By speeding the flood of less expensive imported products into Japan, the strong yen is contributing to a broader drop in the prices of goods and services, known as deflation, that has helped retirees stretch their pensions and savings. The resulting inaction on the yen, according to a growing number of economists and politicians, reflects a new political reality, with already indecisive leaders loath to upset retirees from the postwar baby boom who make up nearly a third of the population and tend to vote in high numbers.
To me, this comment is relatively nonsensical for two reasons.
Firstly, The Yen has “strengthened” from an incredibly weak level in 2007 – incredibly weak by historic standards! Yes the Yen is now strong against the US dollar, but if you compared it to a wider basket of currencies this is hardly the case.
When talking about currency, historical context isn’t particularly useful. Instead we need to ask things such as “what is purchasing power parity like” and “are they running a trade surplus”. It turns out that Japan is still running sizable trade surpluses, suggesting that (if anything) the Yen may still be too weak …
My second complaint is this view of the Yen and inflation – inflation is the growth in the general price level over time, a “high Yen” is a one-off price level shock … it doesn’t change the rate of growth in the general price level it merely knocks down the level as a one-off. The endemic deflation in Japan isn’t a result of “fiddling with tradable prices”, it is the result of persistent deflation expectations feeding into the wage and price setting behaviour in the country.
Now if there is a generational war in this context, it relies on Japan’s pensions not being inflation adjusted. Is this the case? If not, this is much ado about nothing.