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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Social and Economic History

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Department of History | Social and Economic History | Research | Industrial Policy in Japan during the Postwar Boom. Business, Government and International Technology Transfer 1955-1973

Industrial Policy in Japan during the Postwar Boom. Business, Government and International Technology Transfer 1955-1973

This project examines the industrial policy of the Japanese government, especially the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), during the High Growth Period (1955-1973) from the perspective of market actors focusing on European firms. We address three gaps in the literature that require such a new perspective:

1. On the one hand, MITI primarily employed informal methods known as "administrative guidance" to implement its industrial policy. On the other hand, the Japanese government engaged in the strategic release of information raising certain expectations among market actors, which had an effect on how they dealt with industrial policy. The application of these methods, which were often used orally, was not officially documented. Hence, archival sources describing the use of such methods in a detailed manner are rare. A thorough examination of how the government’s information policy affected foreign market participants’ behavior has also been wanting. For these reasons, there is little knowledge on how industrial policy was put into effect at the micro-level. 

2. Existing studies have analyzed industrial policy at the macro-level, i.e. the level of the national economy or specific sectors of the economy. Furthermore, they mainly used sources created outside the context of the firm. Therefore, they largely ignored the question of what role companies and their employees actually played for the implementation of industrial policy. 

3. There is no consensus on what really was at the core of Japanese industrial policy. This is one of the reasons why its effects on economic growth and structural change have been interpreted very differently. A major shortcoming of established definitions of the term is that they do not sufficiently account for MITI’s informal methods or the actions of companies. We were able to discover internal firm documents in European business archives that allow for a source-based examination of the first two problems. 

Based on the results of this examination, we will re-conceptualize Japanese industrial policy. This approach enables us to reevaluate MITI’s contribution to the Japanese economic miracle. Our central hypothesis is that the impact of industrial policy is not primarily based on formal or informal policy tools, but rather in the indirect and skillful manipulations of expectations and decisions of individual market actors. Because of the importance of foreign technology for Japan’s economic growth, we will concentrate on MITI action toward the promotion of technology transfers, but we will also look at the interplay between policies for technology acquisition and other policy instruments.

Project Number: 400896132
Funding Duration: 2018-2021
Associate: Jonathan Krautter, M.A.