Time to choose, Japan

This post, by Tom Noir, is radical and I cannot say I agree with all of it.  Nonetheless, it is worth a read, excerpt:

The shock to Japan’s society, economy and infrastructure will be huge…

Whether or not the Tokyo Electric Power Co. is able to ultimately prevent a nuclear disaster on a level with Cherynobyl, these events will leave a deep impression in the national psyche. The Japanese have the dubious distinction of being the only nation ever to have nuclear weapons used against them. They have an understandable horror of nuclear power: their society’s so-called ‘nuclear allergy’. Now they truly face the sum of all their fears.

This time it is not an external threat being imposed by a foreign enemy.  This is a nuclear disaster of their own making. Japan is going to have deal with a cultural identity crisis in the wake of this disaster.

Japan now faces simultaneous threats to its infrastructure, its economy and its society. We have to ask seriously if Japan, as a nation, has the reserves of will necessary to weather this crisis…

The Japanese economy flatlined in 1991 and has never recovered. In the face of these doldrums they have financed their standard of living by taking on massive quantities of debt. Their total debt was set to climb to 228% of their national GDP this year without taking into account this disaster.

This disaster will do one of two things for Japan.  On the one hand, it could be the wake-up call that that country needs to galvanize it into real change. But it could also be the real beginning of the end, the collapse of the entire elaborately constructed house of cards. Either way, Japan post-tsunami will not be the same as Japan before. Change is coming.

By the way, here is a good corrective on the “why no looting in Japan?” question.  And here.

Comments

I comment on this article — which is, alas, typical in style and substance in certain Western circles — over there.

Oh Japan will be just fine in the end, and no thanks to Mr.Noir either.. They have Been through much in the past. Do you think that these problems are nearly as devastating as WW2 was to Japan. What we "have to ask" is why Mr. Noir engages in this sort of smug and condescending fear mongering.

Here is an opportunity for the USA to show its solidarity with Japan. If we do not, one can bet that the Chinese will.

I doubt the Chinese will show lasting solidarity with Japan. The reasons should be pretty obvious.

What exactly are these "obvious" reasons? WWII? I don't think so. Russians today are very friendly toward Germans despite two brutal wars and immense deaths.

It goes back a lot further than the 1940s.

hattip,

The difference this time is that Japan faces (had has been facing for some time) severe structural issues, notwithstanding the nuclear disaster. The current disaster will now just make those issues more prevalent, and therefore make the crisis more difficult to overcome.

Eddie, you must be joking. We are talking about a nation that rose from the smoldering ashes of WW2 to create a world-class industrial economy and a vibrant middle class, in spite of tremendous disadvantages in terms of natural resources and trade relations. The two cannot be compared and the Japanese will endure. What you ought to be asking is whether America's religion of free-market triumphalism has prepared it to weather coming storms.

That was 65 years ago with a much younger population and less competition.

There's an additional factor in the "no looting" issue. It doesn't fit in the narrative. Remember that the extent of societal collapse in New Orleans was fairly exaggerated.

The main factor in the there being less looting in Japan is economic. The lower classes have been swamped by progress and have a strong safety net. They have a high Gini coefficient primarily because of stratospheric real estate prices. Consequently the only thing worth stealing for most Japanese people is property and you can't carry that out with your hands.

When Japan had a more destitute lower classes they had plenty of looting:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hibiya_Incendiary_Incident
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_Riots_of_1918

In the 1923 Tokyo quake there was widespread chaos, ethnic cleansing and yes looting.

During WWII the army kept a firm grip but after the worst of the incendiary and nuclear attacks you certainly had chaos and wide-scale looting.

The other issue I'd say is experience. Japan's population density and location have given it far more then it's share of quakes, tsunamis, typhoons, super-typhoons and volcanic eruptions in addition to the WWII razing. This all has resulted in in them being the most prepared, from the early warning sensors to the evacuation drills to the building codes to the maintaining order.

If you had to rank Countries I Worry About Being Able to Overcome a Major Crisis, Japan would rank, what, 204th?

The only real danger in the aftermath of this crisis is if there is a real worldwide anti-nuclear backlash. You'd think that would be impossible, but if a bad Hollywood movie could cause the US to think Three Mile Island was some kind of catastrophe, I'd say anything is possible.

I'll wager that months from now, we'll learn that some 18,000 Japanese were killed merely because they lived too close to the coast, while eleven people were hospitalized because they worked to save a crippled nuke plant from the inside. This will cause American liberals to endlessly campaign that nuclear power must end. From their beach houses, of course.

Actually the "real danger" is that the bumbling of current parties will wind up with the Nationalists taking power.

A terrible series of things have happened in a short period of time to one of the richest countries in the world; a country that makes thousands of products that the rest of the industrialized world buys up as fast as they are made. This will be devastating for the immediate affected region in northeastern Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people may well leave the area and not ever return. But they are not immigrating to Hungary or Korea or Malaysia. This will cost Japan billions of dollars a year for quite a number of years. But then what? Japan isn't closing. They may have to embrace some more expansive immigration policies and retool their financial/industrial complex, but those things were true before the tsunami.

