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The Foreign Exchange Origins of Japan's Economic Slump and Low Interest Liquidity Trap

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  • Ronald McKinnon
  • Kenichi Ohno

Abstract

Japan's macroeconomic problem has yet to be properly diagnosed. Throughout the 1990s, policy makers could not decide on the proper macro economic measures to combat the country's severe economic slump. We propose a unified explanation, with deep historical roots, of why aggregate private demand failed to recover after Japan's stock and real estate bubbles burst in 1991 and deflationary pressure continues. The problem is not purely ‘made in Japan’. It arises from Japan's unbalanced mercantile relationship with the United States. Starting in the early 1970s, numerous trade disputes between the two countries created tensions that were (temporarily) resolved by the yen going ever higher against the dollar up to 1995. In the last two decades, this persistent pressure for the yen to rise was further aggravated by Japan's large current‐account (saving) surpluses as the counterpart of America's large current account (saving) deficits. The legacy is the expectation that trade and financial tensions will recur so that the yen will be higher 10, 20, or 30 years from now –with Japan's (wholesale) price level forced correspondingly lower and nominal interest rates on yen assets remaining more than four percentage points less than those on dollar assets. This fear of yen appreciation, whose timing is erratic and unpredictable, now inhibits private domestic investment by both Japanese firms and households. Our theory also explains why, in the late 1990s, nominal interest rates on short‐term yen assets were compressed toward zero so as to destroy the normal profit margins of the banking system. In this liquidity trap, the Bank of Japan –whose monetary policy has been quite ‘expansionary’–is powerless to stimulate the flagging economy. To spring the liquidity trap, eliminate deflationary pressure, and restore macro economic balance in Japan, the American and Japanese governments must act jointly to quash the expectation that the yen will be higher in the future than it is today.

Suggested Citation

  • Ronald McKinnon & Kenichi Ohno, 2001. "The Foreign Exchange Origins of Japan's Economic Slump and Low Interest Liquidity Trap," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(3), pages 279-315, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:worlde:v:24:y:2001:i:3:p:279-315
    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9701.00357
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Simon Wren-Lewis & Rebecca Driver, 1998. "Real Exchange Rates for the Year 2000," Peterson Institute Press: Policy Analyses in International Economics, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number pa54, January.
    2. Thomas F. Cargill & Michael M. Hutchison & Takatoshi Ito, 1997. "The Political Economy of Japanese Monetary Policy," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262032473, September.
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    4. Kathryn Dominguez & Jeffrey A. Frankel, 1990. "Does Foreign Exchange Intervention Work?," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 16, February.
    5. Adam S. Posen, 1998. "Restoring Japan's Economic Growth," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 35, February.
    6. Ronald I. McKinnon, 1996. "The Rules of the Game: International Money and Exchange Rates," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262133180, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Duo Qin & Xinhua He & Yimeng Liu, 2010. "Exchange Rate Misalignments: Historical Experience of Japan, Germany, Singapore and Taiwan Compared to China Today," Working Papers 667, Queen Mary University of London, School of Economics and Finance.
    2. Qin, Duo & He, Xinhua, 2013. "Globalisation effect on inflation in the Great Moderation era: New evidence from G10 countries," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), vol. 7, pages 1-32.
    3. Rishi Goyal & Ronald McKinnon, 2003. "Japan's Negative Risk Premium in Interest Rates: The Liquidity Trap and the Fall in Bank Lending," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(3), pages 339-363, March.
    4. Rod Tyers & Yixiao Zhou, 2020. "US–China rivalry: The macro policy choices," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(9), pages 2286-2314, September.
    5. Kenji Nishizaki & Toshitaka Sekine & Yoichi Ueno, 2014. "Chronic Deflation in Japan," Asian Economic Policy Review, Japan Center for Economic Research, vol. 9(1), pages 20-39, January.
    6. C.A. Ullersma, 2001. "The Zero Lower Bound on Nominal Interest Rates and Monetary Policy Effectiveness: a Survey," MEB Series (discontinued) 2001-9, Netherlands Central Bank, Monetary and Economic Policy Department.
    7. Ronald McKinnon & Gunther Schnabl, 2003. "Synchronised Business Cycles in East Asia and Fluctuations in the Yen/Dollar Exchange Rate," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(8), pages 1067-1088, August.
    8. Xinhua He & Duo Qin & Yimeng Liu, 2012. "Exchange rate misalignments: a comparison of China today against recent historical experiences of Japan, Germany, Singapore and Taiwan," Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(3), pages 247-266, May.
    9. Taiji Harashima, 2004. "A More Realistic Endogenous Time Preference Model and the Slump in Japan," Macroeconomics 0402015, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 09 Feb 2004.
    10. Salah A. Nusair & Khalid M. Kisswani, 2015. "Asian Real Exchange Rates And Oil Prices: A Cointegration Analysis Under Structural Breaks," Bulletin of Economic Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 67(S1), pages 1-25, December.
    11. Lynn E. Browne, 2001. "Does Japan offer any lessons for the United States?," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, pages 3-18.

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