Victory for Abenomics as Japan's maverick PM gets his pick of governor

Haruhiko Kuroda is expected to be the new governor of the Bank of Japan.

The financial press is reporting that Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe is expected to nominate former finance-ministry official Haruhiko Kuroda as governor of the Bank of Japan. If Kuroda's nomination goes ahead, it will be a victory for Abe's desire to pursue aggressive unconventional monetary policy in order to boost Japan's economic fortunes.

Abe has been engaged in a low-level squabble with his finance minster, former Prime Minister Taro Aso, over the extent of Japan's efforts to boost growth and weaken the yen. Aso, who favours more conventional economic policy, most recently squashed the prime minister's suggestion that Japan might buy foreign bonds as a general policy.

That rift is arguably one of the most important in economic policy today. Just as Britain has been the site of the most rigorous experiment on the effects of voluntary austerity on growth (spoiler: results were negative), Japan is pushing some of the most aggressively expansionary monetary policy ever — and has ideas to go even further. Abe's government has already eroded central bank independence, forcing the Bank of Japan to actively push for growth and inflation; it has "nationalised" capital stock, allowing the state to pay for nominally private sector investment; and it has set explicit targets for the Nikkei, the country's premier stock index, of over 17 per cent growth in one month.

The tussle between Aso and Abe over the foreign bonds purchase was widely seen as a proxy fight for the right to award the governorship, and with the apparent selection of Kuroda, Abe has taken the lead. The governor-to-be has long been a critic of the BoJ's lack of stimulus and will likely encourage it to follow the government's suit in further aggressive, unorthodox measures to hit the new 2 per cent inflation target.

But Reuters' Leika Kihara and Yuko Yoshikawa inject a note of caution to their reporting:

Abe must go through political maneuvering to close the deal, as the nomination must be approved by both houses of parliament including the upper house, where his ruling coalition lacks a majority.

The government hopes to garner support from either the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) or a group of smaller parties to pass the nomination.

There's likely to be an even bigger fight on Abe's hands with one of his two desired deputy governors, Kazumasa Iwata. Iwata is an academic who has called for Japan to print money to fight deflation; his appointment would suggest large scale monetary expansion is on the cards. He was widely reported to be Abe's first choice as governor, before Kuroda was picked as the compromise candidate.

With an ageing population, and flunked recovery from a financial crisis, Britain's experience over the next decade may be scarily similar to Japan's over the last. If Abenomics lifts the country out of its hole, we should all be hoping Mark Carney and the rest of the Bank of England are paying close attention, and preparing to follow suit in case the worst happens.

Haruhiko Kuroda. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.