Miyazawa Miasma

February 04, 1992

It is premature to make Kiichi Miyazawa a household name in America. He has been prime minister of Japan for three months, but may not be much longer.

As Mr. Miyazawa told the Diet on Monday, his government's popularity has been hit because his friend Fumio Abe, former fund-raiser for Mr. Miyazawa's faction of the Liberal Democratic Party, was indicted Saturday on charges of having taken bribes from a property developer while regional development minister. A Socialist opponent said Mr. Miyazawa's real problem is his own unexplained connection to the Recruit Company scandal, when he stepped down as finance minister in 1988. Sounds just like a Socialist.

Prime Minister Miyazawa is caught between two superpowers: Japanese big business and the United States. His politics must be to appease one, his diplomacy to placate the latter. It cannot be done simultaneously.

So Mr. Miyazawa was fair game at the Diet budget committee when former trade and industry minister Kabun Muto said American workers party too hard on weekends to make good cars on Mondays and Fridays. Mr. Muto was not attacking American workers but American managements. He said American workers work well enough for Japanese managements.

That's when Mr. Miyazawa got off his corker: "I have long thought that they lack a work ethic." That's what the shouting is about. He also said too many American college graduates land high-paying jobs on Wall Street and too few become engineers able to make products. (Do you disagree?)

A new book by a Harvard University economist, Juliet B. Schor, repudiates the laziness rap. It is called "The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure." A survey of Japanese workers by Mr. Miyazawa's own office says the same thing about them: 62.8 percent of Japanese feel they do not exercise enough and many feel overstressed in their 30s and 40s and tired in their 50s. What they need, it would seem, is to lighten up.

Well, Mr. Miyazawa is tactless. Shame on him. This is open season to run against him in New Hampshire, so go ahead, folks. It's like the moose season in Maine. (The moose is a very large target that does not evade the hunter.) Mr. Miyazawa doesn't mind getting bashed in New Hampshire. He just doesn't want to get bashed in the Diet, and what he said about American workers won't hurt him there.

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