A reader writes:
I'm spending about 50% of my time in Japan these days. I've been traveling there for years both for personal and business reasons.
In the mid-90's, I started noting the dissonance between the reality of Japan and the portrayal in the press. By my observation, Japan is one of the most advanced societies in the world - longest life expectancy, universal literacy, unbelievably safe streets, and so forth. Great place to live, which is why they have to be such hawks on immigration enforcement.
But to read the WSJ, the country is a basket case and due to this propaganda, most Americans tend to think the same - it is incredible the kinds of comments and questions I get from Americans along the lines of how rotten things are in Japan.
Ultimately, the reason that Japan gets such bad press here is that the Japanese don't do any of the Chicago School/Washington Consensus stuff - they are still essentially mercantilist, strictly limit immigration, are paternalistically concerned about equitable distributions of wealth, and are not about to let their country to become a turnip squeezed for blood by Wall Street. And despite rejecting the whole package, they have some of the best outcomes in the world in terms, again, of life expectancy, economy/wealth, education, crime, and so forth.
Basically, they are such an embarrassingly successful refutation of the whole neo-liberal package that the establishment press has to either ignore or deprecate them.
It surprised me that I don't hear more along this vein. And, again, as for Japan not being good for foreign financiers, well, Japan still remains very Confucian, very little there happens by accident, certainly not something this large.
As a final thought, since Japan opened up in the mid-1800's, other than a brief time in the 1980's, it has always been underestimated by foreigners. Things may seem a little quiescent there now, but the next big leap forward (and that is how Japan typically progresses, incidentally) is going to be this robotics stuff.
Well, robots have been the Next Big Thing for a long time. But, who knows?
One thing to keep in mind is that Japan's overall productivity isn't that good because while they are extremely efficient at making, say, Lexuses, they also keep a lot of Japanese people employed in very low productivity jobs like elevator operator and door-to-door mop salesman. It's sort of like a welfare system for border collies.
The Japanese have a whole lot of ways readily at hand to make their economy more efficient as the population shrinks.