TAC contributor Eamonn Fingleton has long questioned the idea that the 1990s were a “lost decade” for the Japanese economy. Now he’s challenging two popular proponents of that thesis to a public debate in Washington, D.C.—and he’s willing to donate $10,000 to charity if they accept the challenge.
The offer has gone out to economists Robbie Feldman, the chief Japan economist for Morgan Stanley, and Ed Lincoln, the former chief advisor on Japanese economics to ambassador Walter Mondale.
On his website, Fingleton partially blames the idiosyncrasies of Japanese society for propagating the “lost decade” thesis to Westerners:
Let me speak plainly: no one of any commonsense in Tokyo has ever placed much credence in the story of the first “lost decade,” let alone the second. They have kept their views to themselves, however, because Japan is not a place where people lightly contradict the elite bureaucracy on anything, let alone on a fundamental public relations theme that has been systematically projected into the foreign media for twenty years.
While it may seem amazing that crucial facts can be swept under the carpet in this way, the Japanese bureaucracy’s almost magical ability to impose self-censorship not only on Japanese citizens but even on Japan-watching foreigners has been well documented (see, for instance, Ivan P. Hall’s Bamboozled: How America Loses the Intellectual Game With Japan and Its Implications for Our Future in Asia).
Among the many issues not reported on by the Western media is the protectionist Japanese auto market:
… the fact is that with the exception of two luxury German marques, foreign cars remain completely marginalized and the aggregate foreign market share has been kept at 4 percent for decades (irrespective of whether the yen is high or low).
Will Feldman and Lincoln agree to debate Fingleton? If they do, it will be a victory for all the so-called heterodox economists who are eager to challenge today’s economic dogmas—many of which are responsible for the current crisis.
If they don’t, it will still be a victory for those willing to question today’s economic status quo.