Will Japan Rearm?

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 14 2013 9:46 AM

Will Japan Rearm?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on Jan. 11, 2013.

Photo by Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images.

Yuka Hayashi's article about Japan's top general calling for a big increase in military spending is a valuable reminder that there's essentially zero tension between the view that Shinzo Abe may pursue the kind of expansionary fiscal and monetary policies that get Japan out of its funk and the view that Abe is basically a retrograde conservative nationalist.

The fact of the matter is that for all the various theoretical arguments bandied about, the big real-world examples of depression-fighting policies mostly come from wars. In fact, Japan itself led the industrialized world out of the Great Depression by abandoning the gold standard and engaging in a military buildup associated with its effort to invade China. Nazi Germany devalued and rearmed. The United States under Franklin Roosevelt got a mini-recovery by ditching the gold standard but then tipped back into recession in 1937 under the force of fiscal and monetary contraction. But our own pre-World War II rearmament got us out.


The problem with this strategy—beyond the obvious one that an actual war in East Asia would get tons of people killed—is that an arms race could lead to a lot of expansion in economic activity without necessarily making people much better off. Here in the United States we clearly could mobilize millions of currently unemployed workers to drastically increase our production of tanks and military aircraft. And the workers themselves would feel a lot happier with jobs and paychecks. But producing extra tanks and bombers is much worse than mobilizing people to produce things people would actually want to use.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 23 2014 1:51 PM Is This the ISIS Backlash We've Been Waiting For?
Oct. 23 2014 11:51 AM It Seems No One Is Rich or Happy: I Looked
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 23 2014 1:34 PM Leave Me Be Beneath a Tree: Trunyan Cemetery in Bali
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Oct. 23 2014 1:46 PM The Real Secret of Serial Has Sarah Koenig made up her mind yet? 
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.