What if Japan really is No. 1?

Clyde Prestowitz

In 1979, Harvard professor and East Asia expert Ezra Vogel published Japan as Number One, a book that not only became an influential bestseller in the United States but also raced to the top of the all-time nonfiction bestseller list in Japan.

Appearing at a moment when Japan’s economy was surging with a 10 percent annual growth rate and when Japanese auto, steel, textile, electronics, and semiconductor producers were decimating their U.S. competitors and garnering huge shares of the U.S. market, the book was a wake-up call for Americans. It demonstrated how the close cooperation between industry and government known as Japan, Inc. had many advantages over the more laissez-faire, adversarial U.S. economic system. Although the title was meant metaphorically rather than literally, Vogel did suggest that without significant changes in U.S. policies and practices, Japan would become the dominant leader in a wide range of key industries and technologies.

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