Mediocre Economist Survey on Japan Business Dec 1 2007


Hi Blog. December 1st 2007’s Economist (London) magazine had a 14-page survey on business in Japan.

As is true of almost all Economist articles (and much more so than the US-published glossies such as Time and Newsweek, which is why I have been a subscriber for nearly twenty years), there were plenty of useful statistics and some valuable insights.

But the author, Tom Standage, seems to be a neophyte to Japan, trying too hard to use his metaphor of a hybrid car as a grand allusion for Japan’s economy (contrasting it with “Anglo-Saxon capitalism”–cutely rendered as “JapAnglo-Saxon capitalism”, as if there is such a clear contrast or even such a concrete economic model). He winds up making what could have been an interesting survey into a graduate-school term paper. It even feels as if he swallowed the lines fed him by the GOJ Gaijin Handlers, that Japan’s economics and business practices are that transparent and quantifiable.

Also, I have the feeling Mr Standage might have been reading a bit of I complained on the blog about how an Economist article last July talked about Japan’s demographics and labor market, without even one word considering foreign labor. One sentence, “if only to dismiss immigration as a possibility”, is what I said I wanted.

Well, I got that one sentence in this Economist Survey, and here it is:

Large-scale immigration, the solution favoured in other rich countries, is not culturally acceptable in Japan. So it will have to put more women and old people to work in order to maintain its workforce.

Oh, it’s culture. The end. “Culture” is a category people throw information into when it’s too taxing to understand. It’s the analytical category for lazy people. Especially when most things that are “cultural” are actually perfectly rational–you just have to understand the rationale behind people’s behavior. And that takes acculturalization, which I feel the author lacks a bit of.

If Mr Standage thinks Japan’s antipathy towards foreigners and immigration is merely a cultural issue, I would ask him to read and consider my upcoming Japan Times column (#42) coming out Tuesday, December 18, 2007, where I try to demonstrate that Japan’s rising xenophobia is in fact by grand design. And how it is serving the country poorly. I even use some statistics from his survey, thanks.

Here are links to the Economist Survey articles. Here’s hoping the magazine finally gets on the ball regarding Japan. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


SPECIAL REPORT: Business in Japan (Nov 29th 2007)
Going hybrid
After 15 years of gloom, Japan’s companies have emerged with a new, hybrid model a bit closer to America’s, says Tom Standage


Message in a bottle of sauce
Japan’s corporate governance is changing, but it’s risky to rush things


Still work to be done
Japan’s labour market is becoming more flexible, but also more unequal


Not invented here
Entrepreneurs have had a hard time, but things are slowly improving


No country is an island
Japan is reluctantly embracing globalisation


JapAnglo-Saxon capitalism
Have Japanese business practices changed enough?

1 comment on “Mediocre Economist Survey on Japan Business Dec 1 2007

  • Debito-

    One thing that strikes me while I read the Economist special report is the lack of connection between worsening conditions in many rural areas of Japan, the lack of funding for rural areas and the lack of assistance to help those rural areas. The report was, by necessity, Toyko centric; but left the rest of the country behind in the report. I wonder if the rising anti-gaikokujin sentiment is being manipulated partly by a political process that is afraid of liberalising investment in rural areas or coming up with novel ideas to help people.


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