viernes, 13 de diciembre de 2013

La larga emergencia

Notable artículo de opinión en el New York Times. Lo escribe un japonés para nada conspirativo (Norihiro Kato, profesor de la Universidad de Waseda). Nos cuenta sobre un país que parece haber comenzado “la larga emergencia”, en palabras de J.H. Kunstler: crecimiento bajo cero en un mundo de energéticos caros. Incidentalmente, refuerza una hipótesis que adelantáramos en este blog hace algo más de un año (

Título: Japan in a Post-Growth Age

Texto: “These days you can hardly open a newspaper or turn on a television in Japan without encountering another story relating to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s call, after visiting a nuclear waste facility in Finland, for ending Japan’s reliance on nuclear power. Since Mr. Koizumi made his comments in September, Japanese newspapers have been filled with positive editorials about the possibility of a nonnuclear future.

I’m no fan of nuclear power myself, and yet I can’t help feeling that there is something odd about this sudden surge of interest in denuclearization. Until his recent change of heart, Mr. Koizumi was a vocal advocate of nuclear power, much like his protégé, the current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who engineered the Liberal Democratic Party’s return to power last year on a pro-growth, pronuclear platform. 

What explains this sudden shift in the winds?

The way I see it, the newfound prominence of antinuclear talk is actually a symptom of a deeper transformation whose contours are only now becoming visible: the slow emergence of a sense that Japan may have entered a post-growth era.

Until recently, many in Japan have been unable to shake the feeling that this country’s “two lost decades” were a result of some accident, a bad dream from which they would soon awake, and that if only the government had taken bolder actions, the problems that had been plaguing Japan for so long — a strong yen, a shrinking population, high youth unemployment — could have been averted.

The notion that strong economic action had to be taken, however belatedly, was just gaining traction when the earthquake and tsunami hit in March 2011, setting off the unprecedented nuclear disaster at Fukushima. All of a sudden, Japan found itself faced with a choice: it could take up the goals of a newly strong movement to denuclearize, accepting the economic costs of having no more relatively cheap energy, or finally implement the pro-growth policies that should, perhaps, have been given a chance decades ago. We could do one or the other, but not both.

This was the issue at stake in the December 2012 election.

When Mr. Abe pledged to focus on growth powered by nuclear energy, he held out a vision of an alternative to the harsh reality of two decades of economic stagnation. This dream persuaded people to vote for his party, even though more than half the population favored denuclearization.

But now that “Abenomics” — expanding the money supply to spur inflation and push interest rates below zero; pushing the yen down, to revive the country’s once mighty export sector; and increasing the government’s already huge public debt to pay for new investments in infrastructure and research — is no longer just a proposal, but actual policy, the mood has changed. People all around the country — including Mr. Koizumi, I suspect — are becoming anxious about the future of Abenomics. They are coming to realize that the dream of returning Japan to the era of rapid export-led growth between the end of World War II and the late 1980s might not be realistic.

It’s true that some indicators are looking up: Exports have risen, as has consumer confidence, and the economy is growing at nearly 2 percent a year. Large companies like Toyota and Nissan are hiring. Salaries are rising. The selection of Tokyo as the site of the 2020 Summer Olympics has energized the population. But rising oil and gas prices brought unprecedented trade deficits in the first half of 2013. Construction for the Olympics will divert workers from critical projects in the areas affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. A plan to build a new superfast maglev train between Tokyo and Nagoya — another symbol of the new focus on growth — is meeting with a lukewarm reaction from those who will live near the tracks and from those concerned about the huge amounts of power it will consume.

Whether Abenomics can ever live up to the sky-high expectations of Japanese voters remains to be seen. If the reality of Abenomics turns out not to live up to its promise, why not give the other side a chance? Why not try to break free, once and for all, of our dependence on nuclear energy?

This transformation in the relationship between reality and the alternative, I think, explains Mr. Koizumi’s sudden change of heart. As a senior politician, he has his eye on the future of the L.D.P.: He is marking a new course for a younger generation of politicians so that they can remain in power in case Abenomics does fail. This is also the reason behind the media’s new willingness to discuss denuclearization.

In other words, people in Japan are beginning to wonder whether those “two lost decades” really were “lost” after all. Perhaps those years were simply the prelude to a new post-growth era. And maybe in this new age the end of economic growth is less scary than the dependence on nuclear power.”

3 comentarios:

  1. Probablemente sea una falsa disyuntiva. Se podría optar por depender del H, que es el elemento más abundante del universo y tanto o más controlable que el combustible nuclear.
    Quizá detrás del velo de estas supuestas elecciones se encuentren otras preguntas mucho más interesantes que el simple miedo, como por ejemplo... ¿Crecer para qué? ¿Cuál es el límite? ¿Dónde dibujamos la raya que separa el consumo que nos reconforta el espíritu del que nos corrompe el alma? Eso la clase dominante japonesa no lo contesta ni loco... ni siquiera parece interesarse en la mera formulación de la pregunta.

    Abrazo V

  2. Hola Nicolás,

    Tu comentario me hace acordar al que dio, hace más de 20 años, un gran ecólogo argentino, Gilberto Gallopin, respondiendo a la cuestión del crecimiento como medida del "bienestar" de una sociedad. Más o menos, él decía que hay un crecimiento posible, ilimitado: el de las riquezas del espíritu. Por supuesto, ningún economista va a adherir a esto hoy en día, y menos en Occidente. La excepcionalidad de Japón es, creo yo, que YA comenzó el declive poblacional, por lo que entra en una fase peligrosa: muchos viejos para la población económicamente activa. Tal cual está diseñado su modelo de desarrollo, Japón se enfrenta a un cuello de botella a corto plazo. El mismo cuello de botella que pronto, de acá al 2050 enfrentará el resto de la humanidad con la excepción de los países africanos. Interesante para observar qué pasa.

    Cordialmente, Astroboy