The Realities and Relevance of Japan's Great Recession: Neither Ran nor Rashomon

Working Paper
June 2010

Adam S. PosenJapan's Great Recession was the result of a series of macroeconomic and financial policy mistakes. Thus, it was largely avoidable once the initial shock from the bubble bursting had passed. The aberration in Japan's recession was not the behaviour of growth, which is best seen as a series of recoveries aborted by policy errors. Rather, the surprise was the persistent steadiness of limited deflation, even after recovery took place. This is a more fundamental challenge to our basic macroeconomic understanding than is commonly recognized. The UK and US economies are at low risk of having recurrent recessions through macroeconomic policy mistakes-but deflation itself cannot be ruled out. The United Kingdom worryingly combines a couple of financial parallels to Japan with far less room for fiscal action to compensate for them than Japan had. Also, Japan did not face poor prospects for external demand and the need to reallocate productive resources across export sectors during its Great Recession. Many economies do now face this challenge simultaneously, which may limit the pace of, and their share in, the global recovery.