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The Growth Idea

Purpose and Prosperity in Postwar Japan

Scott O'Bryan

Publication Year: 2009

Our narratives of postwar Japan have long been cast in terms almost synonymous with the story of rapid economic growth. Scott O’Bryan reinterprets this seemingly familiar history through an innovative exploration, not of the anatomy of growth itself, but of the history of growth as a set of discourses by which Japanese "growth performance" as "economic miracle" came to be articulated. The premise of his work is simple: To our understandings of the material changes that took place in Japan during the second half of the twentieth century we must also add perspectives that account for growth as a new idea around the world, one that emerged alongside rapid economic expansion in postwar Japan and underwrote the modes by which it was imagined, forecast, pursued, and regulated. In an accessible, lively style, O’Bryan traces the history of growth as an object of social scientific knowledge and as a new analytical paradigm that came to govern the terms by which Japanese understood their national purposes and imagined a newly materialist vision of social and individual prosperity.

Several intersecting obsessions worked together after the war to create an agenda of social reform through rapid macroeconomic increase. Epistemological developments within social science provided the conceptual instruments by which technocrats gave birth to a shared lexicon of growth. Meanwhile, reformers combined prewar Marxist critiques with new modes of macroeconomic understanding to mobilize long-standing fears of overpopulation and "backwardness" and argue for a growthist vision of national reformation. O’Bryan also presents surprising accounts of the key role played by the ideal of full employment in national conceptions of recovery and of a new valorization of consumption in the postwar world that was taking shape. Both of these, he argues, formed critical components in a constellation of ideas that even in the context of relative poverty and uncertainty coalesced into a powerful vision of a materially prosperous future.

Even as Japan became the premier icon of the growthist ideal, neither the faith in rapid growth as a prescription for national reform nor the ascendancy of social scientific epistemologies that provided its technical support was unique to Japanese experience. The Growth Idea thus helps to historicize a concept of never-ending growth that continues to undergird our most basic beliefs about the success of nations and the operations of the global economy. It is a particularly timely contribution given current imperatives to reconceive ideas of purpose and prosperity in an age of resource depletion and global warming.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Cover, Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This project owes its earliest and biggest academic debt to Carol Gluck, whose guidance and enthusiasm were an inspiration throughout my graduate student career. Also at Columbia University, I thank Henry D. Smith II, Anders Stephanson, Barbara Brooks, and Hugh Patrick ...


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p. xi-xi

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Introduction: The Growth Idea and Early Postwar History

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pp. 1-17

As the end of the twentieth century neared and Japanese marked the completion of the first ten years of the Heisei era, public commentaries and scholarly examinations alike came to speak of the 1990s as Japan’s “lost decade.” Taken together, Japanese vernacular opinion and that of both ...

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Chapter 1. A New Mobilization: The Redemption of the Planning Ideal

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pp. 18-47

It was the initial policy of the Allied Occupation to leave the responsibility for economic rehabilitation to the Japanese government.1 The task that lay ahead for Japanese, however, was enormous. The economy was in a state of near collapse by the time of surrender, and the wartime privations of daily ...

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Chapter 2. The Measures That Rule

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pp. 48-87

As scholars, bureaucrats, and other economic leaders rehabilitated economic planning after the war, many pointed out that it was statistical knowledge that would drive the analytical apparatus they would use to regulate the “systematized” economy. Without ...

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Chapter 3. New Economics and an Expanding Vision of Prosperity

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pp. 88-118

As analysts and reformers articulated a future vision of reconstruction in terms of humanistic technocracy, they simultaneously cast their critical gaze backward over the longer history of modern Japanese development. While not unitary in voice, their analysis, from ...

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Chapter 4. Knowing Growth

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pp. 119-143

Keynesian theoretical and political concerns continued to influence the directions of modern economics research and analysis in Japan beyond the Occupation years. With full employment and its attendant concerns as animating ideals, the research program of economics ramified in ...

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Chapter 5. Structural Ills and Growth Cures

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pp. 144-171

Many postwar advocates of the ideal of full employment in Japan had drawn, as we have seen, on mid-century Keynesian economic ideas. They were able to point to a new international consensus, expressed in postwar multilateral organizations and in the capitals of the victorious ...

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pp. 172-184

In the 1961 series of Asahi newspaper essays quoted in the introductin to this study, the well-known economic writer Ryü Shintarö wondered aloud at the sudden ubiquity of the word “growth” (seichö) on the public stage. His observation was a reflection of the novelty of the national preoccupation ...


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pp. 185-229


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pp. 231-250


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pp. 251-261

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837563
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832827

Publication Year: 2009