Best columns: Business
Why U.S. cars aren’t popular in Japan
American automakers like to complain that protectionist policies prevent them from selling vehicles in Japan, said Alana Semuels. “The reality is more complicated.” Japanese carmakers claim 90 percent of their home market; by comparison, the U.S. Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler— make up 45 percent of the U.S. car market, with Japanese brands claiming 39 percent. Politicians like President Trump have suggested this imbalance is the result of Japan’s trade policies, such as lengthy car inspections on foreign-made vehicles. But it mostly comes down to “hospitality.” The way Japanese consumers buy cars is unique, and American auto companies haven’t invested “in the kind of dealer network that consumers there have come to expect.” Car dealerships in Japan happily offer to bring cars to customers’ houses for test-drives, for instance; dealers also handle car insurance and provide free checkups and maintenance. American drivers, who are about as happy to visit a car dealership “as they are to get their teeth pulled,” probably can’t relate, because American dealers simply “don’t offer such services.” European automakers like BMW have recently begun to invest heavily in their dealer networks in Japan, and their sales are posting double-digit growth as a result. U.S. brands can “choose to adapt to or ignore” the world’s third-largest auto market. What they shouldn’t do is complain about trade barriers.
The truly scandalous Paradise Papers
We’ve always known that rich people “parked their money in offshore tax havens,” said Thomas Frank. Yet thanks to a trove of leaked financial documents known as the Paradise Papers, we now know that tax havens “aren’t some sideshow to Western capitalism; they are a central reality.” Everyone seems to be in on it: Russian oligarchs and billionaire CEOs, as you’d expect, but also “our favorite actors and singers,” colleges, and charities. The hidden billions squirreled away from the tax man “are like an unseen planet” whose mass and power we are only now beginning to grasp. We’re currently being told by Republican lawmakers that cutting taxes is the key to “making the American economy flourish.” But let’s first acknowledge that the ultrarich clearly “prefer not to do what it takes to support” a functioning society. “They’re happy to haul billions out of our economy, but maintaining the machinery that keeps it all running—that’s on us.” Think about what we might have done with all that lost tax revenue over the years: the schools that could have been built, the police who could have been given raises, the “dying Rust Belt cities” that could have been revived. Instead, “we endure potholes and live in fear of collapsing highway bridges because our leaders wanted these very special people to have an even larger second yacht.”