IF OUR RESPONSE to criticism of this country's work ethic is simply to get mad, we will undoubtedly misdirect our energy and rage at the Japanese competitive challenge, rather than meet it. Our challenge is not to look at ourselves through the imperfect prism of Japanese criticism, but to find ways to work smarter.
Without getting hung up on what the Japanese prime minister said, isn't it true that we are producing too few engineers and basic research scientists and too many lawyers and accountants and MBAs? Have we really mastered all there is to learn from the Japanese-inspired rethinking of business management techniques? Aren't too many of our companies still based on the old mindless industrial model, rather than a collaborative approach? Aren't we neglecting long-term investment in research and development capacity and in infrastructure, and didn't the president's State of the Union speech carry this pattern to new extremes? Don't our schools, especially the K-12 system, still leave too much to chance on science and math education?
Trade policies are important to us, and we need to be tough-minded, albeit not protectionist, as we try to sell to the Japanese as well as buy from them. But if Japan eliminated every barrier to every segment of the Japanese market tomorrow, we would still have miles to go before we could sleep. America's real challenge is to make sure our basic industries survive by assuring that they become the best in the world and that Americans who are willing to work hard and smart get the tools to show that they are the best.