Going against the current enthusiasm for a national industrial policy, a leading economic expert on Japan yesterday disputed the "lazy logic" that says America should follow the Japanese model to boost its economy and increase its international competitiveness.
"Japan's experience gives small support to proponents of an industrial policy for the nation," Philip H. Trezise, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the National Economist Club.
"It is possible, I suppose, to find in Japan the existence of a coherent, selective industrial policy. I believe, however, that to do so is an act of faith, not a realistic assessment of Japanese economic life," continued Trezise, former economic minister in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and an assistant secretary of State for economic affairs.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Robert Strauss, former U.S. Trade Representative, predicted that voters would back a presidential candidate who made industrial policy a centerpiece of his campaign. The Democrats hope to use the proposal as a 1984 campaign issue against the Reagan administration. The White House, however, has declared its opposition to an industrial policy.
At the same hearing of the House Banking Committee's economic stabilization subcommittee, professors Bruce R. Scott of Harvard Business School and John Zysman of the University of California at Berkeley also backed a national industrial policy.
In his talk, Trezise said making industrial policy a potential campaign issue illustrates "the sorry state of political debate in our country."
Pointing out that most supporters do not know what industrial policy means, what it could do or what it might cost, Trezise called it "little more than a pair of words . . . being offered as a serious response to our economic confoundments."
Trezise challenged analyses that use Japan's economic successes as a rationale for the United States adopting an industrial policy. He said a close look at the Japanese experience shows that most of the public support goes to failing industries such as textiles and agriculture rather than the emerging sectors.
Like any other democracy, "Japan protects the weak and noisy," he said.
Furthermore, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and In dustry has had failures as well as successes. For instance, MITI wanted to merge the Japanese auto industry into two giant companies, and it tried to prevent Honda--one of Japan's great successes--from making cars, Trezise said.
He added that Japan's research and development funding is modest and not targeted, as many Americans charge, at promising industries that can boost Japanese exports. There are special tax credits for industries, he continued, "but I would defy anyone to find in it an emphasis on enhancing international competitive advantage."
In his congressional testimony, however, Zysman asserted that countries such as Japan "have visibly intervened" to reshape their economies. He described "a web of policies" that "allowed the government to play the twin roles of gatekeeper between the domestic and international economy and promoter within the domestic economy."