Theses Doctoral

Cross-Border Investment in Forms: National Income Accounting and the Making of Reliable Government in Postwar Japan

Son, Joonwoo

This dissertation, through three case studies on the history of the introduction and use of national income accounting in post-World War II Japan, examines how official statistics convince private actors of the government’s authority as a reliable coordinator of the economy. During the early postwar period, the liberal powers spread national income accounting – a standardized framework that developed in the 1930s to summarize the interplay of all sorts of production, distribution, and consumption activities in a given territory – as a means to align economic bureaucracy of former fascist states and postcolonial countries with an Anglo-American model of reliable government. At the core of the government model was improving a state bureaucracy’s authority to disseminate a formalized, and thus objective and impersonal representation of the national economy, which would serve as an impartial and reliable reference point for private actors to adjust their economic activities. This dissertation investigates how the government model, once introduced to postwar Japan, adapted and evolved in response to how Japanese private actors interpreted, evaluated, and reacted to depersonalized official statistics.

I answer the question by studying a series of policy and social debates from 1945 to 1969 between bureaucrats, government-affiliated experts, academic economists, liberal economic magazines, and private think tanks on how to reform methods of publishing national income statistics. Drawing upon archival materials ranging from government documents and academic publications to magazine articles, interview transcripts, and autobiographies, this dissertation demonstrates that the introduction of national income accounting in postwar Japan led the recurring debates that compared and evaluated multiple methods of publishing official statistics in reference to private actors’ reactions to official statistics. Offering a closer look at the recurring debates, three case studies in this dissertation reveal how the formalization of official statistics based on national income accounting spread a debate that induced Japanese government officials and affiliated experts to rethink what private actors would demand for reliable statistics; how the publication of formalized official statistics stimulated private actors’ critical discussion questioning the link between depersonalized statistics and reliable government; and how private actors’ reactions to official statistics compelled postwar Japan’s economic bureaucracy to experiment with an alternative government model.

The findings of this dissertation draw attention to Japan’s private actors who relied less on depersonalized numbers and more on numbers expressing the government’s strong will as a leader of conviction. The first case study highlights private actors who did not assess the reliability of official statistics based on formalized impersonality, but rather on statistical leadership with a strong determination to defend the autonomy of statistical operations against political pressures. Then, the second case study suggest that where private actors assume the inseparability of economic governance from inter-ministerial political struggles, the pursuit of objectivity in policymaking can provoke criticism as a bureaucratic art of evading responsibility. In postwar Japan, private actors associated the impersonal style of national income accounting with an unreliable government, while demanding more ambitious official statistics that boldly expressed the government’s will and ambition as a brave man who never hide or run away from political struggles. Finally, the third cast study demonstrates that postwar Japan’s economic bureaucracy eventually incorporated the use of official statistics to manage and reshape private actors’ expectations of the government’s leadership.

Through the historical case studies, this dissertation suggests that the link between institutional efforts to depersonalize official statistics and a state bureaucracy’s authority as a reliable coordinator of the economy is an unstable socio-historical product. Its instability is a constant source of experiments for innovating a state bureaucracy’s use of official statistics to coordinate the economy. In sum, this dissertation illuminates the unintended consequences of spreading a government model based on formalizing activities across foreign institutional arrangements, which facilitated a distinct understanding of what private actors demand of and expect from a reliable reference point for their economic activities.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Eyal, Gil
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 29, 2023