Japan’s Difficult Choice Between Economy and Pandemic


The Summer Olympics in Tokyo are little more than a month away, and workers are readying a rebuilt National Stadium for the opening ceremony. But what should be an opportunity for Japan to recharge its economy and lure back tourists is instead a source of apprehension for its 126 million people. On this week’s podcast, Tokyo-based economics reporter Yuko Takeo dives into Japan’s decision to move forward with the Olympics. Then host Stephanie Flanders talks to Paris-based economics reporter William Horobin about the Group of Seven’s landmark corporate tax deal, and U.S.-based economics reporter Olivia Rockeman speaks to Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom on why the work-from-home revolution could worsen workplace inequality.

Originally, many Japanese had hoped the Olympics could match or even improve upon the 1964 games, which showcased the country’s growing manufacturing clout and led to development of its heralded bullet trains. Now, after a one-year delay, the primary goal is simply to bolster tourism. But the pandemic still overshadows everything: More than 80% of Japanese oppose staging the Olympics, with their biggest fear being that it will become a super-spreader event. Still, for Japan’s leaders, canceling the Games now would be tantamount to declaring they have lost control of the pandemic.