By William K. Black
The New York Times published a story by Liz Alderman dated November 17, 2014 entitled “As Japan Falls Into Recession, Europe Looks to Avoid It.” The article begins with a burst of (unattributed) economic illiteracy.
“Japan looked like the model for economic revival. Growth was back on track. The stock market was surging. Inflation, which had eluded Japan for decades, was even returning.
But Japan’s grand economic experiment, a combination of fiscal discipline and monetary stimulus, is collapsing. On Monday, the country unexpectedly fell into recession, a downturn that has painful implications for the rest of the world.
Japan’s unorthodox strategy was supposed to offer a road map for other troubled economies, notably Europe. Fiscal belt-tightening and tax increases, while leaning on the central bank to pump money into the economy, was expected to help overcome a malaise.”
In a prior column I gave mock praise to Alderman because after editorializing for eurozone austerity for years in her columns she finally admitted that “many economists” criticized those policies. I cautioned, however, that the NYT reporters, including Alderman, assigned to cover the eurozone “are austerians to the core.” Here comments about Europe and Japan prove my point. First, Japan did not look like “the model for economic revival” when it endorsed austerity through sharp increases in its sales tax. It looked like a model for a gratuitous recession. The stock market surge and moving towards achieving desirable levels of modest inflation occurred in part in response to the fiscal stimulus that the new Japanese government decided to replace with fiscal austerity. But other government policies were more important in explaining these results – and explaining why they were artificial. By announcing the rise in the sales tax from five to eight percent in advance the government spurred a sharp increase in consumption of durable goods prior to the increase. By moving government funds from safer investments to stock purchases the government spurred a rise in the stock market.