On the surface at least, Japan and Greece would appear to have little in common.
But, reports Nikkan Gendai (July 8), Japanese should take Greece's troubles to heart, as they might be next. Why? Because the root causes of Greece's unmanageable debts, which triggered its current financial crisis, hark back to 2004, the year that Athens hosted the Olympic Games.
Greece had only changed over to the euro two years earlier, and its national bonds, issued as a means of financing outlays to improve its infrastructure, were quickly snatched up. Greece's outlays included a new international airport, subway, expressways and other infrastructural projects -- double the originally planned estimate and reaching more than 89.5 billion Euros, or roughly 1 trillion Japanese yen. That figure represented the fifth highest outlay in the history of the summer games.
Greece subsequently continued to issue government bonds, which by March of this year had reached some 313 billion Euros (or about 42 trillion yen) -- a debt equivalent to 177% of its gross domestic product, the highest percentage among EU nations.
What's scary, says Nikkan Gendai, is that Japan is virtually in the same boat. Costs to produce the new National Stadium and related facilities, for example, continue to swell, and are currently estimated to reach 714.1 billion yen. On top of this figure, other outlays are certain to be devoted to prettying up the city by 2020. How much the bills will come to is anybody's guess.
"Greece's crisis isn't just their own problem," warns economist Mitsuru Saito. "Japan's politicians and bureaucrats love to fling money around, and hosting an Olympiad gives them a ideal excuse to do so. The government insists that the outlays will bring economic benefits, but right now Japan takes in about 50 trillion in tax revenues and blows 100 trillion in expenditures. Its debts are snowballing, creating an unbalanced economy. By 2021, the year after the Olympics, we can expect a major recession."
Appalled by the spiraling construction costs for the new National Stadium, which soared from an original 130 billion yen to 252 billion, the public is starting to rebel -- as borne out by a recent survey of readers of the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper, 81% of whom said they felt the stadium project should be "reconsidered." It would appear that once the public got over their celebratory mood following Tokyo's selection as the venue, they've begun to come to their senses.
"Japan's finances are headed toward a crash," the aforementioned Saito predicts. "The government kept borrowing for the past 20 years. Now for the next five it will continue with Olympics outlays. It will pile on infrastructural projects, which will exacerbate shortages in materials and labor. There's no way to describe it but irresponsible."
A second story on the same page claims that claims that Greeks "are lazy" is an "enormous lie."
Actually Greek workers put in longer hours than do Japanese. Chief economist Izuru Kato of the Totan Research Co Ltd cited a 2013 study by OCED, which found that Greeks worked an average of 2,037 hours annually, ranking them the second longest after Mexico, with 2,237 hours. Japan, with 1,735 hours, ranked 16th. As wages there tend to be low-paying, it's not unusual for many Greeks to hold second or third jobs.
Although Germans and other creditors may have grumbled over the Greeks' seeming "laziness," it was their diligence that made them welcome as "guest workers" in Germany when that country's industries began recovering after WW2.
Kato recalls a program shown on German TV that showed a yacht harbor in Greece, claiming that many Greeks were wealthy enough to afford private yachts. Actually many owners of those boats were Germans.
"Greeks have a sunny disposition -- maybe it comes from the climate there," Kato observes. "Northern Europeans may misinterpret their easygoing nature and fatalistic attitude in the face of the present crisis."© Japan Today