Monday, August 23, 2010

The Newly Type B Kids on the Block

So many flowers to smell, so little time

In an interesting article, a Japanese professor argues that there might be a sociological explanation for Japan's twenty years of economic stagnation - beyond a compulsive savings nature that is after all common to many other Asian societies. He posits a novel idea: that Japan is becoming a society that has outgrown growth; where the young, growing up in an aging, shrinking society and a warming world are increasingly frugal non-consumers and if that means that they end up being a smaller (though very prosperous) power, then that's just fine with them. And in any case, its slowly shrinking population could lift Japan's GDP per capita, already sky-high, even with no actual growth. In a sense he's saying Japan is transforming into a Type B personality quite distinct from Type A countries like the US, China or India or even its own relatively recent, hyper-competitive past. Instead it may be on its way to becoming, sociologically speaking, the Eastern-most member of Western Europe - several of whose nation states have also come to peace, in the last decade, with marginal growth rates (albeit at very high GDP per capita levels) and stable to shrinking populations. Western European nations don't seem to see GDP growth as a validation of a self-important self-image or an expression of their suppressed martial urges but as a means to providing their populations with a higher standard of living. Beyond a point, several have chosen to give their workers more paid days off in a year than increase productivity and GDP growth rates. Seen this way, Japan isn't suffering from a twenty year malaise but has simply opted out of the rat race, having gotten where it needed to get to. So they're trading in yen they could get in the future for some more zen in the present. It's an intriguing argument - can an entire society give up greed - and in doing so, collectively find greater inner peace?

Whether the writer is right or not about Japan, I suspect he is correct in his lateral suggestion that outgrowing growth might be the only sustainable option "in a world whose limits are increasingly apparent".


Harsha said...

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