Japan Stands Idle in a World Rocked by Demonstrations

Nariai Osamu [Profile]

[2011.11.21] Read in: 日本語 | 简体字 | 繁體字 | FRANÇAIS | ESPAÑOL |

Youth-led demonstrations are spreading across the United States, the world’s sole economic superpower. The main cause of the rising tide of protest is the economic downturn in the US since the Lehman Brothers collapse in September 2008 and the tensions arising from the absence of a substantial recovery.

In the United States, real GDP grew by 4.8% between the second quarter of fiscal 2009 and the second quarter of fiscal 2011. Despite this, nonfarm payroll employment increased by just 0.8% over this period; and youth unemployment has risen to around 20%.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently pointed out that the “top 1% of Americans now take in roughly one-fourth of America’s total income every year . . . and now controls 40% of the total [wealth].” Contrast that with the figures from 25 years ago, when the top 1% possessed 12% of total income and 33% of all wealth. This imbalance is now being manifested in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Crisis Spoils Eurozone’s 10th Anniversary

The current crisis in the eurozone needs to be understood in its historical context. Essentially, the crisis stems from fundamental issues relating to the framework of nation states in Europe since World War II—and can even be traced back to the time of World War I. The fundamental impetus behind the drive to European unity was a desire to harmonize the interests of France and Germany in order to prevent another deadly conflict breaking out over historically contentious areas such as the Ruhr Valley or Alsace-Lorraine. The biography of Jean Monnet, regarded as one of the founding fathers of European unity, makes it clear how hard he worked to reconcile the two countries’ interests. Today, ten years since the birth of the euro, it is clear that the primary beneficiary of European unity has been Germany. But now the German people are asking their political leaders why they should bail out southern European countries that they view as indolent—and those leaders have not offered any satisfactory answers.

Overseas Fiscal Crisis Impacts Japan Too

In Greece and other countries, meanwhile, citizens who have grown complacent under populist politics have launched general strikes opposing pay cuts and other austerity measures. Although these developments might seem quite separate from the demonstrations underway in the United States, the root cause in both cases is the same: a brand of politics that has spoiled the electorate, encouraging the illusion that all citizens can benefit if the government safeguards a certain set of interests.

The demonstrations in North Africa, meanwhile, arose from the dissatisfaction and loss of trust in the region’s long-established dictatorships. Now that political change has taken place, considerable room for instability remains as people work to establish new political systems. The focus now is on what sort of countries Egypt and Libya will become in the years to come. Europe and the United States are taking advantage of the power vacuum in North Africa to compete for petroleum rights in the region.

Unfortunately, Japan’s own tardy and unrealistic political decision-making continues to damage the national interest. The Japanese government cannot afford to underestimate the potential impact of the fiscal crisis currently engulfing Europe. Japan needs to respond with alacrity, rather than hanging around like an idle bystander. (October 29, 2011)

(Originally written in Japanese.)

  • [2011.11.21]

Professor at Reitaku University. Born in Shimane Prefecture in 1948. Graduated from the University of Tokyo, where he majored in economics. Completed his doctoral studies in international cultural studies at Tōhoku University in 1999. Joined the Economic Planning Agency and was posted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as an economist. Also dispatched to Brunei as a specialist by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Author of Exploring the Japanese Economy and other works.

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