Japan in a Post-Growth Age

The nuclear debate reflects growing anxiety about “Abenomics.”

Comments: 71

  1. This accepts as given that nuclear is "relatively cheap energy" and a key to growth: "denuclearize, accepting the economic costs of having no more relatively cheap energy, or finally implement the pro-growth policies."

    In the US the argument is that nuclear energy is NOT cheap. Therefore, it has no natural tie to long term economic health or growth.

    Here, accepting a stalled economy as a new normal is also accepting a society with no room for some of its people, high unemployment and low wages for many who are employed. Only the fortunate winners get to live with the wealth all once had in this new normal.

    The link between alternative energy and the new normal of a stalled economy seems to rely on a false facts of nuclear energy as cheap energy and lack of alternatives for energy.

    Perhaps in the personality of Abe and the short term politics of Japan there is a political link, but that is a unique short term artifact of Japanese politics that defies reality. Much of politics is like that anyway, reality defying in favor of coalition building and pandering for votes.

  2. Agree, since the entire world cannot afford the false cheapness of nuclear and fossil fuel energy, how can anyone justify calling the transition post-growth? If Germany is moving to renewables to support economic growth, why can't Japan?

  3. The first nations to make a success of alternatives to oil and nuclear will have a huge advantage, much as when the US led the way out of coal and steam to oil and electricity. It will be a hugely profitable product itself, and make the rest of the economy run better too.

    If it is possible at all, the investment is a winner. Avoiding it only makes sense if one assumes it is just not possible. But if that is the case, humanity is in very serious long term trouble. Whenever oil runs out, it will run out. However the problems of nuclear power are handled, they won't become less if the use becomes much greater. We NEED alternatives, desperately, for the long term, and not just for global warming issues.

  4. For what it cost to build a nuclear reactor, a few thousand windmills can be built and erected. Solar cells can be used, Thermal energy can be obtained, Tidal forces can be harnessed. The debate is not about how much energy is needed or required, it is who will make the money.
    Wake up folks, money talks, we know what walks. It is our responsibility to insure nuclear power dies, fossil fuels are phased out, It is our only chance to avoid climate catastrophe. I'll be long gone when the you know what hits the fan, I feel very sorry for this planet and its inhabitants in 50-100 years. Glad I'll be gone.

  5. Okay, so don't build new nuclear reactors. But shutting down existing ones prematurely leads to a massive increase in GHG emissions, not to mention soot, sulfur, and heavy metals from coal -- as we've seen in Germany in particular. Or methane emissions and ground water pollution from fracked gas. Or massive water and air pollution from the Chinese rare earth industry -- about a ton of rare earth metals is used in every new windmill. Or acids and toxic gases from solar panel production.

    Pick your poison. Literally. But when it comes down to it, nuclear is far safer than all of the other alternatives:

  6. Despite its upside-down demographic tree, its growing reliance on low-wage overseas manufacturing, and a socioeconomic gap that is widening beyond anything the country's seen in its post-war history, I think Japan's political and even (somewhat more pragmatic) business leaders still don't get it--the country will never return to its previous levels of economic or geopolitical influence, nor will it see a true domestic resurgence of any significance, as long as it is unable to address its demographic issues of a shrinking labor pool and fast-growing elderly population. Instead of addressing those issues in any meaningful way, entrenched interests are trying to turn back the clock--pouring more concrete, pushing ahead with massive public works projects, some of them a half-century old, that completely ignore current demographic realities, and continuing to treat the country's citizens as helpless children rather than as fully capable members of a democratic society, deserving of access to information, opportunity, and hope for the future.

  7. Thanks for a very thoughtful essay. I can't see how Abenomics is anything but a temporary "fix" for some groups in Japan (stock investors, exporters) and hurtful to many, e.g. the elderly or savers in general. It seems to me that progressives in this country supporting Federal reserve bailouts of the powerful have also made a disastrous poor decision--crumbs for the masses, high profits for the few. We have a thousand t.v. channels to select from, but according to the Pew Foundation, 70% of Americans pretty much can't stand their jobs.

  8. How much growth can we continue to have and not destroy every living thing on Earth ? Humans are causing the sixth mass extinction and yet we clamor for more, more, more. We keep hearing about Japan's lost decade and their shrinking population, but Japan appears not to have decayed. The Japanese still create new things and devise new inventions. I believe their GDP per capita has out-performed that of the U.S. despite the population decrease. Maybe Japan should be a model for the rest of the world ? Why would a country want to cram even more humans onto their archipelago that has a land area of California with four times the population ? With over seven billion humans on Earth, maybe population decline would be a good thing, especially for our fellow creatures.

