Hope as we move toward the New Year

It would not take much for 2015 to be a better year than 2014.  2014 was marked by a major outbreak of Ebola, war between Russia and Ukraine, renewed active war in Gaza, civil war in South Sudan, the rise of the remarkably brutal Islamic State, surprising new strength for radical right-wing parties in the European parliament, rising authoritarianism in Turkey and Hungary and a military coup in Thailand, frightening large-scale terror attacks in Nigeria and Pakistan, and even the mysterious disappearance of not one but two civilian airliners over south Asia — all against a backdrop of rising economic inequality in both rich and poor nations and economic stagnation for much of Europe, Japan, and the U.S.

Fortunately, there are signs on the horizon of positive trends, just beginning in late 2014, that may carry over into 2015 and indeed make it a better year.

First, the U.S. economy looks to finally be regaining true strength.  For the first few years of recovery, up through 2013, the U.S. saw weak growth (generally 2%), no gains in wages, and reductions in the unemployment rate coming mainly from withdrawals from the workforce.  But in the second half of 2014, we saw real gains in jobs, some increases in wages, and much stronger growth (probably 4% for the 3rd and 4th quarter, although a lot of that increase was in health care spending, so we will have to see if that is sustained, which would NOT be ideal).

Second, the world economy will continue to gain from low oil prices.  The explosive gains in US production of oil and gas from shale finally shattered the high price plateau for fossil fuels, and there is no reason to think high prices will suddenly return.  This will cause pain to Russia, Iran, Nigeria,Venezuela, and other regimes that have relied on oil revenues to float their governments; but for most countries and peoples it is an economic gift.

Third, the global middle class continues to grow, and with it, demands for accountable and more effective government.  In the short run, this can appear disruptive, with protests in places as diverse as Taiwan and Hong Kong, Ukraine, Bosnia, Turkey, Thailand, Brazil, Venezuela; but in the long run these peaceful protests should bring about more open and responsive governance.

Finally, technology continues to run wild.  I don’t mean the sky-high valuations of such speculative disrupters as Uber, Snapchat, Instagram, AirBnB, and others, or the growth of Facebook and Twitter as necessary tools of communication in daily life.  I mean the continued progress of stem-cell research, 3-D printing, solar and wind energy, battery storage, robotics, and other technologies that so far have not contributed significantly to GDP or quality of life, but may be just on the verge of doing so.  Perhaps in 2015 we will see some energy, or life-saving medical, or manufacturing breakthrough (I do NOT mean curved TVs) that will transform our lives.

It is also possible we will see some global political good news too.  India and Brazil, two potential powerhouses for the world economy, completed elections that should lead to reforms that will support renewed growth.  Iran and the U.S. may complete negotiations that will limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities and restore its relations with the world.  China appears determined to root out corruption at home but also to improve relations with its neighbors.  And Tunisia continues to make progress toward consolidating its democracy, showing that the Arab Revolts of 2011, for all their tragedies, were not a total loss.

Maybe we will even solve those airline mysteries!

Here in the U.S. we hope that the recent wave of protests regarding racially-biased police excesses will bring better training, transparency, and oversight of policing, and that these protests, as so often in America, will herald an improvement in our democracy.  The alternative to grid-lock in Washington looks increasingly like better and more responsive local government, and that is what these protests should bring.

So let’s hope for a better year next year.  Doomsayers (of which I am sometimes one) will worry about a stock market crash, an eruption of greater war in Ukraine, a disruptive collapse of authority in Russia or Nigeria, and an expansion of IS or other wars in the Middle East.  So 2015 could be even worse than 2014.  But let us hope for all of our sakes that the positive outweighs the negative in the coming year.  The world deserves a break!

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Why the fight against IS is not going well

When a radical revolutionary group with a threatening ideology seized a strategically important region, a war-weary United States agreed to limited participation in an allied effort to dislodge the radicals and recover the lost territory, providing several thousand troops and supplies.  British, Canadian, Australian, French and Japanese troops joined the effort, as did smaller forces from Italy, Poland, Greece, and other nations neighboring the lost region.  But after five years of fighting, the cause was lost, and the radicals consolidated their control and posed a threat to Western interests for most of the following seventy years.

