Threatened Western Writers? Try

Richard Reyes' response to John Malott's article ("Where Have all the Samurai Gone?") is a bit unfair, I think. First, Reyes apparently means Americans when he uses the term "Westerners." There is indeed a good deal of gloating from various American sources on what they regard as the evident superiority of their politico-economic system over the Japanese variant. That reflects their "irrational exuberance" and limited sense of history.

But Malott is not gloating, and in fact echoes the writing of a broad range of Japanese public intellectuals, whose thoroughgoing critiques of Japanese politics and economic policymaking can be found in such monthly journals as Chuo Koron, Sekai, Bungei Shunju, Ronza, and the like. Japan's problems, according to Japanese experts, are in fact so grave that economic growth may simply shift them out of the liquidity trap and into a "debt trap" through the effect of increasing interest rates. Japan has attained its highest level of public debt to GDP since 1942, and total public debt is probably at least twice that when off-budget liabilities are included. Much of this debt is the result of successive economic stimulus packages that have done little for the economy, but have bolstered woefully inefficient sectors and -- not incidentally -- the electoral fortunes of some of the most shamelessly self-interested and inept politicians in the industrialized world.

Only the most panglossian perspective could assert that little is amiss in contemporary Japan, and few of Japan's serious thinkers have time for that sort of feel-good tripe. The arrogance of a decade ago has given way to a fierce debate on what is to be done. A decade hence it could be the Americans who are humbled and again looking to Japan for lessons, but that will only be because Japan came up with wide-ranging and creative politico-economic reforms.

Andrew DeWit
Associate Professor
Economic Policymaking
Shimonoseki City Universi
Japan

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