen: How Denial Imperils America's Future and Ruins an Alliance (W. W. Norton, 1997) and Ugokanu Nihon e no Shohosen ( Prescriptions for a Japan That Is Not Moving), (Mainichi Shinbunsha, 1998).

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Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
May 13, 2004
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780815798767
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic Conditions
Business & Economics / International / General
Political Science / Political Economy
Political Science / World / Asian
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Japan is one of the world's wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations, and its rapid ascent to global power status after 1853 remains one of the most remarkable stories in modern world history. Yet it has not been an easy path; military catastrophe, political atrophy, and economic upheavals have made regular appearances from the feudal era to the present. Today, Japan is seen as a has-been with a sluggish economy, an aging population, dysfunctional politics, and a business landscape dominated by yesterday's champions. Though it is supposed to be America's strongest ally in the Asia-Pacific region, it has almost entirely disappeared from the American radar screen. In Japan and the Shackles of the Past, R. Taggart Murphy places the current troubles of Japan in a sweeping historical context, moving deftly from early feudal times to the modern age that began with the Meiji Restoration. Combining fascinating analyses of Japanese culture and society over the centuries with hard-headed accounts of Japan's numerous political regimes, Murphy not only reshapes our understanding of Japanese history, but of Japan's place in the contemporary world. He concedes that Japan has indeed been out of sight and out of mind in recent decades, but contends that this is already changing. Political and economic developments in Japan today risk upheaval in the pivotal arena of Northeast Asia, inviting comparisons with Europe on the eve of the First World War. America's half-completed effort to remake Japan in the late 1940s is unraveling, and the American foreign policy and defense establishment is directly culpable for what has happened. The one apparent exception to Japan's malaise is the vitality of its pop culture, but it's actually no exception at all; rather, it provides critical clues to what is going on now. With insights into everything from Japan's politics and economics to the texture of daily life, gender relations, the changing business landscape, and popular and high culture, Japan and the Shackles of the Past is the indispensable guide to understanding Japan in all its complexity.
Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction finalist

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