What we have learned in the last 40 years.
By Shun Daichi (=Saburo Hatano)
My first impression of Thailand, from 40 years ago, was that it was a place where you can relax, for Thailand is a safe place and the people are always smiling and very worshipful of Buddha.
It was safe to leave expensive cameras and other stuff in a hotel room; even cash left in the room was untouched.
Since then I have visited Thailand more than 200 times, and in that time, I have been caught up in at least two military coups. During those times soldiers were everywhere throughout Bangkok. When the Yellow Shirts occupied the International airport a few years ago, I had just left BKK the day before.
So I know that the Thai people are not just smiling but also capable of fighting too.
Forty years ago, the Thai people initiated the Anti-Japanese Goods Movement, but today we do not find anti-Japanese feelings here. After 40 years we have built a good relationship.
Forty years ago, as a journalist I covered the Anti-Japanese Goods Movement and sent articles to a Japanese business magazine. I had stimulating discussions with young lecturers at Chulalongkorn University and anti-Japanese activists.
At that time we came to two conclusions.
One: Western-style Capitalism is imperialistic. Japan should not follow the Western way. At the same time, it is Thailand’s responsibility to protect your people from Western-style exploitative capitalism. We concluded that we should come up with an Asian-style capitalism different from the Western way.
Two: It should be the national policy of Japan to making Asia countries prosperous so that Japan can better sell its products in Asia.
The second conclusion has become reality. However, it came about by chance and not through Japanese national policy.
The first conclusion has not yet come about. We are still engaged in Western colonial-style capitalism, and at the same time we still do not know what is Asian-style capitalism.
The Rise of the Plutocrats
After 40 years, Western-style capitalism has expanded globally, especially after the disintegration of communist ideals and societies. However, we have a new problem that may bring back the idea of communism.
The rise of the new global super rich and the fall of everyone else is a serious problem today. Plutocrats are coming to dominate the world while the rest of us are becoming servants to them.
l In the 1970s, the top 1% of earners in the U.S. received about 10% of the national income. Thirty-five years later, the top 1% made nearly a third of the national income.
l In 2005, Bill Gates was worth $46.5 billion and Warren Buffett $44 billion. In the same year, the combined wealth of the 120 million people who made up the bottom 40% of the U.S. population was $95 billion—barely more than the sum of the fortunes of these two men.
l In 1980, the average U.S. CEO made 42 times as much as the average worker. By 2012, that ratio had skyrocketed to 380.
l During America’s economic recovery in 2009-2010, 93% of the gains were captured by the top 1%. For 99% of the Americans, income increased a mere 0.2%. It was definitely a recovery for the 1%.
l In the mighty Middle Kingdom of communist China, income inequality is now higher than it is in the U.S.
l The dominance of the plutocrats is a global phenomenon, not just in the U.S.
According to UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, income inequality of the US today is as bad as it had been in the 1920s.
As far as income inequality is concerned, we may be heading back to the 19th Century.
So what is really happening in this world?
I think we all remember the Occupy Wall Street movement of last year in the US.
Will there be an Occupy Silom Movement or Occupy Marunouchi Movement to come?
Scholars say that the biggest winners are bankers.
Do bankers have unjustified privileges? Are they playing unfairly?
I think so.
One of my big concerns is a role of the Fed— the U.S. Federal Reserve Board—and the banks. Unlike the Bank of Japan, the Fed is a privately-owned company. The Fed works for the interest of international bankers, not for the American people. 55% of the Bank of Japan belongs to the Japanese government; however, in the US, the Fed is owned by international bankers. Are those moneychangers the roots of the Imperialistic Capitalism of the West? It could be so.
Forty years ago we despised Western-style Imperialistic Capitalism. Unfortunately we are still living in the same type of society. We are living in a winner-take-all economy. Do we, as Asians, want this kind of society? What kind of capitalism do we want?
Well, Asian-style capitalism should be a “People-Friendly Capitalism”. Asians despise colonialism. We prefer coexistence and co-prosperity. I hope we can achieve that.
In Japan, “A Man Called Pirate”, a book on the entrepreneur Sazou Idemitsu is now the number one bestseller. The founder of Idemitsu Oil Company, he had a unique managing style. He treated all his employees like members of his family.
This may be the way we Asians should manage our businesses. He is a good example of our “People-Friendly Capitalism”.
United States of Thailand & Japan
I have visited Thailand more than 200 times in the past 40 years, and have come to believe that we should build an “United States of Thailand & Japan”.
With no borders in the USTJ, Thais can travel to Japan without needing visas. Japanese can live in Thailand with no need for visas. Other matters, we will have to negotiate.
Japan needs to open up our society anyway to stimulate the minds of the people. One of the reasons Japan is stagnating now is that we have a stable and closed affluent society. We need immigrants to stimulate our society.
One of the reasons the US is so innovative and creative is the fact that they have been revitalized by newcomers, by immigrants. This year, Germany will accept 1 million immigrants from Spain, Greece and other European regions. Why does Japan not do the same?
Historically, Japan is a nation of immigrants. If we accept immigrants from other countries, the Thai people would be the best choice for us.
We are so different in many ways:
○ Thailand is a land of freedom; Japan is a land of control.
○ Many Japanese expatriates told me that when they arrive in Thailand they are able to take off the masks they wear. In Thailand, they can live as themselves, which they cannot do in Japan.
○ Thai people are individualistic; Japanese are group-oriented.
○ Thailand is rich in agriculture. Agriculture in Japan is almost extinct.
○ Big floods in Thailand two years ago showed that Japanese companies need the skilled workers of Thailand.
○ Japanese are like hard trees, and when strong winds blow against us we tend to break. Thai people have proved to be more flexible, able to bend like a willow tree.
We have some things in common too:
○ Thailand is a land of smiles. Japan strives for harmony in our society.
○ Our countries are both mostly Buddhist.
So I think we can complement each other so well that we should establish the United States of Thailand and Japan as soon as possible.
Lastly, I want to comment on Japan’s historical mistakes.
After the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese were successful in Westernizing its society to counter threats from the Imperial West. We built up the military and economy by copying the West. It was so successful, however, that in the process we forgot the important fact that the Japanese are Asians.
As Arnold Toynbee said, “The Europeans are the most competitive people on our planet.” Asians are different. The Thai people are known for their gracefulness and have welcomed immigrants to their land. The original Japanese, called the Jomon, had been living in the islands of Japan since 12,000 years ago. Recent archeology has shown that the Jomon were a peace-loving people and mixed peacefully with immigrants.
Most Asians have been rice farmers for a long time. Rice farmers have to work closely with their neighbors for harvesting and to maintain the water supply. Rice farmers need a harmonious society. We have a different mind set from, say, deer hunters.
During World War II, the Japanese fought against the Imperial West. However, Japan became Imperialist as well. It became a war of Imperialists against Imperialists. That was wrong. We should have remained with our own set of values as Asians. We blindly copied the Imperialism of the West; that must be our “War Guilt”.
We made the same mistake again after World War II.
We were successful in business, copying the Western winner-take-all style.
When the Japanese have copied the West, we copy them blindly. That was not right, and it will never be right. We should be original, and as true Asians we should seek to exist peacefully and achieve affluence together with our neighbors.
I hope all of us will come to the conclusion that, after 40 years of contemplation, we Asians should initiate and establish “People-Friendly Capitalism” around the world.□