March 8, 2011


"Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy, and Society (ISHES)" Launched in Japan, "Dilemma of Economic Growth" Survey Results Released

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.102 (February 2011)

China's gross domestic product (GDP) is on track to become the second largest in the world soon, knocking Japan out of second place for the first time in 42 years. This big piece of news hit Japan on January 20, 2011.

In reaction, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan said, "The growth of the Chinese economy will be a plus for Japan as well." Comments like these from those in politics and industry were heavily reported in the mass media, and newspapers published numerous editorials on the shift and its significance. Many people's reaction can be summed up as "The proximity to the economically growing China is beneficial for Japan, whose economy is foreign-demand-oriented," and "Japan should take advantage of China's growth as a driving force for its own economy."

The real question is, however: Is it even possible for the economies of China, Japan, and the world to continue growing? What will happen as a result of this process of continuous economic growth? Should we even be aiming to achieve such growth?

We wondered what percentage of people in Japan thinking about these issues, whether carefully or vaguely. To find out, a just-launched organization -- the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy, and Society (ISHES) -- commissioned a public opinion survey of 500 Japanese people and publicized the outcome via a press release. The results are intriguing and thought provoking. In this article, we at JFS include the release here, hoping that you will take some time to think along with us.


Press Release

How Does the Japanese Public Feel about the "Dilemma of Economic Growth"? Results of Public Opinion Survey on GDP Growth Released

January 25, 2011

The results of its "Public Opinion Survey on GDP" were released by the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy, and Society (ISHES), which is headed by Junko Edahiro and was established in January 2011 by e's Inc. (head office: Setagaya Ward, Tokyo; president: Junko Edahiro) with the cooperation of the environmental NGO Japan for Sustainability (JFS). The purpose of the survey was to find out how Japanese people feel about the news that their country's economy was being surpassed by China in terms of GDP and falling from second to the third largest in the world, as well as what their thoughts are about the continued GDP growth of Japan and the world.

The survey was conducted by online survey company Macromill Inc., which contacted 500 people ranging in age from 20 to 70. The percentages of the sample population selected for the survey -- in terms of age, sex, and population in metropolitan areas, mid-to-small size local cities, and rural areas -- were made proportionate to those matching Japan's national demographics.

When asked for their reaction to the news that "China's GDP came in second in the world, pushing Japan off to third place," more than 50% (51.6%) of respondents answered, "Not a big deal," a higher percentage than the combined 41% who answered that they were shocked, disappointed, or frustrated.

According to the survey, on hearing the news some people answered that, "Japan also has to work hard to increase its own GDP," "The Japanese government should take some measures," and "I feel China is a threat." But more than a few people answered, "I wasn't surprised at this news, because this has been expected to happen since a few years ago," "The increase in China's GDP is natural, because of the different populations of China and Japan," and "I'm not worried about this news, because Japan's GDP per capita is higher than China's." In this regard, most of the Japanese surveyed were found to be relatively unfazed by the news.

According to press reports, many industry people said, "The increase in Chinese GDP would be favorable for Japanese industry, which depends on external demand." Both the responses from people in industry and the general public in the survey -- that the increase in China's GDP is not worrisome because Japan's GDP per capita is higher than China's -- are probably based on the implicit assumption that Japan and the world's GDP must continue growing.

In response to the question, "Do you think it is necessary that world GDP, including Japan's, continues increasing?" 44.8% answered "Yes," 19.4% answered "No," and 35.8% answered "Uncertain" (see Fig. 1).

As for their reasons for saying yes to the question, many people answered, "If the economy does not grow, we can't get a steady job, which affects our way of life," "It is necessary in order to maintain our current lifestyle," and "It is necessary for our happiness."

As their reasons for saying that GDP growth was not necessary, many people answered, "The GDP cannot continue increasing forever," "I think there is something more important than economic growth," "Happiness cannot be measured by GDP alone," and "I think that the era of pursuing material affluence is over."

