Japan's High Technology Industries: Lessons and Limitations of Industrial Policy

By Larry Meissner; Hugh Patrick | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Japanese High Technology Industrial Policy
in Comparative Context

Hugh Patrick

The United States in the mid-1980s is engaging in an important, perhaps crucial, national debate on the goals, nature, and effectiveness of governmental economic policy and its appropriate role in the American economy and society. As one significant element of this debate, much is being made of industrial policy. What the term "industrial policy" means depends on the user; it ranges from being a euphemism for centralized government planning and intervention to a buzzword referring to the more coherent application of policy tools already in use in the United States. Interest in industrial policy, however defined, has been heightened by perceptions of deep-seated difficulties in the American economy not treatable by traditional policy measures, by perceptions of Japanese industrial success and its competitive challenge to certain important American industries, and by perceptions of the success of Japanese industrial policy.

At the same time, debate is under way on U.S. trade policy, ranging from very narrow specific issues to the appropriate nature of the international economic system and the respective roles of the United States and Japan in it. The application of industrial policy by foreign nations, notably Japan, is perceived to provide competitive advantage to selected targeted industries, to the disadvantage of their American counterparts.

Thus, perceptions of Japanese industrial policy have entered the American debate on economic policy in two major ways: as a possible model to emulate in developing a United States industrial policy; and as a shaper of Japanese industrial structure and comparative advantage, especially vis‐ à-vis major American industries. It is not surprising that the main focus of American attention has been to understand how Japan over time has successfully developed a number of major and now highly competitive industries (steel, motor vehicles, shipbuilding, consumer electronics) and

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