Can Shrinking Be Good for Japan? A Marxist Best Seller Makes the Case.
Japan, known for its focus on economic growth, is facing a unique challenge – a declining population and economic stagnation. While many believe that this is a crisis that needs to be urgently addressed, one philosophy professor, Kohei Saito, argues that it can actually be seen as an opportunity for Marxist reinvention. In his book “Capital in the Anthropocene,” Saito proposes that Japan should shift its perspective and view its current condition as a chance to reevaluate its economic system.
Capitalism’s Limitations in Japan
Saito taps into a growing disillusionment among the Japanese population with the belief that capitalism can solve the country’s problems. Whether it’s caring for the aging population, reducing inequality, or mitigating climate change, people are starting to doubt the effectiveness of capitalist solutions. Despite Japan’s aggressive monetary and fiscal policies to promote economic growth, these interventions have done little to stimulate the economy. In fact, even when Japan’s economy expands through external factors like exports and tourism, domestic consumption is shrinking.
This obsession with growth, Saito argues, has led to wasteful spending and detrimental consequences for the environment. He believes that Japan, being a wealthy country, should focus on metrics other than gross domestic product (GDP) to gauge its economic well-being. Instead, the emphasis should be on measures like health, education, and standard of living.
The Rise of Marxism in Japan
Kohei Saito first encountered the ideas of Karl Marx during his undergraduate years, and it was a profound shock to him. He began studying Marx’s twilight years, when the philosopher realized the environmental devastation that capitalism’s insatiable demand for growth would inevitably lead to. Inspired by the renaissance of Marx’s ideas after the 2008 financial crisis, rising inequality, and concerns about climate change, Saito wrote “Capital in the Anthropocene” during the Covid pandemic.
Interestingly, Saito acknowledges that people in Japan aren’t making the same calls for a complete rejection of capitalism as seen in other parts of the world. Instead, they internalize the blame and believe that they need to change themselves rather than the economic system. This mindset resonates with Saito, as he too had once believed that individual failings were the root cause of Japan’s problems.
The Criticism and Impact of Saito’s Book
Saito’s book, advocating for degrowth communism, has had a surprising impact in Japan. Despite the skepticism of his editor and the unpopularity of communism in the country, “Capital in the Anthropocene” has sold over 500,000 copies, exceeding all expectations. Saito’s ideas have gained attention in the media, and the book is set to be translated into multiple languages.
Of course, Saito has faced criticism from those who argue that he is hypocritical for criticizing a system he has benefitted from and for offering idealistic and unworkable alternatives. Nevertheless, his book has sparked a publishing boomlet on Marxism in Japan, with other works emerging that explore similar ideas.
- Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world, with a low birth rate and a shrinking workforce.
- The country has implemented aggressive monetary and fiscal policies, including ultracheap money and big government spending, to promote economic growth.
- Japan’s obsession with economic growth has led to wasteful spending and overconsumption.
- Saito argues that Japan should shift its focus from quantity to quality, prioritizing measures like health, education, and standard of living.
- “Capital in the Anthropocene” has sparked a renewed interest in Marxism in Japan.
In a country known for its emphasis on economic growth, Kohei Saito’s book “Capital in the Anthropocene” challenges Japan to reevaluate its approach. By shifting the perspective from crisis to opportunity and exploring Marxist reinvention, Saito argues for a focus on quality of life and sustainability rather than endless GDP growth. While his ideas have faced criticism, they have also sparked a wider conversation about alternatives to the current economic system.
As Japan grapples with a declining population and economic stagnation, Kohei Saito’s book “Capital in the Anthropocene” offers a unique perspective. By challenging the status quo and highlighting the limitations of capitalism, Saito proposes a Marxist reinvention where Japan’s shrinking can be seen as an opportunity for change. While his ideas have been met with skepticism and criticism, they have also gained significant attention and sparked a broader discussion about the future of Japan’s economy.