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The Promise of Abenomics

TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s program for his country’s economic recovery has led to a surge in domestic confidence. But to what extent can “Abenomics” claim credit?

Interestingly, a closer look at Japan’s performance over the past decade suggests little reason for persistent bearish sentiment. Indeed, in terms of growth of output per employed worker, Japan has done quite well since the turn of the century. With a shrinking labor force, the standard estimate for Japan in 2012 – that is, before Abenomics – had output per employed worker growing by 3.08% year on year. That is considerably more robust than in the United States, where output per worker grew by just 0.37% last year, and much stronger than in Germany, where it shrank by 0.25%.

Nonetheless, as many Japanese rightly sense, Abenomics can only help the country’s recovery. Abe is doing what many economists (including me) have been calling for in the US and Europe: a comprehensive program entailing monetary, fiscal, and structural policies. Abe likens this approach to holding three arrows – taken alone, each can be bent; taken together, none can.

The new governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda, comes with a wealth of experience gained in the finance ministry, and then as President of the Asian Development Bank. During the East Asia crisis of the late 1990’s, he saw firsthand the failure of the conventional wisdom pushed by the US Treasury and the International Monetary Fund. Not wedded to central bankers’ obsolete doctrines, he has made a commitment to reverse Japan’s chronic deflation, setting an inflation target of 2%.