Tag Archives: industrial policy

The Middle Income Trap

Development State Evolving: Japan’s Graduation from a Middle Income Country

By Tetsuji Okazaki (University of Tokyo)

Abstract: This paper reexamines the industrial policy in postwar Japan from perspectives of the literature on a “development state” and a “middle income trap”. Japan transited from a middle income country to a high income country in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s. This process was characterized by a large structural change, such as resource reallocation from the primary industry to the secondary and the tertiary industries as well as resource reallocation within the secondary industry. Transition to a high income country is a challenging task for a middle income country. With respect to Japan, the industrial policy played a positive role in the transition. This was achieved by interactions between MITI and other related actors, who constrained and corrected MITI’s attempts of excess intervention.

URL: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:tky:fseres:2017cf1063

Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2017‒09‒03

Review by: Joyman Lee (University College London)


Students of modern Japanese economic history are familiar with the work of Chalmers Johnson (1982) on the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). In that work Johnson argued that MITI was the leading state actor in Japan’s economic miracle, playing a vital coordinating role between policymakers and the private sector. Johnson’s emphasis on the role of the state in the East Asian experience has triggered similar studies on the development state in Korea (Alice Amsden) and Taiwan (Robert Wade).

As Okazaki notes, the emergence of newly industrialising economies facing the challenges of globalisation and democratisation has led to a renewed interest in the development state. Okazaki argues that rather than constituting a static set of policies, Japan’s developmental state was highly dynamic and adaptive, echoing Douglass North’s idea of “adaptive efficiency” (North 2005). Significantly, this ceased to be the case in Japan after the 1990s. A second strand of literature that informs the paper is the idea of the “middle income trap” (Gill and Kharas 2007), which highlights a particularly challenging transition which middle-income economies face, as the policies that have fueled the initial stages of growth are no longer appropriate for continued growth. The idea has gained considerable traction among commentators in China.

china middle income

The fear of the “middle income trap” has been particularly acute in China.

Okazaki’s paper shows that Japan’s successful voyage through the “trap” was partly facilitated by its success in resource allocation across industries, in addition to well-known increases in the intra-sector productivity. Between 1955 and 1975, Okazaki attributes 29% of the increases in labour productivity to resource allocation, which he stresses was “substantial” (p. 4).

Okazaki traces the evolution of policies from the American occupation period, when U.S. advisor Joseph Dodge initiated the abolition of strict wartime controls. A 1953 government report was followed by the Five Year Plan of 1955, which highlighted the need to transition from light to heavy industries. MITI was formed in 1949 to pursue the policy of “industrial rationalization”. Formal economic controls were replaced by a portfolio of public financial institutions, including the Japan Development Bank (1951), tax relief, and foreign exchange allocation, and a central coordinating Council for Industrial Reorganisationolic . The government promoted new sectors, particularly the machinery and the automobile industries within it, which included the use of cultural strategies such as a campaign to promote the purchase of domestic cars at the same time as regulating foreign direct investment (1952) and curtailing the foreign exchange available for car imports (1954). The government also actively implemented policies concerning the automobile parts industry, which was quite atypical given the miscellaneous and low tech nature of that sector.

japan car industry

A Toyota factory in 1948. MITI’s policy in supporting the automobile parts industry which supplied major manufacturers such as Toyota was particularly distinctive.

At the same time as developing the domestic economy, MITI also foresaw foreign pressure on trade liberalisation, and formed a committee to formulate its strategy in 1959. While the ministry remained ambivalent with respect to its effects, it nonetheless adopted a sequential programme of liberalisation that was intertwined with plans to upgrade the industrial infrastructure. The high level of alert to likely external treasures had a direct effect on the government’s sector-specific strategies, e.g. to focus on passenger cars in the automobile sector. However, MITI’s more radical plans to consolidate the industry by policy intervention were not adopted, and instead the government aided the industry through JDB loans and low interest loans to small and medium-sized suppliers. MITI also successfully resisted IMF pressures to remove the industry from the foreign exchange system until Japan was well established in the world market (1963). Meanwhile, the government conceded that the coal industry would be uncompetitive and adopted a programme of gradual phasing out.


Okazaki’s study provides a timely, quantitative and authoritative review on an important and relatively understudied topic (given the acceptance of Johnson’s view as orthodoxy among historians) by one of Japan’s leading economic historians, whose trans-war perspective is particularly useful in teasing out more subtle changes amidst MITI’s strong posture towards industrial policy. As Okazaki observes,  the difficulties that middle-income economies face are acute, as “one of the difficulties that middle income countries face is that they should compete with low income countries in the markets of labor-intensive industries as well as with high income countries in the markets of capital and technology intensive industries” (Bulman 2017). In this context, Japan’s success appears remarkable, perhaps no less than the historiographically well-recognised significance of Japan’s Meiji-period Westernisation.

