Japanification 2.0? The Japanese economic model (slight return)

Authors: Brandon Hillier*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Economic Geography, Asia
Keywords: Japan, Regulation, Decline, Japanification, Political economy, Economic geography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 23
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Slowing growth, low/negative interest rates, low inflation and increasing public debt characterize advanced capitalist economies in Western Europe and North America. Economists and commentators point to how these conditions recall Japan’s experience over the past thirty years, warning of a ‘Japanification’ of the west. Conceived of as a set of symbolic ideas that provides an interpretative framework for reacting to unfamiliar conditions of economic dysfunction, the contemporary adoption of Japanification by the mainstream financial press, academic economists and macroeconomic policy actors represents a 'boundary' discourse facilitating the production of consensus for agents to enact incremental institutional change while preserving processes of capital accumulation. While not presently constituting something as persistent as a 'model', this is not the first time that Japan's economy has interrupted western economic doxa. Japan’s economic experience challenged institutional prescriptions emanating from the North Atlantic experience of growth and accumulation in the mid-to-late 20th century. From the industrial convergence debates of the 1960s and 1970s, to the postfordism and flexible specialization debates of the 1980s and 1990s, to the comparative capitalism debates which continue in some form today, the ‘aberrant’ case of Japan advances a vernacular challenging dominant discourses about capitalism in late modernity. This paper: (i) discusses the contours of contemporary ‘Japanification’; (ii) presents a historical overview of Japan’s influence on political economic theory from the mid-20th century to the present; and (iii) argues for how Japan represents a key case for understanding the institutionalization of advanced capitalism in the age of economic dysfunction and decline.

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