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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
13. June 2019

Making the Most of Scarcity? The Role of Natural Assets in Pre-WWII Japanese Economic Development

What role did natural assets play in the rise of living standards in industrializing nations during the 19th and 20th century? In the case of Japan, initial conditions were characterized by an exceptionally efficient use, by the international standards of the time, of very scarce natural resources, particularly in forestry and silviculture (Totman 1989; Saito 2009, 2014). In spite of their scarcity, natural assets played a critical role in the initial phase of Japanese economic transformation, in the late Tokugawa and early Meiji. In this paper, we estimate the evolution of the comprehensive wealth, the total stock of assets per capita, which includes human and natural assets, and can be regarded as the most relevant indicator of sustainable well-being (Dasgupta 2001, 2009).

Jean-Pascal Bassino, ENS Lyon; CNRS research fellow at the French Research Institute on Japan at Maison Franco Japonaise