Typically, these days when people compare the U.S. to Japan, it’s a cautionary economic tale — a warning about persistent low growth and high government debt.
After Japan's asset bubble burst in the early 1990s, the country has suffered two “lost decades” of stagnant or no growth.
Some believe the U.S. is headed on a similar trajectory.
But for Zachary Karabell, president of River Twice Research, that wouldn't be the worst thing for the U.S. He argues the economic trends we are used to hearing about regarding Japan are not the entire story. And that in many ways, the U.S. would be so lucky to be like Japan in ways some would use to describe “utopia.”
In the accompanying interview, he makes the case that Japan's citizens enjoy great health, the third-highest life expectancy in the world, low violence, orderly democratic government, and efficient bureaucracy attending to issues such as public safety, infrastructure, education, housing and healthcare with a high level of competence and efficiency.
That said, those aren't the points that draw comparisons with the U.S. economy.
Karabell says his analysis is more about making the point that Japan wouldn't be the most dire scenario the U.S. economy could face.
“We don’t know what outcome the United States is headed for, but if Japan is what we point to for the ‘oh my god’ moment, we’re pointing to the wrong thing,” he tells The Daily Ticker. “We could do a lot worse and I’m actually concerned we’re heading on a track that will be considerably worse.
"So I would much rather focus America’s attention on both the perils and possibilities of our current trajectory rather than holding up Japan as the thing we should avoid.”
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