Dollars and Dragons

I have just published the article below in  the American Conservative.

TOKYO—In the mid 1990s, I published a book entitled Blindside: Why Japan Is Still on Track to Overtake the U.S. By the Year 2000. The prediction in the subtitle did not, as they say, pan out. But it was more soundly based than casual readers of the U.S. financial press might imagine. The book offered a view on exchange rates: I argued that a huge devaluation was desperately needed to save America’s already fast-sinking manufacturing sector.

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Best Books On Japan: A Second Opinion

I have had occasion to  second-guess a recent list of best books on Japan.

An old joke has it that a newspaper editor is a person who separates the wheat from the chaff, and then prints the chaff. On this basis the Tokyo-based Japanologist Jeff Kingston shows promise as an editor if he ever tires of academe. A list he recently posted of best books on Japan  contained some notable omissions — and commissions. It appeared in the house magazine of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. The magazine has now published a letter from me.  My letter, plus Kingston’s commendably collegial reply (he is evidently a scholar at heart!), can be accessed  here. For convenience sake I have also included the former, sans Kingston’s reply,  after the jump.

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The Weight of the Yen

As I have repeatedly documented at this website, the story of Japan’s two lost decades is a myth. But if I am right, how come so many ostensibly reliable observers seem to disagree with me? There are several reasons, none of which reflect particularly well on the reliability of  the Western press. Here I explain one of them.

Western views on Japanese economics have long been shaped disproportionately by a few Tokyo-based economic analysts working for “prestigious” Wall Street investment banks such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

Unfortunately these people are rarely disinterested torchbearers of truth. Not to put too fine a point on it, they profit from pumping misinformation into the Western press.

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My $10,000 charity offer: an appearance on Thom Hartmann’s show

I am still awaiting news from Ed Lincoln on whether he will join me for a debate. In the meantime my offer has not gone unnoticed elsewhere.

I created quite a splash with my offer last month to pay $10,000 to charity if the two leading proponents of the “lost decades” story of Japan will meet me for a debate. Among other things, I was interviewed by Thom Hartmann for his Big Picture show. You can view the interview here.

The American Conservative has also picked up the story and its commentary can be read here.

As I reported earlier, Robby Feldman has turned my offer citing pressure of work. The good news is that Ed Lincoln is still considering his options.

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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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