The hollow men


The deindustrialisation of Japan may be neither as complete nor as damaging as feared.


AT A TIME when the “hollowing out” of Japan’s economy, in train now for three decades, is widely perceived to be accelerating, the country’s industrialists must feel they cannot win. For years they have been accused of being left behind by a fast-changing world. Their risk-averse management, ponderous decision-making and emphasis on market share over profitability have seen them overtaken by nimbler rivals in South Korea and China. In the words of Yuki Kuboshima of Deloitte, a consultancy, Japanese business lost 10-20 years as it embraced globalisation in the markets it did business in, but not in its management.

日本经济的“空心化”如今已持续了三十年,而且人们大都认为这一进程只会愈来愈快。此时此刻,日本的企业家们肯定是心灰意冷,感觉前景渺茫。多年来,人们责怪他们让日本落后于高速增长的世界经济。日本企业家们的风险规避管理方法、呆板的决策方式与市场份额比盈利更重要的观念,使他们被来自韩国与中国的头脑灵活的竞争者们所超越。在德勤会计师事务所工作的久保岛由纪(Yuki Kuboshima)评论说:日本企业热情参与了其业务范围所及的市场全球化进程,但没有以同样的态度投入到全球化市场的管理中。因而日本企业失去了10~20年的发展良机。

Since March 11th last year, however, Japanese firms have been under fire for almost the opposite reason: being too quick to react to the cataclysmic earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown. For this reason, wrote Yoichi Funabashi, a former chief editor of the Asahi Shimbun daily, shortly after the tsunami, senior industrialists were careful not to mention the “C” word (China) when discussing their plans. Fleeing troubles at home by moving production there looked unseemly and unpatriotic.

但自去年3月11日后,日本企业却由于几乎相反的原因而饱受攻击。人们认为在日本经历了灾难性的地震、海啸及其后的核反应堆熔毀事故后,日本企业反应过快。《朝日新闻》前总编辑船桥洋一(Yoichi Funabashi)对此进行了评述。他写道,正是出于这个原因,海啸发生后不久,各企业的高管们在讨论自己企业的下一步行动计划时,都小心翼翼地避免提到“中国”二字。将生产线转移到中国在日本国内会被认为是不合时宜、没有爱国之心的举动,他们担心惹火烧身。

According to Ulrike Schaede, professor of Japanese business at the University of California in San Diego, about one-fifth of Japanese manufacturing already takes place outside Japan. For electronics, the proportion is more than 30%, and for cars just over half. Pessimists fear this process will leave post-industrial devastation in its wake back home. In Japan “industry and employment are on the verge of collapse,” lamented Akio Toyoda, boss of Toyota, a huge carmaker, in May.

乌瑞卡•莎德(Ulrike Schaede)是加州大学圣地亚哥分校的一名专门研究日本经济的教授。据他所述,日本制造的产品中约五分之一是在国外生产的。对电子产品而言,这一比例超过了30%;而汽车则超过了半数。悲观论者们担心,按照这样的趋势发展下去,日本最终将变成后工业化时代的一片废墟。丰田章男(Akio Toyoda)是汽车制造巨头丰田公司的掌门人。他在今年五月哀叹道:“日本的工业与就业正处在崩溃的边缘。”

Industrial decline in Japan has been much less rapid than in some other rich countries. According to OECD data, in 2000-08 manufacturing employment in Japan fell by about one-tenth, compared with about one-fifth in America and a quarter in Britain. Even so, pessimists point out, the former export powerhouse is running persistent monthly trade deficits.


The 2011 disasters intensified the pressures driving Japanese manufacturers overseas. For years the yen’s strength has defied the weakness of the economy. Just after the tsunami, rich-country central banks had to co-ordinate intervention—not to prop the currency up, but to stop its further appreciation. Some economists argue the yen cannot defy gravity for ever. Most businesses, however, have to plan for an indefinite high-wire act.


Takehide Takahashi of the Japan Auto Parts Industries Association (JAPIA), a lobby group, says he has given up hope of a weaker yen. Sony, an electronics giant, has long been globalising production. It says that, by increasing the proportion of its dollar-based costs, it has reduced its sensitivity to dollar-yen movements “essentially to zero”. However, it is harder to shift costs to the euro area, so it loses ¥60 billion ($730m) in operating profit for every one-yen appreciation in the exchange rate with the euro.

