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2017 OECD Economic Surveys: Japan 2017

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Economic growth has picked up since Abenomics was launched in 2013, and so has job creation. However, Japan faces serious demographic headwinds, as its population is projected to decline by a quarter over 2015-50, with the share over age 65 rising from 26% to almost 40%. Firms already face labour shortages. Population ageing also puts upward pressure on government spending. Gross government debt, which has risen to 219% of GDP, the highest ever recorded in the OECD area, continues to rise. Labour productivity is about a quarter below the top half of OECD countries despite Japan's high levels of human capital, R&D and business investment. Slowing productivity growth has been accompanied by increased income inequality and relative poverty. Gender gaps in employment and wages are relatively large. This Economic Survey of Japan assesses the country’s recent macroeconomic performance and prospects, and offers recommendations to boost productivity and foster more inclusive growth. In particular, the expanding gap between leading and lagging firms should be narrowed by promoting business sector dynamism and entrepreneurship. Breaking down labour market dualism is a priority to bring about inclusive growth and raise productivity. Faster productivity and output growth, accompanied by measures to limit public spending growth and gradually increase government revenue, would help ensure fiscal sustainability.

SPECIAL FEATURES: PRODUCTIVITY FOR INCLUSIVE GROWTH; FISCAL SUSTAINABILITY

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Ensuring fiscal sustainability in the context of a shrinking and ageing population

With gross government debt of 219% of GDP in 2016, Japan’s fiscal situation is in uncharted territory and puts the economy at risk. In addition to raising productivity and growth, Japan needs a more detailed and credible fiscal consolidation path, including specific revenue increases and measures to control spending to restore fiscal sustainability. Spending pressures associated with rapid population ageing make reforms to contain social expenditures a priority. Local governments need to be part of the effort to contain public spending in the context of a shrinking population. Much of the consolidation, though, will have to be on the revenue side, primarily through hikes in the consumption tax rate toward the OECD average and a broadening of the personal income tax base. Fiscal consolidation should be accompanied by measures to promote inclusive growth through the tax and benefit system, in particular by introducing an earned income tax credit to assist the working poor, hiking the tax on capital income and broadening the base of the inheritance tax.

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