The sun sets behind Mount Fuji and skyscrapers in Tokyo's Shinjuku area. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

As urban developers go, Japan property company Mori Building is a truly world-class outfit with a unique ability to re-energize entire Tokyo neighborhoods be it Roppongi, Akasaka or other locales in need of glitzy touch-ups.

It’s now going global as rarely before, pushing into booming Southeast Asian by way of Jakarta.

Mori just began construction on a 59-floor premium-grade office tower in the heart of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, one run by a reformist president looking to join the ranks of developed nations.

Mori’s Shanghai bet a decade ago was an obvious one. A $460 million deal in cacophonous Indonesia is a riskier undertaking, but a wise one that heralds the nation’s promise.

But what if Mori’s latest gamble at home is a bad omen for Japan’s deflation-plagued economy?

At the same moment Mori detailed its 266-meter Jakarta skyscraper, it also touted plans to put up Tokyo’s tallest building, a 265-meter number in the Toranomon district.

Never mind the questionability of reaching ever higher in the world’s most seismically-active major city. The real question is whether Mori is tempting the “Skyscraper Curse” to wreak its havoc on Asia’s No. 2 economy.

It’s one of modern economics’ quirkier barometers, one I’ve explored over the years since Malaysia’s Petronas Towers coincided with the 1997 Asian crisis.

Coincidence or not, history is awash with correlations between efforts to build record-breaking towers and financial collapse.

Coincidence or not, history is awash with correlations between efforts to build record-breaking towers and financial collapse.

The Panic of 1907, for example, accompanied the Manhattan openings of the 47-story Singer Building and 50-story Metropolitan Life Building.

Two decades later, the Great Depression occurred as 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building were christened. New York’s Empire State Building opened in 1931, just in time to overlap with a lost decade of growth and living standards.

Similar links can be drawn with 1970s New York and Chicago, the sites of the World Trade Center and Sears Tower, respectively.

Both appeared just as cities around the US experienced fiscal crises, the nation suffered through stagflation and the Bretton Woods monetary system was crashing.

Seven years after Malaysia’s towers presaged Asia’s 1997 collapse, Taipei 101 topped the world and front-ran an existential crisis: Taiwan’s steady disappearance from global affairs amid Beijing’s growing clout.

The 2008 completion of Dubai’s 828-metre Burj Khalifa Tower monstrosity coincided with, well, take your pick: the city’s implosion, the plunge in oil prices, the subprime crisis.

Seoul’s Lotte World Tower opened in April, just in time to see President Park Geun-hye in a jail cell and Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump one-upping each other in a nuclear tit-for-tat. And long before all that, there was the biblical Tower of Babel.

How about the Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest, that opened in 2016?

Only time will tell if it marked the mainland’s “Minsky moment,” when debt-fueled expansion comes to sudden halt. Ditto for Mori’s Tokyo project, which may suggest a top to the city’s reflation efforts.

Beginning in June, after all, land data in Tokyo’s central Chuo ward, including the fabled Ginza shopping district, suggested the 50% jump in prices over the previous four years is fizzling.

What’s more, Tokyo’s tallest building project is planned around the 2020 Olympics. Might it be an omen of a post-games debt hangover of the kind that helped bankrupt Athens? We’ll see.

The reason the Skyscraper Curse has a good track record is the predictable dynamics behind the zeal to build the next monstrosity.

The reason the Skyscraper Curse has a good track record is the predictable dynamics behind the zeal to build the next monstrosity.

It’s less about architectural advancement than monetary excesses. They’re a symptom of ultra-low borrowing costs, too much credit chasing too few productive investments and excessive confidence.

Such architectural one-upmanship is one part unbridled ambition, one part financial mania and one part hubris — a reminder you can beat the business cycle, but not human nature.

The pre-Tokyo 2020 building boom smacks of an eerily familiar moment of monetary largess, misplaced priorities and antiquated thinking.

Tokyo Station, and the Marunouchi business District.

I’m not suggesting Mori’s building will, cause and effect, precipitate a Japanese debt crisis or another Nikkei collapse. But it fits with another bubble of Olympic proportions: the belief that spending tens of billions of dollars on hardware over software will make Japan great again.

Building grand stadiums and skyscrapers for two weeks of sporting events won’t alter Japan’s deflationary demographics, make it more innovative or productive or raise living standards.

It won’t make companies more entrepreneurial, boardrooms more diverse or increase the number of women in power. It won’t improve Japan’s English proficiency.

It won’t replace retrograde seniority-based promotion systems, change the rote education system or catalyze twentysomethings to take risks.

And it won’t suddenly teach Japan to grow without the world’s biggest public debt or Bank of Japan policies that support skyscraper developers more than households. This distraction is a curse all its own.

When economists mull where Japan is heading, they tend to look down at reams of data and statistics. Looking up at the Tokyo skyline may provide better insights.

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