Japan quake an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild

Greetings investors.

Of all the opinions I´ve read in the aftermath of Japan’s devastating quake-tsunami, only one seems to bear the ring of truth: Quoted at the very end of a Bloomberg article which characterized any rebuilding program for northern Japan as ´a leg down´ for the severely indebted nation, Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics said, “This is a Keynesian stimulus program that nobody can argue with: just rebuilding the city of Sendai. Rebuilding Sendai could actually be an opportunity to try to create a growth pole in northern Japan”.

I was rather shocked to see that quote within an article which more or less suggested that any further indebtedness incurred by the Japanese in the aftermath of the disaster would be the final nail in their economy´s coffin. But Bloomberg’s stink-eyed view of current events is about what we can expect in these days of unprecedented debt and fear, and particularly in the United States where Puritanism runs deep. Debt and fear has brought the luddites out in droves, all of them clamoring in one shrill voice for a return to the ´good ole days´ of 1910 or thereabouts when there were no social programs to fritter money away on and immigrants lived in slums 12 to a room and died from smallpox while the rich got richer.

Question: Why haven’t all these assorted crises brought our bravest and best to the fore? These should be our finest hours. But all I hear is whining and I told you so’s. I’ve never seen such a collective lack of imagination and vision in my life.

Noland strikes me as a rare exception to all this. Indeed, his is the proverbial thin tiny voice of reason, one of the few to actually suggest that there might be an opportunity or a silver lining or whatever you want to call it – and perhaps it’s nothing more than a simple ray of optimism – among the chaos. Of course he´s unlikely to find many supporters by dropping John Keynes’ name so to find him quoted in Bloomberg, of all places, was a shock to the system.

In his book, ‘No More Bashing, Building a New Japan-United States Economic Relationship`, Noland argues the U.S.  has followed a fear-based, ‘Japan-specific’ economic policy for three decades, based on the notion that the Japanese model of capitalism constitutes unfair competition for the waning economic power of the West. This is a distorted perception, he says, adding that future bilateral relations are destined to become more firmly in multilateral institutions.

I consider that a microcosm of what currently troubles the world -. too much bilateral and not enough multilateral.

So instead of eulogizing the way things used to be, and clinging white-knuckled to what is familiar and what has worked in the past and who our friends and enemies are and were, let’s get on with the job building the new society. Natural disasters are the perfect opportunity for that.

Careful out there.

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