PACIFIC RIFT by Michael Lewis


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An inquiry into sociological divergences that, for all its apparent artlessness and deceptive brevity, goes a long way toward explaining precisely what strains the commercial ties that still bind the US and Japan. With his customary acuity, Lewis (Liar's Poker, The Money Culture) focuses on two businessmen--front-line troops in the trade war now raging between the two economic superpowers. One is an insurance executive from the Midwest who worked in Tokyo for nearly two decades; the other, a Harvard-educated Japanese now based in N.Y.C., where he looks after the real-estate interests of a major zaibatsu (corporate alliance). From the expatriate American, Lewis learns a lot about the intricate web of politico-mercantile relationships that help preserve the status quo--and discourage genuine competition--in the island nation's domestic markets. Likewise, the Manhattanite pro tern offers insights on his countryman's yen to gain prestige and avoid conspicuous failure, traits that clarify the willingness of Japanese enterprise to make high-profile investments in properties (like Rockefeller Center) that afford little in the way of financial returns. The Japanese also argues that 1960's liberalism cost the US its capacity to vie on an equal footing with Japan's latter-day organization men. On a recent trip to Tokyo, Lewis discovered to his surprise that the journalist who broke the Recruit-scandal story, which forced the resignation of a prime minister, became neither rich nor famous. The object lesson in this outcome, at least for the author's Japanese sources, is that Americans are preoccupied with earning money and/or preferment in the short run, not in doing the right thing. Be that as it may, Lewis concludes that the Japanese are not just like us, and that their formidable economic system reflects these cultural differences. A gifted annalist's appreciation of why ""East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1992
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Norton