It has been taken for granted that Japan collapsed in the early 1990s after a spectacular property boom burst and has not really recovered since. The conservatives also claim that Japan shows that fiscal policy is ineffective because given its on-going budget deficits and record public debt to GDP ratios the place is still in shambles.
Not so fast. Look at it this way: In the midst of the Great Recession, the United States is suffering through nearly 10% unemployment and 50 million people without health insurance. A new report has found over 14% of Americans living below the poverty line, including 20% of children and 23% of seniors, the highest since President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. That’s in addition to declining prospects for the middle class, and a general increase in economic insecurity.
How, then, should we regard a country that has 5% unemployment, healthcare for all its people, the lowest income inequality and is one of the world’s leading exporters? This country also scores high on life expectancy, low on infant mortality, is at the top in literacy, and is low on crime, incarceration, homicides, mental illness and drug abuse. It also has a low rate of carbon emissions, doing its part to reduce global warming. In all these categories, this particular country beats both the U.S. and China by a country mile.
Hill documents why the “you don’t want to end up like Japan” syndrome is appealing to conservatives but missed the point entirely.
According to Hill, during the lost decade, Japan maintained:
- An unemployment rate was about three percent and about half the US unemployment rate over the same period.
- Universal healthcare.
- Less income inequality than the US.
- The highest life expectancy among the advanced nations.
- Very low rates of infant mortality, crime and incarceration.
The obvious conclusion is that “Americans should be so lucky as to experience a Japanese-style lost decade”. I’m sure there’s a number of Greeks or Spaniards who would happen to agree with this assessment.”