Eamonn Fingleton, “The Myth of Japan’s Failure”, in the Sunday New York Times.

Or the Saturday afternoon version, here.

You might know Eamonn Fingleton from his blog, Unsustainable.org, which he now posts as Fingleton.net. (New blog, same author and themes.)

What makes Fingleton great is that he has been telling the story of a highly successful Japan in the “Lost Decades” era of the Post Bubble (1990-current). This is obviously the contrarian viewpoint, that Japan really hasn’t stopped getting better and better since the 1980’s, but, it is a hard sell. I like it, because a lot of the “plus” factors that Fingleton is pointing out are true. Things are not so hardscrabble if you are in the Kantou region. It’s nonsense that unemployment is “only 4.2%”, of course, because the statistic is manipulated by the government to exclude all sorts of unemployment. (A more honest figure would probably be the same 9% or so unemployed and 18% underemployed as in America.) The people in Japan who DO have jobs, though, are doing remarkably well, considering. (I know I am going to get mail for that statement.)

Why play poor? Fingleton suspects that this is just a tactical move by a country that likes to run manufacturing trade surpluses, and that wants to be able to manipulate its currency to take advantage of business opportunities as they develop in both the Western trading partnership and also Far East Asia.

If you notice, ever since the yen was required to appreciate in the Plaza Hotel Accord of 1985, the issue of Japan’s trade balance with America has steadily declined. People here who follow Japan “feel” that 77 yen to the dollar is really high. But what no one “feels” is the fact that America’s prices are twice what they were in 1985, while Japan has had either deflation or modest rises, and so 0% change since then. The 77 yen is really more like 77 yen that’s really only buying a dollar that’s worth 50 cents compared to 1985. (So 154 yen to the 1985 dollar.) But the number makes people think that Japan has done all it can on the trade issue. This sad sack story of “poor us, we cannot even make one sacrifice on our end in order to balance an unbalanced trade relation!” also benefits the flunky American expats in Japan, who have a ready-made excuse when they either screw over fellow Americans (via multinational corporate downsizings in Japan); or can’t make sales targets (because they really have no ‘ins’ or leads in the economy to sell to—I saw that as well.)

For an Irishman, Fingleton definitely has an eye on issues that affect America in its policies with Japan—the kind of critical eye that more people in the state department should have. His blog is definitely worth a read, even if you don’t agree with his general premise.