Leading economist tells Shinzo Abe of challenges to Abenomics

Not many leaders call on international experts to bring them bad news. Yet Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe this week invited one of the world’s leading economists to talk to him “candidly” about Japan’s situation in the world.

The message from the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was not encouraging.

“A few years ago, no one would have anticipated that the global economy would be as weak as it is today,” he said at the prime minister’s office. “When economic circumstances change, you have to adapt your policy.”

Professor Stiglitz also urged Mr Abe not to raise Japan’s consumption tax, or sales tax. That is a contentious issue as it is closely linked to Abenomics. A higher consumption tax should mean more government income. But it can become a drag when the economy is close to recession.

Mr Abe’s meeting with Professor Stiglitz was not primarily about tax or domestic Japanese politics. It was more about how the changes to the global economy will affect Japan. In particular, the slowdown in Chinese growth and the knock-on effect of low energy prices.

Mr Abe was not the only person listening to Professor Stiglitz. The Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and the Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda all attended the seminar.

More experts are due in Japan for similar top levels meetings soon, including another world-class economist, Paul Krugman.

Japan’s leaders may be prepared to listen to the opinion of foreign experts but they do not find it easy to change their policies in the wake of their advice. That is partly because the the civil service is so slow at implementing policy change.

Foreigners who study Japan’s economy nearly always prescribe reform – sometimes radical reform. But resistance to reform is strong, particularly among elderly conservative Japanese people who support Mr Abe and his ruling party, the LDP.

The Economist magazine uses its voice to encourage more reform in Japan. This week, its analysis of Mr Abe’s political challenges warned that voters will blame him if the economy does not recover as he has promised.

The Economist believes that Mr Abe’s primary political goal is the reform of the constitution, in particular Article Nine which commits Japan to pacifism. It says in order to change this, Mr Abe needs the overwhelming support of both the upper and lower houses of the Japanese parliament. He could then put the issue to the country in a referendum.

But the Economist says that such a move would cause deep alarm among many Japanese people. That may not be a point of view that Mr Abe wishes to hear.

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20160312_ASD001_0世界のリーダーが自国のマイナス材料となるような情報 を乞うために国際的なエキスパートを招聘するのは稀だ。だが、 安倍晋三首相は今週、世界的に有名なエコノミストでありノーベル経済学賞受賞者のジョセフ・スティグリッツ氏を招き、日本国内の状況に関して忌憚のない意見を求めたが、結果、励みになるような報告は得られなかった。





英誌エコノミストは、更なる国内改革を後押ししており、安倍政権の下、経済回復が見られなかった場合、国民からの非難は免れないであろうと 報じている。同誌は、安倍首相は平和憲法の根幹である9条改正を優先しているが、そのためには衆参両院からの支持が必須であり、それを以って国民投票の実施が可能となるとしている。ただ、国民からの支持が得られるかどうかは疑問だと述べ、安倍首相の期待を裏切る結果になる事も予想されるとしている。