This week, as school is just starting at UC San Diego, Prospect is revisiting some of our most popular pieces from the previous academic year. We will begin posting new material soon; until then, enjoy our look back!
By Nolan Weber
Work-a-day meth addicts can keep it together for a time—and they may even get a lot of stuff done. Hey, look at Christopher Walken. He managed to earn a small fortune staying alive for countless rounds of Russian Roulette in The Deer Hunter. Granted he wasn’t a speed addict, but the fact is, no matter what, unsustainable situations always crash—hard.
That might as well be the case with Japan. The confluence of factors impending over its eventual demise retain such a serious tone, it is hard not to fear for the nation’s long-term governmental stability. From energy to fiscal to monetary policy, Japan finds itself between a rock and a hard place on every front.
In the wake of the Fukishima Nuclear Disaster, Japan has halted the production of all nuclear power—reducing domestic energy production by 30 percent of pre-Fukishima levels. Japan now has to import fossil fuels to make up the difference. With national debt at 230 percent of GDP and a budget deficit of 56 percent of GDP, Japan currently has to grapple with negative economic expansion while producing domestic energy at heavy loss. Indeed, Japan has entered a deep recession given its economy is contracting at an annualized rate of 2.3 percent.
Furthering disconcerting sentiment, Japan currently allocates 25 percent of its budget to simply service the interest on its debt.To keep itself afloat, the industrial titan is seeking to devalue the yen to maintain its manufacturing-based, export-driven economy. Yet, by debasing its currency Japan is destroying its citizens’ wealth. The people of Japan, more than any other developed nation, buy their own government bonds—Japanese debt. Consequently, citizens are primed to see negative returns on their investment and realize a dystopian retirement if the Bank of Japan tries to print its way out of this predicament.
The Bank of Japan certainly cannot deflate. If policy is set to strengthen the yen, their economy will shrivel in the face of Japan’s need to export. It is a resource poor nation. It imports 90 percent of raw goods, yet, historically, it has done an excellent job in generating wealth by creating usable products out of raw materials. However, if the Bank of Japan decides to let the yen appreciate in value, the manufacturing upon which the country depends will be priced out of the market.
We don’t have a place in history to reference where a decades-long, recession-stricken country has suddenly lost 30 percent of its energy output and forced to survive. Will Japan collapse? I don’t know. But what I do know is the Bank of Japan has clearly adopted a policy of currency debasement–printing. To that end, there has been no nation that has been able to print its way to prosperity. Indeed, people orders of magnitude smarter than myself are trembling at what will happen next.
Photo by Matteo Mazzoni