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Can Japan Reboot?

CAMBRIDGE – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent policy decisions – to increase monetary stimulus dramatically, to postpone a consumption-tax increase, and to call a snap election in mid-December – have returned his country to the forefront of an intense policy debate. The problem is simple: How can aging advanced economies revive growth after a financial crisis? The solution is not.

It is now clear that the first round of Abe’s reforms – known as “Abenomics” – has failed to generate sustained inflation. Hopes for continued recovery have now given way to two consecutive quarters of negative growth. The question is whether Abenomics 2.0 will put Japan’s economy back on the path to renewed prosperity.

My own view is that the “three arrows” of Abenomics 1.0 basically had it right: “whatever it takes” monetary policy to restore inflation, supportive fiscal policy, and structural reforms to boost long-run growth. But, though the central bank, under Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, has been delivering on its side of the bargain, the other two “arrows” of Abenomics have fallen far short.

There has been no significant progress on supply-side reforms, especially on the core issue of how to expand the labor force. With an aging and shrinking population, Japan’s government must find ways to encourage more women to work, entice older Japanese to remain in the labor force, and develop more family-friendly labor policies. Above all, Japan needs to create a more welcoming environment for immigrant workers.