Monday, March 2, 2009

Wisdom from the East

I'm back from a brief hiatus (a chemo-therapy week) and ready to put itching fingers to keyboard. I sure missed much to comment on last week!

This morning's New York Times (of all places) has a fascinating op-ed ("Japan's Crisis of the Mind" by Masaru Tamamoto, a senior fellow at The World Policy Institute ( "a non-partisan source of progressive policy analysis and thought leadership for more than four decades"). Tamamoto's analysis is fascinating because he decries what American progressives, and by extension The New York Times, seek: "equality and sameness."

Tamamoto writes: "Throughout most of its history, Japan has had social stratification and great inequality of wealth and privilege. The 'egalitarian' Japan was a creature of the 1970s, with its progressive taxation, redistribution of wealth, subsidies and the dampening of competition through regulation. This all seemed to work just fine until our asset-price bubble popped in the 1990s. Today, the hemmed-in Japanese seem satisfied with the knowledge that everyone around them is equally unhappy."

Now, I wonder, considering President Obama's incredibly spendthrift budget request--laden with government solutions to our economic and social woes--on top of the budget-blasting stiumulus, is this a "back to the future" insight for the U.S?

Tamamoto continues: "...What we had was a concept of order and placement, which is essentially stasis. In the West, on the other hand, the idea of progress rests on establishing individual autonomy and liberty. In Japan, bureaucratic rule offered security and predictability--in exchange for personal freedom. The problem is that our current political leaders can't keep their side of the bargain. Employment security can no longer be guaranteed. The national pension and health plans seem to be insolvent in the long run. People feel both insecure and unfree. So despair is everywhere. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates among rich countries." He concludes: "Japan desperately needs change, and this will require risk....risk aversion translates into protectionism and insularity" [and I think "free trade aversion, Nancy Pelosi ???"].

For Tanamoto the course for Japan is "embracing an idea of progress that is based on innovation, ambition and dynamism." And I think the course for the U.S. is also not to toss out these oh-so-American capitalist values because we are in an undeniably bumpy and painful patch in the road.

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