Krugman, Fingleton, and Japan

When I was holed up in Beijing for several months last year finishing my China book, Eamonn Fingleton was part of a virtuoso team of guest bloggers who filled in for me in this space. One of his items drew a lot of attention and generated a lot of discussion. It was called "The Myth of Japan's Lost Decade," and it argued that the Western world had been all too self-congratulatory about the utter "collapse" of Japan's economy. In fact, he argued, Japan was still very rich -- and although its political system was terminally dysfunctional (sound familiar?), its companies in fact enjoyed ever-growing world market share in a wide range of high tech goods.

This is a case I sympathize with, and have made various times -- for instance, in the Atlantic two years ago. I am sure that Fingleton has noticed that Paul Krugman, long a skeptic of the "Japan is stronger than it looks" view, now agrees. Or so a new interview with Martin Wolf in the FT suggests:

The conversation turns to the Japanese crisis of the 1990s. In retrospect, I [Wolf] suggest, the Japanese seem to have managed the aftermath of their crisis quite well.

He [Krugman] agrees. "What we thought was that Japan was a cautionary tale. It has turned into Japan as almost a role model. They never had as big a slump as we have had. They managed to have growing per capita income through most of what we call their 'lost decade'. My running joke is that the group of us who were worried about Japan a dozen years ago ought to go to Tokyo and apologise to the emperor. We've done worse than they ever did. When people ask: might we become Japan? I say: I wish we could become Japan."

Respects to Fingleton, who was one of the few making the case against exaggerated Japan-pessimism all along. (Bill Holstein is another.) And to Krugman, for acknowledging how things have evolved.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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