[NEW YEAR's FEATURE] THINK, or Sink Like the Japanese

Wednesday, January 05 2011 @ 05:04 PM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto


I was in business in this country from 1959 through 2005. In the first thirty years of my 46-year career, I learned a lot about business from management experts such as Peter F. Drucker and industrialists such as Frederick W. Taylor.

When I joined the Japanese subsidiary of Big Blue almost half-a-century ago, I was impressed to see the one-word signs that read "THINK" all over the workplace. I was told Thomas J. Watson, Sr., de facto founder of IBM, had made it the company credo.

For many years that ensued, America was, to me, a "thinking nation" more than anything else.

Today I still have great difficulty getting used to an America that does not think anymore. Its people "think" they are still thinking as their parents and grandparents did, but that is far from true. As has been the case with the Japanese, they now use their retrogressing brains only to find ways to economize on mental effort. As a result, they are processing information just on an ear-to-mouth basis. That's why they keep tweeting all the time these days.

On December 10, Bill Clinton visited Barack Hussein Obama at the White House to express his support for the tax cut compromise reached between the President and Congressional Republicans. When the former President emerged from the briefing room, he told reporters that the two men had had a "terrific meeting." At the end of his ad hoc speech, Clinton reportedly said:

"The United States has suffered a severe financial collapse. These things take longer to get over than normal recessions. We must first make sure we keep getting over it. We don't want to slip back down as Japan did."

Apparently, the American people think this was a clear manifestation of deep concern and firm resolve of the former and current Presidents about the problems facing the U.S.

But hold on a second.

From their empty, ill-defined and worn-out words, you can tell for sure that Clinton and Obama have never really thought, or will never really think about the root cause of the problems, let alone how to fix them. All they can do is to scratch the surface of these issues.

In his 1992 book titled The Bubble Economy, Christopher Wood, economic analyst at CLSA, wrote:

"America certainly suffers from an overdose of financial rot and empty buildings, [but not to the extent that Japan did in the 1980s.] America is an extraordinarily open society where the dirty linen is hung out for all to see [whereas] Japan is devilishly opaque."

Wood's observation about Japan was right because it is true its people have unrivaled skills to sweep unpleasant truths under the carpet. But he was wrong about America. Despite the widespread myth about its openness, America isn't a "brutally transparent" nation anymore. Its leader needs to have good insight to find the "dirty linen" hung out in the backyard.

On the same false assumption as Wood's, the American voters have constantly lowered the hurdle for presidential candidates to clear. That is why they have settled for one thinking-disabled President after another in the last two decades.

To put it bluntly, most Americans can't think today.

You may ask what exactly I mean by the 5-letter word.

Once again, let's take the Japanese bubble economy for example.

To borrow Wood's words, "Isaac Newton arrived in Japan in 1990." Ever since so many analysts and lay observers have talked about why, and how, the bubble burst as if there is such a thing as a bubble that never bursts. But not a single person, that I know of, has discussed why and how the bubble was formed in the first place.

The typical passenger view often has it that the burst was nothing but a spell of hiccups. That is why the Japanese have remained essentially unchanged all along. As anyone with a certain amount of commonsense can tell, it can't be true the people whose "diligence" and "innovativeness" made the postwar miracle possible and the people who look helplessly inept and purposeless today are two different species.

On the other hand professional analysts argue that the burst was one of those cyclic things just aggravated by some missteps by the monetary authorities. Wood argued in 1992 that as a result of the burst, Japan would have to change, as it did many times in the past, in order to "converge substantially with the West." He went on to say, "The country should emerge from its current distress a fully signed-up member of the international community, heart, head and maybe even soul."

But unfortunately for the CLSA chief strategist, that has not happened in the last 18 years simply because people's "heart, head and soul" are something you can't buy on the market.

Instead, Isaac Newton went across the Pacific Ocean in the fall of 2008.

When Clinton said he doesn't want to see his country slip back down like Japan did, with Obama standing alongside him, he didn't know what exactly he was talking about. The American people should not assume the thinking-disabled former President has learned lessons from Japan's failure any more than Obama has.

Actually you can track back Japan's misfortune well beyond the early-1980s. At least it dates back to 1945 when another brainless President thought he was paving the way for the reconstruction of Japan.

It's quite OK if Harry S. Truman intended to build an unviable nation here on the flattened archipelago because, then, the third vivisection next to the ones conducted in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was also a success. It's the world's most gullible Japanese who should take all the blame for the outcome of Truman's experiment. But what if Washington was well-intended? Then, it's a different story; now it's Americans' turn to suffer all the consequences of their leaders' inability to think.

I am not alone in seeing unmistakable signs that the entire nation of America is quickly getting Japanized in recent years. Presumably that is, at least in part, because of the obscene alliance between the two countries. In fact, it's very easy to become a white, black or brown Japanese; you just stop thinking. Then you start suffering just like the Japanese have in the last fifty years.

Yet, I don't know if the American people will wake up to show their resilience before it is too late. It now all hinges on their willingness to resume thinking, instead of just swallowing all the hogwash they hear from policymakers of both camps, or mainstream pundits and scholars covertly retained by them.

If you are ready to start your thinking-exercise right away, here's my tip:

Never answer questions asked of you.

People pepper you with questions about how to cope with this and that difficulty. But keep in mind there's no guarantee that they are valid ones. From my experience, I'm sure most of them are red herrings. Who said war should be avoided at any cost, nuclear proliferation should be prevented by all means, the U.S. should protect good guys against bad guys around the world despite its ballooning deficits, or unemployment rate should be lowered even by creating unnecessary positions? Life is not so simple as these ideologues maintain - at least until you start your own thinking. It's always a matter of trade-off between pros and cons involved in each specific option.

Instead, try to identify what you think is really at issue using your own brain.

It's funny, but the moment you ask yourself a valid question, the answer is already there. As I always say, there's no such thing as a chicken-and-egg kind of dilemma in the real world because a specific egg is laid by a specific chicken and another specific chicken comes out of that specific egg.

You can weed out harmful elements while preserving healthy chickens and eggs.

Basically, these are what innovative industrialist Thomas J. Watson, Sr. encouraged his people into doing when his tiny company peddling old-fashioned office equipment was sailing out on uncharted waters of the information age in the aftermath of the Great Depression.

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