On May 26, 2015, Reexamining Japan in Global Context's eighth seminar took place at The International House of Japan in Tokyo. The theme of the event was "Zero-Growth Economy." The first presentation of the forum was given by Dr. Ittaka Kishida, senior researcher of RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science under the title “Preparation for Zero-Growth Economy.” Dr. Kishida explored the cycles of material and energy, industry, and finance, in preparation for the zero-growth society. The second presentation, by Prof. Peter A. Victor was titled “Exploring Alternative Economic Futures”. Prof. Victor, Professor in Environmental Studies at York University argued we need alternatives to the current growth trajectory, which should be environmentally benign, economically robust, and politically feasible.
Economic growth has solved many of humanity’s chronic problems. Occasional famines, large scale epidemics, high infant mortality rates and bad health resulting from malnutrition—these problems so common in the pre-modern world have mostly been overcome, at least in the wealthy parts of the planet, thanks to economic growth over the last 200 years. Contrary to Karl Marx’s prediction, socio-political tension in industrial societies has been largely avoided through redistribution of the fruits of economic growth. Now, barring unexpected accidents or unfortunate diseases, most people in affluent parts of the world enjoy long healthy lives that even privileged people in old times could not have even dreamt of.
Is economic growth still viable? Given the enormous pressure the modern economy has placed on our ecological system and the fact that natural resources are finite, it seems increasingly impossible to rely upon economic growth for progress in welfare. But is this even still desirable? Governments around the world see economic growth as important, in rich parts of the world, where obesity is a more serious problem than malnutrition, subjective levels of happiness seem less and less related to growth.
No one wishes to give up our technological achievements or return economically to pre-modern times, but the era of economic growth may soon be over. In this session of JGC, we will discuss what a zero-growth economy might look like, what its benefits and challenges might be, and whether there is anything about it that we can learn from Japan’s recent experience of economic stagnation and population decrease.