Aso: Poor English saved bankers from ’08 crisis


Japanese banks emerged from the 2008 global credit crisis largely unscathed because their senior employees did not speak English well enough to get into trouble, Finance Minister Taro Aso said.

Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister, said Friday that bankers in Japan had been unable to understand the complex financial instruments that were the undoing of major global lenders, and so had not purchased them.

“Many people fell prey to the dubious products, or so-called subprime loans. Japanese banks were not so much attracted to these products, compared with European banks,” Aso told a seminar in Tokyo.

“There was an American who said Japanese banks are healthy, but that’s not true at all. Managers of Japanese banks hardly understood English. That’s why they didn’t buy,” he explained.

Aso’s comments are the latest in a line of pronouncements that have raised eyebrows.

The onetime prime minister said in January that the elderly should be allowed to “hurry up and die” instead of costing the government money through expensive end-of-life medical care. In 2007, he had to apologize for a quip about patients with Alzheimer’s disease and for making light of flood damage in central Japan.

On Friday, Aso boasted that he had managed to keep his foot out of his mouth since Shinzo Abe became prime minister in December. However, that claim was somewhat undermined when he initially got the prime minister’s name wrong.

“I have made no gaffes in the past half year, even as newspapers said the Aso administration’s — no, the Abe administration’s — biggest problem is Taro Aso’s gaffes,” he proclaimed.

  • Even if that was the reason, that doesn’t mean that if they understood they would have bought them anyway.

    The overriding problem is not whether or not the Japanese government chooses on a case-by-case basis to buy or not buy, it is that the government is allowed by its citizens to be manipulating the economy to begin with.

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    This sounds a bit silly; if he claimed ignorance of English was the primary cause, then Japanese banks would have zero international presence and would not be able to conduct any transactions whatsoever. Maybe the “Bubble” taught them that giving people loans with zero collateral would be an unwise decision. Heck, at least during the “Bubble” people had something to bargain with. Plus they are still propping up so many deadbeat companies that it was probably just not worth digging the hole any deeper.

  • Gary

    Ignorance of English wasn’t required for Canadians to avoid losses from subprime loans, only sensible banking regulation was needed there. Someday maybe Americans will wise up and restore Glass-Steagall, the Depression era legislation that prudently separated commercial and investment banking, but until then, we’ve got no business poking fun at Taro Aso and his numerous gaffes.

    Moreover, on this one he may have a point, albeit a weak one: Even if ignorance of English may have helped Japanese bankers avoid buying subprime loans that were diced up and sold as securities, it’s no doubt cost Japanese companies far more in international business negotiations than they’ll ever know.

  • Mark Garrett

    Yeah, totally unscathed. The economy has been doing so well here the past 8 years thanks to the J-politicians and bankers poor English skills. Now, if we could just lower their math and history prowess it would be Shangri-La!

    Politics here is like watching a horrible B movie. It’s so bad that it’s actually humorous and entertaining! Keep up the good work guys!