The years were 1918-22, the territory was the Russian Empire, and the revolutionary group was the Bolshevik (later Communist) Party.  Although the Bolsheviks seemed near exhaustion from fighting their own civil war against Russian conservative forces, while the allied forces had just emerged from triumph in World War I, it was the Bolsheviks who triumphed.  They won because of their far greater determination and cohesion and ideological support against allies forces that were hamstrung by divided objectives, little desire to continue fighting after years of draining war, and lack of public support at home.

The situation in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East today is remarkably similar.  While forces in the front-line countries of Syria and Iraq may be capable of defending rumps of their territory, and trading tactical wins and losses with IS, they are in no way capable of mounting the major sustained offensive operations that would be necessary to completely defeat IS and recover the territories this radical group has taken over.  For that, an allied force including the United States, Turkey, Iran and other more powerful nations – including European countries and the Gulf nations – is needed.   Only a multi-pronged offensive effort with strong air and ground forces in coordination, likely drawing on Iraqi forces backed by Iranian arms, troops, and expertise from the east, Kurdish forces backed by Turkish arms, troops, and expertise from the north, and Sunni Syrian forces backed by Gulf money and armaments from the west, can grind down the resourceful and well-equipped forces of IS.

Yet the prospects for such a coalition to act remain dim.  The U.S. and its European allies are exhausted from the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; already suffering from long recessions and vast spending on overseas military expeditions, their publics show little enthusiasm for a renewed fight in the Middle East, even against an enemy as frightful as IS.  Moreover, as in 1918, the key allies are divided on their objectives:  Iran will only support a campaign against ISIS that promises to maintain Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad’s authority; Turkey and Saudi Arabia will only support a campaign that promises to remove Assad from power.  The United States has therefore tried to mount a campaign against IS with no explicit strategy for Assad’s future.  But the result has only been to gain tepid support from any key potential allies.  Disagreements over Syria strategy do not end there, but as the sudden resignation of US secretary of state Chuck Hagel suggests, extend deep within America’s leadership.

By contrast, support for IS is growing both locally and internationally.  Just as the Bolsheviks used the fact of western intervention in Russia’s revolution to argue that their enemies were backed by Western capital bent on exploiting hapless Russians, so ISIS argues to Sunnis in Syria and Iraq and across the world that Western infidels are trying to undermine and oppress their religion.  Not only have Sunni populations in Iraq and Syria — who have been shunted out of power by Shi’a leaders in those countries – enthusiastically rallied to IS’s banner, so too have disgruntled Sunni individuals and radical groups in other countries, including Europeans, Egyptians, Palestinians, Tunisians, Chechens, and others.  Indeed, anywhere that Sunni Muslims feel oppressed or excluded by their society, IS’s program to build a powerful, defiant Sunni state in the Islamic heartland has massive appeal.   IS can bide its time and recover from a few tactical reversals; whether it loses Kobani or succeeds in capturing Ramadi are local issues.  In the long run, IS will be gathering its forces and seeking to increase its funding and arms for the days that can march on Baghdad, mount terror attacks on Western nations and their Middle Eastern allies (including Turkey and Saudi Arabia), and undermine what it sees as the apostate state of Iran.

Can anything be done to overcome the divisions among the potential allied coalition?  It will be immensely difficult.  Most analysts believe that Bashar al-Assad is content to leave IS in control of parts of Syria as long as he controls the key Damascus-Aleppo corridor and the coast; meanwhile Assad’s brutality and US bombing are driving more Syrians to support IS as the best hope of gaining security from Assad’s reach.   Thus the only way to bring Syria’s powerful armed forces into the fight against IS is to remove Assad from power.  There lies the hub of a deal:  Syria’s military and elites could be promised that if they replace Assad they will be fully supported in their efforts to recover all of Syria.  Yet they would have to agree to an inclusive regime that respects and incorporates the Sunni majority in that country, not just a revived Alawite oligarchy.  Similarly, Iran would have to accept Assad’s departure and promise to support a regime in Iraq that respects and incorporates the Sunnis of that country; something it has notably failed to do in the last decade.  Finally, Russia would have to be assured that its strategic agreements and naval base at Tartus in Syria would be maintained by a new Syrian regime; otherwise Russia will act as spoiler and supply Assad with sufficient weapons and other support to maintain his rule.

