UTokyo Lecture Oct. 24, 2019, Jean-Pascal Bassino on Sustainable development, scarcity and wealth distribution in pre-WWII Japan

Gregory Noble's picture
October 24, 2019
Subject Fields: 
East Asian History / Studies, Economic History / Studies, Japanese History / Studies


The Contemporary Japan Group at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Social Science

(ISS, or Shaken), welcomes you to a lecture by


JeanPascal Bassino

(ENS Lyon and French Research Institute on Japan, Maison Franco Japonaise)


Making the most of scarcity in pre-WWII Japan? 

Sustainable development and changes in wealth distribution



Thursday, October 24 from 6:00-7:30 p.m. at Akamon Sōgō Kenkyūtō Room 549, Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo, Hongo Campus, University of Tokyo



What role did natural assets play in the rise of living standards in
industrializing nations during the 19th and 20th centuries? In the case of
Japan, initial conditions were characterized by an exceptionally
efficient use, by the international standards of the time, of very
scarce natural resources, particularly in forestry and silviculture
(Totman 1989; Saito 2009, 2014). In spite of their scarcity, natural
assets played a critical role in the initial phase of Japanese economic
transformation, in the late Tokugawa and early Meiji. In this paper, we
estimate the evolution of the comprehensive wealth, the total stock of
assets per capita, which includes human and natural assets, and can be
regarded as the most relevant indicator of sustainable well-being
(Dasgupta 2001, 2009). We devise new methods for expanding the coverage
to irrigation water, certain aspects of biodiversity, fish stocks, and
informal human capital. Our findings suggest that Japan experienced a
rather sustainable development between the 1880s and the 1930s. We also
present estimates by type of asset and by ownership and use these series
for assessing the role of the different components, and changes in
wealth distribution during the period 1885-1940.


Jean-Pascal Bassino is professor of economics at ENS Lyon (Lyon, France), a national graduate school. He is currently on a two-year leave as CNRS research fellow at the French Research Institute on Japan at Maison Franco Japonaise (Tokyo) and visiting researcher at the Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University. His research interests include the analysis of long-term changes in living standards and inequality in Japan and Southeast Asia. Recent publications include "Japan and the Great Divergence, 730-1874" (with S. Broadberry, K. Fukao, B. Gupta, and M. Takashima), Explorations in Economic History, 2019, and "Asia’s ‘little divergence’ in the twentieth century: evidence from PPP-based direct estimates of GDP per capita, 1913–69" (with P. van der Eng), forthcoming in the Economic History Review.


The ISS Contemporary Japan Group provides English-speaking residents of the Tokyo area with an opportunity to hear cutting-edge research in social science and related policy issues, as well as a venue for researchers and professionals in or visiting Tokyo to present and receive knowledgeable feedback on their latest research projects. Admission is free and advance registration is not required. Everyone is welcome.
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Gregory W. NOBLE (noble@iss.u-tokyo.ac.jp)

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