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The Growth Idea: Purpose and Prosperity in Postwar Japan

(University of Hawai’i Press 2009)

Scott O’Bryan

Author Scott O’Bryan brings a fresh perspective to the well-known story of Japan’s remarkable postwar economic growth, exploring its origins and development by examining the management and the metrics behind it. He thus offers a history of the nation’s pursuit of growth, considering the “conceptual frameworks, modes of economic imagination, and political programs” through which successive Japanese governments sought to understand and direct material change and, in so doing, redefine national ideas of purpose and prosperity.

O’Bryan guides us through the “new vision of humanistic technocracy” that took hold in postwar Japan as a means to manage a democratic, peacetime economy through rational governance, planning, and research. Prerequisite to successful planning was technical competence, and so began a drive for statistical measurement and analysis and a focus on macroeconomic measures—most notably gross national product, which would soon become central to the analysis and perception of growth in Japan and worldwide. O’Bryan outlines the emergence of the full-employment goal, rooted in Keynesian principles, taking it as a marker of an “abundance economy” in a new age of prosperity economies. He also tackles the evolution of growth theory and its perceived critical importance to a successful capitalist system, constructing a richly detailed picture of how growth as an ideal became normalized and at times fetishized in postwar Japan.

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