B1 Intermediate US 57 Folder Collection
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00:00:02,040 --> 00:00:04,260 Every January, more than 10,000 economists
fly somewhere in America for the conference of the American
Economics Association.
This year it was in San Diego, which was fun,
because it was very easy to tell who was a San Diegan
and who was an economist.
The conference is also a way to figure out what
economists are worried about.
This year they looked west across the Pacific Ocean,
and they worried about something they call Japanification.
It's a funny term, and some people
don't even like to use it because it
has more than one meaning.
It can be a shorthand for what happened
to Japan over the last two decades
- slow economic growth, low inflation,
and extremely low interest rates for a long time.
Those three facts don't give you a complete picture of what's
actually happening in actual Japan,
but they do terrify macroeconomists.
And so Japanification is more often used as a way
to point out that these things could or will
happen to everyone else.
I think "Japanification" is a useful term,
and I think what it really says is that Japan is the preview
movie for the whole rest of the world,
especially in terms of demographics.
So if you think about the percent of population
that's over age 65, what that does to consumption,
what that does to inflation, what that does to labour force
participation.
In Japan, the population is ageing.
And in other developed economies,
populations are ageing, too.
Here's what that means.
When you have a larger percent of the population over age 65,
you necessarily have a lower percentage of people working.
And what that means is you have a lower
level of demand in the economy, and that impacts inflation.
Inflation impacts interest rates.
And when we have a low, what the Fed would call r-star,
or that neutral interest rate, when that is lower,
you have less policy space to act,
and you need to enact other policy frameworks in order
to effectively deploy monetary policy when growth slows
or when there's a recession.
The reason economists in San Diego were worried about Japan
is not because Japan is a terrible place to live.
Life expectancy, for example, is higher in Japan
than in the US, the UK, Canada, and Germany.
It's well higher than the average
across all high-income countries.
But when populations get older, interest rates decline,
inflation declines, and that makes
it harder to do monetary policy the way
we always used to - by raising and lowering interest rates.
So economists worried about Japanification
don't think that Japan, the place, is a catastrophe.
They're worried that their own central banks won't
have any room left to cut interest rates,
as happened in Japan.
This is Ben Bernanke, the former chair of the Federal Reserve.
He gave a keynote in San Diego.
He basically said that if interest rates get
too low in the US, as they are in Japan, when
the next recession hits, the Fed might
have to get more creative.
I think the Fed and other central banks
are caught in a very difficult position here, because
on the one hand, they can't announce too loudly
they have no tools left, because part
of the magic of central banking is
to pretend that you have a bazooka behind your back
that you can bring out and to prevent expectations
from disintegrating and falling.
So it's magic.
Maybe "Japanification" is the wrong word,
because actual Japan is actually a nice place to live.
And in one important way, it's a better place
to live than the United States.
We'd prefer not to call our problem "Japanification."
Because?
Because Japan does not have the problem
that widening inequality is leading
to the stagnation of people's incomes
in the middle of the income distribution,
while people in the top are growing or improving
their situation very rapidly, whereas that's the situation
in the United States.
Ben Bernanke's worried about what
low growth will do to monetary policy,
particularly when a recession hits.
That makes sense, because he was in charge of monetary policy
the last time there was a devastating recession.
But low growth and low interest rates
don't just have monetary consequences.
They have political consequences.
And the irony of using the word "Japanification" is that what's
happening to Japan, low growth, may
be a harder problem for Washington
to solve than it has been for Tokyo.
Now what's the main difference between us and Japan?
I would say the difference is that in the United States,
as in many other industrialised countries,
inequality is widening very rapidly.
This means that if our rate of growth
overall is very slow, as it is, and if inequality rising means
that most of the fruits of that slow growth
accrue to people who are already at the top of the scale,
then the broad bulk of the population
is not doing very well.
California is a nice place to visit, certainly
in January when you're coming from Boston or Chicago
or Frankfurt or the kinds of places economists tend to live,
nicer in January than, perhaps, Tokyo even.
But what's happening in Japan, low growth,
may be even scarier right here in San Diego
on this side of the ocean.
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Why US economists are obsessed with 'Japanification' | FT

57 Folder Collection
Courtney Shih published on February 14, 2020
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