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A SUNDAY IN DECEMBER : Firing Line: the Lesson of History : It's time for the United States to stop blaming Japan for its economic troubles. Corporate America is the real scapegoat.

December 03, 1991|SHINTARO ISHIHARA | Shintaro Ishihara, a member of the lower house of the Japanese parliament from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is co-author with Sony Chairman Akio Morita of the book "The Japan That Can Say No" and one of his country's most outspoken critics of the United States

Japan and the United States face unprecedented frictions. But 50 years after Pearl Harbor, the Cold War has ended and military considerations have died out in international relations. The dynamo of the new era will be economics.

The United States and Japan both have free market economies. But the system that operates the economy in Japan is based upon a very non-European cultural tradition. The difference gives birth to a different result.

American management is riddled with faults. There is not a single employee in Japan who has to work under the constant fear that he may soon lose his job. There are many such workers in the United States.

American employers use workers as if they were disposable--like throwaway razors. Stockholders, too, casually throw away managers. They even dispose of corporations.

The Japanese see a different value in employment and a different value in the corporation and its responsibility to society.

In Japan, the emperor himself plants fields, but the aristocracy in Europe treats labor with contempt. A strong class consciousness does not exist in Japan--a fact that helps smooth labor-management relations.

I don't say that the United States should mimic Japan but, in economics, as in sports, there are scores. When economic conditions change, the economy that adapts will score the most points.

America has tremendous potential. It has a large population. When it invests in new factories, land costs hardly anything, unlike Japan. And, except for rare minerals, it possesses all natural resources. America conducts at least 10 times the basic research that Japan does.

But technology that exists without management able to use it is like an ordinary stone by the side of the road. You can't make a product out of it. Executives who can't make products out of the superior American research bear the responsibility for America's troubles.

The United States must revise laws that force companies to operate with short-term perspectives.

The U.S. Congress commissioned a report on how to rejuvenate the American economy. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also issued a report, "Made in America." Japan carried out many of the excellent recommendations of both reports here. But America did nothing. Congress has taken no effective action.

Japan has passed many laws to restructure its economy to make domestic demand the focus of growth. America does nothing.

Japan's market, indeed, has sectors that are closed. They should be opened. But it's completely idiotic to think, as Undersecretary of Commerce J. Michael Farren said last year, that if Japan opened its markets, America's bilateral trade would turn from a deficit to a surplus within a few years.

The major reason for the imbalance in trade is the deficiency in American industrial competitiveness. If all of the Japanese market were opened, less than 20% of the trade imbalance would disappear. What is America going to do about the other 80%?

It's time for America to wake up to the power it has and start making some efforts of its own.

Why does a country like the United States with so much power not open its eyes? Congressmen go into hysterics but do nothing. President Bush said he wants to be known as the "education President." But what has he done for education?

American politicians must confront the American people with the fact that they cannot continue to live in luxury on loan after loan. Demand must be constricted.

What is the United States doing asking Japan to make a financial contribution to the Gulf War when it refuses to raise its own taxes? Shameful!

Japan financed America's Gulf War. With Japanese technology, the United States for the first time in history succeeded in pinpoint bombing and brought the war to a conclusion without shedding the blood of great numbers of Americans.

Our cooperation in the Gulf War represents a good example of the relationship we should have. It was a division of responsibility. Japan should support the United States and the United States should appreciate Japan and treat it as an equal partner.

If both countries can recognize their essential differences, friendship and an equal partnership will be possible. Frictions between Japan and the United States will synthesize in a dialectic process, producing a highly improved new culture.

To think of another war between Japan and the United States is a joke.

But as a joke, the United States couldn't win a war with Japan now unless Japan gave it the money to pay for the war and exported the semiconductors.

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