Rightly or wrongly, falling consumer prices — or even plain old price stability — is often treated with alarm by monetary economists and policymakers alike. The common view is that deflation, in addition to exacerbating economic weakness, is an indicator of the economy’s failing vigour.
As Ben Bernanke put it back in 2002: Read more
Another data point for those keeping track of the impact of “Abenomics”, via a recent speech by Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda:
About 20 years ago or so, it started becoming fashionable to conclude that the Japanese government’s borrowing costs were going to go up a lot.
Demographic changes were going to dramatically increase the share of retirees dependent on the state for income and healthcare at the same time as the working population — and therefore the tax base — would be shrinking. Add in alleged economic stagnation and the result would be a rapidly widening gap between inflows and outflows. The ratio of government debt to GDP would skyrocket. Read more
Japan turns even more Japanese:
It’s misleading to compare macroeconomic aggregates across countries with very different population growth rates, which is why so many analysts get it wrong on Japan. While we were doing some of the data work for that previous post, however, we thought you might appreciate a visualization of how Japan’s population has aged and why it is poised to shrink a lot over the next few decades:
One of the supposed “lessons” of Japan’s post-bubble experience is that steady grinding deflation is the worst fate that can befall a rich country. See, for example, Ben Bernanke’s classic speech from November, 2002, or this scary-looking visual from Nomura:
Commentators, academics and policymakers often assert that Japan’s economic performance since the 1980s is one of the worst fates a rich country can endure. While this has become somewhat less common since 2008 — Paul Krugman even apologized for his earlier criticisms — concerns about the “Japanification” of the euro area have become particularly intense as inflation has slowed and government bond yields have converged towards zero.
In a new note, economists at Nomura suggest that Europeans should only be so lucky. After all, Japan endured its supposedly “lost decades” with grace. The euro area has not, and things could end up getting even worse.
Before we dig into the meat of their arguments in a follow-up post, we can’t stress enough how important it is to adjust aggregate economic data for demographic differences. Read more
The best way to get less of something is to tax it, so nobody should have been surprised when Japanese GDP cratered after the sales tax was raised from 5 per cent to 8 per cent in April.
What the government didn’t expect, and what is encouraging Prime Minister Abe to delay (if not renege on) the plan to raise the tax rate to 10 per cent, was the economy’s failure to snap back. For example, the latest data show that real household consumption, excluding imputed rent, plunged by 3.5 per cent over the past 12 months to its lowest level since the Tohoku earthquake hit in 2011: