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Gloomy predictions for 2009

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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.”

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11 Comments
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Thi is dire. But there is another way to look at things.

Consumerism has driven our economies but it has also driven negative factors such as overwork, damage to the environment and the depreciation of local products in favor of cheap mass produced items. It has destroyed the local shotengai shops and made very station a carbon copy of the same chain shops and uninteresting strip malls that are universal around the world.

Consumerism has driven the US to a credit nightmare and Japanese to increased gambling and loan shark debt. And then there is the social damage of a society that bases the quality of a person upon the price of the bag or clothing they own instead of the measure of an individual's charachter.

Perhaps it is good for us to end the madness of a consumer focused global economy. Maybe there are benefits that will enrich us all as we reengineer a society around community and not the shopping center. Benefits like.

A return of local economies. Local production and employment as local shops step in to fill gaps left by failing chains. Better quality, more local character and small companies that both work and live in the community and are therefore more committed to taking care of the community.

A smaller ecological footprint. If we don't consume so much unnecessary stuff, maybe we can save some forests, drop our carbon footprint and spend our money locally where it helps our communities.

A return to community. What do you replace shopping with? How about community interaction? We need a return to people being connected to people. The divions and diversions that consumerism give harm the fabric of our commuities and account for the shallow selfish trends we see in behavior. Maybe it is time for entertainment and interaction to be more commuity oriented and less driven by what we are heavily marketed to consume.

We have a chance to change here. I hope we have the good sense to take it.

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2009, has no gloom. If there is anything there is more better things to come in future, from these slowdowns. Japan will get better every month in this year slowly.

There is now less things hidden by corporations, things were good earlier because the business reality of companies was hidden. Now is the time for more not hidden secret way to sucessful companies of future.

We must not let gloom talk hinder the way forward. We become what our thinking says. Today is the future,now is future. Make today in japan a better day, in a small way. Small acts build up in due time, to make better future. Make now better in a small ways/small action.

People should know what help they need, where they get that help. Seek to find help, ask help and it will be given. Knock on doors of those who can help and it shall be open to those who seek help.

Whatever help it may be material or spiritual. The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. What use to people, if they gain the whole material world,but lose their souls. There is blessings from everyday we that we live and learn. Space is not the final frontier, final frontier is in self realisations .

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Correction- Make now better in small ways/small actions.

There is blessings from everyday that we live and learn.

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tkoind2 at 10:30 AM JST - 5th January

Spot on. Nice post, lots to think about.

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Politicians are empty bottles by nature, they make lots of noise but lack the ability to see further than the polling booth. They can never define or fix problems because they can never see them until they are in a panic. Even with fortune tellers backing them up with gloomy predictions they can never look away from their little glass balls focused on the next election. The question is, can we use the gloom to get rid of politicians and have a rosy future.

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Tkoind,

We certainly get mixed messages. On the one hand we are encouraged to shop to support the economy. If you don't, well then so many people will lose their jobs as a result of falling demand. On the other hand, rampant consumerism has all the effects you described so well in your post.

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buy Japanese and save Japanese.

2009 will be tough for many. More people will be jobless. Suicides will be up 2-3x. The tough will scrounge while the weak will give up. It's the young that you need to worry about since the very old have been through much tougher times.

People will get mad at Gov, but they can only do so much. The people must learn to do more with less. Survive in 2009 and 2010 will be better. Every dollar you save helps Japan or someone else.

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Spring won't be enjoyed as much without a harsh winter to preceed it. For every yin, there is a yang. Things come in pairs: soul-mates, winter/summer solstice, economic booms and busts. It's all part of the natural cycle to reset/rebalance things, so get used to it!

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Spring won't be enjoyed as much without a harsh winter to preceed it. For every yin, there is a yang. Things come in pairs: soul-mates, winter/summer solstice, economic booms and busts. It's all part of the natural cycle to reset/rebalance things, so get used to it!

Your post is rather goofy! Few elected officials can afford to wait around for "spring." Besides, as T.S. Eliot wrote, "April is the cruelest month."

The US is governed by what is known as a "broker state." Essentially the government is a boxing ring where different interests duke it out and the mighty prevail. This explains why the financial sector was bailed out but not the auto industry, for example.

Japan, by contrast, has a government that is much more pro-active in pursuing things like industrial policy which emanate within the bureaucracy. In theory, this should give it more leeway in terms of a creating a stimulus package. Yet this is not the thinking here:

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.

When they figure how to create a thriving post-industrial economy which is not driven by consumption, hope they let others know.

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Your post is rather goofy! Few elected officials can afford to wait around for "spring." Besides, as T.S. Eliot wrote, "April is the cruelest month."

Kind of off topic, but actually the reason T.S. Eliot said April was the cruelest month was because of the promise of life, with the fresh memory of death (winter) also on the mind. He doesn't mean that April or Spring are in themselves bad, but rather too good to be so closely juxtaposed to winter. You're forgetting the rest of the line about breeding lilacs, mixing memory and desire, and stirring dull roots. ;-)

Japan, by contrast, has a government that is much more pro-active in pursuing things like industrial policy which emanate within the bureaucracy.

I think you mean that Japanese auto makers happen to be the mighty in Japan, and as such have orchestrated low interest rates and undervalued yen to insure high exports and the carry trade using yen. Or not.

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Kind of off topic, but actually the reason T.S. Eliot said April was the cruelest month was because of the promise of life, with the fresh memory of death (winter) also on the mind. He doesn't mean that April or Spring are in themselves bad, but rather too good to be so closely juxtaposed to winter. You're forgetting the rest of the line about breeding lilacs, mixing memory and desire, and stirring dull roots. ;-)

The reason I thought of it is because someone I once viewed as a "soul mate," also mentioned in the post, used to read that poem aloud on a regular basis. It was a long time ago....

What I meant, with respect to Japan, was that the government was pro-active in orchestrating tne country's export-led development, it wasn't left to impersonal market forces. Cheap credit was steered toward industries which were deemed "winners" by someone in the bureaucracy.

I've met a number of people from MITI who were very impressive. And they no doubt enjoyed a social and professional status their American counterpart at, say, the Commerce Department would never achieve.

The origins of the Japanese bubble are the same as its more recent American counterpart, namely the cost of capital became so cheap that people plowed money into very risky ventures (such as real estate).

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