The curious case of Japan in the 21st century
News On Japan via Forbes -- Aug 06
To berate the allusion, its now 2012 and Japan isn't the richest and most technologically advanced country in the world. And, that's what's so curious.
Ryan Avent and Noah Smith are having a debate over whether or not Japan has been a disaster. Much of their argument turns over two different flavors of GDP measures, Exchange Rate Valued and Purchasing Power Parity Valued.
The first is supposed to measure how much of the world's economic product the average Japanese citizen could purchase if he or she wanted. The second is a measure of how much that Japanese citizen could get as long as he or she stayed in Japan.
The two differ of course because the "cost of living" is higher in Japan than elsewhere. While you might be able to live quite comfortably on a Japanese pension in Vietnam, you might be a pauper if you stayed in Japan.
For what its worth I am not that big of a fan of GDP to begin with. Its more than fine as broad generalizing statistics go. Yet, in a world flush with data there is no reason to lean on it the way we have in the past.
One telling indicator about Japan is industrial production.
Today Japanese industry has a lower output than it did in 1990. This is telling because industrial commodities are usually easier to value and more uniform across countries than are services.
This alone doesn't tell us that Japan has suffered some horrible economic fate. It could have moved from a position of net exporter to a net importer or it could have simply shifted consumption away from industrials.
However, it should give us pause as rising industrial production is the typical wellspring of economic growth. While we do get better services and more efficient retail supply chains, economies grow largely because they are able to make more "stuff." Those are the kind of hard commodities that go into industrial production.
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