G-20 Series: Economic Prescriptions From The Minister Who Rescued Japan From The Lost Decade

Big Think recently approached top economic thinkers from around the world for policy recommendations that could catalyze the needed structural changes to push the global economy out of recession. Included here are ideas from Dr. Heizo Takenaka, the economic scholar and former Japanese minister, many credit with the policies that lifted Japan out of its "lost decade."

The inspiration for a series on global economic policy solutions came from Dr. Takenaka, who in 2002, acting as Japan's economics minister, successfully tackled Japan's banking crisis with his Plan For Financial Review, or, as it is widely known, the Takenaka Plan. As explained in a New York Times article from February, "The Japanese crisis of the 1990s and early 2000s had roots similar to the American crisis: a real estate bubble that collapsed, leaving banks holding trillions of yen in loans that were virtually worthless."


But, as Edward Lincoln wrote in Newsweek recently, "Like many Americans today, the Japanese didn't particularly want to nationalize their banks. Deregulation had been a strong political theme in Japan since the 1980s. Indeed, during the troubles of the 1990s, the political push for deregulation actually increased, as many recognized that long-term recovery required a more market-oriented economy."

Finally, in 2002, the government of Japan ordered an audit of the banks based on the ideas of Takenaka, who at the time headed the government's financial reform efforts. "The move finally brought the full extent of bad loans to light," according to the Times. "It took three more years to finally get the majority of bad loans off the banks’ books. Resona Bank, which was found to have insufficient capital, was effectively nationalized. From 1992 to 2005, Japanese banks wrote off about 96 trillion yen, or about 19 percent of the country’s annual G.D.P. But Mr. Takenaka’s toughness restored faith in the banks."

Big Think contacted Dr. Takenaka to get his thoughts on Japan's standing in the current crisis and how governments could use the lessons of the Japanese economy to salvage crumbling economies worldwide. You can watch his video here. And an excerpt of his recommendations are below. Takenaka is very clear that in order for the European and American economies not to repeat the mistakes of Japan, there must be a heavy and immediate capital infusion into banks--and likely, temporary nationalization as well.

"It is required for the Japanese government to have much more active fiscal stimulus policy. At the same time we have to consider so-called activism of the government. We are now in a very serious confidence crisis. In this regard, government activism is needed.  A symbol of this so-called activism is in a sense, the capital injection to financial sectors. In the case of Japan, very fortunately, relatively speaking, balance sheet of financial sectors are sound, so we do not need this kind of  capital injection at this moment.  However, we have to be very careful or wait on the assessment of the asset of banks. In the case of the United States and some European countries, governments are ready to have capital injection to get to the banks."

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.