In 1918-1920, the allies in Russia won many local victories against the Bolsheviks, defeating them in Estonia, Odessa, and Siberia.   Yet due to divisions among the various allied forces and lack of resolve at home, as well as lack of support from Russians who remained committed to the Bolshevik cause and the weakness of the Russian conservative White armies, the allied forces never were able to follow-up those local victories with a successful drive into the heart of Bolshevik power.  The Bolsheviks maintained control of Petersburg, Moscow, and most of European Russia, and waited out the declining Allied resolve.  In the 1920s, one ally after another decided to withdraw their expeditionary forces from Russia, leaving the Bolsheviks in control to build up their state over the following decades.

Something similar seems the most likely outcome in today’s Middle East.  The divisions among potential allies abroad, and lack of resolve and public support at home, will likely doom efforts to overcome the more committed, cohesive, and determined forces of the Islamic State.   In the mélange of jihadist forces that contended for power in the wake of collapsing authority in Syria, the IS was initially dismissed as just another terrorist group.  Much the same underestimation was made of the Bolsheviks in 1917-1918; among the Mensheviks, Kadets, Socialists, Octobrists, Progressives, and other anti-Tsarist parties the Bolsheviks hardly seemed the main threat until they took over the government in a coup.

The Islamic State should not be taken lightly; it has gone from just another terrorist group to leadership of a region stretching from the outskirts of Aleppo to Mosul to the outskirts of Baghdad (an area larger than Lebanon or Israel) with a population of over two million, tens of thousands of armed fighters and financial resources in the billions of dollars.  It has displaced Al-Qaeda as the leading force of Islamic opposition against the West, and seems to draw new supporters and allies among jihadist groups every week.   Against this powerful and committed adversary, neighboring nations and distant America have been able to mount only isolated, sporadic attacks.  Such limited, half-hearted actions cannot succeed in destroying the Islamic State.  It appears we shall have to get used to having yet another major source of terrorism and war in the region for many years to come.

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What China Wants

Last week’s APEC meeting in Beijing shed new light on China’s relationship with America and the world. It has become increasing clear what China wants. China seeks a role in Asia comparable to the role that America has enjoyed with regard to Europe; as the unquestioned (but not always followed) leader of an alliance that seeks to protect their region from outside pressures and influences.

As with the U.S. and Europe, China will continue to seek strong economic ties outside the alliance where those are helpful, but for security it wants clear leadership and support from other countries in Asia for China’s goals of greater economic and military power. China does not simply view the U.S. as a hegemon that it wants to supplant, but as a country whose days as global hegemon are over. In Beijing’s view, Washington should make way for other, equal powers, to have leadership over some areas of the globe.

In fact, I think China will find its relationship with other Asian countries more like America’s relationship with Latin America – that is, other Asian countries will view Chinese power with a mixture of admiration and suspicion, and will foster their own nationalism and resistance to China’s hegemony even while seeking advantages from allying with China on certain issues.

Overall, China’s rise to greater regional power and America’s loss of global hegemon status are inevitable. America’s dominance was a result of victories in WWII and the Cold War that left other powers weak. But with China’s rise – now with over four times the population and an economy of equal size (in PPP terms) to the U.S. – it is inevitable that a more balanced arrangement of global power should arise. The only real question is whether that transition will lead to more cooperation between a China and U.S. who increasingly share responsibility for major global issues, or to conflict.

There is a major risk that China and America become rivals, fighting proxy wars or even direct skirmishes over Chinese control of archipelagos in the western Pacific, and over Chinese conflicts with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, or other countries. Yet that seems to me the less likely outcome. In fact, China and America share so many interests – in a stable global economy, in free and open sea lanes for transit of raw materials and manufactures, in maintaining peace in the Asia-Pacific region, and in coping with global environmental threats – that cooperation for the most part is more likely.

Last week’s agreement between China and the U.S. on goals to reduce carbon emissions is an excellent example of that cooperation.  At the same, last week showed how differences could be handled.  On human rights, one of the most contentious issues, Chinese President Xi Jinping claimed that China was making progress, although that progress was not yet complete; while President Obama had to make public declarations that the U.S. is not involved in fomenting unrest in Hong Kong.

On the whole, last week’s meeting should reassure those who have been forecasting an inevitable war between a rising China and a declining U.S.  The nature of the relationship will change, but that is good; the world is changing fast and the relationship between the U.S. and China needs to develop and mature to keep abreast of those changes. Judging from last week, that process is moving forward nicely.

