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The Growth Idea

The Growth Idea: Purpose and Prosperity in Postwar Japan

Scott O’Bryan
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    The Growth Idea
    Book Description:

    Our narratives of postwar Japan have long been cast in terms almost synonymous with the story of rapid economic growth. Scott O'Bryan reinterprets this seemingly familiar history through an innovative exploration, not of the anatomy of growth itself, but of the history of growth as a set of discourses by which Japanese "growth performance" as "economic miracle" came to be articulated. The premise of his work is simple: To our understandings of the material changes that took place in Japan during the second half of the twentieth century we must also add perspectives that account for growth as a new idea around the world, one that emerged alongside rapid economic expansion in postwar Japan and underwrote the modes by which it was imagined, forecast, pursued, and regulated. In an accessible, lively style, O'Bryan traces the history of growth as an object of social scientific knowledge and as a new analytical paradigm that came to govern the terms by which Japanese understood their national purposes and imagined a newly materialist vision of social and individual prosperity.

    Several intersecting obsessions worked together after the war to create an agenda of social reform through rapid macroeconomic increase. Epistemological developments within social science provided the conceptual instruments by which technocrats gave birth to a shared lexicon of growth. Meanwhile, reformers combined prewar Marxist critiques with new modes of macroeconomic understanding to mobilize long-standing fears of overpopulation and "backwardness" and argue for a growthist vision of national reformation. O'Bryan also presents surprising accounts of the key role played by the ideal of full employment in national conceptions of recovery and of a new valorization of consumption in the postwar world that was taking shape. Both of these, he argues, formed critical components in a constellation of ideas that even in the context of relative poverty and uncertainty coalesced into a powerful vision of a materially prosperous future.

    Even as Japan became the premier icon of the growthist ideal, neither the faith in rapid growth as a prescription for national reform nor the ascendancy of social scientific epistemologies that provided its technical support was unique to Japanese experience.The Growth Ideathus helps to historicize a concept of never-ending growth that continues to undergird our most basic beliefs about the success of nations and the operations of the global economy. It is a particularly timely contribution given current imperatives to reconceive ideas of purpose and prosperity in an age of resource depletion and global warming.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3756-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION The Growth Idea and Early Postwar History
    (pp. 1-17)

    As the end of the twentieth century neared and Japanese marked the completion of the first ten years of the Heisei era, public commentaries and scholarly examinations alike came to speak of the 1990s as Japan’s “lost decade.” Taken together, Japanese vernacular opinion and that of both native and foreign specialists on Japanese society all have routinely portrayed the ten-year period beginning in roughly 1991 as one of wasted years, a retrograde decade during which the Japanese people somehow lost ground, national power waned, and Japanese society foundered on the shoals of earlier national success. In not a few such...

  6. CHAPTER 1 A New Mobilization: The Redemption of the Planning Ideal
    (pp. 18-47)

    It was the initial policy of the Allied Occupation to leave the responsibility for economic rehabilitation to the Japanese government.¹ The task that lay ahead for Japanese, however, was enormous. The economy was in a state of near collapse by the time of surrender, and the wartime privations of daily life had reached new extremes. Food rations had dwindled in the final winter of the war, and bad weather, along with shortages of fertilizer, equipment, and labor, resulted in a disastrous harvest in 1945. Agricultural output had plummeted so precipitously by August 1945 that mass starvation seemed imminent. Production of...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Measures That Rule
    (pp. 48-87)

    As scholars, bureaucrats, and other economic leaders rehabilitated economic planning after the war, many pointed out that it was statistical knowledge that would drive the analytical apparatus they would use to regulate the “systematized” economy. Without the mass production and manipulation of accurate empirical facts, it was broadly argued, scientific governance of the economy would remain an empty promise. One of the attractions of these appeals to quantification and positivistic economic research was the support they lent to the idea of planning as an exercise beyond ideology. The postwar question seemed one, not of political agenda, but of technical competence:...

  8. CHAPTER 3 New Economics and an Expanding Vision of Prosperity
    (pp. 88-118)

    As analysts and reformers articulated a future vision of reconstruction in terms of humanistic technocracy, they simultaneously cast their critical gaze backward over the longer history of modern Japanese development. While not unitary in voice, their analysis, from an often surprising range of observers, amounted to a common diagnosis of Japanese capitalism that described Japan as uniquely inscribed by certain pathologies. Drawing connections between the particular path charted by the political economy of Japan and the disaster of the long war on the Chinese continent and against the Allied powers, many Japanese pinned their hopes for the new era on...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Knowing Growth
    (pp. 119-143)

    Keynesian theoretical and political concerns continued to influence the directions of modern economics research and analysis in Japan beyond the Occupation years. With full employment and its attendant concerns as animating ideals, the research program of economics ramified in a multitude of technical directions, extending the aggregative empirical techniques of macroanalysis that had begun to excite attention in Japan in the context of postwar recovery. Japanese “modern economists” in and out of government participated with their colleagues around the world in pursuing such new subfields of statistical research as econometric modeling, input-output analysis, business-cycle forecasting, and consumption demand analysis. These...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Structural Ills and Growth Cures
    (pp. 144-171)

    Many postwar advocates of the ideal of full employment in Japan had drawn, as we have seen, on mid-century Keynesian economic ideas. They were able to point to a new international consensus, expressed in postwar multilateral organizations and in the capitals of the victorious Allied powers, on the need to craft full-employment solutions in nations—winners and losers alike—across the world that were struggling to make the transition from war to a transformed peacetime system. In Japan, a sense of the importance of somehow crafting a new regime to address the employment question was intensified by the massive military...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 172-184)

    In the 1961 series ofAsahinewspaper essays quoted in the introductin to this study, the well-known economic writer Ryū Shintarō wondered aloud at the sudden ubiquity of the word “growth” (seichō) on the public stage. His observation was a reflection of the novelty of the national preoccupation with rapid macroeconomic growth. Although it arose out of longer streams of economic thought and practice stretching back as far as the eighteenth century, growth as the prescriptive ideal and abiding obsession of modern societies was a distinguishing hallmark of the years following the end of World War II.

    Indeed, the very...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-230)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-262)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-269)