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Happy News from the Dismal Science: Reassessing the Japanese Fiscal Policy and Sustainability

  • Christian Broda
  • David E. Weinstein

We analyze fiscal policy and fiscal sustainability in Japan using a variant of the methodology developed in Blanchard (1990). We find that Japan can achieve fiscal sustainability over a 100-year horizon with relatively small changes in the tax-to-GDP ratio. Our analysis differs from more pessimistic analyses in several dimensions. First, since Japanese net debt is only half that of gross debt, we demonstrate that the current debt burden is much lower than is typically reported. This means that monetization of the debt will have little impact on Japan's fiscal sustainability because Japan's problem is the level of future liabilities not current ones. Second, we argue that one obtains very different projections of social security burdens based on the standard assumption that Japan's population is on a trend towards extinction rather than transitioning to a new lower level. Third, we demonstrate that some modest cost containment of the growth rate of real per capita benefits, such as cutting expenditures for shrinking demographic categories, can dramatically lower the necessary tax burden. In sum, no scenario involves Japanese taxes rising above those in Europe today and many result in tax-to-GDP ratios comparable to those in the United States.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10988.

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Date of creation: Dec 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10988
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  1. Takero Doi & Takeo Hoshi, 2003. "Paying for the FILP," NBER Chapters, in: Structural Impediments to Growth in Japan, pages 37-70 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Thai-Thanh Dang & Pablo Antolín & Howard Oxley, 2001. "Fiscal Implications of Ageing: Projections of Age-Related Spending," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 305, OECD Publishing.
  3. Noriyuki Takayama & Yukinobu Kitamura & Hiroshi Yoshida, 1999. "Generational Accounting in Japan," NBER Chapters, in: Generational Accounting around the World, pages 447-470 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Mitsuhiro Fukao, 2006. "Financial Strains and the Zero Lower Bound: The Japanese Experience," NBER Chapters, in: Monetary Policy with Very Low Inflation in the Pacific Rim, NBER-EASE, Volume 15, pages 203-232 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Bernd Raffelhuschen & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1999. "Generational Accounting around the Globe," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 161-166, May.
  6. Kenneth N. Kuttner & Adam S. Posen, 2001. "The Great Recession: Lessons for Macroeconomic Policy from Japan," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 32(2), pages 93-186.
  7. Kuttner, Kenneth N. & Posen, Adam S., 2002. "Fiscal Policy Effectiveness in Japan," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 16(4), pages 536-558, December.
  8. Faruqee, Hamid & Muhleisen, Martin, 2003. "Population aging in Japan: demographic shock and fiscal sustainability," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 185-210, April.
  9. Yukinobu Kitamura & Noriyuki Takayama, 1999. "Lessons from Generational Accounting in Japan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 171-175, May.
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