However, the complexity of policies required for breaking the “middle-income trap” in Japan’s case may not provide much comfort for middle-income economies currently facing the challenge. Although Japan rejected centralised state controls, the Japanese example appears to require a complex set of policies that presupposes a high degree of political cohesion and long-range economic planning, which is often difficult in many middle income economies given various political and social challenges. It also requires a state that is highly persuasive to the populace with respect to its vision for economic development. These factors appear to mark Japan out as an exception rather than an example that can be easily perceived as immediately relevant by many developing countries.

Perhaps the most avid student of Japan’s experiences will be China, which possesses a similar state capacity for a coordinated industrial policy and a qualified commitment to the market, even if it may not enjoy the same degree of social cohesion. This likely Chinese interest may explain the timing of Okazaki’s paper. However, the requirement of a strong state may produce perverse incentives for middle-income countries to maintain authoritarian systems of government (even though Japan was not classically authoritarian in that period in its history), and reminds us of unresolved tensions between economic development and democratisation.

Additional References

Alice, A, 1992. Asia’s Next Giant: South Korea and Late Industrialization. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Bulman, D, Eden, M, Nguyen, H, 2017. “Transition from Low-Income Growth to High-Income Growth: Is there a Middle-Income Trap ?” Journal of the Asian Pacific Economy, 22(1): 5-28.

Gill, I, Kharas, H, 2007. An East Asian Renaissance: Idea for Economic Growth. Washington DC: The World Bank.

Johnson, C, 1982. MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925-1975. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

North, D, 2005. Understanding the Process of Economic Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wade, R, 2003. Governing the Market: Economic Theory and the Role of Government in East Asian Industrialization. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


They must have done something different: currency controls, industrial policy and productivity in postwar Japan

Effects of Industrial Policy on Productivity: The case of import quota removal during postwar Japan

Kozo KIYOTA (Keio University and RIETI) and Tetsuji OKAZAKI (University of Tokyo and RIETI)

URL: http://www.rieti.go.jp/jp/publications/dp/13e093.pdf

Abstract This paper attempts to provide a systematic analysis on the effects of industrial policy in postwar Japan. Among the various types of Japanese industrial policy, this paper focuses on the removal of de facto import quotas through the foreign exchange allocation system. Analyzing a panel of 100 Japanese manufacturing industries in the 1960s, we find that the effects of the quota removal on productivity were limited—the effects were significantly positive, but time was required before they appeared. On the other hand, the effects of tariffs on labor productivity were negative although insignificant. One possible reason for this is that the Japanese government increased tariff rates before removing the import quotas and maintained high tariff rates afterward. As a result, the effects of the Japanese industrial policy in the 1960s might be smaller than widely believed in the Japanese economic history literature.

Reviewed by Sebastian Fleitas

“I haven’t got anything against open competition. If they can build a better car and sell it for less money, let ’em do it. But what burns me up is that I can’t go into Japan. We can’t build, we can’t sell, we can’t service, we can’t do a damn thing over there … I think this country ought to have the guts to stand up to unfair competition” Henry Ford II (1969)

People used to say that a miracle happened in Japan during the sixties. By 1960, the Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPpc) of the US was 2.8 times that of Japan. In the same year, the GDP per capita of Chile was the same of the Japanese while Argentinian was 40% higher. One decade later the situation had dramatically changed. By 1970, US GDPpc was only 1.5 times greater than the Japanese. In addition, Japan GDP pc was 85% higher than the Chilean and 33% higher compared to the Argentinian. While comparison of GDPpc actually raise more questions than answers, the comparison with these Latin-American countries can be appealing because Japan and these countries had very aggressive currency controls and industrial policies during this period. The difference of results makes us think that Japan must have done something different, something better. To find these differences it is needed to evaluate separately the effects of each of the policies applied during those times, understanding the incentives that they provided to the firms. As Lars Peter Hansen – recent Nobel Prize in Economics- suggested, one key important thing in Economics is that we can do something without doing everything.

This paper, circulated in NEP-HIS 2013-11-09, focuses on the removal of de facto import quotas through the foreign exchange allocation system during the sixties in Japan. This system was used as a powerful tool for industrial policy in the 1950s, and hence their removal was supposed to have a substantial impact on industries. After direct control of international trade by the government ceased in 1949 as a part of the “Dodge Plan,” the Japanese government regulated trade indirectly through the allocation of foreign exchange. This implies that, given the prices, there was a de facto import quota for some goods, since the upper limit of the import quantity was determined by the foreign exchange budget. Under continuing pressure from the IMF, the Japanese government swiftly removed the de facto import quotas.  However, this process was different from what the literature in economics refers to as trade liberalization. The removal of import quotas did not necessarily constitute trade liberalization because tariff protection was substituted for import quotas. Therefore, to correctly quantify the effects of the quota removal, it is needed to control for the effects of the tariff protection.