  9. Nuclear power is only cheap if :

    There are no Three Mile Islands, Chernobyl's or Fukushima's and the cost of safely storing the waste for 100,000 years is not factored in.

  10. Mark Thomason, in a nation with no oil or gas reserves, nuclear energy is cheap energy. Since the reactors were shutdown, my electric costs have nearly doubled!

  11. Exactly. Abenomics makes "drawing to an inside straight" seem like a conservative strategy, by comparison.

  12. Replacing nuclear for Natural gas may not be a bad idea for Japan ,except additional negative contribution to the global warming, as natural gas will become cheaper once new shale cracking technology is applied in the emerging gas rich countries. Japan can afford to import necessary natural gas even though her trade balance deteriorates as the investment income from the overseas investment over the past 20 years covers her trade deficit more than enough.
    In addition, deterioration of Japan's trade balance may help Yen to further weaken. This may, to some extent, mitigate deflation pressure that has been tormenting Japan's economy.
    Negative or slow growth of the working-age population, which has caused Japan's slow GDP growth in the first decade of this century, will become global phenomena including the U.S. in the coming years. Yet, Japan has shown the highest GDP growth per working-age population in the world during the same period. It will be not so disappointing even if Abenomics fails as the Federal Reserve, Prof. Krugman, former Secretary of Treasury Summers and other well-known economists warns of very slow global economic growth for coming decades.

  13. Hurray for Mr. Kato! It's long since time that the rest of us should have begun thinking about "post-growth." There's a whole literature on the concept. Start with Richard Heinberg's "The End of Growth." Economists should be teaching us how to run a "healthy" world economy with a stable, smaller, population.

  14. Maybe Japan is just the first to break through the unending cycle of seemingly endless growth as the only possible model of a successful society. The world cannot possibly sustain that model much longer as it is in conflict with the realities of the finite resources of this small planet that we inhabit. The Japaese will still lead fulfilling lives, because it's not really all about the "stuff" that we have, that we are programed to believe is necessary for happiness. Interesting that nuclear power might be the catalyst that causes what could be a very healthy change in humanity's values.

  15. Firstly, the author neglects to give appropriate recognition of the success of Abe's economic policies so far. They, thus far, have been successful; and, as recent economic thought leaders have highlighted, the developed world may be facing a period of structurally weak aggregate demand which requires just this type of looser monetary/bolder fiscal policy, ceteris paribus. Secondly, the author fails to mention the "third arrow of abenomics;" that is, the longer term "structural" component. Finally, the author needs to understand the importance of timing in economic policy, and how it actually affects the common weal. Efforts to mitigate the economic "shock" of the nuclear shutdown by lengthening that imminent shutdown may be wise from a nearer and middle-term economic standpoint, and dare I say, in the long run we are all dead.

  16. Mark,

    Japan and Europe unlike the U.S. import most of their non-nuclear energy. That imported energy comes with a monetary and a political cost. (Most of our imported energy comes from Canada or Mexico.) Japan and much of Europe will never be able to depend on solar energy because of their weather. Solar Energy transmitted from outside areas with suitable weather will have exactly the same political costs as the current energy sources. In Japan's case the technology to transmit power long distances underwater does not currently exist.

    Today, Japan's best alternative is to import LNG from the U.S. or the Middle East. Such imports make Japan dependent on the good will of the nation(s) supplying the LNG that Japan will depend on. The only other choice is for Japan to control its own gas fields and thus its own destiny. Does any of this sound the least bit familiar? (Think December 7th here). It would be wise to factor in the "true cost" of non-nuclear energy as well. If China and Japan come to blows over the sea floor between their respective nations how much better or worse off will we be than if Japan stays "Nuclear"? The same is true for other countries that are not blessed with our southwest deserts which can supply a large portion of our energy needs.

  17. HUH?? Solar power in Germany, look it up.

  18. Nuclear power is low cost reliable round the clock power.
    Power from windmills and solar panels is expensive and erratic, requiring large direct subsidies and must take laws.

  19. Is post-growth necessarily bad? After all the goal really isn't a "growing economy," but instead prosperous citizens and a living and thriving ecosystem. Japan is a wealthy country, with fewer people to divide that wealth. It now needs less in the way of infrastructure. Its energy needs are less, and it has the great benefit of actually being able to rely less on nuclear power. Japan COULD be desperate to exploit new sources of power, felling forests, damming rivers, erecting more nuclear. But it isn't. Because of the slowly declining population, Japan has options.

    Isn't it possible that the voluntarily shrinking population is a natural and wise response to a situation where low-paid labor elsewhere can always undercut the Japanese worker? I think Japan could be a leader in showing new ways for fewer citizens to enjoy more wealth while the ecosystem recovers and becomes a vibrant contributor to the future by slashing the need to purify the wastes of all sorts - including nuclear - that a huge population requires.

