What it Means to Take Japan Seriously
My starting point - and surely the starting point of anyone invited to tackle my theme - is a simple correlation. If one looks at the countries east of the Malacca Straits - or east of Suez, for that matter - all of those economies which can be described as ‘of Confucian culture’ have experienced sustained periods of rapid economic growth - at rates of 10 per cent a year or more -and all the other countries have not, though among them the two which have large populations of ‘Confucian’ origin - Thailand and Malaysia - have done better than the others. The contrast seems clear; the correlation seems too good to be ascribed to chance. One is moved to postulate some common ingredient, some causal x, which accounts for the correlation. It is clear that x is not some characteristic of political systems since the striking thing about the correlation is that the ‘sustained growth’ countries have included North Korea in the 1960s and China in the 1980s, both under systems of government self-described as Communist, as well as the free market economy of colonial Hong Kong, and the more or less free market economies of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. That is not to say, of course, that political systems have been irrelevant. Far from it. The realization of whatever it is which constitutes the growth potential of these societies clearly requires certain political preconditions. ‘Peace, good government and the regular collection of taxes’ was Adam Smith’s recipe...
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