An invitation, some surprising facts, and two elusive experts

For thirteen years now I have been trying to organize a public debate on what really happened to the Japanese economy. The effort continues. The facts below have convinced at least one top American economic thinker that a debate is overdue.

Last week I announced I will pay $10,000 to charity if either Robby Feldman or Ed Lincoln will meet me for a debate on the Japanese economy. I contend that Japanese officials have been understating Japan’s economic performance for trade diplomacy purposes. Robby and Ed have been the two most influential American promoters of the conventional wisdom of a failing Japan.

Robby has been in touch today to decline. He is too busy.

Now it is all down to Ed, who was the Clinton administration’s chief expert on the Japanese economy. I emailed him a week ago and again yesterday but have not yet heard back.

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A $10,000 offer for Robby Feldman and Ed Lincoln

Let’s sort out once and for all what has really happened to the Japanese economy in the last two decades.

Some months ago I offered to make a $5,000 donation to charity if any of ten influential Western commentators joined me for a public debate on Japan’s “two lost decades.” These commentators have all been leading proponents of the conventional view of Japan as a dysfunctional has-been.

I take a different view – that, while of course there have been some problems (not least the stock market and real estate crashes of 1990-94, which I, almost alone among Tokyo-based observers, predicted), the overall  economy has done well. I point to a mountain of contrary evidence which has somehow escaped the notice of the ten commentators. On my analysis, which I have documented in three books, the lost-decades story is a media myth. It has been conjured up by Japan’s bureaucratic elite to win sympathy abroad and thus to forestall Washington’s efforts to open Japanese markets.

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The Nanking Massacre: Iris Chang’s legacy

The late Iris Chang, author of the best selling book The Rape of Nanking, is the subject of a compelling new biography by her mother Ying-Ying Chang. (This commentary was first published at the  website of the Atlantic Monthly.)

Hints don’t come much less subtle than the one the late Iris Chang received in a small package mailed to her in 1998. Inside were two bullets. Almost anyone else might, there and then, have opted for a less stressful life. Not Iris Chang.

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Translating Japan

It took an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster to reveal how little the West understands the land of the rising sun. (This article first appeared in the June 2011 edition of the American Conservative.)

TOKYO. The art of reading between the lines is useful anywhere but particularly in Japan, where so little of what matters is ever entrusted to words. Having lived in the country since 1985, I claim to know. So I reflexively looked for a hidden meaning when, in an unprecedented move, television networks broke away from scheduled programs to broadcast a special message from Emperor Akihito on March 16.

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The strength of Japanese manufacturing

For  two decades the New York Times has reported almost nothing but gloom about Japan’s manufacturing industries. I challenged a recent report in a letter to the editor.

Your report ( “Japan Confronts Its New Normal,” May 12 in the international edition) presents Japan’s manufacturing sector as “battered by cheaper rivals” and suggests that “fears long held …. of a ‘hollowing out’ of Japanese industry” have been intensified. Talk of this sort has been a constant media theme for more than two decades, yet to say the least there is little evidence of any industrial hollowing out in Japan’s long-term trade trend. Japan’s current account surplus totalled  $194 billion in 2010 — up more than five-fold on $36 billion for 1990. By comparison and by a remarkable coincidence, the  United States also multiplied its current account balance more than five-fold in the period — its current account deficit, that is! The recent Japanese disasters have taken a truly terrible toll on life and limb but Japan’s manufacturing exporters will soon be back stronger than ever.

Eamonn Fingleton, Minato-ku, Tokyo

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Beyond free trade

Meet the heterodox economists challenging globalism. (This article was first published in the April 2011 issue of the American Conservative.)

“I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws, or crafts its advanced treatises, if I can write its economics textbooks.” So said one of the greatest textbook writers of them all, Paul Samuelson.

But even Samuelson didn’t live forever—he died in 2009 aged 94—and now others decide what the rising generation is reading. It is a fair bet that, on one of the most critical issues of modern economic policy, his successors’ books would not meet with the master’s approval. That issue is trade.

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Earthquake: Interview on Thom Hartmann’s Big Picture

Thom Hartmann interviewed me on his show The Big Picture last week. (Thom is one of the most astute commentators in the American media and author of several great books.)

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The coming crisis in the global manufacturing chain

How much will the Japanese earthquake hurt the global economy? (Article as first published by the New Republic.)

Not many people in the American electronics industry had ever heard of the Japanese town of Niihama before the summer of 1993. That changed overnight when a small specialty chemical factory there was knocked out by a fire. Obscure though it may have been, this factory accounted for 65 percent of the world’s supply of epoxy cresol novolac, a resin essential in making most semiconductors. As shockwaves shot through the world electronics industry, prices of some kinds of semiconductors doubled in days. The crisis soon became so acute that the Clinton administration weighed in with a public plea to the Japanese government to take emergency action to restore supplies.

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Tokyo, briefly terrified by quake, recovers quickly

This  article was first published at the Atlantic’s website in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Click here for the original.

TOKYO, Japan — Your first Japanese earthquake is your most memorable. Or so I thought until, along with about 50 million other residents of northern and eastern Japan, I was transfixed by Friday’s whopper.

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A message to Japan Forum members

My offer to debate the “basket case Japan” story has generated more heat than light at the National Bureau of Asian Research’s Japan Forum.

As a matter of policy, I do not participate in online forums but, as friends have alerted me to some exceptionally egregious misrepresentations in the Japan Forum in the last couple of days, it is time to respond.

I know that the great majority of forum members believe in fairness and intellectual honesty and it is to them that I address this message.

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