What can we learn from Japan

A friend of mine sent me this 2008 video of Richard Koo from Nomura Research Institute in which he presents his theory of “balance sheet recessions”. Mr Koo has been consistent with this message, with his presentation appearing in 2009 and 2010, and consistency is something I respect.


Mr Koo makes the case that in the type of crisis we are in – one in which the private sector is not willing to borrow and are actually paying down their debt – monetary policy is pretty much useless. The only effective tool are sustained public stimulus over a long period of time, not a series of small or big ones as we come out and come back in recession. He argues that there is no need to worry about inflation and higher interest rate, even with increasing fiscal spending, the reason being that banks will be happier to lend the money to the government and earn interest, than not lend money at all i.e. destroying money.

My opinion

I agree with Mr. Koo on his analysis of balance sheet recessions. But I think there are important cultural and political parameters for his solution to be viable in each geography (US, Europe, Asia):

  1. Debts must be repayable (including the government’s). If we are in a generalized Ponzi territory where we borrow to pay interest, hoping for assets to increase in value faster than debt, then it’s game over. I have high doubts about debts being repayable, but let’s assume they are.
  2. Economic agents must convincingly show they are doing their best to pay back their debt (and not hope that somehow they will be able to have someone pay for them). If they don’t, creditors will look for the exit and grab what they can before their promises become worthless.
  3. Savers must trust the public funds allocation process. This is probably the most important and challenging part and we must be creative about this. Good options to research IMHO to re-build trust that saved money lent to the Government will not be wasted: participatory budgeting or direct lending from savers to Government with specific projects people can invest in.

3 thoughts on “What can we learn from Japan”

  1. Insightful post…

    Today the economy is stimulated either through private or public sector lending or spending money into the overall economy. There is a third alternative: the economy could be stimulated by spending and lending in the social sector. How?

    A new digital social currency (social dollars) could be created and institutions in the social economy: universities, foundations, non profits etc could be empowered to create this new social currency using a fractional reserve system. This would operate as a parallel currency circulating parallel to official government currencies. … through mainstream channels of commerce and culture … promoted through the networks of the social economy. In most cases this social currency would be used in partial payment for goods and services …. ie a seller on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist agrees to accept the social currency for x% of the agreed upon price.

    Net net … additional capital is introduced into the system and economic power is transferred from banks, governments and private sector institutions to institutions in the social economy.

  2. Hi John. Thank you for the comment. The question is what do businesses do with the social currency they accept.

    One option is to write them off if the percentage is low enough and they consider this program to provide a cheaper customer acquisition mechanism. If they don't write them off, either the social dollars have value to them, or they have value to parties they do business with (suppliers, customers, employees). The social dollar can have either collectible value, reputation value, or redemption value for goods/services or for tax dues (voluntary tax), or any combination of the above.

    Here is something I have mentioned here http://lebleu.org/blog/2010/02/17/community-iss… where a community of merchants accept certain receipts b/c they have previously agreed to a local voluntary tax.

    imagine a school in need of a bus+driver to go on a field trip. The community would vote this project as worthy of a receipt. A bus company would accept to provide the service in exchange for these receipts. They could use the receipts at accepting merchants. Merchants would be interested to collect the receipts since that’s what they could pay their local taxes with.

    Here's another one for funding public art: http://lebleu.org/blog/2009/08/15/funding-publi

    The art project would issue acknowledgments for in-kind or monetary donations made to the project. Issuance would be made public.
    Businesses could show their support by accepting some of these acknowledgments for partial payment of goods/services they provide.
    The notes, if printed in paper, could bear an artist rendering of the public art piece to be built.
    After it is built, the public art piece would likely attract tourists to whom the notes could be sold as a “piece” of the art piece, likely for many times the face value in dollar, since originals would be in limited supplies. This would provide a natural way for the currency to disappear from circulation, and be replaced by new ones for new projects.

  3. Hi Guillaume:

    Yes, you suggest some possible uses of this social currency in your linked posts … and issues to consider. There are many more issues and uses … if one can imagine an entire parallel social banking system operating in parallel to the existing commercial banking system.

    Social dollars become more useful at scale…. and can be tagged (since they are entirely digital) to restrict their use or keep them within specific communities.

    Did you get the PDF of the book I-INSPIRE which elaborates on how the system would work? The book suggests many examples… here are but a few.

    Summary: The I-INSPIRE Social Reserve Banking System extends fractional reserve banking and investment banking to nonprofits, foundations, educational institutions, Internet communities and other organizations or agencies not currently part of the Federal Reserve Banking System or served by investment banks. This apparatus enables remote nodes acting as social banks to connect with cloud based, central processing unit acting as a “central bank” to leverage the value of the limited financial assets of member social banks. These social banks create and introduce into general circulation as gifts or loans, a new digital, complementary currency called social dollars™ on a fractional reserve basis. They can also issue shares a new financial instrument called Charity Stock that combines elements of a philanthropic contribution with the ability to trade shares of said new financial instrument on a secondary exchange. The apparatus enables multiple entities and persons to exchange Social Dollars or Charity Stock by means of credit cards, smartcards and online banking accounts.

    A Social Currency: Social dollars™ can be used in a myriad of ways. Here are a few examples:
    • Social dollars can be used as a medium of exchange, usually for partial payment, in online communities like eBay, Amazon, CraigsList and national and local retailers, department stores, and supermarkets.
    • In an online exchange, social dollars can be converted into conventional dollars, Euros, Yen, airline miles, credit card points, rewards and thousands of private an complementary currencies.
    • Social dollars can be used by restaurants, theaters, hotels, airlines, to fill empty seats or market unused capacity.
    • Social dollars can be used in social marketing programs to introduce new products, push slow moving items, acquire customers or create goodwill.
    • Social dollars can be used in bartering communities.
    • Social dollars can be used by schools and universities to increase salaries of teachers and staff or to create incentives for teaching excellence, student scholarship or community involvement.
    • Social dollars can be used by nonprofits to compensate volunteers or board members or to incentivize lifestyle changes towards reducing carbon footprints or preventive health.
    • Social dollars can be used by commercial banks to help out distressed borrowers, work out troubled loans or create incentives for customers to open new accounts or increase balances in existing accounts.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>