Abe should repeat Roosevelt’s successes, but not his mistakes

There is more good news from Japan today as new data shows that core inflation rose to 0.8% y/y in August and I think it is now pretty clear that the Bank of Japan is succeeding in defeating 15 years’ of deflation. Good job Mr. Kuroda!

BoJ chief Kuroda has done exactly done what Ben Bernanke called for back in 1999:

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States in 1932 with the mandate to get the country out of the Depression. In the end, the most effective actions he took were the same that Japan needs to take—- namely, rehabilitation of the banking system and devaluation of the currency to promote monetary easing. But Roosevelt’s specific policy actions were, I think, less important than his willingness to be aggressive and to experiment—-in short, to do whatever was necessary to get the country moving again. Many of his policies did not work as intended, but in the end FDR deserves great credit for having the courage to abandon failed paradigms and to do what needed to be done. Japan is not in a Great Depression by any means, but its economy has operated below potential for nearly a decade. Nor is it by any means clear that recovery is imminent. Policy options exist that could greatly reduce these losses. Why isn’t more happening?

To this outsider, at least, Japanese monetary policy seems paralyzed, with a paralysis that is largely self-induced. Most striking is the apparent unwillingness of the monetary authorities to experiment, to try anything that isn’t absolutely guaranteed to work. Perhaps it’s time for some Rooseveltian resolve in Japan.

So far so good and there is no doubt that governor Kuroda has exactly shown Rooseveltian resolve. However, while Roosevelt undoubtedly was right pushing for monetary easing to end deflation in 1932 he also made the crucial mistake of trying to increase wages.

One can say that Roosevelt succeed on the demand side of the economy, but failed miserably on the supply side of the economy. First, Roosevelt push through the catastrophic National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) with effectively was an attempt to create a cartel-like labour market structure in the US. After having done a lot of damage NIRA was ruled unconstitutional by the US supreme court in 1935. That helped the US recovery to get underway again, but the Roosevelt administration continued to push for increasing labour unions’ powers – for example with the Wagner Act from 1935.

While it is commonly accepted that US monetary policy was prematurely tightened in 1937 and that sent the US economy into the recession in the depression in 1937 it less well-recognized that the Roosevelt administration’s militant efforts to increase the unions’ powers led to a sharp increase in labour market conflicts in 1936-37. That in my view was nearly as important for the downturn i the US economy in 1937 as the premature monetary tightening.

Prime Minister Abe is repeating Roosevelt’s mistakes   

The “logic” behind Roosevelt’s push for higher was that if inflation was increased then that would reduce real wages, which would cut consumption growth. This is obviously the most naive form of krypto-keynesianism, but it was unfortunately a widespread view within the Roosevelt administration, which led Roosevelt to push for policies, which seriously prolonged the Great Depression in the US.

It unfortunately looks like Prime Minister Abe in Japan is now pushing for exactly the same failed wage policies as Roosevelt did during the Great Depression. That could seriously undermine the success of Abenomics.

This is from Bloomberg today:

“Abe last week began meetings with business and trade union leaders to press his case for wage increases, key to the success of his effort to spur growth under his economic policies dubbed Abenomics.”

This is exactly what Roosevelt tried to do – and unfortunately succeed doing. His policies was a massive negative supply shock to the US economy, which pushed wages up relatively what would have happened with out policies such as NIRA. The result was to prolong the depression and I am fearful that if Prime Minister Abe will be as successful in pushing for higher wage growth in Japan it will undermine the positive effective of Mr. Kuroda’s monetary easing – inflation will rise, but economic growth will stagnate.

What Prime Minister Abe is trying to do can be illustrated in a simple AS-AD framework.

Abe wage shock

Mr. Kuroda’s monetary easing is clearly increasing aggregate demand in the Japanese economy pushing the AD curve to the right (from A to B). The result is higher inflation and higher real GDP growth. This is what we are now clearly seeing.

However, Prime Minister Abe’s attempt of increasing wages can only be seen as negative supply shock, which if successful will push the AS curve to the left (from B to C). There is no doubt that the join efforts of Mr. Kuroda and Mr. Abe are pushing up inflation. However, the net result on real GDP growth and employment is uncertain.

I am hopeful that Mr. Abe is not really serious about pushing up wages – other than what is the natural and desirable consequence of higher demand growth – and I hope that he will instead push much harder to implement his “third arrow”, which of course is structural reforms.

Said, in another way Mr. Abe should try to push the AS curve to the right instead of to the left – then Abenomics will not repeat the failures of the New Deal.

Leave a comment


  1. From George Dorgan, snbchf.com:

    “Japan is slowly reaching the end of its inflationary episode in terms of y/y price increases. Even if headline inflation is now +0.9%, we judge that by December 2013 the y/y CPI should fall to zero again. The yen stopped falling, so fuel and energy price appreciation slowed down. Prices for services are unchanged y/y and the CPI index ex fresh food and energy is down -0.1% y/y for Japan in August and -0.3% for Tokyo in September.

    The BoJ is desperately calling for wage rises to stop a return to deflation. In Europe, however, politicians would be already happy when unemployment came down, while European wage increases are slowing or even falling.”

    Sorry, where should demand come from in an aging society, from higher oil prices or from the higher Nikkei?
    How can you hike wages when companies in the rest of the world reduce wages?

    Things are clear: Japan will return to deflation.

  2. “This is obviously the most naive form of krypto-keynesianism…”

    I’m nominating this for best sentence you’ve blogged, Lars!

  3. I see that JPYUSD is up 0.7% on this CPI report, that’s not a great sign. I think I agree with the quote from Peter above, it’d be nice to see the yen weaken further, say to 110. But still, who’d have guessed at this turn of events two years ago? The BOJ has given us an edifying monetary experiment. Maybe the BOJ could switch to per hour wage level target and kill two birds with one stone?

  1. 「安倍首相に告ぐ! 『ルーズベルトの過ち』を繰り返してはならない。『ルーズベルトの成功体験』を真似よ。」 — 経済学101
  2. ラルス・クリステンセン 「安倍首相に告ぐ! 『ルーズベルトの過ち』を繰り返してはならない。『ルーズベルトの成功体験』を真似よ。」 — 経済学101
  3. TheMoneyIllusion » Summers and DeLong explain why Yellen is the better choice
  4. Japan, Quo Vadis? | Historinhas

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