Needing to See a Method Behind the Madness

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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19 Responses

  1. Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

    I became a fan of Fingleton last year, after he wrote an article for the American Conservative: I found his analysis considerably more compelling than what I usually encounter. I then read 3 of his books in quick succession.

    I don’t know nearly as much about Japan and China as I would like to; but what I do read convinces me that they are both too complex or inpenetrable for most Western analysts to really understand. Fingleton’s books were the first in 20 years that I found convincing.

    I didn’t really see the conspiricist take that you did. He does stress, though, how paltry our understanding of those cultures and economies we truly are.Report

    • His article at the Conservative is actually pretty absurd. Note that in September of 2011, the Yen was worth about 80 yen a dollar and its SDR exchange rate was down in the mid-70s. This is not a rate that can be considered anything near “overvalued” for the dollar, and it’s actually a substantial sign of deflationary pressures on the Japanese economy.

      Granted, maybe it justifies his view that the dollar should be radically devalued, but the end result of a 80 yen dollar has been nearly catastrophic for Japanese manufacturing. Most in fact of the actual fabrication has been moved overseas, and we’re seeing a lot of Japanese capital being used to fund FDI in Southeast Asia as a result of an extremely strong yen.Report

    • I suppose, too that I really think this “they’re mysterious and foreign!” crap is bordering on something approaching a modern version of orientalism.Report

    • Avatar Plinko in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

      Until reading this, I’d never encountered Fingleman before, but a quick glance of what’s been linked here (especially the American Conservative piece) leads me to think Nob is actually being too easy on him.Report

  2. Avatar Will Truman says:

    This is an awesome post, Nob.Report

  3. Avatar James K says:

    From an economist’s perspective much of his argumentation makes little sense. For one thing, there’s nothing inherently laudable about running a current account surplus, nor is there a problem with running a current account deficit. Also, close cooperation between industry and state is a red flag, not something to envy.

    And China’s rapid growth is the product of convergence (basically they’re playing catchup), and is largely unremarkable.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to James K says:

      Hey JamesK – China’s rapid growth is the product of convergence (basically they’re playing catchup)

      When the rest of the world economy went right into the terlet and China’s didn’t, this explanation (along with supposedly good decisions on the part of the Chinese gov’t) was posited as the why. But I remain suspicious that when China’s crash comes, that it will be just as bad or worse than everyone else’s, just later (or perhaps it occurred roughly concurrently, only to be revealed later).

      I don’t hold this suspicion on the basis of China being ‘Asian’ or engaging in some ‘Asian conspiracy’; rather, my suspicion is due to China being only baby-steps out of the old Communist mindset that devalues any sort of transparency in relation to putting on a good show. So I suspect that either the inputs, or outputs are being finessed in some way that doesn’t allow the true situation to be obvious (yet).

      That much like the Soviet Union seemed fine, until it wasn’t, China’s apparent relative strength throughout the financial crisis will also be revealed to have been a bit of a Potemkin village.

      Am I crazy to think this?Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Glyph says:

        No. I’ve fishing reports to prove exactly how transparent the Chinese are.
        When george W bush gives millions away to china for free, it really says something.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Glyph says:

        No, you’re not crazy. In fact there’s some pretty scary signs out there that China’s growth is slowing in a serious way.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Indeed. A big problem for China right now is low cost manufacturing, including textiles, moving out because it’s no longer the most place offering the greatest net productivity (output in relation to cost). That’s not it’s only problem, but it’s symptomatic.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Glyph says:

        That’s entirely possible, far more transparent countries have juked their stats before. And of course an export-based economy is only as strong as its export markets.

        As for their crash, I suspect it will bas as much political as economic. The Chinese government has entered into an implicit bargain with their middle class – we keep making you rich and you don’t agitate for a vote. When the growth slows down, there’s going to be a reckoning.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    For those who don’t speak or read Japanese, kakusa shakai literally means Unequal Society or Gap Society. I’ve said it before: every middle class melts away given a long enough period of stability. A middle class can only arise when people are paid well for ordinary labour and this situation never lasts long, as the worker himself becomes a commodity.

