ANOTHER tremor of uneasiness will run through this country as a gigantic American entertainment company, MCA Inc., is taken over by an even more gigantic Japanese conglomerate. The buyer, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., is the second Japanese firm to buy a major American movie maker; Sony Corp. took over Columbia Pictures last year. How much uneasiness is justified?
The first concern is foreign influence over American popular culture. A movie studio is arguably very different from a tire manufacturing company or a hotel chain -- other recent Japanese acquisitions. Movies are powerful conveyors of attitudes and impressions, and there's always a possibility that a foreign owner might try to use the studio for national advantage.
But as possibilities go, that's pretty remote. The United States has had a lot of experience with foreign investment in sensitive areas, and it's hard to think of examples of a foreign owner exercising that kind of influence successfully. Any attempt to try it would risk wrecking the American subsidiary's reputation -- and profitability.
That raises another concern: Can a Japanese parent, imbued with an utterly different view of the world, successfully run any operation as freewheeling and un-Japanese as a Hollywood studio? That's not entirely a private matterfor the stockholders. The entertainment in-dustry is an important part of the American economy.
Beyond those questions lies a range of anxieties about foreign ownership in general. It's a lot easier for Japanese investors to buy a company here than for Americans to reciprocate. Buta lot of the doubts here are visceral. Americans are more accustomed to owning companies abroad than to having foreigners own them here. The balance swung last year, and now foreigners have more dollars directly invested in companies in the United States than Americans have abroad.
In one crucial respect, anyway, that's excellent. Foreigners have earned hundreds of billions of dollars through the enormous American trade deficits of the past nine years, and it's good for the economy that they are investing them here in productive enterprises. Having lived well through the 1980s on money borrowed from abroad, Americans are in a poor position to complain when some of the lenders cash in those debts for eye-catching assets like Rockefeller Center, or Columbia Pictures or MCA.
But if Americans think that the surge of foreign ownership has gone far enough, they have a remedy at hand. It requires them to spend a little less, save a little more and eliminate that foreign trade deficit. As the world becomes more closely knit together, companies will continue to buy and sell each other across national boundaries. But with the trade deficit eliminated, foreign ownership here would no longer grow faster than American ownership abroad.