An Open Letter to Professor Edward J. Lincoln

The letter below, to the Clinton administration’s chief Japan economist, is self-explanatory.

Dear Ed:

Having heard nothing from you over the summer despite several private attempts to make contact, I must now press publicly for an answer.

As you know, I have offered to donate $10,000 to your favorite charity if you are prepared to join me for a public discussion of the hidden contradictions in the  “lost decades” story of Japan. On several occasions since 1998, I have extended similar invitations to nearly a dozen other key commentators, most of them securities analysts, yet none has come forward.

As you understand better than anyone, the evidence that the press has – yet again – completely misconstrued Japan is everywhere. You yourself agree on a key part of my analysis that, in striking contradiction to umpteen reports in the great newspapers of record of the English language, the Japanese employment system has not broken down (such reports were particularly prevalent, and were played particularly big, in the late 1990s but similar predictions have been a mainstay of these newspapers’ perennially benighted Japan coverage since the 1960s!). These reports are ultimately traceable to a few questionable sources in the Tokyo foreign community and are intended to forestall demands by corporate Japan’s foreign workers for parity in employment conditions with workers in the home country. For details on just one of several less-than-noble reasons why foreigners in Tokyo are so persistent in pumping misinformation into the English-language press, click here.

As an economist, you are a practitioner in a field that purports to be a science. The essence of the scientific method is not only not to sweep contrary evidence under the carpet but eagerly to investigate it. One of the key contradictions that must be addressed is the evidence of electricity statistics. In 2007 it was discovered that the long-term record in electricity output completely gainsaid the “lost decades” story. Adjusted to a per-capita basis, the figures showed that Japan’s electricity output in the 1990s rose twice as fast as  America’s! And Japan continued to outperform in the new century. As you know, electricity output is widely accepted as an impartial, culture-neutral proxy for economic growth and it is indeed relied on by international organizations such as the IMF and World Bank when a government may not be following international accounting standards in calculating GDP growth.

In contradistinction to others who have propagated the “stagnant Japan” story (who are generally not Americans and in any case are answerable only to their own bank accounts), you have a duty to the American national interest to clarify your position. You know you made serious mistakes in your capacity as the Clinton administration’s chief Japan economist – mistakes which have continued badly to mislead the American establishment in its dealings not only with Japan but with most of the rest of the East Asian region, not least China.

Please admit these mistakes. You would not be the first former public servant to acknowledge error and, if the precedents of Alan Greenspan on banking deregulation or Robert McNamara on the Vietnam war are any guide, you stand to earn great respect in correcting the record even at this late stage.

In any case please afford me the courtesy of a reply.

Best wishes,

Eamonn Fingleton

P.S. For my post of June 28, click here

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