“It’s quite the irony,” William Pesek writes in “Corporate Japan looking too Chinese for comfort” in the Dec. 1 edition. “In its efforts to keep up with China, Japan is becoming too China-like for comfort.” This eyebrow-raising observation leads him to list instances of recent corporate misbehavior by well-known companies: Olympus, Takata, Toshiba, Sharp, Kobe Steel, Mitsubishi Materials, Toyo Tire & Rubber, Nissan, Subaru, and Toray. “Made in Japan,” it appears, is not what it used to be. Who is to blame? Shinzo Abe, of course.
“Sure,” Pesek assures us, “Abe’s focus on return on investment and his weak-yen policy are driving the Nikkei 225 to 26-year highs. What he’s clearly not doing is dragging Japan Inc. into the 21st century. This quality-control reckoning is showing a microcosm of why Abenomics isn’t enough to bring corporate Japan to heel.”
Abe-bashing makes for good sport. But in this case, Pesek needs more than a whipping boy. The sort of misbehavior he sees in corporate Japan is widespread, a global phenomenon. The Chinese have produced their share of shoddy goods, from contaminated baby formula and tainted heparin to sulfurous-smelling drywall. Even official Chinese economic statistics have come into question.
Volkswagen is a damaged German brand. Banks around the world have been stupendous fraudsters. Remember Libor?
Surely, Abe is not responsible for global corporate corruption. The problem is bigger than Abe. The problem is modern capitalism. Its obsession with productivity and revenue generation, squeezing drops and droplets of profit from investment, promotes bad behavior. If quality-control costs are cut to increase productivity, no one should be surprised by the result: lower-quality goods.
The real irony is that it’s not the 21st century that offers a cure, but an earlier age. Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure” tells us, in William Scott Wilson’s translation: “Calculating people are contemptible. The reason for this is that calculation deals with loss and gain, and the loss and gain mind never stops.”
Is it time to return to the quality mind?
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.