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Last week I spoke to a non-Japanese economics researcher employed by a Japanese university. He said he was working on a study that compared Spain’s current fiscal crisis to Japan’s economic situation as a means of determining if the former would suffer the same long-term problems as the latter. I mentioned that the two countries’ situations seemed dissimilar because of Japan’s high savings rate, and he countered that the biggest difference was really the “work ethic.”

It’s a loaded term. The news media has been filled with stories of ballooning unemployment in Spain. In comparison, Japan has much lower official jobless numbers and a growth rate that impresses people like Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, who said last spring in an interview with the Financial Times, “When people ask: Might we become Japan? I say: I wish we could become Japan.”

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