Would a debate solve anything?

Although my proposal to hold a debate on Japan’s “lost decades” story has met with considerable support, some people have demurred.

Would a debate on the Japanese economy really solve anything? One correspondent at a major American university seems to think not. Here’s what he wrote:

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More reactions to my debate initiative

My call for a debate on Japan’s “lost decades” story continues to make  waves and many well-placed observers have written in support. I have obtained permission to pass on the comments below.

From an investment banker in the United States:

“I greatly enjoyed your piece in the Atlantic on the myth of the Japanese “Lost Decades”. The same issue has flummoxed me for quite some time. The data just don’t add up. The idea that they have been managing the numbers low makes a great deal of sense.”

From a former Tokyo-based think tank executive who has now returned to his home country:

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Japan’s “slump”: editorial page article from The Guardian

Britain’s Guardian newspaper ran an editorial page article last year that closely supported the Fingleton analysis of   Japan’s “slump.”

Among the many expressions of support I have had since  I posted a blog  article at theatlantic.com last week on the myth of Japan’s “slump,” one of the most welcome apprised me to the views of  the American political analyst Steven Hill. He has published many articles in recent years that closely mirror my analysis. Below is one from Britain’s Guardian.

The Economic Fallacy of ‘Zombie’ Japan

By Steven Hill, Guardian, August 11, 2010

Japan has been getting a raw deal from the so-called economic experts. Consider this: in the midst of the great recession, the United States is suffering through nearly 10% unemployment, rising inequality and poverty, 47 million people without health insurance, declining retirement prospects for the middle class and a general increase in economic insecurity. Various European nations also are having their difficulties, and no one knows if China is the next bubble due to explode.

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The Fingleton invitation: some reaction

It turns out — surprise — that not everyone thinks the Japanese economy is a basket case.

A few days ago I issued an invitation to ten top Japan watchers to a debate on what has really happened to the Japanese economy in the last twenty years. I publicized my initiative not only in this forum but via James Fallows’s blog at The Atlantic — where I was privileged to be a guest blogger last week — and I must say both the size of the reaction and its tone have been a very pleasant surprise.

It seems I am far from alone in my view that the “two lost decades” story is a myth. Several capable observers who have known Japan for years (most of them new to me) have written to congratulate me on my stand. I will quote from some of their messages when I obtain their permission. In the meantime readers might like to check out this link to an article someone has just drawn to my attention. It is  by a well-placed Tokyo-based journalist who has lived in Japan even longer than me.

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America’s bases: collateral damage for the US economy

America’s foreign military bases are bad business. (This article first appeared in the January 2011 issue of the American Conservative.)

TOKYO. When German executives visit Tokyo, they are often treated to a
session at Bernd’s Bar, a notably authentic German pub. A bit too
authentic, perhaps, given the place’s Axis-era accoutrements. The last
time I was there, one of the walls still featured a huge photograph of
Willy Messerschmitt in conversation with Charles Lindbergh.  It had
evidently been taken at a German aerodrome in the late 1930s and a
couple of Messerschmitt’s eponymous fighter planes — the sort that a
few years later were to cause such grief for the British — loomed in
the background.

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The Economist on Japan’s population “problem”

The Economist magazine likes to feel superior to anything it doesn’t understand. Luckily for its self-esteem, there is a lot in East Asia that has it stumped.  An example is Japan’s population policy.

In the course of a major article  on Japan’s declining population a few weeks ago, the Economist magazine expressed amazement that Japanese policymakers were not doing more to address the “problem.” Some problem. As I explained in a letter to the editor, Japanese leaders have long considered their nation grossly overpopulated and, far from trying to increase the birth rate, they have been working to reduce it.   The Economist never printed the letter but here it is:

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Chalmers Johnson: The passing of a true scholar

In a field known for fractiousness, Chalmers Johnson spoke with unique authority.

Today we received the sad news that Chalmers Johnson, America’s greatest Japan scholar, has passed on.

Although late in life he achieved considerable fame for his critique of American military policy, he had long been a uniquely respected figure in Japanology. His scholarly reputation was founded on his early-1980s book MITI and the Japanese Miracle, a prodigiously researched work and one that virtually every serious student of the Japanese economy has not only read but regards as a fundamental source. It is fair to say that in a field known for fractiousness and factionalism no other book has come close to claiming such wide acceptance.

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Evening in America

I have been reading two new books on trade (this review was first published in the December 2010 issue of  the American Conservative).

  • The Betrayal of American Prosperity: Free Market Delusions, America’s Decline, and How We Must Compete in the Post-Dollar Era, Clyde Prestowitz, Free Press, 340 pages
  • How the Economy Was Lost: The War of the Worlds, Paul Craig Roberts, CounterPunch, 264 pages

George W. Bush’s under secretary for international trade, Frank Lavin, was once described in an official press release as “America’s Salesman-in-Chief.” He emerges in a less glorious light in Clyde Prestowitz’s new book The Betrayal of American Prosperity. In a lengthy anecdote, Prestowitz cites Lavin as a prototypical example of the sort of thinking that engineered America’s economic trainwreck.

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The New York Times on Japan: Continuing fallout

Expert observers Holstein, Fallows, and Baker express their dismay at the Times’s miscues.

I am not alone in challenging the New York Times’s recent account of a “disheartened” Japan.

William J. Holstein, former president of the Overseas Press Club of America and a professional Japan watcher since the 1970s, has written a commentary whose headline says it all: “Japan Watch: The New York Times Goes Bananas Again.” He comments:  “Overall, Japan is a very successful society, one that acknowledges that its population SHOULD decline and that sky-high prices SHOULD decline. Western economists and commentators argue that these are signs of crisis, but the Japanese don’t see it that way.”

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