The Growth Idea: Purpose and Prosperity in Postwar Japan

Our narratives of postwar Japan have long been cast in terms almost synonymous with the story of rapid economic growth. Scott O'Bryan reinterprets this seemingly familiar history through an innovative exploration, not of the anatomy of growth itself, but of the history of growth as a set of discourses by which Japanese 'growth performance' as 'economic miracle' came to be articulated. The premise of his work is simple: To our understandings of the material changes that took place in Japan during the second half of the twentieth century we must also add perspectives that account for growth as a new idea around the world, one that emerged alongside rapid economic expansion in postwar Japan and underwrote the modes by which it was imagined, forecast, pursued, and regulated. In an accessible, lively style, O'Bryan traces the history of growth as an object of social scientific knowledge and as a new analytical paradigm that came to govern the terms by which Japanese understood their national purposes and imagined a newly materialist vision of social and individual prosperity. O'Bryan also presents surprising accounts of the key role played by the ideal of full employment in national conceptions of recovery and of a new valorization of consumption in the postwar world that was taking shape. Both of these, he argues, formed critical components in a constellation of ideas that even in the context of relative poverty and uncertainty coalesced into a powerful vision of a materially prosperous future.