    Economists need to think outside of the box. How can the post-growth economy best benefit the people and the land of Japan?

  20. Sue, I think you are right in that economists and businessmen cant seem to get out of the straightjacket of all growth is good. Profits may not come as fast with a net GDP loss, but GDP per person could still increase. Humans will not stop science and engineering if human population decreases. As you say, there are benefits to humans with a population decline and the flora and fauna will be much better off.

  21. Nuclear power is not cheap power. It requires that its waste be cooled for many years and its ultimate disposal be guarded for thousands of years. Ignoring the very real possibility of radiation poisoning, the present value of future costs far exceeds any savings over solar power.

  22. Yes, nuke power is not cheap - especially when you factor in a 'risk premium'. The 'risk premium' is why it is impossible to build a nuclear power plant without government subsidy of the risk. No private insurance company (or consortium of companies) are willing to insure such a risk. Private insurance companies are in the business of calculating risk and they know insuring nuclear power plants offers unacceptable risk. It is a given that with all the nuclear plants in the world, it is a practical certainty that one will have a catastrophic fail. Since the costs of a major failure are stratospheric and almost incalculable, depending on nuclear plants is an economic loser as well as posing a massive threat to the health of the planet.

  23. In addition, in the US the industry is not even economically vialble. It cannot afford its own insurance which has to be provided by the taxpayers.

    If the insurance is so expensive, how safe can it be?

  24. Yes, nuclear power involves some radioactive waste. But we're talking about a very small quantity of material, relative to coal ash or even the chemical wastes involved in solar power. This effect is so strong, that even at a coal average of just 1.3 ppm uranium and 3.2 ppm thorium, a typical coal power plant releases tons of radioactive waste per year -- and that into the atmosphere, or into landfills, not into controlled waste disposal or storage facilities required for nuclear plants. Solar energy begins with distillation of trichlorosilane -- an incredibly toxic and explosive gas -- and California solar companies alone produced 25,000 tons of chemical waste in the past few years. Windmills involve rare earth metals 97%+ produced by a notoriously polluting Chinese industry.

    We are bathed in radon every day due to naturally-occuring uranium in soils everywhere. Even for high-level spent fuel nuclear waste, burying it in existing mines (coal, salt, nickel, take your pick) 200m below ground level reduces its impact to below this background level.

    There is nothing magical about the word "radioactive" that makes such waste universally worse than every other type of industrial waste. Coal is particularly bad, but solar and wind are by no means benign. New nuclear plants are expensive, but even with a high upper bound of disposal costs, existing nuclear is much cheaper than the alternatives in Japan.

  25. Tom McMahon pretty much nailed it. It has become obvious that the obvious - especially in relation to climate change - has been hijacked by corporate interests and others to benefit their own selfish short term goals. It seems nothing is going to change the entrenched mindset currently fast forwarding the Planet into unprecedented climate Armageddon this century. I wish I could be here... if only to slap a few heads together... really really hard! I will go to my grave despairing of the abject lunacy I have witnessed in my short tenure on this beautiful but criminally overwhelmed Planet. Goodbye Homo economicus... nice going.

  26. Reality is the problem. Unfettered growth is cancer. We all have to learn how to successfully ski down the hill now that we've reached the top - not just the Japanese.

  27. In the US we have enough cheap coal to choke the world. And we still burn quite of bit of it. That is why nuclear is expensive in comparison here.

  28. The claim in the article makes no sense.
    Maybe you can have an argument about the costs of building new nuclear power plants - the cost might be too high.
    But, reopening and operating the existing ones is a no-brainer. They already exist, the initial cost has already been paid, and they can produce now cheap energy. Refraining from reopening them imposes energy-austerity and a huge cost, on oil, gas and coal imports.
    Why would Japan impose on itself these costs, on top of the other troubles it has, like stagnation and unemployment? Maybe Japan's plunge into austerity and stagnation is inevitable, but why make it worse by abandoning an existing source of cheap energy ?

  29. This is a thoughtful piece, but it presents one giant problem. One quadrillion yen of a problem to be more precise......Japan's two decades long run-up of public debt requires future growth.

    In Kato-san's 'no-growth' scenario, how will the Japanese government ever pay down its gargantuan amount of public debt? Will Japanese elderly (the ones who vote) be prepared to accept selective default and/or financial repression along with major cutbacks to their entitlements?

    Without the prospect of growth or the prospect of an Abe-like central bank-induced inflation, you have debt/deflation leading to default as the likely outcome for a nation which has allowed its debt/GDP to exceed 250%. Moreover the interim period of 'no growth with high spending' has to be painful until default is finally allowed to occur, for sovereign default needs to be voluntary in nations like Japan that have their own fiat money. Nations tend not to voluntarily default until they need to.

