On a visit to Tokyo this week, on more than one occasion when I asked how Japan should tackle the economic crisis, my interlocutor turned with ninja-like alacrity to the topic of pre-Meiji Japan. The period before American warships forced the country open in the mid-19th century was regularly invoked as a prelapsarian idyll, a time when Japan did not have to deal with the grubby business of earning its crust in the world.
Eisuke Sakakibara, the former vice-finance minister indelibly branded Mr Yen, describes a country that was peaceful, orderly, unspoilt and friendly. “That was what pre-Meiji Japan was like. We should go back to that,” he says.
His invocation of a more innocent, pre-industrial age could easily be dismissed as idle chatter were it not for the fact that it keeps coming up. Asked about economic policy, one shadow cabinet minister finds himself pondering Edo Japan’s almost non-existent imports. (That is hardly surprising given Japan’s 200-year virtual ban on entering or leaving the country.) Japan started exporting, the politician says, only because it needed to build a military to defend itself. That decision has led inexorably to today’s over-dependence on supplying manufactured products to customers overseas.
Japan is a fascinating place - a country with Western-style demographic collapse which has set its face against mass immigration as a means of replacing those missing Japanese babies. In England the decision has been to replace missing English babies with babies of Third World ancestry, while skipping out on the integration process which (IMHO) alone would prevent problems on what's euphemistically called 'social cohesion'. The current result being that immigration is reported as the #1 issue for voters of all parties.
How it will play out over there (and over here) remains to be seen, but I'm pretty sure the Japanese armed forces will neither be ordering extra tear gas nor considering the practicalities of shooting their own citizens should the forecast 'summer of rage' materialise.
It's true that one of the characteristics of this crisis is that the 'good guys' lose, both internationally and personally. The exporting nations - the Far East, Germany - are hardest hit by the drop in demand, just as all over the world individual savers are being punished for the sins of individual and corporate borrowers.
And, as I've blogged before, NuLab is about to hit savers and pensioners even harder, by printing money to inflate away the debt overhang (citing the IMHO non-existent threat of deflation)- great for the indebted, disaster for those on fixed incomes. There may be an interval before inflation kicks in, and if shares fall far enough fast enough there might be a small window of opportunity for those with savings to get back into equities when the FT100 is below 3000. But for those surviving on a pension alone the future looks bleak.
What did Neil Kinnock say ? "I warn you not to grow old ..."