America and Japan’s responses to their housing blow-ups have been eerily similar. So too have been the results.
As I wrote in August:
Essentially, in both the United States and Japan, credit bubbles fuelling a bubble in the housing market collapsed, leading to a stock market crash, and asset price slides, triggering deflation throughout the respective economies — much like after the 1929 crash. Policy makers in both countries — at the Bank of Japan, and Federal Reserve — set about reflating the bubble by helicopter dropping yen and dollars. Fundamental structural problems in the banking system that contributed to the initial credit bubbles — in both Japan and the United States — have not really ever been addressed. Bad businesses were never liquidated, which is why there has not been aggressive new growth. So Japan’s zombie banks, and America’s too big to fail monoliths blunder on. Policy makers “saved the system”, and ever since then have gradually dealt with slowdowns through monetary and fiscal easing.
Today Zero Hedge provide some empirical evidence for just how similar these events have been.
Stocks have followed broadly the same crisis-bailout-crisis-bailout pattern:
Some of those among us may say that all of this shows that Japanisation really isn’t that bad: with an ageing population, and powerful vested interests demanding consistently high government spending in spite of falling real incomes and falling real estate values, we’re about to head into a 15-year deflationary tunnel. “It won’t be pretty”, they say, “but it will be liveable.”
I think they’re wrong.
So what’s the key difference between America and Japan?
Look at the difference between Hurricane Katrina, and Fukushima.
Reuters reported that Yakuza gangs have been sending trucks from the Tokyo and Kobe regions to deliver food, water, blankets and toiletries to evacuation centres in northeast Japan, the area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami which have left thousands of people dead and missing.
Not to glorify the Yakuza by any means, but compared to the looting and violence in New Orleans that followed Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, this speaks volumes about the enormous difference between Japanese and Americans in coping with natural crises or disasters.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina left, some residents of New Orleans who remained in the city started looting stores in search of food and water that were not available to them through other means. There were also reports of carjacking, murders, thefts and rapes in the city, although many of these reports were found inaccurate due to the confusion. Then Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco had to temporarily deputize members of the National Guard and other federal troops to quell the looting and rioting. The governor said: “They have M16s and are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will.”
Essentially Japan’s culture is a (largely) moderate, deferential, conformist, self-negating and (most importantly) united nation.
America is (largely) individualistic, greedy, bitchy and (most importantly) disunited.
From Colin Woodard’s sensational series of posts about America for Bloomberg:
The U.S. is wracked by internal discord between two blocs formed by seven of its 11 regional nations — the conservative bloc that includes the Deep South, Tidewater and much of greater Appalachia, pitted against the more liberal alliance of Yankeedom, New Netherland, the Midlands and the Left Coast. Increasingly, through American history, the conflict between these two blocs has been driving the nation apart.
The country has been exhibiting the classic symptoms of an empire in decline. Kevin Phillips — the political strategist who, back in 1969, used regional ethnography to accurately predict the ensuing 40 years of American political development – - has pointed out parallels with late imperial Holland and Britain. Like its superpower predecessors, the U.S. has built up a staggering trade deficit and sovereign debt while overreaching militarily. As financial services have come to account for a larger and larger share of national output, religious extremists have come to play a bigger and bigger role in political life.
Once a great exporter of innovations, products and financial capital, the U.S. is now deeply indebted to China, on which America relies for much of what it consumes and, increasingly, for the scientists and engineers who are needed by research and development firms and institutions. The U.S. citizenry is divided along regional lines. The country’s military has been mired in expensive and frustrating counterinsurgency wars in Mesopotamia and Central Asia, while barbarians have stormed the gates of Washington and Wall Street, killing thousands in the surprise attacks of September 2001.
Add in the damage to public confidence in the electoral system caused by the 2000 election, the near-total meltdown of the financial sector in 2008, and extreme political dysfunction in the capital, and it’s clear the U.S. hasn’t started the 21st century auspiciously.
Simply, America will blow up into secessionism, class warfare and civil unrest before standards of living for the middle class drop by anything like they have in Japan. The people will get mad as hell, and they just won’t take it anymore. They only hope for America is some kind of real recovery, coupled with new growth, and less dependence on foreign energy and goods. But with a zombified Japanised economy consisting largely of bailed-out uncompetitive failures there is little hope of that.
Civil unrest, followed by secessions, followed by a Second American revolution, is a far more likely scenario.