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New Left Review I/46, November-December 1967


Hide Ishiguro

On ‘Japan—Asian Capitalism’

Hide Ishiguro writes: There are two or three things in Jon Halliday’s interesting article on Japan which require comment.

(1) He writes that the efficiency of the Japanese economy ‘depends massively on exploitation’. I have no wish to defend exploitation in Japan or anywhere else, but it may be important to remind your readers how the situation in Japan compares with that in Britain. I make the point because when the Left writes of exploitation in Britain it is going against the widespread view that the workers have ‘never had it so good’, whereas when the Left makes the same criticism of Japan, it is supporting the traditional right-wing view in Europe that it is only economic exploitation and cheap labour which makes Japan competitive. For instance: (a) There is much less concentration in private hands of industrial wealth in Japan than in Britain, and the problem of growing monopoly in Japan has nothing to do with that of concentrated private ownership. For example in the biggest of the Zaibatsu—the Mitsui group, which ranges from banks, shipbuilding and oil, to chemicals, etc—the shares owned by the Mitsui family are negligible, accounting for less than 1 per cent. Even in Matsushita Electric Equipments, the family firm par excellence, Matsushita holds no more than 5 per cent of the shares. (b) Disparity between the earnings of high, and low income groups is not, it would seem, greater in Japan than in Britain. In an average big industry the basic salary of a director would be about three times the wage of an office clerk or skilled worker in his thirties in the same firm; that of a University Professor who is head of a department about twice that of a lecturer of thirty. (There are, of course, enormous privileges in the form of expense accounts for business.) (c) The growth rate of the Japanese economy in the post-war years is surely related to some extent to its level of defence expenditure, which is one of the lowest in the world? In 1965, Japan spent only 1·39 per cent of its gnp on defence (7·9 per cent of the national budget, which in turn was 17·3 per cent of gnp).

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Hide Ishiguro, ‘On 'Japan--Asian Capitalism'’, NLR I/46: £3
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