Je Japonska dejansko zgodba o uspehu?

Zgodba o japonski situaciji nekoliko drugače. Večina nas o Japonski po letu 1991, ko je zapadla v finančno krizo, ki se je nato nadaljevala v dolgo stagnacijo z zgolj 0.9% povprečno rastjo, razmišlja kot o neuspešni zgodbi oziroma kot o dve in pol izgubljenih desetletjih. Adair Turner, avtor odlične knjige “Between Debt and the Devil“, predstavlja nekoliko drugačno zgodbo. Da je japonski gromozanski javni dolg (236% BDP) vzdržen in da finančni vlagatelji stojijo v vrsti za obveznice, za katere dobijo le 0.1% donos, smo že vedeli. Tudi demografija ni tako problematična iz vidika pokojninske blagajne, saj upoštevanje podaljšanja upokojitve starosti s 65 na 70 let razmerje delovno aktivnih glede na upokojenca v obdobju 50 let izboljša iz 1.3 na 1.8. Potem je tukaj še tehnološki razvoj in robotizacija proizvodnje, ki zmanjšujeta potrebo po delovni sili itd.

Vse je stvar optike gledanja in predpostavk v analizi. Majhne spremembe lahko naredijo velike razlike.

True, Japan’s GDP growth lags most other developed economies, and will likely continue to do so as the population slowly declines. But what matters for human welfare is GDP per capita, and on this front Japan’s 0.65% annual growth in the decade since 2007 equals the US and is better than the UK’s 0.39% and France’s 0.34% – not bad for a country starting with one of the world’s highest living standards.

True, over the last 25 years, US per capita growth has been faster; but Japan’s economy is not disfigured by the massive increase in inequality that has left many American workers facing stagnant real wages throughout that period. Unemployment is below 3%.

Of course, what’s true today could be demographically unsustainable tomorrow; and if Japan’s birth rate remains permanently at 1.4, rapid population decline could pose severe problems. But warnings that the ratio of workers to retirees will fall from 2.1 to 1.3 overstate the case, because they arbitrarily define working age as ending at 65, and ignore the potential to increase retirement ages, as the Abe government is now doing. If the average age at which people stopped working rose to 70, the ratio of workers to retirees would still fall, but only from 2.1 today to 1.8 in 2050.

Moreover, Japan leads the world in the technologies that can enable older people to remain economically active longer, and in the robotics that allow goods and services to be produced by ever fewer workers. Fears that robots will destroy jobs are notably absent in Japan’s national debate. A recent book extolling the benefits as well as challenges of The 100-Year Life has been a bestseller.

As for government debt and unsustainable fiscal deficits, doom-mongers who warn of an inevitable crisis if belt tightening is not soon imposed are likely to be disappointed. Japan’s gross government debt may be 236% of GDP, but after netting out government-owned financial assets, the International Monetary Fund estimates net debt at a much lower 152%.

Moreover, the Bank of Japan owns government bonds worth 90% of GDP, and ultimately returns to the government as dividends all the money it receives from the government as interest on the bonds it holds. Deducting both public financial assets and all the debts the Japanese government and people effectively owe to themselves, the debt level is only about 60% percent of GDP and not rising. This level of debt could be sustainable even if fiscal deficits remain high for many years.

To see why, suppose a country had gross government debt of 250% of GDP, net debt of 150%, and central bank bond holdings of 100% of GDP, leaving net debt of 50%. Then suppose that inflation and real growth were steady at 1% each, so that nominal GDP grows at 2%. With bond yields at 2% (versus 0.1% in Japan today), those debt ratios would remain stable even if the government ran a primary deficit of 4% of GDP, and a total deficit of 5%, year after year.

That is roughly what Japan is doing now. Far from reacting in horror at this clearly unsustainable behavior, bond buyers around the world still line up to buy government bonds in return for yields that are little more than zero.

Vir: Adair Turner, Project Syndicate

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