    Give up on (a) growth, (b) cheap energy, and (c) structural reform while continuing to spend far more than you bring in via taxation (for decades!) and what'll you get? I'll tell you: The private sector vultures will fly in a vicious circle around the rotting carcass of public expenditures until collapse sets in.

    There is a lesson here for the rest of the developed world, including the United States. If we are headed towards a post-growth world, we had better re-think our entitlement spending.....yesterday.

  30. If you are talking about the corporate, banksters, one percenters entitlements called subsidies and privatization, then I agree with you. Way too long have these people been robbing the taxpayers coffers thru privatization federal, state, county and cities. Banksters, hedge fund managers thru financial trappings and fees, and loan sharking the people. Corporation direct subsidies by we the people (government) and military contractors gauging us taxpayers through billing and doing jobs that were done by our military personnel but cheaper. Our prison industry is owned by billionaires gauging federal and state taxpayers and we get more prisoner (consumption) and they get less food and less, and less redemption. Just to name a little bit of the corporate pick pocketeers. Of course, it is huge sums of money so they can just be called robber barons and we've been through this before and people died trying to protect our rights and monies. We eventually won but they are at it again and have been for 30/40 years.

  31. Have the Japanese faced what the toll in the health of their children from radiation will be? What about the radioactive water still spilling into the Pacific Ocean? Cheap energy indeed. As long as a few get rich, that's what's important.

  32. Leaving aside the nuclear issue for a moment, I really don't get what the complaint is about the economy. Abenomics is what the rest of the world should have been doing all along instead of pursuing austerity in its various failed forms. The author points out a long string of positive economic signs yet people are "anxious"? Try living in Europe or the States to see if that eases your "anxiety" for awhile!

  33. The problem with the perpetual no-growth premise has some serious problems. If the snapshot of Japan today were a festive one, then putting her in neutral wouldn't be so concerning; but it's not festive at all.

    Japan's major problems, aside from the economy, focus on an aging society, a sinking birthrate, radiation, and seemingly powerless government. The problem with an aging society, a sinking birthrate and perpetual no-growth, is that the means for sustaining increasing numbers of the aging and aged aren't being created. They've recently relaxed acceptable requirements for immigration of skilled workers, but it was a bust -- too little interest, cultural and language barriers too high. Then, the sinking birthrate is affected by the poor growth: Japan isn't particularly supportive of social protections of women, who need expensive daycare to get the kinds of jobs that make child-rearing economically sustainable. Lacking it, in part due to no visible prospects for a better future, projections are that Japan's population will sink from about 127 million today to 84 million in fifty years, while their working-age population will be about half by then what it is now.

    Just focusing on this one two-part related problem, an acceptance of a post-growth age sounds tantamount to cultural suicide, and within the lifetimes of those now young. Mr. Abe should spare no energy in shaking things up, regardless of setbacks; and he shouldn't accept the premise of this op-ed.

  34. Richard, while Japan specifically has a demographic problem, the world - at seven billion people - does not.

    Metastatic growth has real dangers, as we're witnessing everyday now as we gobble the earth's limited resources and atmosphere for our material pleasures.

    The risk of not having enough young people to care for the old people is vastly out-weighed by global environmental disruption and resource collapse.

    Zero-population and negative population growth can save the planet.

    Japan is helping in that department.

    Now the rest of the world needs to get on board.

    I'll take a permanent recession over a cooked and raped planet any day.

    We are not running out of humans.

  35. "The risk of not having enough young people to care for the old people is vastly out-weighed by global environmental disruption and resource collapse.

    Zero-population and negative population growth can save the planet."

    While it makes sense that population cannot grow ad infinitum the zero population advocates and the view the planet has to be "saved" have always been proven to be wrong. Remember Paul Ehrlic? Every single prediction he made turned out to be completely wrong. And so is your prediction of "global environmental disruption". Japan isn't "helping in that department" they are blazing a path toward their own extinction. As are Spain, Germany, and Italy, although those countries at least have immigrants.

    While unbridled growth isn't desirable, having a replacement birth rate of 2.1 is reasonable. Japan's is a pathetic 1.3 (with similar if not lower rates for Spain, Italy, and Germany). They are on a path to extinction, pure and simple. Of course when the population falls below a certain level and its mostly elderly, I am sure China will simply move in.

    We can argue whether the extinction of the Japanese people and culture is really important, but we can't deny it will happen. Debates about ordinary economic measures like much of this article are ridiculous when the elephant in the room is the complete demographic collapse of their society that is on the horizon.

