Japan’s Lost Decade and the Great Depressions of the U.S.

by Little Miss Attila on June 3, 2009

McQuain has a good piece on the economy up over at Q&O; in fact, it makes a good companion piece to the Reason article I discussed earlier in the day. And since McQ quotes me it makes me feel all warm and gooey inside.

But, Bruce!—when I said we’d come out of the economic slump okay because Americans are “neurotically productive,” that was several months ago—before the hill we have to climb had been made so much steeper by the stimulus bill, the bailouts, the attacks on capitalism, the nationalizing of GM and Chrysler (and the big question mark about whether Ford will be allowed to retain its independence); we’re several pieces of bad news down the road from where we were when I was still wearing those rose-tinted glasses.

I remain globally optimistic about the American economy, but—locally speaking—things are looking a lot bleaker than they had been.

To back up for a minute, my main source on the first Great Depression is the Amity Shlaes book, and one of the things that hit me when I first read that was the fact that the economy had so many rallies during the 1930s, but each time one started up, FDR would do something crazy again, and he’d kill it. I realize that’s an oversimplification, but it’s true as far as it goes, and it ties into what I was saying: hope springs eternal, and it damned well should, or we ought to just crawl up into the fetal position and leave your grandkids to figure it out, because overzealous governmental agencies enjoy strangling infant recoveries right in their cribs. It’s what governments like to do.

I agree that the Japanese are just as productive as we are, but the Japanese are also “organization men” to a greater degree than we, and their welfare state, including state-run health care, has been complete and comprehensive for some time. It’s a more brittle system than what we have here: once things break in Japan, I personally believe that it’s easy for them to stay broken for a longer period of time.

The Japanese economy doesn’t appear to be as nimble as ours is—when ours is working. That is, when we aren’t doing the Dobby act from the Harry Potter books and hitting our heads against the wall every time we make a little bit of progress. NTTAWWT.

As I see it, though, the current administration is trying, um, very hard to “fix” the problem of our resiliency, by creating structures/institutions that will make recoveries much, much harder during economic downturns—which is why we need to focus on the next two election cycles and work very, very hard to get a majority back in the House and the Senate as soon as possible. I would imagine that year will be a pivotal time if we don’t want to see the economy hobbled by “healthcare reform,” and the political process corrupted by a wacked-out, politicized census.

At this moment, it will take a good seven years to undo the damage King O has done in just a few months, and I shudder to think what would happen if he were to be given a second term.

Fortunately, I don’t think that’s likely at all: he’s already lost his base over his failures to change the Bush Administration policies over surveillance, along with the fact that he won’t be able to close Gitmo (though he might simply move it to Afghanistan). He won’t lift a finger to extend gay marriage rights, though of course I’m okay with that, since I’m a states-should-do-that kind of girl—but his base will see it differently. He hasn’t done a thing, though, about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and that should be a slam-dunk when we’re still losing Arabic translators because they’re gay: If I’m upset about that, imagine how some of the lefties feel.

And the economy is going to stay bad. In fact, it is going to get worse. Something we could have pulled out of within 18 months will last more like three years, at best. And it could, indeed, drag out for most of a decade, if we continue to FDR it up this way.

In short, you are right: We are in trouble. But you know what?—where there’s a will, there’s a way.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

smitty June 3, 2009 at 5:27 am

What’s that Japanese word for radical frugality, the sort that tanks an economy? A quick Google didn’t help.


Darrell June 3, 2009 at 5:48 am

Obama. Profligacy. Also a little beach and the capital of Wakasa in the Ritsury? period. ??

Frugality? Hell no!

Profligacy…n. extravagance, wastefulness; wantonness, licentiousness; degeneracy; promiscuousness, depravity


smitty June 3, 2009 at 6:19 am

Darrell: no, there is a specific Japanese word to describe a sort of Galt-ian ethic, and I cannot remember where I read it.


ironchefoklahoma June 3, 2009 at 7:04 am

Thank you for the links–I’ll have to check them out. It’s difficult to use Japan as a test case. Their culture is much more authority-friendly than ours. And their demographics are leaving them without a workforce for the next generation.

May I ask a question of you and your readers? I, too, am bothered by the gay Arabic and Farsi translator problems. We don’t have anywhere near enough experts to be casting people out. But something doesn’t smell right. Say you’re a speaker of one of those languages. And you’re well-versed enough in their underlying cultures to understand the regional nuances. And you understand the…intolerance…of those cultures to homosexuality. And you’re openly gay.

How likely are you to exist?


Darrell June 3, 2009 at 7:55 am


Parsimony, with a moral notion of thrift.


smitty June 3, 2009 at 8:00 am
Little Miss Attila June 3, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Smitty: Darrell knows everything. And what he doesn’t know, he can find out like *that.* [snaps fingers, and it works out well, the way it does on a dry sort of day when one's hands have no moisture on 'em at all 'cause one forgot to put hand lotion on]

* * *

Iron Chef:

There are a lot of gay linguists, and to native English speakers those are fascinating languages–Arabic in particular.

And, remember: the criterion isn’t being “openly gay.” It’s getting found out; that’s what’s so insidious about the rule–there is still an onus on the gay person to not get “caught.” I KNOW a very patriotic man–very masculine, very discreet about his orientation–who was a translator for the Air Force, but was kicked out. And he’s still center-right, still very patriotic. Not bitter about it. (Well . . . it did mess up his life some. But he remains pro-military–just not in favor of that particular policy.)

I also have a straight male friend who has studied Arabic and traveled in the Arab world–believe me: in some parts it’s just as dangerous for a white male who’s straight to travel as for a white male who’s gay. I imagine that the gays are even more careful, though it could be an even more tempting environment, given the degree of male prostitution in a few of these countries. (Remember: “A camel for practice, a woman for marriage, and a boy for pleasure.”)

One hopes that they are not stupid when travelling, no matter how fetching the young male Arab hookers are.

But getting back to the military, I don’t see any reason that a gay English-speaker with an interest in linguistics wouldn’t want to learn Arabic, and sometimes what determines whether a person becomes fluent is less cultural, and more technical–particularly when it comes to non-Germanic/non-Romance languages. (What I call “the hard ones.” I can’t even seem to learn the easy ones.) For instance: how hard is it for you to make the more challenging sounds of the other language? How hard is it for you to memorize its basic grammatical rules? How good an ear do you have for picking up its speakers’ colloquialisms?

I think THESE issues are more likely to determine whether you attain the required skill level, rather than the issue of how comfortable you’d be in traveling to these countries–or how guarded you’d want to be in what you say.

I mean, I’m an American woman who likes to wear shorts and tank tops. But I’d still love to learn Arabic, if I had any linguistic ability at all. (Other than with English–though Arabic isn’t at the top of my list. For me it would be Dutch, Hungarian, Armenian, Japanese, and Chinese. But I can’t even seem to do French, German, and Spanish.)


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