Friday 29 January 2010

Japan: the flawed economic model that we are emulating

Japan 20 years or so ago headed into a serious credit crisis not so dissimilar to the one we have entered recently. They are still in it to this day, in fact last month they reported the worst price deflation statistic on record, so they are still not out of their recession even now, two decades later.

The policies they implemented in order to fight this economic downturn bear a striking resemblance to the ones we are following here in the UK and US (as in "exactly the same"). Somehow, our governments believe that we will enjoy a different outcome than they did. Presumably we are just better than the Japanese, or smarter, or something else equally incorrect along those kind of lines, and this is the reason we will try the same thing and expect different results. The definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

The thinking is that we will devalue our currencies and then our exports will become cheaper, so the rest of the world will buy stuff made in our countries rather than us buying everything from them as in the last couple of decades. Japan had a tail wind on this exporting their way out idea, because the rest of the world was still booming on cheap credit. The export your way out solution is a great theory, but I have a massive bone to pick with it when it comes to the UK trying it out. What do we make and export now..?

The US, well OK I can accept they do still manufacture a lot of stuff and people elsewhere might actually want to buy it. Those Maytag giant fridges are pretty neat, Boeing do still make airplanes that people want to fly in, and people sure like a Harley Davidson, to name just a few of the most obvious examples. Yes, I can accept that it might just work out OK for them.

But what about Britain? What do we make? We stopped wearing blue collared shirts and making stuff long ago, now our domestic economy largely consists of selling each other houses and services. For export we mostly rely on our complex financial derivative products, which people don't like to buy any more since they almost pulled the economy of the entire world into a terminal deflationary vortex. Other than that, I'm pretty sure we don't make anything iconic that anyone else wants and can't get elsewhere cheaper. If you can think of some killer product that we export and people queue up to buy because you just can't get it elsewhere, please I would love to hear about it?

So, to summarise that, I do foresee we will see different results in the UK. The results will show even less success. Welcome to 20 years of grinding recession unless the course is changed quickly.

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