Japan Inc. didn't kill U.S. manufacturing, but did the United States learn from that competitive era?
By Jonathan Katz
Industry Week, Feb. 15, 2012
Three decades ago, an economic behemoth from the Far East was poised to crush U.S. manufacturing with cheap goods, undervalued currency and policies that significantly tilted trade in its favor. Back then, that fast-expanding economy became known as Japan Inc. At the time, many trade groups, academics and politicians warned that without government intervention Japanese businesses would soon control much of the U.S. economy.
Fast forward to today, and a similar story of unfair competition is playing out, but this time with China. Japan, though still the world's third-largest economy, has been largely cast to the shadows. While there are significant differences between the economic systems of China and Japan, the United States' experience with Japan in the 1980s and early 1990s may offer manufacturing and policy lessons for dealing with today's emerging markets.
But economic experts and manufacturers disagree on the potential takeaways. One school of thought points to policies enacted by the Reagan administration as evidence that action is necessary with China and other trading partners that engage in alleged unfair trade practices. "We did a lot of things, and they did have a huge impact," says Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute and a former counselor to the commerce secretary in the Reagan administration. "Today, as you know, Japanese auto companies do a lot of production in the United States. A major reason why those Japanese companies are here is because we had these voluntary restraints."
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