Friday, February 06, 2009

A "stimulus" history lesson

Kudos to the New York Times (talk about unlikely phrases!) for publishing a story on how the other massive economic stimulus package passed by a government to combat a recession fared:

Japan’s rural areas have been paved over and filled in with roads, dams and other big infrastructure projects, the legacy of trillions of dollars spent to lift the economy from a severe downturn caused by the bursting of a real estate bubble in the late 1980s. During those nearly two decades, Japan accumulated the largest public debt in the developed world — totaling 180 percent of its $5.5 trillion economy — while failing to generate a convincing recovery.

Now, as the Obama administration embarks on a similar path, proposing to spend more than $820 billion to stimulate the sagging American economy, many economists are taking a fresh look at Japan’s troubled experience. [...]

In the end, say economists, it was not public works but an expensive cleanup of the debt-ridden banking system, combined with growing exports to China and the United States, that brought a close to Japan’s Lost Decade. This has led many to conclude that spending did little more than sink Japan deeply into debt, leaving an enormous tax burden for future generations. [...]

Among ordinary Japanese, the spending is widely disparaged for having turned the nation into a public-works-based welfare state and making regional economies dependent on Tokyo for jobs. Much of the blame has fallen on the Liberal Democratic Party, which has long used government spending to grease rural vote-buying machines that help keep the party in power.

Sure, the Times spins the story with a predictable call for more social engineering, but to see them also include the Japanese side of the story in addition to the typical domestic voices echoing the Democrat Party line, is a remarkable departure from the usual partisan propaganda emanating from the beleaguered paper.

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