The fundamental problem of Japan

“To me the fundamental problem Japan faces now is not the aging population or anything like that; the country needs a political system with the capacity to respond to effectively to problems in a long-term way. I think there was an elite community of talented people who, through the 70s provided coherence in planning for the future. This coherence ended in the 90s, when there was a collapse of parties. Japan hasn’t built the right political system to put things back together again.”

Ezra F. Vogel, “What happened to number one?” in Reimagining Japan



Ezra Vogel is a professor emiritus in Sociology at Harvard.

Reimagining Japan is a thick book (mainly because of its good quality glossy paper) edited by McKinsey, compiling articles from various influential figures.

I would also add that books written by huge consulting firms need to be taken with a pinch of salt, as they are often written with the intention of profiling their own clients and companies (and we often do not know who these clients are!). But since this is a compilation, I think each piece should be somewhat more credible.


The creativity-autocracy trade-off

The problem for Lee was that his aim of keeping the elite ever-young and creative conflicted with his natural propensity towards autocratic behaviour and surrounding himself with yes men.

Michael Barr, Ruling elite of Singapore

For the record, the opinion expressed above is not my own, but that of an Australian academic. It postulates that there is a trade-off between having yes men and having creativity.

The elite losing its creativity

Toynbee explained civilisational change through a theory of challenge and response, which posited that an established elite eventually loses its ‘creativity’ and then its end comes sooner or later because it begins meeting challenges to which it cannot adapt and with which it cannot cope.

Michael D. Barr, Ruling elite of Singapore


I think this book is not available in Singapore?

For the record, I disagree with the statement above — as long as we maintain a scholarship channel that develops young talent by exposing them to an overseas education.