  36. Socrates:

    Tell that to the Japanese in fifty years -- you'll have to do it, as I'll have long been dust. I agree that we need fewer people, but Japan's fate won't be a willing sacrifice, and with that UNwilling sacrifice might just go the viability of its culture.

  37. The biggest cost to Japan of the Fukushima disaster will be to completely freeze any development of nuclear power. The Fukushima incident was not an example of inherent risks of nuclear power but of the folly of not anticipating the possibility of a tsunami in an area known for such activity. New designs for inherenlty safe nuclear plants are expected to greatly reduce the cost of building such plants. Whether these new designs will indeed be much cheaper than older plants will not be known until some are built. They do have the potential of producing cheaper electricity than alternative sources and could make a significant dent in reducing CO2 emissions.
    It is foolish to reject that option out of hand before actually testing whether the promise they hold is real. All serious detailed studies of future CO2 emissions reach the same conclusion: without nuclear plants achieving the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 80% in 2050 is a fantasy.

  38. The author's proposition regarding a "post-growth" era seems a little strange until I read that he was a literary scholar and not an economist. Japan's debt to GDP ratio is about 200 percent, a figure probably insurmountably bad by any metric. But it is the taking on of such levels of debt that is based on continued "Growth." If Japan, as the author suggests, is to become a society of "no growth" then they must engage in a period of severe de-leveraging and associated economic pain. Unemployment will sky rocket and people will become homeless. It will be a disaster, but perhaps after it is all said and done, there can be some sort of non-growth society, as economically irrelevant as they would become---perhaps a third world island country or something along those lines.

  39. Existing nuclear reactors are sunk costs, operational costs for nuclear per kWh are very low assuming no 'accidents' and ignoring the future costs of spent fuel. Shutting a nuclear reactor down many years earlier than expected is real expensive in balance sheet terms and shutting down all nuclear reactors in a country which relied on nuclear power for 30% of its electrical energy before 2011 has to drive up power bills significantly for at least a generation -- unless the government bails out the electrical producers at the expense of the taxpayer.

  40. I am 76 years old. I think I had experienced almost the decisive moments of vicissitude of Japanese history. People have changed, tremendous change, even powerful government with charismatic koizumi or Abe it's helm , Japan anymore could not return the one time national consensus. Since Meiji Restoration, Japanese people almost all had oppressed by the though that we have to do something to society,...build the powerful country, save Asia from West, re-gain economical independence,.........Those oppression and ambition had gone. How to live, how to one be able to get one's happiness and satisfaction, how to individual to contribute to the society had changed. Suvvy koizumi (fundamentally he is a populist, very savvy to find where people's consensus are) exploiting to re-gain his popularity. At present at last all effort after the San Francisco treaty wanted to make Japan the pacifist materialized ( I have 7 grand-kids, I saw this trends in their every day life). It may be not the extreme individualism and also respect the society where they live. One day I asked How Yasukuni?, answer; She is Japanese Goddess, isn't she, She must love Japanese people, OK, if there spare time, go the shrine for fun but not worship. Any more Koizumi, Abe can not win. within a decade Japan will change dramatically.

  41. While Fukushima should undoubtedly be considered a disaster and force us to rethink how and where we build nuclear plants, I'm just not convinced that Japan, or any country for that matter, should abandon nuclear energy given the incredible costs associated with the alternative. Global warming is real, and so are the atrocious side affects of mining and burning coal. How many people have died from asthma and coal mining accidents in the past few years, thousands? Tens of thousands? As far as I am aware, only five people died directly because of Fukushima and no more are expected to die from exposure. I'm not sure how the risk benefit profile works out with nuclear power, I don't know the worst case scenario for a meltdown at a modern nuclear plant, but it certainly seems to me that there is no cost or risk free option. While engineers aren't perfect and our ability to predict the future is limited, it seems unwise to relegate nuclear power to the trash bin of history without first uncovering a cost effective green alternative.

  42. Three Mile Island has not killed anyone.
    Fukushima has not killed anyone directly, although there are claims of several people having died because of the displacement.
    Depending on the estimates, Chernobyl is expected to cause between 4,000 and 40,000 premature deaths.

    The increase in coal burning in Germany after it has decided to shutdown nuclear power is estimated to cause several thousand deaths every single year because of the added particles and pollutants in the air... without taking into account climate change. Over the last 20 years, the coal industry in Germany alone has killed many times what Chernobyl is expected to do. Adding renewables has in fact increased coal burning in Germany.

    Reprocessed nuclear waste stored in clay below 200 m does not induce more radiation over time than what can be observed naturally in the environment. Natural nuclear reactors in South Africa demonstrate this quite well.

    Yes, nuclear power is safe, and cheap to the alternatives.