In order to estimate the effect of quota removal, this paper utilizes detailed industry-level data from the Census of Manufactures (100 Japanese manufacturing industries in the 1960s) and data on trade protection. This enables them to control for industry (not firm) heterogeneity while covering the majority of manufacturing industries. Based on governmental information, the authors precisely identify the timing of the quota removal for each commodity, using original documents of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). The authors estimate the parameters of interest (effect of the quota removal and the tariffs) using least square estimation including industry and time fixed effects. In this sense, the identification strategy of the effect of the quota removal is based on the variation in the timing of the quota removal across industries.

The authors find that the effects of the quota removal on productivity were limited. None of the industry performances are systematically related to the removal of the import quotas. Additionally, an increase in tariffs generally has significantly negative effects on the number of firms, output per establishment, and industry value added. The concern about reverse causality (higher tariffs were imposed on small industries in terms of the number of establishments and value added) is addressed using leads of the tariff and quota variables. The authors also check the effects on the growth rate of the result variables, finding that the quota removal had significantly positive effects, but time was required before they appeared. One explanation they provide for this is that the Japanese government increased tariff rates before removing the import quotas and maintained high tariff rates afterward.

I think that the main takeaway from the paper is that it suggests that the effects of the Japanese industrial policy in the 1960s might be smaller than widely believed in the Japanese economic history literature. However, I think the paper will benefit if the authors discuss more clearly some aspects. First, it is important to clarify what are the intended effects of the policy and what are the mechanisms for the effect of the quota removal on productivity. A clear discussion about mechanisms and intended effects could help the reader to understand the evaluation of the policy and what are the expected results. For example, is it a good or a bad result to see increases in productivity along with a decrease in the number of establishments? It seems natural to think that the government could impose de facto quotas to limit external competition and provide a handicap for the firms during the learning process. However, it is not clear what the intention of the government was when they removed the quota. Sometimes, the quota removal could be the result of the government thinking that some firms of the industries already have an appropriate level of productivity and that the less productive firms need to exit to allocate the resource to more productive production. But sometimes, the quota removal compensated with an increase in tariffs could be just a way to update the protectionism against the lobby of the new world financial institutions.

Second, I think the paper would benefit from a more detailed discussion about the identification strategy used and its suitability. A relevant challenge to the identification is the potential endogeneity of the timing of the quota removal. Since the Outline of the Plan for Trade and Foreign Exchange Liberalization was announced before the actual liberalization took place, the firms should have had incentives and time to adjust their behavior. Additionally, as mentioned above the criteria of the government could have been based on the observed trends of the industries. Suppose that the government decided to increase more the tariffs in those sectors that already have the lowest increases in productivity and that they suppose would be the most affected from the quota removal. Since the authors do not control for the pre-existing trends of the productivity of the industries, this issue can undermine the identification strategy, which is based on the idea that the timing of the quota removal varied exogenously across industries. Controlling for time trends per industry could help to capture these potential trends, and help to control for at least this potential source of endogeneity.

just an American cartoon. Jan 1969

Finally, a third issue is related to the identification of the coefficients for tariffs and quota removal. Even assuming that the timing of the quota removal was exogenous, an issue raises from the fact that while the tariff rate is a continuous variable the quota removal is a binary variable. However, this quota removal binary variable tries to represent a treatment effect that is potentially different by industry. In this sense, the dummy variable is only a proxy for the actual severity of the removed protection. At the same time, as it was discussed before, the loss of protection via quota removal could be correlated with the tariff increases since the authorities would have tried to compensate the affected industries. If this is the case, the tariff effect is not precisely identified since it can be capturing the unobserved heterogeneity on the severity of removed protection. In this sense, maybe the use of a continuous variable that represents the magnitude of the removed protection via the quota removal could help to better identify the effects of those variables separately.

To sum up, I think this and other papers from the same authors are making important contributions to better understand the effects of the industrial policy during postwar Japan. In this paper the authors point out that the effects of quota removal might be smaller than widely believed in the Japanese economic history literature. Even more, they point out that the effects of different policies generally overlap and that any assessment of these effects needs to take care of this fact. I cannot stress enough how important industrial policy was for postwar Japan, but if you still have doubts, you should have asked Henry Ford II.