GUEST COLUMN

North America at bargain prices

Walter Stewart March 21 1988
GUEST COLUMN

North America at bargain prices

Walter Stewart March 21 1988

North America at bargain prices

GUEST COLUMN

Walter Stewart

There has been so much guff written about free trade and the effects, real, potential and imaginable, of an arrangement on the lines worked out by Brian Mulroney, Simon Reisman et al with the bunch below the border that we are in danger of missing the point. And the point is, Mr. Chairman and ladies and gentlemen, that it is game over for Canada, and the United States, on the international trade front.

We are finished. Kaput. Gonzo. The real reason our lads want to get into a trade arrangement with their lads (besides the fact that a lot of our lads are their lads; the Americans already own everything in the country that doesn’t have a lien on it) is that we are all going to be wiped out by the Japanese. Are, even now, being wiped out by the Japanese.

And why? Because the Japanese go about the business of business in an entirely different manner than we of the North American persuasion. There is a school for businessmen somewhere on the slopes of Mount Fuji —I think it’s Mount Fuji, the purple one with the white top—where Japanese businessmen go to hone their selling skills.

Now, I have been to a couple of the conferences that Canadians are always holding to hone their selling skills, and I know how the thing goes. Rising at about 9 a.m., your Canadian businessman pours himself a bloody mary out of the mini-bar in his room—for the vitamin C —reads the paper, and staggers downstairs for a breakfast of steak and eggs, or maybe it’s french toast and sausages, before ambling along to the morning session.

There, some gent who is getting paid a couple of grand for the purpose, shouts businesslike slogans at him for 45 minutes or so. Inspirational talk. Get big government off our backs. Cut taxes. Sell government firms to the private sector. Let the market prevail. The usual hokum. Then there is a break for muffins and coffee and another session on how to line up government grants and how to stick everything on the expense account, so it comes off taxes, and how to rig the market and

Walter Stewart is Max Bell Professor for 1987-1988 at. the School of Journalism, University of Regina.

avoid the rigors of competition.

Thus inspired, our man—or woman, nothing sexist here —lays into the martinis and the buffet lunch and the wine and liqueurs that will help him sleep through the afternoon sessions (which is okay because they are a repeat of the morning sessions). Three days of this and our subject is spiritually spent and physically pooped, so he takes two days to work his way home—80 km. This is how our gang, and the American gang, gird their loins for the frantic international fray.

Meanwhile, the guys over in Yokohama or Tokyo, or wherever, get up at 5 a.m. and go run up the slopes of Mount Fuji—if it is Mount Fuji—for an hour or two before tucking into the nourishing bowl of gruel—you got it, gruel—that constitutes the morning ration. Then there are a couple of sessions on self-improvement, which

consist mostly of people standing around and shouting at them that they are knock-kneed, cockeyed burglars and bums who will never amount to anything. Sort of like having the family along. Then another romp up the old mountain, fuelled by a handful of rice, before another zesty afternoon of the same.

Your Japanese businessman gets festooned with Ribbons of Shame, detailing all the many ways in which he falls short of perfection, and the idea is that with a couple of weeks of slopping up gruel (I believe this is where the phrase “a gruelling experience” comes from) and running around the mountain, and working ceaselessly, he will have the ribbons removed, one by one.

Then there are the songs. Did I mention the songs? Japanese corporations have these songs they sing that tell of the wonderful ways of the company, and what a terrific product it makes, and what a hell of a thrill it is to work for dear old Yokohama Socks, Underwear and Computers, Inc. These songs have to be belted out with enthusiasm,

even fervor, or it is a bad knock on our lad, and he will be buried in Ribbons of Shame and probably flunk the course.

So they do it. They stand there in the grisly morn, full to the plimsoll line with a handful of rice and a barrel of slogans, and bellow out the company song for half an hour or so. And they do it cheerfully, too, by God.

To see what we are up against, imagine to yourself the guys on the overnight shift down at Chrysler Corp. standing around under, let us say, Lee Iacocca’s window chanting that Chrysler is the finest employer of all and we would rather work for nothing for Iacocca than gather untold wealth from the coffers of another, and inferior, firm.

In Japanese.

Well, you get my drift. The Japanese bunch come rushing down off the mountain, juiced up with gruel and determination, and go swarming out into the world to push the product. While our troops are fingering their third olive and wondering if the waiter heard them order another round, their troops are out rattling their Ribbons of Shame at the customers, and singing the company song.

Who do you think is going to sell you your next car, the guy who has worked off his Ribbons of Shame, or the one who is working on his next expense account?

Right.

You have seen the ad on television, where the car salesmen jump into the air and click their heels, while a voice sings that they are, Oh, what a fun bunch of guys. Do you know any car salesmen that are a fun bunch of guys? The one who sold me my present specimen (I do not say this car is a lemon, I merely say that if you had two of them and a dab of meringue, you could make a pie) is a gloomy and pessimistic gent, right off the pages of a Russian novel. Obviously, the jumping-in-the-air guys have been up on Mount Fuji. They are Japanese in training.

That’s what the free trade thing is all about; we’re just getting ourselves positioned to hand the whole place over to the Japanese. The way I see it, we figure that if we give them a package deal—you get the oranges, the tire plants, the beer factories and, oh, yeah, quelques arpents de neige—we can work out a better price than if they pick the continent up in pieces.

Allan Fotheringham is on vacation.

The real reason our lads want a trade arrangement with their lads is that we are all going to be wiped out bg Japan