Japan… more productivity, smaller population?

In today’s print edition of the Daily Yomiuri Hiroko Ota, Japanese state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, is quoted as saying on Wednesday, Japan must reform its labour market in order to continue growth and increase its productivity in order to compensate for its aging and low birth-rate society. The comments were made during a discussion with Edward Lazear and Matthew Slaughter, both members of US Council of Economic Advisors.

But really should not this be an opportunity to show responsibility for ecological sustainablility by not producing and consuming more, but rather to reduce? While I understand the concern that it is important to maintain the nation’s standard of living this should not be a time to increase it. There is nothing to say that a shrinking economy moving in line with a shrinking population means a lowering of the standard of living. As long as productivity per capita is maintained then increased productivity would be unnecessary and therefore should not be the aim.

In our time of need for global environmental responsibility the government rhetoric should reflect this in their goals and actions. A missed chance for leadership in this area. It is a shame, really. How silly to talk of growth when everything else in the country is shrinking.

2 thoughts on “Japan… more productivity, smaller population?”

  1. John, you’re right about the planet growing at a fast fast clip and that Japan as one nation cannot by itself make an impact on the overall population growth problem.

    The concept of “steady state economy” is a good one I think, but one the capitalist-consumerist rhetoric does not want to talk about. Theirs is a case of produce-first-ask-questions-later thinking. steady state economy philosophy would have to deal with this issue, I think.

    Looking froward to reading more on your blog.


  2. Very good point. I see right wing economics writers complaining about the “problem” of sub-replacement fertility rates in places like Japan and Europe. Instead, we should be talking about what a great thing that is, though it may require some adjustments to ease into “development” (i.e., improvement) rather than physical growth. Glad to see you mention it! I’ve been blogging a bit about the idea of the “steady state economy,” and hope to write something myself to balance out all the concern about shrinking populations.

    It’s really a misguided concern, I think, as world population is of course still growing at a fast clip. (*That* should be the concern.) You hear comments to the effect that lots of countries are now at or near replacement level fertility rates, but does it really matter what’s happening on some subset of pieces of land when the planet as a whole is still seeing serious population growth?


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