    However there is a need for more transparency, for more regulation in Japan's nuclear industry and in all other countries too.

    Also, for the future, there is a need for the nuclear industry to transition to technologies which can't be used for military purposes, for example: thorium. The military use of nuclear power is the original sin of this industry, especially for Japan. It could be a great future for Japan to develop a such a nuclear technology.

  43. Indeed. Even with very high upper-bound estimates of nuclear deaths, coal, natural gas, and even solar power still dwarf the mortality rate of nuclear power. (Most solar deaths are due to roof falls.)


    Yes, new nuclear plants in the US are expensive, some of the most costly new power available. But by shutting down its existing nuclear plants and substituting coal, Germany did the world a terrible disservice. Please Japan don't do the same.

  44. I have long believed that Japan can return to its own culture and use development to maintain it; instead of allowing development to destroy culture.
    I believe this because Japan achieved high culture before the onset of modern technology. And, crucially, this culture included domestic culture, agriculture and wonderful low-tech spiritual practices (in architecture, gardens, rituals, applied philosophy).
    Thus when technology survened in the 19th century there was already a culture, developed from its own roots. Thus the shape of culture was not as determined by technology as is the case with Indian America, for example, where the cultures were destroyed in the 16th century by a savage modernity.
    Is unease of the past twenty years a reluctance to worship the god of growth?
    Perhaps there has been a diffidence about expressing this. It would be impolitic with MacArthur Japan, which pulled the country back into reality from the ashes. Certainly it is good that the militaristic culture was defeated. But can the rest revive?
    I hope Japan can be a leader in breaking out of the 'iron lung' of growth and striking out to make Japanese culture modern but still traditional, efficient but respectful of the supreme value of existence: to have the time to live at your own pace.
    Wishful thinking?

  45. The superfast maglev train between Tokyo and Nagoya is the symptom of this constant and insatiable "pro-growth" philosophy. For heaven's sake, it takes only one hour and forty minutes on the fastest bullet train to go from Tokyo to Nagoya, how fast do you want it to be? Shrinking another 20 minutes by spending billion and trillion yen? Bigger, faster, and more is the mantra of the bubble era. Why go back to that era of brainless consumption? Why not use the money to clean up Fukushima and the Pacific Ocean which is being contaminated by hundreds of tons of radioactive waste water EVERYDAY! It's not about pro-growth or anti-growth, it's about setting the right priority. Sure, you can build up the fastest train in the world but the polluted land and unsafe food surely would make anyone think twice about bringing more children into this world. In other word, you can build it but they would not come.

  46. This is such a defeatist attitude! Why should Japan cower back and accept a no-growth era when so much has not even been tried to spur Japan's economy. Aggressive fiscal and monetary policies are just two of many different things the Japanese government can do to offset the effects of a shrinking population and high unemployment. How about becoming more open to immigration? How about encouraging minority Koreans to start up businesses by treating them equally instead of passing laws that discriminate against them? I really do hope the "third arrow" of PM Abe's reform tries to tackle these issues too. The Japanese government needs to stop being so xenophobic and accept the fact that Japan will need to become a more cosmopolitan nation open to foreign ideas if it wants to be great again. Surely they should try that before accepting defeat and feeling sorry for themselves?

  47. I agree, and don't call me Shirley.

  48. Economic growth and shifting away from nuclear power are NOT mutually exclusive. Japan’s higher energy costs as a result of the nuclear plant shutdowns are not permanent(nat. gas deal with the US is possible and alternative are getting cheaper everyday). This whole “Japan as a post-growth society meme” is not new. Steady 2% growth or so is imminently possible. The author is correct in stating that the current policy mix should have been started years ago but that’s about the only thing he gets right.

  49. Can we have real scientists debate on nuclear instead of opinion writers and the hordes of NYtimes liberal commenters speculating?

  50. Real scientists? This is hardly an issue of science.

  51. NYTimes liberal commenter here, plus environmentalist and pro-nuclear advocate (as long as we are also talking investments into other energy sources as well).

    Try not to be a knee-jerk generalizer.

  52. Thank you for this article Mr. Kato. Fukushima is Godzilla come to life for Japan and beyond. Until this monster is contained and cleaned up - if it's even possible to do so - all else is a diversion. Bequeathing the problem of nuclear waste to our grandkids and their grandkids to "solve" is an unspeakable act of terrorism.

  53. The United States is really in the same situation as Japan. It is hard to believe that the future holds a declining standard of living. Both Japan and the U.S. are a little like Scarlett O'Hara getting all decked out in her curtain dress trying to bluff the appearance of prosperity. It was sad to see how proud she tried to be when the money was all gone.

