Will we learn from Japan?:
Japan Steps Out, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: For three years economic policy throughout the advanced world has been paralyzed ... by a dismal orthodoxy. Every suggestion of action to create jobs has been shot down with warnings of dire consequences. If we spend more, the Very Serious People say, the bond markets will punish us. If we print more money, inflation will soar. Nothing ... can be done, except ever harsher austerity, which will someday, somehow, be rewarded.
But now it seems that one major nation is breaking ranks — and that nation is, of all places, Japan. ... Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister, has ... already taken steps orthodoxy says we mustn’t take. And the early indications are that it’s going pretty well.
Some background: Long before the 2008 financial crisis plunged America and Europe into a deep and prolonged economic slump, Japan held a dress rehearsal in the economics of stagnation. When a burst stock and real estate bubble pushed Japan into recession, the policy response was too little, too late and too inconsistent. ... because it’s hard getting policy makers to accept the need for bold action. That is, the problem is mainly political and intellectual, rather than strictly economic. For the risks of action are much smaller than the Very Serious People want you to believe...
Enter Mr. Abe, who has been pressuring the Bank of Japan into seeking higher inflation — in effect, helping to inflate away part of the government’s debt — and has also just announced a large new program of fiscal stimulus. How have the market gods responded?
The answer is, it’s all good. Market measures of expected inflation, which were negative not long ago — the market was expecting deflation to continue — have now moved well into positive territory. But government borrowing costs have hardly changed at all; given the prospect of moderate inflation, this means that Japan’s fiscal outlook has actually improved sharply. True, the foreign-exchange value of the yen has fallen considerably — but that’s actually very good news, and Japanese exporters are cheering.
In short, Mr. Abe has thumbed his nose at orthodoxy, with excellent results.
Now, people who know something about Japanese politics warn me not to think of Mr. Abe as a good guy. ... Whatever his motives, Mr. Abe is breaking with a bad orthodoxy. And if he succeeds, something remarkable may be about to happen: Japan, which pioneered the economics of stagnation, may also end up showing the rest of us the way out.