    When MacArthur took over Japan, he tried to introduce the concept of the trade union. The Japanese promptly jumped into bed with management, to everyone’s consternation. I’ve also said this before: Japan went straight from a feudal mindset into the modern world: the concept of the individual and the group are different, though I’ve seen this change somewhat over time.

    I don’t hold with conspiracies. Nor do I hold with any theory of Japanese inscrutability or vast plots. Japan’s society is in trouble by its own lights. It’s not a tyranny of inequality but one of a growing burden of elderly people. China’s in the same boat. They’ve got a tidal wave of well-fed elderlies coming down the pike. Unlike the Japanese, the Chinese don’t have anything resembling an adequate safety net: it will all fall on the children. I wonder about the Japanese safety net, it could fail, too. These are the patterns I see.

    Fingleton doesn’t understand cell phones: the first article on Forbes can be discarded as ill-informed pap. I’ve done robotics for Japanese firms making cell phones here in the USA. Changing a cell phone design to use an arbitrary country’s transmission standards is not difficult. For what it’s worth, Boeing is using Panasonic’s in-flight comm tech for cell phone support. Fingleton is, to put it baldly, out of his depth on this subject.

    As for that Irishman’s take on American politics, once again, let the cobbler stick to his last. China is by no means united in its approach to the future. The issue of Hong Kong has not gone away, nor will it. China is vast, united only by its written language: Putonghua has not exactly made great strides beyond its native speaker population, though Lord knows the Communists tried. China’s stock market is creaky and corrupt and the investor class has no incentive to change things. And Beijing is a long way from the prosperous coast, its inland cities farther still. The coastal culture will come to dominate, economically and eventually politically.

    China’s rise in the world comes a century late. The Lords of Beijing are now playing catch-up but there’s no oil in the crankcase, literally and metaphorically. China’s now doing big deals in Iraq, trying to come to terms with its new problem: outflows of capital to the Lords of Oil. China is a hegemon: they’re playing a variant of the old colonialist game. But the West taught them how that game was played, cuddling up to despots, exporting workers and generally making themselves hated the world over.

    If the Japanese did the same at the point of an Arisaka rifle in the first half of the last century, the Chinese are no less hated in Africa, that much I can tell you for a solid fact. The Chinese are playing this game stupidly. Hegemons Without a Clue. The Japanese, to their credit, were forced to abandon the wickedness of a greater empire: China has yet to learn this lesson.

    As for Unravelling the Enigma of Sony, every time I hear the word Japanese Enigma, I know I’m talking to an idiot. I have dedicated a long stretch of my life to learning the Japanese language. It’s rather like climbing a difficult mountain but let me tell you what I saw from that windswept and frigid peak. They’re surprisingly like Americans. They drink, they gamble, they don’t pay their wives enough attention, they suffer as we do here in the USA from the diseases of chasing a career at the expense of everything else. At a cultural level, they’ll genially borrow a word or a concept, work out how to write it in hiragana and start using it as if it had always been part of their language. Even their written language is largely borrowed, kanji literally means Chinese Characters. They like America and they were kindly to this American. Don’t buy any of the hype about how they’re so different. They’re human beings, with all the faults and failings of ordinary people.

    Sony sells to the world. It did what any American firm would have done, viewed itself as a global concern and put in someone appropriate to selling to the world. Sir Howard Stringer was put in charge to manage Sony’s media empire. And when the time came, he was replaced by Hirai Kazuo, Mr. PlayStation. A Japanese guy.

    Really, folks, if you want to get a proper perspective of Asia, you could do worse than to ask an Asian. Eamonn Fingleton just doesn’t get it. He’s recycling silly memes.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to BlaiseP says:


      “I’ve said it before: every middle class melts away given a long enough period of stability. A middle class can only arise when people are paid well for ordinary labour and this situation never lasts long, as the worker himself becomes a commodity.”

      This strikes me as extremely insightful. I’ve never thought of it that way but it seems almost universally true in modern society. You’ve given me something very interesting to think about today. Thanks!Report

  5. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    I am nothing if not consistent: I think pretty much every government is run by people who are in effect incompetents. What is asked of them, particularly at the very top, is far above any human competence.

    Then they fail, as they always do, and everyone acts so shocked and disillusioned, until a new leader comes along, who is also exceptionally smart and well-intentioned and well-groomed. The cycle begins again, and hope springs eternal.Report