Fallows Offers an Unclouded View of East Asia's Economic Outlook

Article excerpt

A TOYOTA executive tried to explain to me last year why Japan's biggest carmaker would not lay off a single Japanese worker, despite a huge slump in car sales:

"It would bring confusion inside Japan."

Such denials by businessmen of "free market" theory in favor of the national interest are among the odd aspects that Westerners often encounter in Japan and other parts of East Asia. But it is just such a uniqueness of culture that helps account for much of that region's economic success.

James Fallows, the Washington editor for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, spent four years tracking Asia's cultural uniqueness and economic formulas in the late 1980s, living in both Japan and Malaysia, tapping the insights of resident foreigners and reading up on his history.

During those years, the commentaries of this former Carter speech writer became a leading intellectual force in the United States. Fallows's astute articulation helped to redirect US foreign policy away from its postwar assumption that Japan was a benign student of Western capitalism and democracy, a nation that was becoming "more like us." He dismisses these popular ideas of Japan, such as that of the late Edwin Reischauer, as romantic.

Instead, Fallows tries to show how Japan has been on an economic war footing for 120 years in a race to win economic success and dominate Asia, a fact to which the West is only beginning to awaken.

"The memory of not having been equals remains clear and important in Asia and yet is largely unrecognized in Europe and the United States," Fallows claims.

Fallows, in a magazine article entitled "Containing Japan" (unfortunately translated into Japanese as "Strangling Japan"), painted that nation as an economic menace to international (read Western) order and the new threat after the Soviet Union.

This earned him a semi-racist label among the Japanese as a "Japan basher." Fallows actually spends most of his effort criticizing US practices that impede its international economic effectiveness. …