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What we learned from the U.S. Election

1) American voters can still swing. Older voters, working-class whites, and young voters can swing in their votes or their participation (huge increases in youth and minority turnout are good for Democrats; weak participation by these groups is good for Republicans) enough to dramatically change election outcomes.   We have seen Democratic triumphs and a Democratic Congress during the Clinton and Obama first terms, and Republican triumphs and a Republican Congress in their second.  But we also saw Republican triumphs during the GW Bush first term, and Congressional changes or even Presidential losses after Republicans George HW Bush’s first term and GW Bush’s second term.  So all predictions of a “permanent” Republic or Democratic majority – which seem to issue forth every eight years! – look hollow.

2) American remains geographically and ideologically polarized. The Northeast and West Coast look predominantly Democratic; the Plains states, Rocky Mountains, and the South look predominantly Republican.   National elections rest less on changing these patterns than on the ability to get out the vote and win strong majorities among supporters in a few key swing states, especially in the mountain states (Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico), the Midwest (Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan), and the mid-Atlantic (Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) plus Florida.

3) American foreign policy is more than ever a hostage to domestic politics. If President Obama chooses to persist in his policies of withdrawal and caution in the international arena and in eastern Europe, the Middle East and Afghanistan in particular, he will gain little cooperation from Congress, and will be perceived more than ever as weak and unable to act effectively.  On the other hand, if President Obama chooses to work with a united Republican Congress and adopt a firmer military and strategic stance, he may yet manage to revive perceptions of American strength and resolve.  But that also risks making foreign policy dependent on a Republican hard-core in Congress that has been more aggressive in foreign affairs than most Americans believe is wise.

4) American domestic and economic policy is now essentially frozen for the next two years. Congress is likely to block any progressive changes on immigration or taxation policy, while Obama is likely to veto any changes in health care policy.  It also remains to be seen whether Obama will be able to make any appointments to the federal judiciary or bureaucracy in the next two years; if not the government will continue to suffer from crucial shortfalls in key personnel.

It is now two years until the next major shake-up in American politics.  Hilary Rodham Clinton looks like the politician to beat — but the Republicans, now controlling  Congress and more governorships and state houses than ever — will do everything they can to prevent a Democratic Presidential victory in 2016.  But do the Republicans have any candidate who can beat history?  I do not see anyone now — but two years is an eternity in politics, and it will not be until middle of next year until we know for sure how the race will shape up.  It will be an interesting year.

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Addicted to Denial

Few countries would want, as their national bird, an ostrich with its head firmly in the sand.   Yet more and more countries would seem to qualify.

In Brazil, this week’s elections pivoted in part on the devastating impact in Sao Paolo of the worst drought in 80 years, which has led to water cut-offs, water trucks under police escort, and Sao Paolo’s main reservoir being drawn down to only 4% of its capacity. How could the situation grow so dire in one of the wettest countries on Earth?   The answer: Denial.   For many months, the PDSB political party, which controls Sao Paolo state, refused to admit a problem or implement water rationing for fear it would hurt the chances of Aecio Neves, the PSDB candidate in presidential elections.  But as the drought has continued, the policy has backfired, with Neves held accountable not only for the drought but for PSDB’s mismanagement of water supplies, and losing out in the presidential poll.

Brazil’s PSDB is not alone in preferring denial of a problem to taking action to solve it. Indeed, that seems to be the preferred strategy for leaders facing difficult issues.   Citizens of Europe and the United States were assured that there was no risk of Ebola spreading outside of Africa – until cases appeared in Madrid and Dallas, where denial had produced a lack of preparation among hospital staff to deal with infected victims.

Such denial is familiar to workers in Europe, who have been assured by their leaders that austerity policies are working and leading to economic recovery – until news came this month that growth was still anemic and many European states had slipped back into recession. In the U.S., economic policy-makers similarly deny that their measures to deal with the impact of the 2008 recession have failed, pointing to a fall in unemployment as evidence of their success.  But they ignore the fact that labor force participation rates remain well below their levels before the crisis, and that real wages have not recovered and private debts remain high.  If the core of the Great Recession was excessive debt and stagnating incomes, then we are still in it, and denying that does no one any good.

Throughout the year, European and American foreign policy leaders strived to deny the extent of Russia’s role eastern Ukraine, labelling the movement of Russian troops and armaments onto Ukraine’s territory merely an “incursion.”  The risks to stability in Iraq from the Islamic State were similarly underplayed, leading to utter shock when IS took over large chunks of Iraqi territory.