People have been abandoning that region of Japan for years, this will just accelerate the inevitable.

@jim - Comment of the month, but only because it's premature to say year.

What a gigantic pile of crap.

Once you start by invoking Chernobyl, not as a thing whose spectre, even if accurately understood rather than exaggerated, has nothing much to do with this, but as a likely if not certain outcome, you're starting from an understanding so far apart from the available facts about nuclear power that I can't take the rest seriously.

(Let alone the idea that they have an allergy to "nuclear power" - that would explain why they have so damned much of it, right? They might have one to nuclear weapons, definitely. But power? Not in evidence. At least, well, not these past few decades.)

Yeah .... no. Japan is one of the most robust and capable nations on Earth. This is a test of their ability, but not one I'm worried about them failing.

Japan's national debt, bad demographics and economic stagnation are real problems. And they're big problems, because they're on the same scale the country is on. Fukushima is not on the same scale at all. Even if you want to make the Chernobyl analogy, Chernobyl didn't bring down the USSR or even force any change on them other than improving the safety regs at their other plants. One plant was lost; one town abandoned; the Empire was unmoved.

Actually, in retrospect Chernobyl probably played a major role in destroying the USSR. It allowed Gorbachev to mobilize his reform faction against the old guard, who most elite Soviets held responsible for the disaster. The accident certainly helped inflame regional anti-Moscow sentiment in Ukraine and Belarussia. Far from being "unmoved" within 5 years of the disaster the Empire had fallen apart. The lesson really is that major natural or man-made disasters will have consequences that probably none of us can accurately predict.

Some commentors are maybe missing the point of my post. I'm not arguing that Japan is about to be wiped out by a nuclear reactor meltdown. I'm saying that the psychological effects of this disaster, whether there is a meltdown or not, will be far reaching.

Also, I didn't make up the Japanese 'nuclear allergy'. Google it.

-Tom Noir

What your point is I can't figure out. I am thinking that perhaps you are looking at this as an event that "changed everything" almost a decade ago in the US, with the result that America's true leader told Americans to "go shopping".

Do you think someone will tell the Japanese people that they need to show the gods they are unbowed, and that the Japanese simply need to go shopping?

Or are you thinking that the Japanese simply need to get real and hike taxes to more efficiently fund the government spending they have so willingly funded for the past two decades.

You could write the same thing about Washington, D.C.

Interesting excerpting; the above quoted paragraph is followed by a different one:
"The Japanese economy flatlined in 1991 and has never recovered. In the face of these doldrums they have financed their standard of living by taking on massive quantities of debt. Their total debt was set to climb to 228% of their national GDP this year without taking into account this disaster.

"The Japanese government has this immense debt because of a pool of willing lenders: their own people who are famous spendthrifts who save a much larger proportion of their incomes then Westerners typically do. But the government's generous funding from thrifty housewives may be about to run out."

While the Japanese people have been like American conservatives and opposed tax hikes, unlike American taxpayers, the Japanese people have funded not only almost all the government spending they wanted by buying government debt, they have also financed a good bit of US government spending by buying US debt.

They, as a group, can't cash in their debt without suffering negative impacts to their personal welfare, so they have locked themselves into giving their money to the government for the long term, something that is more efficiently done with higher taxes.

And I don't see anyone saying that the Japanese should cut government spending so that the private corporations can provide the aid to all those who lost everything, to rebuild the roads and water systems and schools, to rescue the people and bury the dead, because as Milton Friedman always said, "the purpose of business is not profit, but aiding the poor and providing for the general welfare of the people with charity."

What a fatuous article. I can't help but suspect that Mr Noir is projecting his own insecurities.

Looking for balanced perspective on the disaster (and on nuclear power vs carbon emissions)?

Find updates here: http://bravenewclimate.com/

Sorry, but this is nonsense. Fully agree with Stephen that this is fatuous - I'd add childish and spectacularly arrogant.

It's easy after a big event in a culture you don't live in to write something like: "This is huge. The country will have to change forever. And I (from my armchair) know exactly why, and can predict it."

But much of the time, these snap judgements are wrong.

Especially if coming from someone who seems to know little about the country, but likes to be seen to make grandstanding statements.

“This is huge. The country will have to change forever. And I (from my armchair) know exactly why, and can predict it.”

And it's usually "change to be like me."

Tyler, forget about Japan. You better watch your country. A good paragraph to ponder --from Tom Maguire's
http://justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2011/03/un-approves-action-in-libya.html

Well - is a military effort over Libya really going to simply commence, with no Congressional debate or Presidential address? Amazing - I would not expect that from the First Ditherer. And frankly, starting something that looks like a war with no public support, debate, or preparation is absurd. On the other hand, this is a huge weekend for the NCAA March Madness, so we can't really expect Obama to emerge until early next week.

