Fiction? by Billy Hammond

Satomi looked at Satoshi slumped over the kitchen table, snoring in a drunken stupor, with the bottle of cheap shochu lying on it's side - evidence that he'd polished it off before passing out.

She picked up the bottle and noticed that he'd drooled on the table. She took a cloth from the sink and wiped off the pool of spittle on the table. Kosuke came in to check out the refrigerator as she was washing the cloth and asked "Mom, isn't there anything to eat?" She quickly fired back "You can have some ochazuke (rice with tea poured over it). Kosuke grumbled, "I don't want that! Isn't there anything to eat?" Satomi's voice went up an octave as she replied "No, it's that or nothing!" Kosuke sensed that it wasn't a good time to argue and trudged back to his room.

Satomi looked at Satoshi again, sighed and sat down.

"It's been 5 months since he got laid off. He always worked hard at his company and never complained. How could this have happened?"

It had been coming for a long time, but few people had been perceptive enough to see it. Even now, people are just starting to get an inkling of what went wrong.

Postwar Japan had created a generation of workers that believed that hard work and perseverance were the only assets Japan had to get ahead. Hard work was often used in place of the laborsaving machinery which companies couldn't purchase. Step by step, the perseverance of this generation paid off and companies prospered. Japan's government also grew in tempo with this new prosperity.

As Japan grew, the United States went through growth pains on its way towards creating a business society in which efficiency and profitability became the base of all corporate efforts. While this was occurring, Japanese corporations became very visible as they went on spending sprees, buying up property in the U.S., setting up branch offices and establishing a presence in the U.S. in general.

The U.S. government became concerned about this activity and worried that the Japanese would become the world's top economic power. In 1980, a think tank in Washington put the problem before it's best Japan experts and a plan to weaken the Japanese economy was formed.

The think tank surmised that the Japanese liked foreign things - especially things that were felt to be American. The nucleus of the plan involved using this trait to bring down the Japanese economy. U.S. government leaders would be required to point out that the Japanese had to function in an international society. The people's lifestyles had to become more international, beginning with the shortening of the long workweeks.

The first point of attack would have to be the long workweeks, because the experts knew that Japanese companies often used the hours on weekends to promote solidarity and links to the company through company sponsored activities. A reduction of daily work hours would also have the effect of getting workers out of the office and away from after-work company meetings and gatherings which served to help keep the company structures oiled and functioning smoothly. This would be the start of the end and the beginning of American control of Japan.

Once the workers had been given more hours of their own time, U.S. leaders would put pressure on Japan to increase people's spending on leisure and recreation activities. This would serve to further weaken corporate structures, as workers demanded more time for themselves to enjoy their newfound pursuits. It would also subconsciously reinforce the "me" thinking which was foreign to Japanese at the time, and serve to aid in disrupting society later.

Efforts would be made to show the American lifestyle as one where workers worked short workweeks, made attractive salaries, and enjoyed leisure activities and recreation - putting fun and family before all else. Advertising would be directed to this end to further instill the idea in the Japanese worker's minds and to further discontent regarding company control, long workdays and workweeks.

Wages would increase as workers latched on to this "me first" thinking to help pay for their increased leisure activities and the increases would serve to weaken companies even more as they paid more for less work. People would get lazy and increase their demands for "more pay for less work" with more company benefits. Companies would have trouble implementing plans because their workers would no longer be organization centered.

The school system, which had produced a high rate of literacy in postwar Japan, would also eventually have to be taken apart. This would be accomplished by the Japanese themselves as they pushed towards shorter workweeks and by the depression which would result in the later phase of the plan. A shorter workweek in the workplace would not go unnoticed by Japan's teachers who would invariably demand the same for themselves.

Phase II of the plan would attack the fortress of economic power - the Japanese banks, then the strongest in the world. The Japanese banking system would be presented and held up to be unfair, antiquated, and in need of coming up to speed "internationally". U.S. leaders would apply pressure on Japan to bring about reforms in its banking system to bring down the economy. Other nations would also be asked to criticize the Japanese banking system in efforts to get Japanese bankers to "internationalize" their banking structures and policies.

Of course, there was no real need for the Japanese to do this because their banks were solvent and prospering. However, the merits of success would be enormous if the Japanese were stupid enough to fall for this tactic and actually introduce a Western-style banking system. Property values would automatically fall as banks tried to increase and retain capital by tightening up lending. The tight money market would hit businesses and create a decrease in spending on homes and buildings, increasing the supply over the demand, and thereby accelerating the devaluation of property values. In effect this would reduce the value of properties held as collateral by the banks, and serve to weaken the banks further at a faster rate. As the banks scrambled to increase capital they would stop lending to businesses that depended on them for credit. This alone would cause the failure of many small and medium-sized businesses.

When the banks failed, the experts reasoned that the battle would be halfway won. Japan's quest for internationalization would be her downfall.

Once the Japanese banks were set into a declining spiral, the government would be forced to step in. The think tank experts knew of the slowness of the Japanese political system and the ineptness of Japan's politicians and guessed that moves to counteract the problems would never be enacted in time to save the system.

Political greed helped advance the downfall even more when Japanese politicians introduced a national sales tax of 3% under the guise of requiring funds to create a safety net for the elderly (for which, of course, the funds were never used). To the glee of the experts, the Japanese politicians even went so far as to increase the tax during a time of economic uncertainty to 5%. This move was far more than the experts had ever hoped for. When it was announced there was a party held at the think tank to celebrate the move, for everyone knew that Japanese consumers were, by nature, some of the most cautious spenders in the world when things seem to be uncertain.

Spending would decrease, and businesses would fold as inventories bulged. There would be a short period of deflation as companies reduced prices in efforts to get consumers to buy goods. Profits would shrink as companies sold stock below cost. Food prices would increase as supermarkets increased margins on the one commodity people need to survive. Inflation would follow in other sectors later on as fewer manufacturers would be left to fill orders as goods became depleted later in the depression which would follow.

The resulting depression would have the added advantage of ripping apart the Japanese distribution system which had kept U.S. products out of Japanese markets for so long. First, the wholesalers would go bankrupt as retailers sought to go direct to the manufacturers to reduce costs and survive. Reduced consumption would wipe out factories, as orders became too small to enable companies to survive profitably.

The cooling down of consumer spending would be helped by the depression which would be bound to increase the people's uncertainty as companies closed and joblessness rose. The jobless rate would increase to proportions Japan had never seen and create a very hungry workforce desperate for jobs. Wages would decrease as competition for what few jobs remained increased. Companies would be forced to lay off workers in desperate attempts to survive, ending the old system of lifetime employment. Parents and young people would begin to question the value of education in getting a job, furthering declines in higher education.

Land prices would fall as the depression increased in severity and buildings would be vacant as a result of bankruptcies. American companies could then take advantage of the reduced land prices to come in and buy buildings at will. Literate workers could be had for wages equal to those of an underdeveloped country. It would be the beginning of America's Great Purchase. Japanese people would live in their country, but they wouldn't own much of it anymore.

And the funniest thing of all was that the Japanese would bring it on themselves, by themselves!

Poor Satomi, this was planned long ago when you were still a child...

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Copyright 1999. Billy Hammond. First published in the A.E.L.S. newsletter.