When economists gather around the campfire to tell scary stories they always talk about Japan. With lowered voices and glances over their shoulders they describe how the people of that extraordinary archipelago rose to the heights of fiscal and social glory. They exported cars, computers, and machinery to the far corners of the globe. They achieved the highest life expectancy of any nation. They designed fabulous toilets.
And then, they got older. And they stopped having enough children. Now Japan is described by economists as on the brink of collapse. Its aging population will fade into the greyness of the hillsides and the cities of Japan will be hollowed out, demon-infested lairs ruled by aged motorcycle gang warlords who eat human flesh.....Growth will end. For the economists and the demographers this is the true end of all things. Growth of an economy, commensurate with an increase in population or otherwise, is the purpose of human existence. So Japan, with a declining population, and at the vanguard of several other developed nations like Germany and Britain, is held up as an object of fear, scorn and pity. A drop in population, according to the conventional wisdom, heralds the footsteps of doom. Has it occurred to economists that growth and improvement have been conflated? Is it possible that Japan, and other nations like it are entering a different stage of civilization that cannot be conveniently described by the current textbooks?