Ah,so now it is all cleared up. There was in fact no looting in New Orleans, no social-order breakdown whatsoever, except of course for some entrenched white vigilantes and needless to say the police - but the rest of the population which during non-emergency times is among the most murderous in the nation was quite well behaved through it all. The Japanese, on the other hand, are in fact rampant looters and the area around the disaster is engulfed in a complete civil breakdown. Thank you Ted Craig, Andrew Sullivan, Slate, and the Nation for setting the record straight.

That's quite a leap from "fairly exaggerated." What I said, if actually read it, is NOT that looting was rampant in Japan, but that the HYSTERICAL reports out of New Orleans were mostly false.

Lesson #1 Katrina: Don't build your house below sea level in a place that gets hit by hurricanes.

Lesson #2 Japan: Don't build nuclear reactors near earthquake zones that get hit with tsunamis.

Earthquake zone? The whole country is an earthquake zone!

Tom Noir's piece is not radical at all. It is merely vacuous. He says Japan must change. But he does not give any specifics on how Japan should change. Sure, the Japanese have their problems. However, their problems are no worse than those faced by any other society. He claims, like many others that Japan is stagnant.

Here's a counter argument to Japan's stagnation:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/the-myth-of-japans-lost-decades/71741/

I love contrarians as much as anyone, but Fingleton's arguments are pretty weak. Notice how he fails to give any concrete examples of the "producer's goods" he's hyping. Japan is losing ground to Germany, Korea and China on every front. Maybe compared to the US Japan looks not that bad, but the country was still in relative, and significant, decline even before the earthquake. Go look at the market caps of Japanese companies founded within the last 30 years. It's pretty pathetic compared to the US.

Why No or not much) Looting?

I've lived in Japan for 17 years. there are several reasons. here are two:

1. They are taught, and believe, that if something isn't yours, then it must be someone else's, so don't take it. Sort of the opposite of what Americans think, sort of---if someone else hasn't staked it out and is guarding it, you can take it....of course, I'm exaggerating (aren't I?).

2. Everyone lives in small neighborhoods, mostly (even the big crowded cities are really collections of small neighborhoods). Everyone knows everyone, and will remember what you did what things settle down. The fact that you will have to live with them keeps people relatively well behaved (speaking from experience, there have been people I would have liked to jack up but calculated it would hurt me more than them.). It's usually less painful to endure the routine hassles than to rock the boat.

There are of course other reasons.

I've become Japanized.. I wouldn't dream of even cutting in a line let alone looting. If I were back in the USA the first thing I would do is steal a color TV from a Korean store.

"they have financed their standard of living by taking on massive quantities of debt. Their total debt was set to climb to 228% of their national GDP this year"

My eyes glaze over when government and national debt is confused. The Japenese government has a huge debt, financed by the Japanese people. And these same Japanese people have contributed to financing our debt and supporting our standard of living, not the reverse.

Choose what?

By the way, I'm looking forward to the articles contending that the disasters prove Japan needs tens of millions of immigrants. See, Japan isn't crowded enough.

I'm sure they are coming.

The link between this and immigration seems pretty far-fetched to me.

That's why its taken this long, Rahul. Just be patient,.

This article is ridiculous without any insight and as this site has been going downhill for a long time this is as good a time as any to end my visits. All the best, Alex, I am sorry Tyler is bringing you down with him.

Concerning the "good corrective on the 'why no looting in Japan?' question". It is reported that in Japan "failure to return a found wallet can result in hours of interrogation at best, and up to 10 years in prison at worst".

The device undoubtedly works but at a certain cost, that of insulting those who would have returned the wallet because of moral, other-regarding concerns, wrongly assuming that they only have self-interested ones.

this crisis…

The Japanese economy flatlined in 1991 and has never recovered. In the face of these doldrums they have financed their standard of living by taking on massive quantities of debt. Their total debt was set to climb to 228% of their national GDP this year without taking into account this disaster

So what are Tom Noir's credentials to be writing about this? I tried to google the name but can't figure out his affiliation. Academic? Journalist? Armchair philosopher? None of the above?

Agreed! Are these simply the rantings of someone who knows nothing about Japan...?

(Why on earth would anyone link to this?)

Here's the real scandal: billions and billions of dollars of wasted government spending on sea walls. Did they work? Did they save lives? Did they increase the death tool by making people complacent?

another scandal: modelings. Nobody though a quake this big -- the largest in Japanese history -- would hit. And nobody predicated a tsunami this big.

How is a bigger fraud: climate modelers (science modelers in general) or economists?

The real scandal is your spelling, hey yo!

Did seawalls work? Somewhat.
Somewhat? They have stopped smaller tsunamis completely and by some accounts stopped at least the first wave from the Sendai quake.
Did they save lives? Yes.
Did they increase the death toll by making people complacent? Unlikely on net.
Did many people predict a quake this big could hit Japan? Yes.
Did many people predict big tsunamis might hit Japan? Yes.
Who is a bigger fraud? The talk radio hosts who brainwash you.

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