Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Japan's lost demographic decades

Since the asset bubble burst in Japan in 1990, the economy has stagnated despite significant policy efforts. Interest rates have been very low all along and fiscal policy has certainly not been austere. What was once labeled a lost decade has now become a pair of lost decades. Can only the burst bubble and the issues with the Japanese financial system be blamed?

Reiko Aoki thinks the demographic change in Japan has a large role in this extended stagnation. As is well know, Japan is aging considerably, and this has of course a dramatic impact of the savings picture. Financial institutions that were built to accommodate rapid growth and a young population looking to safeguard massive amounts of savings struggle to deal a much older population that is in the phase of eating its savings. Worse, as institutions need to adapt to the new situation, reform is hindered by the large voting block of the elderly whose interest lies in the short-term provision of their pensions.

Quite obviously, the current imbalance in the demographic pyramid is the problem. Aoki thinks that fertility must be encouraged. This has worked little in other economies, but may be much easier to implement politically than the best solution, get people to retire later. Immigration is another solution, but as other countries are looking to embrace similar solutions, we may run out of willing young migrants. And Japan is not the obvious choice for a migrant, given the high entry cost in terms of integration.

No comments: