Saving for 'my own good and the good of the nation': Economic nationalism in modern Japan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Few today question the centrality of nation and nationalism in the development of the Japanese economy since the late nineteenth-century. As several excellent studies demonstrate, Japanese policymakers and economic thinkers have tended to reject the principal tenets of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Locke. Like other Asians and also continental Europeans, Japanese have generally been sceptical of the doctrines of laissez-faire and comparative advantage. They have been equally critical of the Anglo-American conviction that the ideal economy is one in which the individual freely pursues self-interest and maximises his or her material well-being. Beginning in the late nineteenth-century, Japanese leaders and economists gravitated towards the nation-centred ideas of Germany's 'historical school', notably those of Friedrich List. List's influential treatise, The National System of Political Economy (1841), first appeared in Japanese in 1889. 1 What most impressed Japanese of this period was the German school's contention that an economy would be better off if the state advanced the interests of the nation as a whole - rather than those of individuals. Indeed, in the case of later developing nations (and the German states at the time he wrote), List favoured the protection of native industries over policies that opened an economy to lower-priced consumer imports. In the short run, the individual would have to sacrifice his or her interests as a consumer, so that the nation might develop its productive capacity - in List's opinion, the real measure of national prosperity and independence. 2 Embracing these tenets in the late nineteenth-century, the Japanese regime became - in Chalmers Johnson's now-classic formulation-a 'developmental state', energetically promoting various policies and structures aimed at enhancing the 'nation's industrial competitiveness'.3 Not surprisingly, political scientists and journalists have had a large hand in writing the history of economic nationalism in Japan, relating the evolution of the ideology to Japan's present-day political economy. Where not so long ago Johnson invoked economic nationalism to explain Japan's post-war 'economic miracle', observers now cite this nation-centred mentality as the source of Japan's seeming inability to adapt to the increasingly borderless world of global capitalism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNation and Nationalism in Japan
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781135024468
ISBN (Print)9780700716395
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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