Recently, recession rolls off the tongues of politicians and is mentioned in the Japanese news media with such ubiquity that we are becoming programmed to accept this word without actually thinking about what it means. The word recession symbolizes something undesirable, chaotic, and detrimental to the well-being of our accustomed way of life. We try to avoid it like the plague. But what is a recession? Ask any economist and he will quickly tell you that the definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.
If GDP growth is shrinking, Japan must be failing as a society, right? Japan and the rest of the global elite need to find a way to regenerate the turbines of consumerism because we must always be committed to continuous economic expansion, regardless of the unintended consequences that may ensue. If the economy does not continue to grow, society cannot progress. At least this is what the economist preaches.
But what an economist won’t reveal is that not only is GDP growth a misleading indicator, but continuous economic growth, at least by contemporary standards, is unsustainable and unrealistic. He will also never admit that the world’s predominant economic system is inherently flawed and in need of some drastic revisions.
The Japanese economy and other members of the privileged few that benefit from its outputs have grown massively in the last half century or so. Why? An abundance of cheap and readily available fossil fuels, excessive exploitation of those fossil fuels, deregulation and negligence of the environment However, now we are beginning to witness the contradictions of a global economic order that is myopic and illogical.
Currently, nearly all material production and transportation are dependent on the availability of cheap and easily available fossil fuels. Unfortunately, fossil fuels are a finite resource and the burgeoning demand of the Chinese and Indian economies are only expediting the dwindling supply of global resources. What does this mean? It means the way of life that the global elite, particularly Japanese and Americans, have grown accustomed to is merely an unsustainable trend. It also means that global GDP cannot possibly grow at the rate in which we have been accustomed to seeing in recent years. In fact, common sense reveals that GDP will continue to shrink in the coming years.
What the economist also won’t tell you is that even when GDP was growing in previous past years, the disparity of wealth between the haves and have-nots also increased dramatically. While Japan, America, Europe and a few others have flourished in recent decades, the widening gap in wealth between the G8 and everyone else continues to grow. This is also a characteristic that exists between the affluent and less well-off within the G-8 as well.
What the economist also won’t reveal is that the norms of consume and waste that are encouraged by the current economic system are not only materially sustainable, but ecologically destructive. We are literally killing the earth for the sake of convenience and economic profit. Climate change is no longer just the talk of tree-huggers or naïve idealists, but a reality that affects us all. The dire threat of global warming can only be addressed by drastically tweaking our lifestyles.
This change entails a significant decrease in consumption and an adherence to conservation. This begins by accepting the idea that GDP cannot continue to grow if we are to get serious about protecting the biosphere. Sure, Japan initiated the Kyoto Protocol and has for years instituted strict fuel efficiency standards, but these measures only make a small dent in protecting the environment. Japanese society is just as materialist, wasteful and consumer oriented as American, Canadian, Australian, or European society. Just paying a visit to a Japanese convenient store will prove this point.
So what is the solution? Are we supposed to reject modernity and revert back to living in caves? Some might consider even questioning the basic assumptions of neo-liberal capitalism as a cause for concern. A dip into the dangerous political territory of socialism or communism. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, this sort of rhetoric is often espoused by those who wish to maintain the current order and it is this type of myopic thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.
Markets are not a bad thing. We need markets in the modern world. They enrich our lives in so many ways and provide limitless possibilities. But we have to accept that our current economic practices are unsustainable, ecologically destructive and often unethical. In order for Japanese society, which is part of the “global society,” to progress into the future, we need to find harmony between the markets and protecting our communities and environment.
The solution can be found in smaller, regional markets, sustainable planning and an understanding that consumerism is not an end in itself. We don’t have to live in caves, but spending less time shopping and being content less material possessions will not bring any harm to any of us. In fact, it may make many of us healthier, better educated and more in touch with the community around us. The future may pose a difficult readjustment for many of us, but we can adapt with innovation, creativity and education.© Japan Today