Of course, the greatest and most prolonged denial is that the U.S. faces any risks from climate change, or that there is anything that we can do about it.   Despite the rising losses of U.S. land to seawater incursions in Florida and Louisiana, despite the damage caused by tidewater flooding during hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, despite the visible movement of dozens of species northwards and the resumption of steady upward temperature rises (summer of 2014 is now officially the hottest summer ever recorded), denial that climate change exists continues apace.

Even on the most basic domestic issues, with problems well-supported by facts, the majority of politicians and the public are happy in their denial: for example that much of U.S. infrastructure is dangerous and lags well behind our economic competitors in China and elsewhere, or that health care in the United States is twice as expensive as in most other developed countries and produces worse outcomes. (The Commonwealth Fund has ranked the U.S. dead last in its survey on the quality of health care in developed nations in every survey since 2004; the U.S. is first in spending per capita but 11th out of 11 in Access to care, Efficiency, Equity, and Healthy Lives).   Yet politicians constantly block spending on much-needed infrastructure, and conservative pundits complain that any government interference will ruin the best health care system in the world.

There was a time when America and other nations rewarded the media and scientists for identifying and publicizing problems that affected their security, health, and well-being; and they rewarded politicians who competed to provide the best solutions. Yet those days seem gone.  Today the highest pay goes to spin-doctors who can obfuscate or create plausible deniability about problems or our ability to respond to them; and politicians seem to feel safest if they can simply deny a problem exists, at least long enough to pass the cumulating crises on to their successors.

Whether it is on health care, economic growth, real wages, epidemics, threats to international security, our climate or our infrastructure, the public and the media should demand that problems be acknowledged, and that responses – even if painful – be undertaken before crises become overwhelming.

Denial is more comforting, of course, than tackling a difficult problem and taking measures to stop it from growing.   However, as Brazilians in Sao Paulo have come to realize, as they now face not only water shortages but the threat of electricity rationing and massive layoffs from industrial facilities that lack power and water because reservoirs have been drawn down to where they can no longer produce hydroelectricity, it is much better to face up to a problem and implement plans to deal with it before it becomes an insurmountable crisis.  Ebola and ISIS are only the two latest cases of small problems that grew far more dangerous while leaders denied the risks.

Truth is dangerous and often hard to find. Still, when problems first become visible, people should not be comforted by politicans’ denials, but be suspicious and questioning.  We need to find leaders who can act like far-sighted eagles, not ostriches.

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Help Ebola victims

You don’t have to just panic about Ebola: you can help its victims in Africa and thus reduce its rate of spread.

Here is an easy place to help:


Join me in giving whatever you can to help.

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Drifting toward decline

I have just returned from a week visiting Hong Kong and Japan.  What I found there was inspiring and somewhat hopeful in Hong Kong, but distressing in Japan.

In Hong Kong — which in many ways represents China’s best hope for a place where pluralism and free speech and free markets can produce the innovations that China needs to move its economy up the ladder to breakthrough products, instead of labor-intensive manufacturing and local services — China has commendably refrained from harsh repression.  Yet while waiting out the protests, instead of seeking to build trust with the youth of Hong Kong through discussion and some half-measures, it has condemned them as traitors to China’s harmonious order, accusing them of following the promptings of Britain and the US to undermine China.

The courage of the young people of Hong Kong and those who have supported them is inspiring, as was their orderly, disciplined and non-violent protest;  Beijing’s response, while perhaps predictable, is disappointing nonetheless.   My hope is that the determination of Hong Kong’s youth to continue to strive for democracy, but doing so with order and reasonableness, will eventually produce some modest improvements to support Hong Kong’s democracy, such as stronger political parties, or a more effective legislative council.  But my fear is that China’s new leader Xi Jinping will see Hong Kong’s freedoms only as a threat and not appreciate what it can offer to China.  It would be a tragedy, not only of risks of confrontation and clashes, but of lost potential for China, if Hong Kong is slowly drained of its freedoms.

