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No.5
Economy, No.5  Feb. 1, 2011

WHY UNIVERSITY GRADUATES SHOULD CONSIDER APPLYING TO SMES

What is to blame for the tough employment situation facing new graduates in recent years? One popular argument that appears plausible at first glance points to the Japanese system of lifetime employment as the root of the problem. Basically, the argument goes as follows. Lifelong employment means that Japanese companies are unable to dismiss full-fledged “regular” company employees, protecting the vested interests of older employees and making it difficult for the poor young things leaving university to find permanent positions. As a result, they are forced to take jobs as irregular hired labor. The remedy normally put forward by proponents of this argument is to make the employment system more flexible. In plain terms, this usually means making it easier to offload the useless old codgers and hiring young people to take their place. Let me start with my conclusion: This argument is nonsense. ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Economy, No.4  Jan. 28, 2011

EASY MONEY WON'T END JAPAN'S STAGNATION

In August 2010 the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City hosted its regular symposium on monetary policy in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Attention centered on the paper “After the Fall” by Carmen and Vincent Reinhart, presenting an analysis of how global shocks and financial crises have affected economies since the start of the twentieth century. Their study makes the following points: •Growth rates of real per capita gross domestic product decline by about 1 percentage point during the decade after financial crises. (This means that if the US economy were growing at an annual 3% rate, a crisis would slow growth to 2% for the next 10 years.)•Unemployment rates rise significantly above their level prior to a financial crisis during the decade following it. This is particularly true of the advanced economies, where post-crisis median unemployment rates have been about 5 percentage points higher than ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Economy, No.4  Dec. 6, 2010

THE LINGERING SPECTER OF A CURRENCY WAR

Two years have passed since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 triggered the worst economic crisis in half a century. The aftereffects of the “Lehman shock” are now fading, but so, it seems, is the spirit of coordination among governments. The world appears to be entering a phase of currency confrontation, with countries competing to devalue their currencies and boost exports. The Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in October 2010 produced a communiqué vowing to “refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies,” and the G20 summit the following month reiterated this sentiment. Yet fears of a “currency war” have not abated. Finance Minister Guido Mantega of Brazil–a G20 member–publicly used the term currency war to describe the devaluation efforts of various countries in a speech he delivered in São Paulo on September 27: “We’re in the midst ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Economy, No.4  Dec. 3, 2010

POPULATION TRENDS AND THE REGIONAL ECONOMY

In June this year, I published a book with the title Defure no shōtai: Keizai wa jinkō no nami de ugoku (The True Character of Deflation: How Population Trends Shape the Economy). A major factor behind Japan’s stagnant economy and the crunch in the country’s public finances in recent years has been the decline in absolute terms of the working-age population and the increase in the population of elderly retirees. Drawing on figures from several comprehensive studies, my book highlighted this fact and discussed the serious impact it was having. I have written this article for a readership of people working in finance who are interested in the vicissitudes of Japan’s domestic economy. As well as sketching out the main points of the argument in my book, I also look at the present and future effects of recent population trends on the economy and ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Economy, No.4  Dec. 2, 2010

AN OPPOSITION LAWMAKER RATES THE DPJ'S PERFORMANCE

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is compiling a supplementary budget in excess of ¥4 trillion to head off the growing risk of a slowdown in the recovery. The plan is, however, a prime example of “too little, too late.” If the DPJ had had its act together, it would have had the supplementary budget ready by July, before it began preparing for the September 2010 election of the party’s president. That would have enabled the administration to get the measure passed by the National Diet in August, and implementation of the required stimulus would already have begun by now. As a result of its overly rosy view of the economy’s prospects, the DPJ has laid itself open to the charge that it allowed the contest for party president to get in the way of action it should have taken on the economic front. ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Economy, No.4  Dec. 1, 2010

REVIVING JAPANESE CORPORATE VITALITY

ENDŌ ISAO Talking to executives at major Japanese corporations these days, you get a clear sense of their concern over how to position their companies in the marketplace. Ajinomoto, for example, is a leading food producer in Japan, but globally it is up against mega-corporations like Nestlé with overwhelming market shares in many product lines. Japanese companies in other sectors as well are facing off against global giants, as in the case of Kao versus Proctor & Gamble and Takeda Pharmaceutical versus Pfizer. Given the differences in corporate scale, Japanese companies may well feel that they are simply too small to compete successfully. In my view, however, the quality of Japanese companies is such that they should be fully capable of holding their own despite their smaller size, although they seem to be in a process of trial and error figuring out how to ... ... [Read more]

No.3
Economy, No.3  Nov. 29, 2010

WHAT GIVES KOREAN COMPANIES THEIR EDGE?

“The global economy is a tiger. All we can do is keep riding on its back. If we get thrown off, we’ll be eaten up.” This was the grim determination expressed by a senior South Korean official charged with directing his country’s structural reform program following the 1997-98 currency crisis. In hindsight, that East Asian currency crisis was a harbinger of the global financial crisis that struck in 2008. South Korea, facing the shock of the backwash from the global economy that hit in the wake of the earlier crisis, decided to go with the flow. Its trade dependency ratio rose from 58% in 2001 to 92% in 2008. The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September that year marked the start of a financial crisis that spread through the global economy, but despite this, South Korea’s trade dependency figure declined relatively little; the ratio ... ... [Read more]

No.3
Economy, No.3  Nov. 26, 2010

UNIQLO'S SUCCESS ON THE GLOBAL STAGE

TAHARA SŌICHIRŌ Let me begin right away by asking if you could elaborate on a comment you once made that companies sticking to the status quo are on the path to bankruptcy. What did you mean by that? YANAI TADASHI The business environment is constantly changing. Every day rival companies are coming up with innovative ideas and new technologies are being created. And consumer preferences also undergo change. So, obviously, if you just keep doing the same things, they’re going to stop working. Plans must be revised and business methods changed in light of the changing situation. And this is where the role of management is essential. Without proper management, a company will end up in self-preservation mode, where it repeats the same actions over and over. What some call “stable” management could instead be called “thoughtless” management, because it means... [Read more]

No.3
Economy, No.3  Oct. 2, 2010

MONETARY MEDICINE FOR CURING DEFLATION

At a monetary policy meeting on October 5, the Bank of Japan approved a policy of “comprehensive monetary easing.” To hear the media tell it, this is a policy of essentially zero interest rates, and it amounts to inflation targeting and marks a return to the quantitative-easing line. When reading bureaucratese, however, it is generally a good idea to examine the footnotes even more closely than the text, as the notes and the appended material often tell the real story of what is going on. In this case, one discovers that the new policy is not one of essentially zero interest rates, or of rates “from 0% to 0.1%” as advertised, but of essentially 0.1% interest rates. As one of the footnotes indicates, it simply is not possible to move rates below 0.1% as a result of other lending systems. The claim that the... [Read more]

No.2
Economy, No.2  Sept. 29, 2010

THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION AND JAPAN

The International Space Station is a joint multinational project involving 15 countries: Japan, the United States, 11 European nations, Canada, and Russia. It entails the construction of an enormous facility, roughly the size of a soccer stadium, that will orbit the Earth at an altitude of around 400 kilometers and weigh approximately 420 tons in total. The space station will normally be inhabited by six astronauts, who will carry out various scientific experiments and tests of technologies, in addition to observing the Earth and outer space. A massive sum of upwards of ¥8 trillion (excluding Russia’s expenditures) has been invested in the ISS by the US, European, and Japanese partners since its construction began in 1998. This can truly be described as a colossal scientific project on a scale unprecedented in human history. In 1987 Japan decided to participate in the ISS project through ... ... [Read more]