Things are looking up in Japan, as businesses in the world's third largest economy gain confidence in the economic policies of the Abe government . At The Guardian , Joseph Stiglitz gives Abe credit for tackling big structural challenges that have been holding back growth. And, Stiglitz writes that Japan could become a "ray of light" for advanced economies: Abe is doing what many economists (including me) have been calling for in the US and Europe: a comprehensive programme entailing monetary, fiscal, and structural policies. Abe likens this approach to holding three arrows – taken alone, each can be bent; taken together, none can. The new governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda, comes with a wealth of experience gained in the finance ministry, and then as president of the Asian Development Bank. During the East Asia crisis of the late 1990s, he saw firsthand the failure of the conventional wisdom pushed by the US treasury and the International Monetary Fund. Not wedded to central bankers' obsolete doctrines, he has made a commitment to reverse Japan's chronic deflation, setting an inflation target of 2%. Deflation increases the real (inflation-adjusted) debt burden, as well as the real interest rate. Though there is little evidence of the importance of small changes in real interest rates, the effect of even mild deflation on real debt, year after year, can be significant. Kuroda's stance has already weakened the yen's exchange rate, making Japanese goods more competitive. This simply reflects the reality of monetary policy interdependence: if the US Federal Reserve's policy of so-called quantitative easing weakens the dollar, others have to respond to prevent undue appreciation of their currencies. Some day, we might achieve closer global monetary-policy co-ordination; for now, however, it made sense for Japan to respond, albeit belatedly, to developments elsewhere. Monetary policy would have been more effective in the US had more attention been devoted to credit blockages – for example, many homeowners' refinancing problems, even at lower interest rates, or small and medium-size enterprises' lack of access to financing. Japan's monetary policy, one hopes, will focus on such critical issues. But Abe has two more arrows in his policy quiver. Critics who argue that fiscal stimulus in Japan failed in the past – leading only to squandered investment in useless infrastructure – make two mistakes. First, there is the counterfactual case: how would Japan's economy have performed in the absence of fiscal stimulus? Given the magnitude of the contraction in credit supply following the financial crisis of the late 1990s, it is no surprise that government spending failed to restore growth. Matters would have been much worse without the spending; as it was, unemployment never surpassed 5.8%, and, in throes of the global financial crisis, it peaked at 5.5%. Second, anyone visiting Japan recognises the benefits of its infrastructure investments (America could learn a valuable lesson here). The real challenge will be in designing the third arrow, what Abe refers to as "growth". This includes policies aimed at restructuring the economy, improving productivity, and increasing labour-force participation, especially by women. Read Japan banks on success of Abenomics here .
Filed under: Japan, interest rates, monetary policy, global business, fiscal policy, GDP, deflation, debt, global economy, Joseph Stiglitz, The Guardian, advanced economies, Shinzo Abe, Abe, gdp to debt ratio