Just-in-time carrots

Years ago, in my Davos days, a Hong Kong billionaire assured me that China was relatively simple for westerners to understand, but no one could really figure out Japan. I regularly see things that confirm his insight.

David Pilling has a fascinating column in today’s Financial Times about the wave of nostalgia that is overcoming Japan’s political and policy elite. I found this particularly striking:

The third crumbling pillar is the postwar economic model itself. There is now much talk of putting more emphasis on agriculture and de-emphasising the manufacturing industries on which postwar wealth was built. “Japan, having major strength in manufacturing, will probably suffer most,” says Mr Sakakibara, who argues that, even after this economic crisis subsides, the world will never return to previous levels of material consumption.

Japan’s farm industry is commonly regarded as heavily protected, but the Japanese worry that they only produce 40 per cent of their calorific requirements. Mr Sakakibara supports the DPJ’s proposals massively to increase subsidies to agriculture and to industrialise the family-run farming industry. He has been trying to persuade Toyota that cars are a dying industry and that it should turn its engineers on to farming efficiency instead. The era of just-in-time carrots could soon be upon us.

Do they teach comparative advantage in Japanese economics courses?

One thought on “Just-in-time carrots

  1. Alan

    Yes, they teach comparative advantage, but that doesn’t outweigh the heritage, and the reality, of Japan’s geographic and cultural isolation.

    You don’t have to talk to Japanese people very long before you hear the refrain “Japan is an island nation with no natural resources.” It’s drummed into every schoolkid’s head. This fact, combined with the memory of such things as the U.S. oil embargo that arguably led to the attack on Pearl Harbor, has created means that the fear of annihilation through blockade runs deep in the Japanese political psyche, and the dream of self-sufficiency in food production has lot of popular appeal. That’s what’s motivated subsidies of inefficient small rice farmers for the past half-century.


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