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Nonfiction in Brief

THE THIRD CENTURY : America's Resurgence in the Asian Era by Joel Kotkin and Yoriko Kishimoto (Crown: $19.95)

September 11, 1988|ALEX RAKSIN

Since Japan's economic successes in the late 1970s forced us to abandon McGeorge Bundy's vision of the American economy as "the locomotive at the head of mankind," we have developed a schizophrenic attitude toward Japan. Publicly, we admire the Japanese, paying tribute in numerous business books. Yet between ourselves, we're more distrustful: Liberals such as Gore Vidal echo old heralds of "yellow peril" (warning that "the long-feared Asiatic colossus" could totally subordinate Europe and America), while conservatives such as Allan Bloom contend that public schools threaten the very survival of our Euro-American heritage by offering courses in Asian and Third World culture.

The authors--Joel Kotkin is an editor of Inc. magazine, Yoriko Kishimoto is a Pacific Rim business consultant--do little to calm these fears, except to predict vaguely that Asian and Hispanic immigration will energize America, as did 19th Century European immigration.

Their economic arguments, however, are powerfully persuasive, showing that we can no longer afford to ignore new and dramatic business opportunities in India, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Singapore. Kotkin and Kishimoto's message is at once critical (American leaders have failed to realize that global economic rivalry has replaced East-West military competition) and optimistic (American entrepreneurs have beaten Japan's behemoth corporations in several high-tech races and can do so again).

In presenting the accomplishments of these small, competing entrepreneurships as a model for the future, the authors overlook the plausible argument that some planned, collaborative research and development is necessary to meet the high-tech challenges of the 1990s. And in painting a sanguine portrait of U.S. potential in the third century of its Constitution, they underestimate the problems posed by our huge trade and budget deficits. Overall, though, this is an important, cautionary book, one that might help awaken America to the new era.

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