Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new economic program is dubbed "Abenomics"
Many are skeptical about whether this is the solution for Japan's malaise
Some fear the boost to the country's stock markets could produce a bubble
1980s collapse followed decades of growing stock, property prices
Most Japanese treat Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new economic program, dubbed “Abenomics,” with a heavy dose of skepticism.
If there is a miracle cure for Japan’s decades-long malaise, then it’ll have to be seen to be believed. And Abe himself admits it will take time for salaries to rise and for the real economy to respond to treatment.
But in Tokyo’s central Akihabara district, four young Abenomics devotees dressed in giant glittery bow-ties and denim mini-skirts are handing out fliers. They chant: “We’re the Street Corner Economists – please come to our concert’!”
Granted, it’s less the promise of massive public spending programs, the whirring of the monetary printing press or the slightly ambiguous growth strategies pulling in the punters here. It’s more about the girl band’s coquettish sales pitch.
“When the economy is good the skirt lengths get shorter,” says 20-year-old band member Yuki Sakora.
“So when the Nikkei goes below 9,000 we wear long skirts; when it’s between 10 and 11,000 we go medium-length, and miniskirts when it’s 11 to 13,000.”
Their signature tune “Abenomics” has only been on sale a couple of weeks, but the audience seem to know it. An assortment of geeky 20-something males and the odd suited salaryman faithfully mirror the girls’ dance-routine, punching the air with glow-sticks when the refrain comes through.
Perhaps it’s because the Nikkei’s wedged firmly above 13,000, so they’re treated to the girls in bloomers.
I ask Yuki what Abenomics means to her.
“The weaker yen probably means prices will go up,” she says without missing a beat. “But that helps exports. And I think companies will start to earn more and that will boost consumer spending.”
That is the theory but it requires a shift in thinking.
“Our biggest problem is that the general public has been stuck with deflation – in mind and heart – for the past 20 years,” Japan’s Finance Minister Taro Aso told CNN’s Jill Dougherty recently.
“People don’t buy things today because they think tomorrow it will be cheaper. Unless this mindset changes and people start buying things, consumption, which is near 70% of GDP, won’t grow.”
Toru Urayama set up an academy in 2007 to teach amateur traders how to make money on the markets. In the last few months of the Nikkei’s meteoric rise he’s experienced a flood of applicants. But he tells them not to hold out hope that Abenomics will do much in the long term.
“It’s good for the stock market but not for the economy as a whole. It could lead to a bubble, though I don’t think it will be as bad as it was back in the 1980s,” he said, referring to the spectacular crash that followed decades of soaring stock and real estate values in Japan.
Megumi Fukuzawa’s signed up because she made a bad investment in 2008 and is wondering what to do with her money now the market’s up. She’s hoping Abenomics boosts her husband’s salary.
“In the past I’ve tried to save because his salary was low. But if things change then I might spend more, this stock market investment is part of that.”
Back on stage, the Street Corner Economists finish their song in a blaze of multi-colored lights, before they settle in for a chat with the fans. Everyone dutifully sits down. But when the girls ask whether anyone’s bought the single, there’s not much of a response.
The appeal here is more show than substance. Precisely what critics fear so-called Abenomics will turn out to be too.