Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Japanese Experience

Click To See Larger Chart
I don't know if people are aware of the story, but there is a particular reason Japanese auto imports grew to dominate the North American industry.  The single biggest reason, in my opinion, was product.  They made a better car for less, and targeted the entry level buyer.  Their target market was key, since they were limited by North American quotas at the time.  Why target the lower-priced entry level when they could have tried to go after the higher-end, more expensive category?  After all, that is what the North American car makers would do, and they did - SUV, gas guzzlers anyone?

No, the Japanese were smarter than that, or were they?  The answer is yes, and no.  The Japanese learned from their own experience that customer loyalty was important.  Satisfied customers tended to buy again from the same company.  Not only did they buy from the same company, they tended to trade up, as well.  After paying off their first car, they tended to buy a more expensive one the next time.  If Japanese customers did so, what made them believe the U.S. customers would do the same?  Demographics, plain and simple.  With an older average Japanese population, it was expected the North American population would follow a pattern similar to that of the Japanese consumer.  And it did.  Brilliant, yes; original, no.

Same Old Same Old
Now, the question is, are we going to learn from the Japanese experience.  I don't mean their auto industry, but their economy.  Sure, there are some fundamental differences in the Japanese and U.S. economies, but let's take a look at Japan over the last two decades.  Their problems really began in the late 1980's.  There were a number of banks misbehaving, and a housing bubble that burst (sound familiar?)  For much of the last two decades, Japan has been trying to stimulate itself out of recession.  The central bank continues to buy government bonds to provide liquidity to the government, and the economy.

Is it working?  By all accounts, Japan's economic course is unsustainable.  While growth has never  recovered, to any great extent, the government debt continues to rise.  The last data point in the chart above was 2008.  Their debt level as a percentage of GDP has only increased since then.

No, we have tried giving our money to the rich (one percent) with the expectation of jobs, in return.  Clearly that didn't work.  So whose idea do you think it was in the first place?  Now, we are being asked to believe that when it comes to governments, we can borrow our way around the trouble caused by, among other things, too much government debt from bailing out some of the richest corporations on the planet.  And whose idea do you think that was, and is?

Micro Economics
We need to do as they say, and not as they do.  We need to live within our means, and concentrate during these difficult times on reducing debt, and not just maintaining the status quo.  For you and I, reducing expenses is easier than increasing revenues, although we could all use some additional investment income.  The Japanese experience should teach us it is going to take a very long time before things actually begin to start to get a whole lot better!

Do you think we will learn from history?

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