On Friday, November 4, a group of over forty students and faculty gathered to hear Richard Katz of the Oriental Economist on Japan’s economic and political prospects in the wake of the devastating events of March 2011. Japan was already fighting for recovery on both economic and political fronts when it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami of devastating proportions, threatening Japan’s political stability and fragile economy and adding a nuclear crisis to an already long list of challenges.
Before addressing the tsunami’s impacts on Japan’s moribund political-economic culture, Katz provided a brief overview of Japan’s economy in decades leading up to the crisis, from the economic miracle of the 1970s, when Japan became the second largest economy in the non-Communist world, to the “lost decade” of the 1990s, when Japan’s economy began to contract and unemployment rose, to the continued stagnation of present day Japan, which Katz attributes to obsolete institutions and bad economic policies. He spent considerable time outlining the structural deficiencies responsible for Japan’s slow growth and high unemployment among other difficulties, including, for example, trade and investment disputes with the United States.
On the question of Japan’s future, Katz was cautiously optimistic, even in light of the new challenges, which may in the long run provide the catalyst for change Japan so desperately needs.