A student of Japanese history cannot help but be impressed by how this country has turned itself around in the past. These periods of growth tend to be proceeded by protracted periods of stagnation, whether because of war or economic malaise. These situations include the post-WWII recovery and the Meiji Era expansion. One might be inclined to ask - if Japan has a hope of recovery - where can be expect such a recovery to come from. Clearly if such circumstances are to prevail it will be because of a 'cultural revolution'. Not the false promise of a collectivist revolution as in China, but a capitalist revolution. It is easy to conjure up explanations as to how that might happen. For example:
1. Women's liberation: Japan has yet to really feel the impact of the women's liberation movement that struck the West. In the West it was radical women who drove it, and the government who pragmatically recognised the benefits of taxing more household members. Today most women are proud to call themselves housewives. We might however see different values taught in schools and on TV educational programs in coming years.
2. Immigration: Most Western governments who have abused their debt-financing capacity (NB: I think all of them now since Australia and China pragmatically joined the club) have recognised the power of immigration to boost internal demand during periods of recession. We have all seen the levels of consumption in developing countries like Vietnam. Take one of those destitute Asians however and put them in the West, and suddenly you have a booming economy. In the last 3 years, Australian immigration numbers have jumped from 140,000 to 300,000 per annum. Rest assured that other countries are doing the same way, because its easy stimulus for the government, and who would not want more taxpayers to fund unsustainable debts. Might we expect the same in Japan? This would require change in Japanese values or 'tolerances to change'.
3. Central administration: Revolution anyone? I will be writing a lot more about this in future, but another basis for change is likely to be political transformation. Personally, I don't expect Japan to be a leader in political theory, but they do make great followers when they see how things can work. If any country shifted from a centrally-administered political administration, i.e. national & local assemblies referred as 'democracy', we would see a huge increase in productivity. For some of you, you will jump to the 'false dichotomy' of totalitarianism as the only alternative. But in fact there are other approaches to government. This is beyond the scope of this topic, but the impact would be significant.
4. Parenting & values: Advances in parenting and general personal values could also have a profound impact on Japanese people, particularly the youth. Such changes could also herald a huge improvement in the innovativeness of Japanese people.
5. Population growth: You might wonder if women might be encouraged to have more children. I think any such campaign is less likely to be effective without a deep-seated change in values.
Japan is already a hardworking nation of people, so I do not see much progress possible in terms of effort, but rather values which could culminate in favorable changes to how those people work. There are huge advances to to be made if people recognise and understand the opportunities. So do they? I don't it. Like I say...it will start somewhere else. Maybe the USA? And how long before Japan realises the personal relevance?
So long as Japan remains a collectivist country, the challenge of change is likely to depend upon external factors. We might expect this to be:
1. Debt crisis
2. Political stagnation
3. Charismatic leader
The fact is that the Japanese have not suffered enough that they are willing to change. That will change over the next two decades as power shifts to younger people. There will come a time when an appealing politician eventually emerges.
This is likely I think to result a dictatorial regime, though it is unlikely to embrace militaristic ambitions or persecution of foreigners. Yet few nationalistic regimes do when they start out. I actually don't expect a regime which needs to rely upon external markets for trade and 'population growth' to entertain such persecution of minorities. More probable is radical reform. In the context of Japan it is going to be concrete, sweeping and probably economically-focused.