With the August 28 announcement by Prime Minister Abe of his intention to step down from his position within weeks, his record in a number of areas will inevitably face scrutiny and evaluation. Here, I lay out, in brief, my views on his government’s macroeconomic policies, which quickly became known as Abenomics. Like most governments, his had both successes and missed opportunities. But Japan clearly has changed as a result of his economic policies. And the debate around Abenomics anticipated issues that remain highly relevant in the current global policy debate.
When the last global crisis hit in 2008-09, the major economies of East Asia, but for one, had ample fiscal space to respond, and took advantage of that. This time around, the positioning is more mixed and the threat potentially much greater.
In Asia, the shock of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) was inflicted mainly through export loss and capital flight. Domestic financial systems remained sound and productive capacity intact. A quick shot of fiscal stimulus was just the remedy to tide an economy over until global trade rebounded and financial capital returned. Use of such a strategy shows up in Figure 1 as a sharp increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2009 for Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, and Taiwan, with the ratio then declining or stable in 2010. Two countries – the Philippines and Indonesia – saw no increase in their debt ratios in 2009, riding out the crisis without recourse to fiscal stimulus.