Japan: a model of capitalism that manages to balance income growth and income distribution

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Jesper Koll, one of the top Japan strategists and economists, observes that Japan’s economy is performing well and deserves more attention as a model of capitalism that manages to balance income growth and income distribution. Some points made in his article, which may be read in full here, follow. 

The goal of an economy is to create and sustain a stable society. To do so, an economy must produce growth and must distribute the spoils of that growth in a fair and equitable way.

At the end of last year, the median net financial wealth for households in Japan stood at $96,000. In the United States, the same number was $50,000. The average Japanese is de facto twice as wealthy as the average American.

At the bottom end in Japan, approximately 9% of households own less than $10,000 worth of net financial assets. In America, that’s true for 28% of all households. Japan certainly does have an ‘underbelly of poor’, but relatively few are truly left behind financially.

When U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talked about “deplorables” during the 2016 campaign she missed the point: What is truly deplorable is the fact that the U.S. ruling elite, of which Clinton is a leading member, allowed this gravely destabilizing financial inequality to happen in the first place.

According to the OECD database American median incomes rose by approximately $24,000, from $36,000 to $60,000 between 2016 and 2017. Over the same period, Japanese median incomes rose from $27,000 to $51,000, i.e. a similar increase of $24,000, prospering at about the same pace.

So much for the myth that Japan has been stagnating.

The bottom 10% of income earners in Japan strongly outperformed their American counterparts: Between 2000 and 2017, the bottom 10% of income earners saw a $15,000 rise in earnings in Japan, from $17,000 to $32,000. Their U.S. counterparts got only $10,000 more income, from $18,000 to $28,000.

If you are among the bottom 10% of income earners, you are now better off in Japan than in America ($32,000 versus $28,000)

How did Japan successfully bring up the poor? The growing scarcity of labor is forcing steadfast improvement in employment offered — not part time or contracts, but full time — as well as steadfast pay increases for particular jobs at the bottom end of the employment attractiveness spectrum. General white collar sales or management jobs have seen relatively pedestrian pay increases, but truck drivers, construction workers and shipbuilders have seen their pay almost double in recent years.

(Ed) A Tokyo contact agrees that the rapidly declining working age population helps a lot. As automation is coming on a scale not imagined, a lot of countries will struggle with unemployment and that may well put Japan in a very strong position over the next 20yrs or so.

Koll comments that the government deserves credit for actively encouraging positive changes in employers attitudes. This year’s tax code changes should make it easier for spouses to seek higher incomes — not by taxing the rich but by removing a tax ceiling for the poor. The overall impact of rising female participation is already very positive in general for society as a whole, for closing the gap between the rich and the poor in particular.

The overall outcome produced by the Japanese economic system is extremely positive. Japan manages to balance income growth and income distribution unlike many other advanced economies.

Japan’s economy is working well and deserves more attention as a model for “capitalism that works.” The system is very good at bringing up the bottom of the income pyramid and generating exceptional inclusion for all in financial wealth creation.

Japan deserves the Nobel Prize for applied economics.

 

 

 

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