  54. Thanks Tom - I think you nailed it here. Industrial growth economies require huge inputs of safe, mobile, cheap energy. The era of cheap oil is coming to an end (note that this isn't the same as running out of oil...it's just not cheap any more), and we've all seen the dangers of nuclear (fission) energy.

    Japan's lost decades may not have been lost at all, as noted in the article, if Japan can become the first industrialized nation to realize the futility to attempt to expand growth by any/all means and figure out a way to accomplish a more steady state economy and lifestyle.

    They could become the model for the rest of the world.

  55. What Japan needs is not “Abenomics” but rather "Babenomics".

    They should be taking measures push for a dramatic rise in their birth rate especially in view of their historic resistance to increased immigration.

    Nothing will stimulate their ecconomy and work toward solving many of their other longer term problems better than a baby boom.

  56. And nothing will destroy the biosphere faster than more humans.

  57. But why do you think there will be well-paying jobs to absorb these children? Automation and outsourcing are happening in Japan as well as here. Additional children will require more imported oil - potentially fueling additional conflicts with Russia and China, which will cost lots of money, and maybe more. The only "growth" in jobs in advanced economies at this point is at the lowest end. What kind of incentive is that to having children? Or are you suggesting that wages and benefits be VASTLY increased for food workers, caregivers, and the hospitality indiustry?

    It would be much more fruitful for Japan to explore best ways to increase prosperity for its citizens without economic growth. To just increase births in order to build more houses and infrastructure, and repeat, and repeat - isn't that just a pyramid scheme? Japan is not a large state and, perhaps, it expanded and reached some sort of poorly understood boundary of capitalism and population and prosperity?

    Let's aim for greater prosperity, not economic growth based on ever increasing populations. That's clearly not sustainable.

  58. Japanese decline will make it become part of the Chinese condominium!

  59. "the slow emergence of a sense that Japan may have entered a post-growth era."

    I'm not sure why there is a "slow emergence" of this sense. Japan has a pathetic birth rate of 1.3 which is well below replacement. It also lacks a history of or taste for immigration, so the result is a rapidly aging population. A post-growth era - actually an era that will result in the eventual disappearance of Japan as a culture - is inevitable. Far more relevant for Japan is getting that birth rate back up before its too late.

  60. Is there ever a point at which you can have too much of a good thing ? Do human numbers need to keep increasing without end ? If it were possible for Albuquerque to have the population of Los Angeles, thing of all the growth - thing of all the money to be made. Is 100 billion people on Earth enough ? Humans might want consider the other animals we are annihilating and not be so anthropocentric.

  61. People fail to recognize that growth can take many different forms... of which economic growth is maybe the most simplistic. We all seem to think that financial growth is all there is. Unfortunately, financial growth is often in opposition to other types of growth. Throwing money at something is the easy way out. Money buys distractions. Money may give you what you want, but there was no growth involved in getting there. If all your conscious and unconscious mind is focused on money, then there's no space for anything else. This is why all philosophies and religions warn about the love of money. Another unfortunately, is that we have built a civilization of populations concentrated in places where large populations should not be living. Everything must be brought in... that means it takes money. Someone wrote that Japan should focus on baby-making. That is the wrong solution. Instead, we should be focusing on a reduction of global populations & if those nations that are growing older lead the way, so be it. Our "growth" focus has turned mankind into a swarm of locusts, denuding the region after region of this or that resource and moving onto the next. We are the virus or bacteria that is going to destroy its own host... unless we allow ourselves or force ourselves to discover a different kind of growth.

  62. The entire world is in a slow growth mode because of the depth of the depression of demand across world markets, caused by the great recession. With that kind of slowdown, most people don't have lenders who will lend to them nor income increases to fund addition purchasing. This is what limited demand looks like but economists and government policies seem incapable of appreciating it. When economies are in that state, monetary policies are pretty much irrelevant. Those who have the money in reserve are waiting for solid indicators of predictable growth, not incentives like lower interest rates, before they will risk their liquid assets on opening more production lines to make things that might not sell.

  63. A number of points:
    1) The world needs to embrace clean fuels like nuclear, solar, wind, etc. Just because an outdated reactor on a flood plain in Japan (of all places!) had a catastrophe doesn't mean that well-designed nuclear is risky. Fossil fuels are a non-starter, and make a country a slave to petrodictatorships.
    2) The world also cannot afford more people. Those countries having lots of babies will face catastrophic famines/plagues and perhaps bring down the entire world. Japan should be lauded rather than criticized.
    3) All of which begs the question: what d post-growth economics look like. The entirety of human history is based on unlimited resources and unlimited growth potential. But we live in a closed system, and have likely already surpassed reasonable carrying capacity. This isn't just a notion, it is a law of closed systems. So what do we do when those two forces collide? Growth is limited. We just don't know how much time we have before we hit that absolute barrier. Sadly, the world has never been so driven by the financial interests of so few.