日本汽车产业协会(JAPIA)是一个院外活动团体,高桥武英(Takehide Takahashi)是其成员之一。他说自己对日元贬值已经不抱希望了。索尼公司是一家电子产品巨头,这家企业一直在推行生产全球化政策。该公司说,通过增加以美元为基础的成本支出比例,该公司已经将美元对日元汇率波动对公司的影响减小到“接近于零。”然而在欧元区的成本支出方式却很难改变,因而只要日元与欧元交换汇率升值1日元,该公司就会白白损失了600亿日元(7.3亿美元)的毛利润。

The new big worry is electricity. Just before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, nuclear power provided almost 30% of Japan’s electricity, and the government planned to increase that to 50% by 2030. Since last month Japan for the first time in decades has been without any nuclear generation. A reliable supply of relatively cheap electricity can no longer be taken for granted.


The yen and electricity are only two of a long list of worries. There is the risk of another earthquake—especially a long-feared “big one” for Tokyo. A shrinking population means a dwindling domestic market. Corporate taxes are high, and the labour market rigid. And as others race to sign bilateral and regional free-trade arrangements, Japan is largely a spectator.


A number of factors, however, are slowing the rush for the exits. The first is that so much production in the most vulnerable industries has already shifted. Then there is the vexed question of where to move to. China, with the magnetic pull of its huge, fast-growing economy, tops the list. But there are worries about rising Chinese labour costs, the rule of law, the security of intellectual property, a recent economic slowdown and even, with a leadership tussle apparently under way, political stability.


Other favoured countries for Japanese outward investment face troubles of their own. Thailand, one of the most popular destinations, is far from a paragon of stability itself. Moreover, having suffered the agony of the tsunami at home, many Japanese firms then faced supply-chain disruption from floods later in the year in Thailand. Though described as a “once in 50 years” disaster, many fear floods could recur quite a bit sooner.


So for some, keeping production in Japan remains attractive. In May Toyota’s Mr Toyoda promised to keep large facilities in Japan. Masami Doi, a Toyota spokesman, says that of the 9.6m vehicles it will make this year, 3.4m will be made in Japan, with nearly half of them to be exported. Mr Doi insists this is a commercial decision, based on the value of Toyota’s highly skilled Japanese workforce. But Mr Toyoda said carmakers had to work hard to “make Japan healthy and make Japan smile”. That sounds more like a national mission, or, to be cynical, a concern for the brand’s image, than a focus on the bottom line. Other carmakers, however, are less committed to staying at home.

因此对某些人而言,将生产线留在日本还是很有吸引力的。今年五月,丰田公司的丰田章男就许诺将一些大型汽车制造厂留在国内。丰田公司的发言人土居真美(Masami Doi)说:在该公司今年要生产的960万台汽车中,340万台将产自日本。而半数将用于出口。土居真美强调说这完全是基于商业考虑而做出的决定。理由是丰田公司的日本员工技术素质高,能创造更高的价值。但丰田章男说,公司员工必须努力工作,只有这样才能“促进日本经济的健康,使日本人露出笑容。”这番话听起来更像是在背负着一种民族使命;或者可以把这看作一种极端自私的言论,只关心丰田的品牌形象,而不顾底层员工的死活。然而其他汽车制造企业则没有如此“高尚”,他们纷纷将工厂迁往国外。

With neither bang nor whimper


Japan is already uncompetitive in a range of products, from tumble-dryers to DVD players. But optimists argue that it is carving out niches in higher-tech materials, chemicals and components that are then assembled into consumer goods elsewhere. In other words, it is moving up the value chain just as it has always been advised to do. After so many years of trade surpluses, it is disconcerting to lurch into deficit as exports slow and imports—especially of energy—surge. But one reason the yen remains strong is that the current account remains healthily in surplus. That is thanks in large part to flows of income from investments overseas. Hollowing out—shipping jobs overseas, and sending profits home—does have its compensations.




relating to or denoting a violent natural event


2、operating profit  

a gross profit before deduction of expenses


3、value chain 价值链