Bashing takes a backseat to self-criticism

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Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

"To ask whether Japan plays fair is the wrong question. America's unique sense of fairness is not shared by the rest of the world. Japan's way of doing business is more relevant and effective [in today's international marketplace]."

-- James Morgan, chairman of Applied Materials Inc.

Agree 70% Disagree 30%

Given the current state of this country's economy and the prevailing sentiment toward Japan, this is a surprising response. You had every opportunity to turn this into a Japan-bashing fest, but most of you agreed that the time for griping and groaning is past. It's time to take action. "Casting blame and pointing fingers will not get America ahead. Focusing on goals and working toward solutions in a global environment will."

In what areas would you say Japan does a better job than the United States?

Manufacturing 72%

Education 67%

Management 49%

Research and development 43%

Customer service 32%

Innovation 28%

Banking/finance 27%

Services 16%

To what would you attribute Japanese economic success in the postwar era?

Government-industry collaboration 47%

Superior work ethic 37%

Superior educational system 35%

Decrease in U.S. competitiveness 35%

Cultural emphasis on group effort 31%

Greater emphasis on research, 30%

technology, and manufacturing

Exclusion of foreign competitors 29%

from domestic markets

Superior management philosophy 24%

Imitating U.S. ideas 20%

Japanese import restrictions 17%

The overall perception here seems to be that the Japanese are far better at executing than we are -- resulting in better quality and efficiency -- but are still not up to U.S. standards of innovation and customer service. There is some feeling that Japan absconded with our innovations and technology and used its superior manufacturing capabilities to capitalize on them: "We did all the R&D and then dropped the ball." "We sold out our businesses and technology for short-term profit."

How did Japan gain so many advantages? The strong undercurrent of opinion says the Japanese government is a far more effective business partner than the U.S. government, cultivating Japanese industry and strictly regulating the competition. The next-biggest advantage in the minds of most of you? The Japanese cultural predisposition to excellence as expressed by the country's emphasis on education, a strong work ethic, and group effort. "Americans are too concerned about how many days there are until the weekend."

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You think the U.S. trade deficit with Japan is . . .

Primarily the United States' fault 25%

A mix of both, but more the United States' fault 58%
Primarily Japan's fault 3%

A mix of both, but more Japan's fault 14%

Respondents clearly think we must accept responsibility for our skewed trade relationship with Japan, though where we went wrong is less clear. Is American arrogance the root cause, as some suggest, or are we simply being beaten at some of the fundamental games of business: quality control ("Our products haven't improved as fast as theirs have"); financial policies ("The United States is living beyond its means"); and long-term planning ("We make quick-buck, short-term decisions")?

Many who thought Japan is at least partly responsible for the trade deficit cited Japanese import restrictions and Japanese interference with U.S. trade policies as causes. But most of the blame fell on the United States: "We've allowed Japan power in our government and in trade that it would never allow us."

What should be done? Only 29% thought all trade restrictions on both sides should be removed. Most (61%) said our long-term policy should encompass limited restrictions and the goal of mutual interdependence. A small minority (8%) called for full-blown protectionism.

With this poll we included a true/false quiz, and the majority answered four out of the five questions correctly. For the record: the U.S.-Japan trade gap has narrowed by nearly $14 billion over the past five years; in 1991 U.S. companies shipped roughly $48 billion worth of goods to Japan, second only to what they shipped to Canada; and the productivity of the average U.S. worker has more than doubled since 1948. [Correct answers appear in bold.]

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True or false: T F

Since 1987, the U.S.-Japan

trade gap has increased 62% 38%

Japan is the second-largest

U.S. export market 51% 49%

True or false: T F

The average Japanese works

about 225 more hours per

year than the average American 81% 19%

The productivity of the average

U.S. worker has decreased

since 1948 39% 61%

The U.S. Treasury relies

heavily on Japan to finance

our national debt 64% 36%

-- Christopher Caggiano