OECD Observer
An impressive comeback

While today Japan is one of the world’s largest and most advanced economies, a member of the G7 and the most developed country in Asia, in 1964 the picture was quite different.

That was the year Japan became a member of the OECD. It was also the year of the Tokyo Olympics and the inauguration of the bullet train. At the time, the country’s GDP per capita was down around US$8,000 in 2005 prices, considerably less than half that of the US.

In the 19th century, Japan was one of the world’s largest economies, but the Second World War weakened the country’s productive capacity. Major investments in human and physical capital in the 1950s and 1960s would spark a comeback.

In fact, despite suffering the 1973 oil crisis, GDP per capita had increased to some $15,000 a decade after joining the OECD. The 1980s then marked a shift in Japan’s economy away from manufactured goods and agriculture towards a highly knowledge-based economy that made it a world leader in high technology. By 1990 GDP per capita was climbing towards $27,000, nearly three-quarters that of the US. But large stock and property market bubbles eventually formed, and Japan has virtually stagnated since the 1990s. Nevertheless, the country remains the OECD’s second largest country and the world’s third largest economy. Its GDP/ capita in 2012 was some $31,400, in constant 2005 dollars. That’s an impressive leap since 1964, and a good reason to celebrate Japan’s first 50 years at the OECD. 

See www.oecd.org/japan/ and stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?datasetcode=SNA_TABLE1

©OECD Observer No 298, Q1 2014