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Japan: A Case Study in MMT with Bill Mitchell
Episode 20317th December 2022 • Macro N Cheese • Steve D Grumbine MS, MBA, PMP, PSM1, ITIL
00:00:00 01:07:08

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**After the episode, visit our “Extras” page where you’ll find links to Bill Mitchell’s blog, books, MMT education course, and more. Every episode of this podcast is also accompanied by a full transcript.**

Usually when Steve and his guests talk about culture, they’re referring to that of neoliberalism. As Scott Ferguson says, neoliberalism isn’t just enmeshed in our popular and esthetic culture; it is our culture. “There’s no enmeshing; it IS neoliberalism—what in the Marxist tradition we call etiology, the kind of background assumptions and values that structure our innermost thoughts and feelings and desires and, you know, what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, what makes us horny. What makes us, you know... everything.”

In today’s episode, our dear friend, Bill Mitchell, talks to Steve about Japanese culture, which predates neoliberal culture by eons. Bill has recently taken a fellowship at Kyoto University, giving him and his wife the opportunity to experience the day-to-day life of Japanese society while pursuing his research into their economy.

Bill’s interest in Japan coincides with the start of his academic career:

“As I was entering my first tenured position, Japan had the biggest commercial property collapse in history. It went neoliberal in the late 1980s and had an extraordinary explosion of debt, typically concentrated on commercial property in Tokyo and Nagoya and the big cities. And that collapsed in 1991.”

Despite the huge decline in property values, Japan had just one negative quarter of GDP. He had to ask, “How the hell have they been able to avoid a deep recession and get out of this huge property market collapse?” The answer was found in the government’s response—providing fiscal support to the economy.

“The fiscal deficits went up to 10% or 11% of GDP. And in historical terms, that was huge; that was sort of like wartime shifts in fiscal positions. So that's what started me on my Japanese research agenda and my interest in following Japan. Then I met Warren (Mosler) and we started the MMT project in the mid-90s... And Japan was my laboratory—my real-world laboratory.”

Some suggest that the government’s fiscal behavior could be explained by the difference in culture. But the way the monetary system works is identical to that of the US or Australia.

Throughout the episode, Bill and Steve continue to compare Japanese culture and economic policies with those of their home countries.

We at Macro N Cheese are always looking for answers, but often the learning experience is more valuable when we come away with new questions. Throughout this episode, Bill and Steve compare Japan’s culture and economic policies with those of their home countries, yet they make no definitive statements about cause and effect.

Japan has managed to maintain a high standard of living for its citizens—first-class health care, first-class public education, first-class public transport. Unlike the US, Japan does not see unemployment as the cure for inflation. Bill describes the many service workers in jobs that would make neoliberal bean counters pull out their hair—greeters in stores, parking guides, maintenance workers in Japan’s beautiful public spaces. These jobs are not busy work; they improve a community’s quality of life. Bill sees Japan as an ideal candidate for a job guarantee.

Japan faces vast challenges, yet its monetary and fiscal policies continue to defy the pressured expectations of hedge fund speculators, austerity evangelists and self-styled experts (hello, Paul Krugman!) This demonstrates that mainstream macroeconomics is not knowledge, it is fiction. Only MMT has it right.

Bill Mitchell is a Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. He is also a professional musician and plays guitar with the Melbourne Reggae-Dub band – Pressure Drop.

@billy_blog on Twitter