Home | Third Culture | Digerati | Reality Club

There you have an example from the German beer industry about the disadvantages of having lots of small groups that are secretive and don't compete with each other. The other example that I want to tell you about is the Japanese food-processing industry. I mentioned that we Americans are virtually paranoid about the efficiency of the Japanese, and it's true for some Japanese industries, but not for their food-processing industry. Japanese processed food is produced with an efficiency 32% of American processed foods. There are 67,000 food processing companies in Japan; there are only 21,000 in the United States, although the U.S. has double Japan's population, so the average food-processing company in the United States is six times bigger than its Japanese counterpart. What is the reason why the Japanese food-processing industry, like German beer industries, consists of small companies with local monopolies?

It turns out to be basically the same two reasons as with German beer: namely, local tastes creating local monopolies, and government policies. The Japanese are fanatics for fresh foods. Any of you who have been to Japan, as my wife and I were in October, will remember what it says on Japanese containers. In the United States, when you go to the supermarket, there's one date on the container, the date by which you're supposed to throw away that bottle of milk. In Japan there are three dates on the container: there's the date when the milk was manufactured, and there's the date when the milk arrived at the supermarket, and then there's the date when the milk should be thrown away, and these dates are in big letters; the Japanese really care about the dates. So the result is that milk production in Japan always starts at one minute past midnight, so that the milk that goes to market that morning is today's milk. If milk had been produced at 11:59 p.m., the milk company would have to stamp on its container that this milk was made yesterday, and no Japanese person would buy it. The result is again that Japanese food-processing industries enjoy local monopolies. Obviously, a milk producer up in Hokkaido, northern Japan, is not going to be able to compete in Kyushu, in southern Japan, with a Kyushu producer, because of the several days in transit from Hokkaido. By the time a carton arrives in Kyushu, the people will read on the container that this milk is three days old, and no Japanese person would buy it.

So that's one thing that creates local monopolies for food production in Japan: Japanese fanaticism about really fresh food. And the second thing is Japanese government policy, which reinforces these local monopolies. The Japanese government obstructs the import of foreign processed food by slapping on a ten-day quarantine. And because the Japanese care about food that was produced that very day, naturally by the time that American beef, chicken, or whatever arrives at the supermarket and the date says ten days old, the Japanese are not very enthusiastic about buying those American products. And there are other restrictions that the Japanese government imposes on foreign imports.

The result is that Japanese food-processing industries are not exposed to domestic competition, they're all local monopolies, they're not exposed to foreign competition, and they don't learn the best methods in the international trade for producing food. And the result is that, in Japan, Japanese beef costs $200 a pound. My wife and I had heard about that before we went to Japan, but what we did not realize until we were brought into a supermarket by my wife's Japanese cousin is that chicken in Japan costs $25 a pound. The reason the Japanese can get away with that is that Japanese chicken producers are not exposed to competition with super-efficient American chicken producers.

Previous | Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 | Next