Japan has set much of the industrial world's economic agenda in recent years: A high rate of productivity; quality manufactured goods; nailing down significant market shares abroad.
Now, will Japan show the way in yet another area: encouraging higher savings rates abroad while using Japan's ample capital savings pool to help ensure a continuation of the global recovery?
A new Cabinet-level paper out of that enterprising nation says that Japan is prepared to use its personal savings pool to aid nations with a shortage of capital. Japan would also pass on management and technical skills to bolster the actual capital transfers.
One would, of course, need to see the fine print in the plan to make certain that the objective is totally as it appears to be. Many nations have used various forms of capital-transfer programs to hammer out bilateral links with important trading nations or nations that possess raw materials vital to the lender nations.
But at the same time the objective in the new white paper - to use Japan's savings pool to help capital-poor nations - seems particularly worthy. Japan's high savings rate, usually running around 25 percent of take-home pay, compared with around 5 or 6 percent in the United States, helps explain that nation's phenomenal economic growth during the past decade. There are many reasons explaining Japan's special emphasis on personal savings: tax laws designed to encourage savings instead of consumption, as in the US; the fact that Japan does not yet have all the social-welfare programs found in most Western industrial nations, which means that many Japanese families must financially help out their elders and relatives; and, experts say, a cultural pattern that stresses economy and frugality regarding the use of resources in general, including personal finances.
Japan has gone far in expanding its governmental foreign-aid programs. Statistical measurements do not always fully reflect the extent of that aid, since Japan tends to spend its loan monies in yen, while most nations and world aid agencies measure the impact of such contributions in dollars. What does seem clear is that during the past two decades Japan's development assistance has risen around 30 percent.
Less successful has been private charitable or developmental assistance, which, by Western standards, is almost negligible. So any new program that helps channel Japanese savings abroad can only offset the insignificant level of private assistance.
Given all its managerial and financial acumen, Japan has much to tell the capital-poor nations of the world - and a few of the capital-rich nations as well - about the importance of savings.