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The Fable of the Keiretsu: Urban Legends of the Japanese Economy

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ISBN-13: 978-0226532707
ISBN-10: 0226532704
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Editorial Reviews


“In this sparkling tour de force, Miwa and Ramseyer drive a final stake through the heart of that venerable vampire, the keiretsu. Fearlessly criticizing almost everyone who has previously written on this subject, they clear away the thicket of nonsense that has for so long obscured for so many the true workings of the Japanese economy.”--Gary Saxonhouse, University of Michigan

(Gary Saxonhouse 2006-03-13)

“Miwa and Ramseyer so systematically dismantle the conventional understanding of Japanese economic institutions that The Fable of the Keiretsu will no doubt be an instant classic. Their no-holds-barred account leaves the prior conception of the Japanese economy as a system of interrelated corporations and banks with little connection to a market economy in a shambles. There will surely be a strong reaction to their thesis that the keiretsu, main banks, and successful central government planning were figments of the imagination of academics on both sides of the Pacific. But Miwa and Ramseyer’s data are so compelling that I don’t see how the pieces could ever be put back together again.”--Roberta Romano, Yale Law School

(Roberta Romano 2006-03-13)

The Fable of the Keiretsu is so important and well written, it should become a classic in both the academic and popular literature on Japan. Urban legends about Japan view the country as following some kind of Confucian collectivism that does not follow behavior that would be consistent with economic rationality. Yoshiro Miwa and Mark Ramseyer instead argue that the facts about Japan conform closely with what would be both observed and expected in a market economy in which firms maximize profits.”--Daniel F. Spulber, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

(Daniel F. Spulber 2006-03-13)

"The keiretsu is only one of the mythological beasts slain by ridicule and meticulous statistics in this highly readable knockabout polemic."
(Ronald P. Dore Pacific Affairs)

From the Inside Flap

For Western economists and journalists, the most distinctive facet of the postwar Japanese business world has been the keiretsu, or the insular business alliances among powerful corporations. Within keiretsu groups, argue these observers, firms preferentially trade, lend money, take and receive technical and financial assistance, and cement their ties through cross-shareholding agreements. In The Fable of the Keiretsu, Yoshiro Miwa and J. Mark Ramseyer demonstrate that all this talk is really just urban legend.

Following World War II, the United States, in an effort to hasten democracy, dissolved Japan’s zaibatsu empires—a small group of enormous family-owned conglomerates—into several smaller businesses. The new businesses, the legend goes, formed into keiretsu groups to regain large components of their operations that were lost in the dismantling. In their insightful analysis, the authors show that the very idea of the keiretsu was created and propagated by Marxist scholars in post-war Japan. Western scholars merely repatriated the legend to show the culturally contingent nature of modern economic analysis.

Laying waste to the notion of keiretsu, the authors debunk several related “facts” as well: that Japanese firms maintain special arrangements with a “main bank,” that firms are systematically poorly managed, and that the Japanese government guided postwar growth. In demolishing these long-held assumptions, they offer one of the few reliable chronicles of the realities of Japanese business.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (July 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226532704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226532707
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Karl on November 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Don't get me wrong, the book contains some good data but, for one, this book mostly adapts articles already published in journals and then adds a Look-At-Me-Me-Me title that suggests everybody else 'Fabulates and swims in pure science fiction'. Add a few contentious claims in the introduction and you might well get your readership going.
One such amusing claim is that all social science departments in Japan became marxist in the 1950s (although politicians were on the "right" side, according to the authors). We're in a black-and-white world already.
The authors have a point that the Keiretsu story has been built in some media as a form of Japanese uniqueness, however their claim is disingenuous when affirming that no Keiretsu linkage exists at all. 'Keiretsu' may be a terminology created to describe a cultural preference for 'privileged networks' among Japanese firms, but this terminology does not imply that keiretsu networks are 'exclusive networks' as they say. Nobody would believe in such exclusivity even in Japan.
Another amusing contention is that Japan never had an industrial policy, not at allll (four L's on this one). What it had is only pork barrel and what some marxists have created as industrial policy.
Economists had such a good time in the 1990s that they believed they could criticize anything in the real world that does not perfectly fit with their red book, as if they said: "Yo! Culture ain't no fitting with the Book. I better write you down a river on this Heresy".
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