Welfare for the State: The Origin of the Private Saving Network in Japan(1873-1925)
November 29, 2000 / 18.30
Katalin Ferber (Shizuoka Bunka Geijutsu Daigaku)
This presentation analyses the origin of Japan’s saving institutions, that is, the system of Postal Savings and co-operative associations. The establishment of a network of deposit-taking organisations demonstrated strong commitment by government to mobilise the liquid assets of citizens to invest in public infrastructure projects such as railways, military technology and new companies.
My interest in this area was generated by the range of different conclusions reached by scholars seeking to explain the high rate of savings in East Asia. While they typify high saving rates as an East Asian characteristic, few analyse why it is so. Why do East Asians save more than people in other parts of the world do; what motivates a Japanese individual, for instance, to follow state-advocated values of thriftiness, frugality and saving? In the rich literature on saving in Japan and neighbouring countries, a variety of explanations are proffered for the high rate of individual savings. (See for example Calder’s, Garon’s, and Anderson’s works). Economists tend to use rational-choice based concepts to account for the high personal saving rates whereas most historians focus (albeit implicitly) on those cultural norms which support individual saving.
I argue that personal saving in Japan is a value internalised by individuals, which was imposed on them by the state in the first instance. The beauty of this internalisation for the state is that it creates a socialist sector whilst helping to maintain the belief that individual conduct quote;naturallyquote; follows the ideology of the state. I refer to this practice as quote;the welfare system for the statequote;. Neither culture-based nor rational-choice approaches give a sufficient or satisfactory explanation of high rates of personal savings. It is important to consider that in the period during which saving institutions were introduced into Japan; other countries operated similar entities. But Japan is the only country where these institutions have remained unchanged. Moreover, Japan quote;exportedquote; this institutional network into their colonial territories where quote;cultural normsquote; were similar: rational-choice, which was hardly an option, cannot be used as an explanation for successful transfer.
The first part of my presentation sheds the light on the monetary and fiscal factors which made the adoption of the Postal Saving System a matter of urgency for Japan. I go on to analyse the origins of the other major deposit-collecting network: the production and credit co-operatives (kumiai). Finally, I briefly describe the colonial saving network to add another perspective to the saving phenomenon in contemporary East Asian countries.
Katalin FERBER received her doctorate from Budapest University of Economics in 1988. Her dissertation was on International Monetary Crises in Central Europe. Since 1993, she has been conducting research in Japan, among else as a Visiting Researcher at the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Economics. Currently, she is an Associate Professor at Shizuoka Bunka Geijitsu Daigaku and a lecturer in the Japanese Studies Program at Tokyo International University.