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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Theorizing economic Japanification in the post-2008 conjuncture Hillier, Brandon Takayuki


Since Marco Polo’s adventures through Asia, Japan has occupied a special place in the west’s consciousness—representing an exotic “topsy-turvy” alternative to western ways of life. In the post-WWII period, mythology about Japan’s political economy inspired a rethinking of the western approach to economic governance. During its unprecedented economic expansion, Japan’s experience of vigorous success redefined the boundaries of western economic orthodoxy, testing the limits of the supposedly universal tenets of liberal development. Now, as its economic miracle transitions into prolonged stagnation, Japan provides a cautionary tale and model for what (not) to do when faced with the prospect of decline. This thesis examines the rise of “Japanification”—the imagined threat of economic decompression characterized by stalled growth, deflation, low interest rates, fiscal deficits, and debt deleveraging—after the 2007-08 global financial crisis in the west to advance three propositions. Firstly, in tracing its recurring role as a comparator in the west, Japan is conceptualized as a “Goldilocks imaginary” and “universal particular” for the late capitalist conjuncture—one which is concurrently, if paradoxically, exotic yet familiar. Representations of Japan serve as effective vectors for reformist imaginations of the economy in times of uncertainty and crisis, providing enough ideational antagonism to agitate (liberal western) norms without disturbing the universal morality of capitalism as a mode of production. Secondly, Japan provides insight into the future institutional composition of the western political economic contexts it is invoked in; it reveals frictions in present systems of accumulation and their possible future logics. Japanification is conceptualized as a signifier for a war of positions waged by sympathizers of Keynesian thought against prevailing monetarist, neoliberal, and Smith-Ricardian sensibilities, suggesting a future system of economic regulation characterized by monetary discretion, fiscal intervention, and industrial policy. Thirdly, albeit more conjecturally, Japanification telegraphs a shift away from neoliberalism, the liberal international order, and its constitution by advanced western industrial economies—and prospectively away from the norm of economic growth. These propositions are argued by reviewing representations of Japan in the social sciences, industry and state agency reports, and liberal financial media from the 1950s to the present day.

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