As for the reasons given for answering "Uncertain," many people said, "I'm not sure whether GDP can continue to increase," "I'm not sure whether continuing an increase in GDP is good," "I'm not sure what is truly good for the people," and "I don't really know much about the GDP."

For the question, "Do you think world GDP and Japan's GDP can continue increasing?" 30.2% answered "Yes," 25.8% answered "No," and 44.0%, the greatest number, answered "Uncertain" (see Fig. 2).

As the reasons given for saying that it's possible, many people answered, "Japan is ahead in technology," "New industries are emerging and potential growth can be also expected in some fields," and "China, India, and some other countries are expected to grow." Reasons given for saying it's impossible included, "Continuing growth is impossible because everything has a limit," and "The Earth's resources are limited," while the reasons for answering included, "Uncertain" include "I don't know much about GDP itself," and "I cannot imagine or predict the future."

Viewing the two responses together, we found the following: Quite a few people think that it is necessary that GDP continues to grow worldwide, including in Japan, while they also feel that realizing continuous growth of GDP is impossible or they were uncertain about it. More specifically, of the 224 people who answered that it's necessary, 53.1% answered that it's possible, 11.2% answered that it's impossible, and 35.7% answered that they were uncertain about it. This means that nearly half of the respondents think it will be impossible or they are uncertain that it could be realized.

Now we look at the respondents by gender and age (see Fig. 3 to Fig. 5). An overwhelming majority of women who answered "uncertain" when asked the two questions and the number of women who answered that it was impossible is the same as the women who answered that it's possible. Meanwhile, among respondents in their 30s and 50s, a larger number of people answered "impossible" rather than "possible" when asked about GDP's continuous growth.

Under the current economic and social system, if economic growth does not continue, then employment and human life will become unstable; meanwhile, given the limits of the Earth's resources, energy, and carbon sinks, endless economic growth is impossible. This condition is called the "Dilemma of Economic Growth." In light of this, an advisory panel to French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently released a report on a reappraisal of whether GDP is appropriate to be used as an economic index. Meanwhile, the U.K. government's independent advisor on sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Commission, released the report "Prosperity without Growth." These activities show that this subject is increasingly being taken up in the political field.

Now, back to the survey. To sum up the results: While many Japanese strongly feel that continued GDP growth is necessary, quite a few feel that it is impossible or that they are uncertain that it could be realized when they take into account the resource limits of the Earth. In short, they squarely face the dilemma of economic growth. The survey also reveals that quite a few Japanese don't exactly know what GDP measures, or feel that GDP doesn't really measure any degree of happiness.

How should we come to terms with the limits of the Earth to build a truly happy society without making society and the economy unstable? And what should we use to measure society's true progress and happiness? These are unavoidable questions for national and local governments, companies, organizations, and each and every one of us to address.

Our newly-established Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy, and Society plans to squarely face this challenge and dedicate itself to conducting research and studies, information dissemination, opinion forming, dialogue, networking with related initiatives worldwide, and so forth. To get things started, we will hold a symposium marking its establishment this coming March 4. Please see this website (only in Japanese) for details:

* The symposium held on March 4, 2011, was a great success.
Thank you very much.


The symposium will be held in Tokyo in a unique setting, under which, as the attendance fee, participants are requested to show a copy of the Big Issue magazine, which offers homeless people an opportunity to earn a legitimate income. If you know someone who lives in or near Tokyo, please let him or her know about it.

We have written several articles in past JFS newsletters on the theme of the dilemma of economic growth, and now we hope to further advance the discussion and thinking on this topic, and to network with related initiatives worldwide. We will also inform you as soon as we launch the new website dedicated to this theme.

We hope to connect with people both in Japan and overseas and start communicating with one another. Please feel free to let us know your opinions and comments about our new institute's establishment, activities, the survey results mentioned in this newsletter, and anything else. We welcome your opinions and comments. Just simply reply to this newsletter or use the contact form here:

We are really looking forward to hearing from you.

Written by Junko Edahiro