A funny thing about our acknowledged inability to know the future is that it disposes us to relish, if not necessarily believe, predictions. Every January, Shukan Gendai publishes a set of them for the coming year. Generally they tend to be gloomy. In our time, gloom seems more convincing, more authentic, than sunshine.
This year’s (Shukan Gendai, Jan 10-17) are true to pattern. How could they not be? 2008 has left the analysts and stargazers as shell-shocked as the rest of us. We are not likely to find them wallowing in optimism.
“If we compare the current global economy to an earthquake,” writes management consultant Kenichi Omae, “we are now in the midst of the main shock. How long it will continue, and whether there will be aftershocks, we still don’t know. The prospects for the coming year and beyond are extremely unclear.”
Omae, one of a number of experts whose forecasts make up Shukan Gendai’s package, is relatively -- but only relatively -- hopeful. The economic shock waves that Prime Minister Taro Aso described as “a crisis that comes along once in a hundred years” can also, says Omae, be “an opportunity that comes once in a hundred years” -- if only it prods the stagnant government into unity and dynamism.
But how likely is that? Economic analyst Takuro Morinaga sees good news and bad news. Unfortunately, the latter more or less nullifies the former. By spring, he says, the economy will have recovered somewhat. Falling grain and petroleum prices could amount to the equivalent of a 20 trillion yen economic stimulus.
"However,” he adds, “the chances of this producing an economic recovery are very low.” Why? “The reason is Mr Aso. With his approval ratings around 20%, he can only suffer a crushing defeat if he calls an election. That being the case, he is not likely to dissolve the Diet. So the current paralysis -- with the governing parties controlling the Lower House and the opposition the Upper -- will drag on, at the expense of an effective economic policy.” The result? “A serious recovery won’t get going here for at least 10 years.”
Ten years of a withering economy is likely to produce more casualties than this rapidly aging nation can tolerate. What to do? Turn to the spiritualists, maybe. To spiritual counselor Yoshiyuki Ebara, the root cause of our current impasse is rampant materialism. “I’m not saying we should renounce all possessions,” he says, “only that the happiness arising from satisfying our dependency on ‘things’ is fleeting.”
Clearly he has a point. If the economy is doomed to shrivel for the next 10 years, we’d better learn to do without the “things” a thriving economy provides.
But it won’t work, fears Yasuyuki Shimizu, director of the NPO Suicide Policy Support Center Lifelink. He reminds us of the dreadful month of March 1998, marked by a spate of suicides which has yet to ebb. In 1998, more than 30,000 Japanese committed suicide, as against 24,000 the year before. The suicide rate has remained above 30,000 ever since. What happened in March 1998? The settling of business accounts at the close of the disastrous fiscal year 1997.
If anything, says Shimizu, the economy is worse now than it was then. Brace for a “March 2009 shock,” he warns. “It’s not impossible that the number of suicides this year will hit 40,000, or even 50,000.”© Japan Today