Remember years ago when comedians, talk show hosts, actors and the general public would joke about things being "Made in Japan?" The quips were then followed by hearty laughter and head-shaking as they referred to the fact that a particular product was cheap or otherwise inferior to something made here in the good ol' U.S.A.
Today, however, the joke is on Uncle Sam, as the Japanese have forged ahead in production ingenuity and worker motivation strategies. Ironically, the Japanese could be using that joke in reverse for American products. Imagine for a moment a Japanese T.V. "sitcom" in which a husband comes home with a clock radio and presents it to his wife, whereupon she reads the label, "made in A-M-E-R-I-C-A." The audience laughs hysterically...
This situation seems hardly extraordinary when you consider the dramatic changes in our lives precipitated by foreign goods. The mass invasion of Japanese "quality" goods has produced a vicious cycle in our ever decaying economy; and contributed to an unmotivated, depressed American work force. The more Japanese goods are introduced with innovative technology and marketing strategies, the greater the consumption. This reduces the demand for American products, slowing production, and increasing the demand for goods of various types that the Japanese (and other foreign sources) can produce more economically and abundantly than Americans.
So... You awaken to your favorite song courtesy of a Japanese clock-radio, prepare breakfast in your Japanese micro-wave oven, jump into your Honda, Nissan or Toyota and assume your role as family provider, which may just entail operating a computer, courtesy of Japan. In fact, the pencils you use during the course of a day may have been imported! Even some of our hallmark traditions have gone abroad. Several years ago, a Japanese company, Kawasaki, was commissioned through the Metropolitan Transit Authority to build, ship and partially finance railroad subway cars, with the ultimate intent of replacing the (then) twenty five year-old American antiques which transport New Yorkers daily. Imagine for a moment a four-wheel drive subway car that gets 50 mpg "city"; 75 mpg "railroad" (Your mileage may vary with terrain and length of the train). And safety: Soon you could see Samurai police guards at every stop!
Another tradition, the Holiday Season is upon us. During the forthcoming weeks, one can browse through the stores and discover that many potential gifts which, perhaps, were once manufactured by Americans in the U.S.A., are now either assembled here with imported parts or imported completely assembled from Japan and other foreign countries. Games, toys, computers, computer accessories, computer components, entertainment systems, clothing, sports equipment, recreational vehicles...Whew! Unfortunately, the effects of an already depressed economy cut much deeper during this time of the year. There have been many layoffs; many "voluntary" retirements (sort of the way someone might "volunteer" to parachute from a burning aircraft). This will undoubtedly reduce the amount of income available for the purchase of holiday gifts. So now what? Give up? Create a lot of internal pictures of what will not be there this holiday and then allow yourself to feel, "disappointed?" Or fight back!
Use your creative resources-- those abilities from your personal history that have enabled you to achieve successfully at times-- to provide a pleasant and rewarding holiday experience. Purchase what you can, create what you cannot, find temporary additional sources of income. The greater your flexibility, the more you will achieve success. In fact, flexibility-- increased choices-- may provide answers on a much larger scale. It is certainly possible for Americans to legislate cumbersome policies and procedures that limit imports, making it economically more feasible to purchase American goods. But how long can you keep your finger in the dike before it breaks? Another choice is for the American worker to become motivated and spite the Japanese with creative ingenuity! After all, they did it; so did we, for centuries! In an economic world, change is the only constant. So if you are among those Americans lamenting the current state of affairs, think beyond treading water. Consider the long-term effects-- as foreign workers often do-- of contributing to the design or manufacture of something novel, and of sufficient quality to turn things around. I wonder how this column would appear in Japanese?