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Economists should feel very sheepish

July 28, 1998

Tim RowlandFifteen years ago economists were scared to death because the Japanese economy was so strong.

Today economists are scared to death because the Japanese economy is so weak.

Fifteen years ago economists said Japan's strong economy would kill the U.S. stock market.

Today economists say the weak Japanese economy will kill the U.S. stock market.

Fifteen years ago economists said the strong Japanese economy would drive up the price of consumer goods.

Today economists say the weak Japanese economy will drive up the price of consumer goods.

Fifteen years ago economists said the strong Japanese economy would cost U.S. jobs.

Today economists say the weak Japanese economy will cost U.S. jobs.

What does it all mean?

To me, it means I believe I am justified in retelling my favorite economist joke:

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This economist is walking down a road in New Zealand when he comes across a shepherd strolling amidst a large flock of sheep.

The economist says to the shepherd "I will bet you one sheep of yours against $100 that I can tell you the exact number in your herd."

The shepherd takes the bet.

The economist calculates the size of the sheep and the square-footage of ground and says to the shepherd "You have 325 sheep."

"Amazing," said the shepherd. "Go ahead and take one of my sheep."

The economist looks over the flock, picks up an animal and starts to walk away.

The shepherd says "Wait. Double or nothing I can guess your occupation."

"You're on," says the man.

"You're an economist," says the shepherd.

"Amazing. How did you know?" said the economist.

"Well," the shepherd says, "put down my dog and I'll tell you."

Anyway, the Japanese Liberal Democrat Party has selected 61-year-old Keizo Obuchi as the new prime minister, in hope he will liven up the Japanese economy, which of course would be bad news for the United States.

The Los Angeles Times had this to say about the new prime minister: "has been variously described as cold pizza, bland, uninspiring, and Takeshita's shadow warrior."

For some reason the image of Al Gore just popped into my head.

This is one spot I truly believe we could learn from the Japanese.

Because I doubt we would have the problem with low voter turnout if, instead of calling him Vice President Al Gore, we would refer to him as Shadow Warrior Al Gore. Or Cold Shadow Pizza Warrior Al Gore.

Instead of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, we would have Flaming Dragon Nostril Avenger Newt Gingrich and so on.

But perhaps that wouldn't work here, because the Times goes on to say "...the Japanese definition of leadership differs from the American concept. Under Japan's parliamentary system, it is the most skillful party insider - not the most telegenic candidate ... who is most likely to succeed politically."

Skill over looks? Substance over appearance? No, that would never wash over here. But then given the results, perhaps telegenic is not so bad. All nations who DON'T have broke lending institutions heaped up on the beaches like dead tuna please raise your hands.

Maybe a deal is in order. To straighten out the Japanese economy, perhaps all they need is a handsome, glib, female-friendly dandy to look hearteningly into the camera and tell the Japanese people he feels their pain, but together they can take a village of people to build a bridge out of this economic morass and into prosperity.

Hmmm. Might work. But if we send HIM over there for a spell, what does that leave us with here at home but cold pizza?

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