Lost decade? Not for Japans elderly

The Japanese say they suffer from an economic disease called "structural pessimism." Overseas too, there is a tendency to see Japan as a harbinger of all that is doomed in the economies of the eurozone and America — even though figures released last week show that its economy grew by an annualized 6 percent in the third quarter, rebounding quickly from the March tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Look dispassionately at Japans economic performance over the past 10 years, though, and "the second lost decade," if not the first, is a misnomer. Much of what tarnishes Japans image is the result of demography — more than half its population is over 45 — as well as its poor policy for dealing with it. Even so, most Japanese have grown richer over the decade.

In aggregate, Japans economy grew at half the pace of Americas between 2001 and 2010. Yet if judged by growth in gross domestic product per person over the same period, then Japan has outperformed America and the eurozone. In part this is because its population has shrunk whereas Americas population has increased.

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