The famous military philosopher and analyst Carl von Clausewitz states in “On War” (Book Two, chapter 3; italics in original): “Rather than comparing it [war] to art we could more accurately compare it to commerce, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities; and it is still closer to politics, which in turn may be considered as a kind of commerce on a larger scale.”
OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION
In late 2012, the Japanese political leadership dramatically unveiled its three “arrows” of easy money, flexible fiscal policy, and structural reform to improve the country’s economic performance. In practice, those Japanese political authorities generally represent major financial (corporate; commercial) interests (“Japan, Inc.”). The Bank of Japan’s policies since late 2012, though nominally independent of political and economic power centers, in practice reflects the goals of Japan’s substantial entrenched economic groups and the political representatives and bureaucrats aligned with them.
Monetary policy of course is not the only factor affecting GDP, inflation, and other intertwined variables. Yet Japan’s ongoing government fiscal deficit, though somewhat helpful for promoting growth and inflation, is not the most noteworthy element in the country’s policy array since end-2012. Moreover, the general government debt burden remains massive and likely will remain so for many years. According to the International Monetary Fund, Japan’s general government gross debt as a percent of GDP was 236.4 percent in 2017 (contrast the G-7 average of 118.6pc that year) and forecast at 236.0pc for 2018 and 234.2pc in 2019, dipping only slightly to 229.6pc by 2023 (“Fiscal Monitor”, April 2018, Table A7; the October 2018 update probably will not change Japan’s government debt as a percent of GDP statistics substantially). And structural reform in Japan, which usually crawls forward slowly, has been unremarkable.
The extremely easy monetary policy arrow embraced by the accommodative Japanese central bank for almost six years is the country’s critical weapon. The central bank chief faithfully and repeatedly proclaims that sustained inflation of two percent is a praiseworthy goal (as essentially do the sermons preached by other leading central banks such as the Federal Reserve Board and the European Central Bank). The Bank of Japan’s ongoing tools to achieve its aims include sustained yield repression and massive quantitative easing (money printing). So far, the Bank of Japan, despite its determination, has not come close to achieving two percent inflation. The consumer price trend in recent months manifests merely minor progress on that front. And although Japan’s quarterly GDP for April-June 2018 may signal enhanced year-on-year economic performance, International Monetary Fund forecasts are not as sunny.
Yet what else has the Bank of Japan (as a representative and reflection of the country’s political and economic generals) really battled to achieve via its remarkably lax monetary strategy? A notion of improved and acceptable economic growth and frequent reference to an iconic two percent “price stability target” do not offer a complete story. Moreover, the enthusiastic declaration of assorted monetary policy plans and tactics does not directly reveal important aspects about the economic (financial; commercial; marketplace) landscape within which the interrelated GDP and inflation goals are targeted and such extraordinary easy money programs are designed and applied.
In practice, what are the intermediate connections (means; methods) to the achievement of the allegedly ultimate ends of satisfactory growth and sufficient inflation? One key approach of the Bank of Japan’s magnificent scheme relates to currency depreciation, the other to stock marketplace appreciation. Japan’s central bank sentinel quietly has aimed to achieve the related objectives of Yen weakness and Japanese stock marketplace strength.
In recent times, Japan deliberately has kept a relatively low profile in foreign exchange, trade, and tariff conflicts. Compare the furious racket nowadays, especially since the advent of the Trump presidency, around the United States and China (and also in regard to the European Union, Mexico/Canada/NAFTA).
Nevertheless, for several years, Japan has waged a trade war (engaged in fierce currency competition) without capturing much international political attention or media coverage. The Bank of Japan (and its political and economic allies) in recent years has fought vigorously to depreciate the Yen (especially on an effective exchange rate basis) and thereby to bolster Japan’s current account surplus. Japan’s overall economic growth relies significantly on its net export situation. The Yen’s substantial retreat and its subsequent stay at a relatively low level and the significant expansion in the country’s current account surplus are glorious triumphs.
Since late 2012, the Bank of Japan also has struggled ferociously to rally the Japanese stock marketplace (boost corporate profits). As of early autumn 2018, this guardian has achieved significant victories in this campaign as well.
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Japan- Financial Archery, Shooting Arrows (10-5-18)