Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

Japan's Postwar National Metabolic Crisis with Mark Metzler

Wed, April 27, 2016 | Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118)

3:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Japan's Postwar National Metabolic Crisis with Mark Metzler

East Asian Political Economy Speaker Series

In 1945, the Japanese people faced a general crisis in their material and energy exchanges with wider world-economic, biospheric, and geospheric environments. The production of coal, the country’s primary energy source, fell to less than one-third of former levels in the autumn and winter of the year. Drought curtailed hydroelectric generation, the second-largest energy source. Energy is a primary input for producing chemical fertilizer, which was also severely curtailed. The autumn rice crop was two-thirds of normal. Resource flows from outside of the archipelago were radically restricted, leaving Japan more closed in terms of material trade flows than at any time since the end of the shogunate’s closed-country regime in 1859. Japanese government planners understood these circumstances as a kind of social laboratory, in which they developed new tools for analyzing and altering national systemic functioning.
In delineating this situation, this paper collates two bodies of theory. It borrows first from recent work, not yet been utilized by historians, concerning industrial metabolism and material and energy flow analysis (MEFA). Second, it draws on engineering-inspired conceptions of national economy developed by Japanese government planners immediately after the war. In fact, their energy- and flow-based conceptions were remarkably parallel to those of later industrial-ecological and MEFA analysis, and they share common intellectual lineages. 

 

Mark Metzler graduated from Stanford University, worked for several Silicon Valley companies, and then received his PhD in Japanese History from the University of California at Berkeley.  He is currently Professor of History and Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.  His book Lever of Empire (California, 2006) investigates the origins of the Shōwa Depression of 1929–32, and his book Capital as Will and Imagination (Cornell, 2013) explores the sources of the great boom of 1955–73.  He hasrecently completed a new history of central banking, inflation, and deflation as seen through the interconnections of Tokyo, London, and New York (forthcoming from Cornell University Press).

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