An NBER conference on Japan Project took place in Tokyo July 29. Shiro P. Armstrong of Australian National University, Tsutomu Watanabe, University of Tokyo, and Research Associates Charles Yuji Horioka of Kobe University, Takeo Hoshi of Stanford University, and David Weinstein of Columbia University organized the meeting. These researchers' papers were presented and discussed:
Melissa Dell, Harvard University and NBER, and Sahar Parsa, Tufts University
Managerial Talent and Economic Performance: Evidence from Discontinuities in Douglas MacArthur's Economic Purge
Yoon J. Jo and Misaki Matsumura, Columbia University, and David Weinstein, Columbia University and NBER
The Impact of E-Commerce on Relative Prices and Consumer Welfare
Using Japanese data on intercity prices and expenditures by retail outlet type, Jo, Matsumura, and Weinstein find that the entry of e-commerce firms reduced the rate of price increase for goods sold intensively online relative to other goods, and significantly reduced intercity price dispersion of goods sold intensively online but had no effect on other goods. The researchers overcome endogeneity issues by using historical catalog sales as an instrument for e-commerce sales intensity and estimate that reductions in price dispersion raised welfare by 0.4 percent. E-Commerce also lowered variety adjusted prices on average by 0.6 percent, and more in cities with highly educated populations.
Takeo Hoshi, Stanford University and NBER, and Anil K. Kashyap, University of Chicago and NBER
The Great Disconnect: The Decoupling of Wage and Price Inflation in Japan
Hoshi and Kashyap take some well-known observations about the structure of the Japanese labor market and add new evidence about how it has evolved to study inflation in Japan. Their key finding is that labor market dynamics shifted after 1998 so that correlations between labor market tightness and wages weakened noticeably. This change was accompanied in a break in the relationship between wages and prices, so wage inflation has become a much less important determinant of price inflation.
Mari Tanaka and Chiaki Moriguchi, Hitotsubashi University, and Yusuke Narita, Yale University
Meritocracy and Its Discontents:
Evidence from Centralizing and Decentralizing School Admissions
Tanaka, Narita, and Moriguchi investigate the impacts of centralizing school admissions in higher education. In doing so, they take advantage of the world's first known implementation of centralized admissions and its subsequent reversals in early twentieth-century Japan. This centralization was designed to make the school seat allocation more meritocratic, but the researchers find a tradeoff between meritocracy and equal regional access to higher education. Specifically, in the short run, in line with theoretical predictions, the centralization led students to apply to more selective schools and make more inter-regional applications. However, as high ability students were located disproportionately in urban areas, the centralization caused urban applicants to crowd out rural applicants from advancing to higher education. Moreover, these impacts were persistent: Four decades later, compared to the decentralized system, the centralized admissions increased the number of career elites (e.g, high income earners) born in urban areas relative to those born in rural areas.
Iichiro Uesugi and Daisuke Miyakawa, Hitotsubashi University; Kaoru Hosono, Gakushuin University; Arito Ono, Chuo University; and Hirofumi Uchida, Kobe University
The Collateral Channel versus the Bank Lending Channel: Evidence from a Massive Earthquake
Uesugi, Miyakawa, Hosono, Ono, and Uchida examine the existence of the collateral and the bank lending channels simultaneously and compare their economic significance, by taking advantage of exogenous shocks to a firm's tangible assets and a bank's net worth caused by the massive Tohoku earthquake in 2011. They obtain the following findings: (1) damages to a firm's tangible assets and to the net worth of its primary banks lead to deterioration in firm's credit availability, which lends support to the existence of both the collateral and the bank lending channels; (2) firms that faced a tighter credit constraint after the earthquake have lower amount of borrowing outstanding and larger fall in the level of production and sales activities; (3) in aggregate, the damage caused by the earthquake and transmitted through the two channels substantially decrease output in the region.
Elif C. Arbatli and Naoko Miake, International Monetary Fund; Steven J. Davis, University of Chicago and NBER; and Arata Ito, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry
Policy Uncertainty in Japan (NBER Working Paper No. 23411)
Arbatli, Davis, Ito, and Miake develop new economic policy uncertainty (EPU) indices for Japan from January 1987 onwards, building on the approach of Baker, Bloom and Davis (2016). Each index reflects the frequency of newspaper articles that contain certain terms pertaining to the economy, policy matters, and uncertainty. Their overall EPU index co-varies positively with implied volatilities for Japanese equities, exchange rates and interest rates and with a survey-based measure of political uncertainty. The EPU index rises around contested national elections and major leadership transitions in Japan, during the Asian financial crisis and in reaction to the Lehman Brothers failure, U.S. debt downgrade in 2011, Brexit referendum, and Japan's deferral of a consumption tax hike. The researcher's uncertainty indices for fiscal, monetary, trade, and exchange rate policy co-vary positively but also display distinct dynamics. For example, their trade policy uncertainty (TPU) index rocketed upwards when the U.S. withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017. VAR models imply that upward EPU innovations foreshadow deteriorations in Japan's macroeconomic performance, as reflected by impulse response functions for investment, employment and output. Arbatli, Davis, Ito, and Miake's study adds to evidence that credible policy plans and strong policy frameworks can favorably influence macroeconomic performance by, in part, reducing policy uncertainty.