And in Japan, which remains a model of freedom and prosperity, one sees a desperate race with time, technology and culture to adjust to dramatically changing circumstances.   The race with time is against the rapid aging of Japan’s population, which has already begun.  Within another fifteen years, the large post-war cohort, which propelled Japan’s economy and society through economic reforms which made Japan one of the world’s largest economies and the dominant power in East Asia, and in return enjoyed secure employment for life, will enter their seventies.  At the same time, entering the work force will be the smallest cohort of 20 year-olds in history, and moreover a cohort that has already experienced a shift toward temporary employment instead of stable careers, young men who have opted for video games over dating and marriage, and young women for whom work is a greater priority than families.  On current trends, Japan’s working-age population (15-64) will decline by one-quarter in the next thirty years.

With a very low birth rate, and high longevity, after 2030 Japan will have more people aged 80 and over than aged 15-24; this raises the question of who will care for the elderly, and whose wages will be taxed to pay for their health care and pensions.  Japan has responded to increasing government expenses for its aging population by borrowing rather than raising taxes; at over 200% of GDP it now has the highest debt of any developed nation.  This is an awkward situation from which to face another doubling in the ratio of elderly to workers that will come in the next two decades.

While the obvious solution is to encourage immigration of young workers from the still growing nearby populations of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, the Japanese population has rejected that solution.  As I was told, the view in Japan of a population facing a decline in workers and rapidly growing needs for elderly care is “We would rather be taken care of by robots than foreigners.”   The distrust and anxiety regarding foreigners is so great, the Japanese would rather gamble their future on technical breakthroughs than recruit willing workers from abroad.

Will it work?  For the technological gamble to pay off, two things have to happen.  First, Japanese companies need to find technology to replace workers and upgrade technology fast enough to generate positive economic growth despite a workforce that will decline by about 1% a year.  This means the productivity of the existing workforce has to increase by 2-3% per year.  Only this will keep the economy growing and provide the resources to care for the fast-growing ranks of the elderly without punitive taxes on the working population.  Second, Japanese companies need to find technology for care of the elderly – everything from providing medical and surgical care to nursing home and companionship – with robotics instead of human workers.  And they need to have all this move from experimental stages to real-world deployment, at affordable cost, within fifteen years!

While one cannot dismiss the possibilities of such breakthroughs out of hand, the past decade does not inspire hope.  In the last few years Japan’s economy has stagnated, with real GDP and GDP/capita flat or declining; productivity has risen but only because hours worked have fallen so that the existing capital stock has been deployed by fewer workers.  Japanese companies have lost market share to Korean and Chinese competitors (and even US and European competitors in autos and computing), as they no longer are producing world-beating advances in quality or design.

Japan has made  huge advances in producing humanoid robots (with smiling faces and the ability to hold simple conversations) and pet robots (which do produce an emotionally positive response).  Humanoid robots that can lift elderly humans start at about $80,000, but a humanoid robot that can climb and descend stairs costs over $2,000,000.  Perhaps crash development for what will clearly be a big market will lead to breakthroughs that allow a robot in every home by 2040!

Could robots be to the Japan of the 2030s what automobiles were to the Japan of the 1970s and 1980s — a world-beating export industry that establishes Japanese industrial leadership and economic power?  That is clearly the hope and prayer of Japanese business and political leaders.  The difference is that automobiles were a well-established consumer good with a simple design; Japan only had to learn to produce them with higher quality and lower cost than inefficient competitors to take over a large portion of the world market.  Here Japan has to pioneer an entirely new product, establish its safety and desirability for different markets, and produce it in large volumes at low costs.  Perhaps a better analogy is the Walkman or SLR camera; new products in which Japan became a world leader.  But again for those products Japan’s global leadership was brief, before I-pods and digital cameras made the Sony’s and Pentax’s of the world also-rans instead of global leaders.

Meanwhile, Japan’s youth avoids marriage, struggles to find secure work, and takes refuge in video games; and its politicians and older generation stick to xenophobic Japanese nationalism.

Japan has a further cultural problem to overcome — it’s traditional attitudes toward women.  Japan has the lowest rate of female labor force participation in the developed world; and women’s prospects for executive positions remain slim.  Japan thus is seeking to rebuild its future with gender bias effectively tying one hand behind its back.  To be sure, women are highly educated and effective workers; the problem is corporations’ reluctance to promote them and trust them as leaders.

So Japan has to overcome technical and cultural obstacles, and soon.  Otherwise, its slide will accelerate and its time as a dominant power in East Asia will be a memory by the second half of this century.


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