  64. Not enough workers for fixing the area around Fukushima AND construction for the 2020 Olympics?

    Might I suggest - allowing immigration into Japan? Just a thought.

  65. The Japanese are confronting a really big contradiction between how we account for the consequences of economic activity upon the world in which we live. There is a fundamentally wrong headed attitude at the bottom of it.

    What most economists are reluctant to admit is that what is considered in studies of economies are not based upon the body of knowledge and experience we have accumulated over the last half millennium but upon presumptions which are more in line with the 15th than the twenty first century. We know that human activity does change the environment, that resources are finite, and that while a business might see a profit, sometimes the real costs to everyone else are not covered by the expenses paid by the company.

    The resources we use and rely upon are treated as infinite instead of finite and the effects of our industrial processes upon air, water, land and biosphere are presumed to be insignificant. When the modern era began over 500 hundred years ago, it was still the case that the vast forests and jungles quickly reclaimed lands abandoned by people, and the forces of nature were a real challenge to every human endeavor. The notion that human activities could seriously impact anything having to do with nature, seemed unreasonable, so these things were never considered relevant when determining the costs and benefits of any economic activity. We know that this is not true, but everything we do presumes that it is true.

  66. This is like dropping a dog: the outcome is problematic. I have read that thorium reactors are far safer than uranium-based ones. Constructing a number of these could create employment and power both. And the same is true of putting PV cell arrays on every roof in Japan. As for Abenomics, the reckless expansion of the money supply by fiat money is ultimately destined to be disappointing, as it will be here in the US.

  67. The author says that salaries are rising in Japan. Has there really been a statistically significant rise in salaries?

    I saw this report from Bloomberg about 8 weeks ago, indicating prices are rising, while wages were still falling...(see below).

    If workers have lower wages and higher prices (less cash left to pay down debt), private debt becomes *harder* to repay - stifling consumption, and stifling the ability of young workers to start families.

    Rising prices with stagnant wages, equals less domestic consumption per worker - the last thing the world needs.

    If the stimulus is enough to make labor scarce and raise wages, perhaps it will succeed. But why not take advantage of the lower Yen, to implement a high minimum wage - boosting domestic demand, while not hurting exchange-adjusted export prices?

    From Bloomberg:

    "Abe last week began meetings with business and trade union leaders to press his case for wage increases, key to the success of his effort to spur growth under his economic policies dubbed Abenomics.

    Salaries in July extended the longest slide since 2010, with regular wages excluding overtime and bonuses falling 0.4 percent from a year earlier, a 14th straight drop.

    Rising prices in the absence of higher incomes have dented consumer sentiment, which could undermine consumption."


  68. The entire world must radically change its toolbox of status metrics to de-emphasize growth. We must now emphasize quality of life and social equality and human rights and saving the planet, and start real quick doing this.

  69. Rather strange to see an article with the illustration showing a radiological hazard, which then all but ignores the issue. If Japan is looking for actual, useful infrastructure projects, I suggest funding thorium-based LFTR as a far safer forward-looking technology not beholden to the past. As somebody earlier mentioned, existing nuclear power plants are designed with a fundamental problem: they generate plutonium which is of course useful for a weapons program.

    Using LFTR sidesteps this issue almost completely, say 99.9%. Yes, it's theoretically possible to use U-233 for a bomb, but the physics suggest it would be incredibly hard (U-233 is a powerful gamma emitter, posing massive handling risks and probably ruining any bomb control mechanism), far more difficult than U-235 or Pu-239. If it was easy, it would have been done already.

  70. Japan does not have any real friend in the world. It never reconciled with its neighbors about its past. It gives lots of money to many countries but its insulated cultural landscape did not earn any real friendship from anybody. In globalized world it became a backwater to many. Their work ethics and social organization were admired in abstract but never understood by the outsiders. Japan is an enigma to the world.
    So, may be, the best way for Japan is to get rid of its cultural racism and became member of global society. In short term, guest workers would help and then they can focus on their human side and not just robotic work ethics. With that they should be able to find new way to grow, demographically and then economically.

  71. The reply to Jocob in tel Aviv for why Japan would abandon a cheap--but dangerous---source of energy--is this: Japan is sitting on the edge of the descending Pacific plate where earthquakes, tsunamis, and faults are just every day occurrences (typhoons too). There is no worse place to site a nuclear plant. But as a consequence of their geology they have a great source of geothermal energy, and due to their geography also have excellent locations for wind, water and tidal sources.

    If it wasn't for the US and GE engineers in the post WWII era suckering Japan into nuclear they may have gone another way.....