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I don’t know what it is about international economic and trade policy that turns otherwise intelligent people into the professional equivalent of morons, but it urgently needs intensive study. And once again, Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius has provided a stunning case in point.

As I’ve shown here and here, when Ignatius wades into economics, it’s as if his brain turns off, and his Post offering of March 26 was no exception. Writing about a recent interview with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Ignatius matter-of-factly informed readers that Japan “shares with this country fundamental values of democracy and openness.”

Now it’s one thing for Ignatius, or anyone else, to favor liberalizing trade with Japan, and therefore, nowadays, completing and approving President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – the reason Ignatius touted these supposed Japan virtues.  I disagree, but there are respectable arguments on both sides. But portraying Japan as a society that prizes any form of openness? That’s the trade policy equivalent of flat earth-ism.

We’re talking, after all, about a country that remains hermetically sealed to imports. (If it were already open, why would a trade agreement be so important economically?) That has long shunned investment from abroad. That despite a population that’s aging rapidly and actually falling significantly, barely tolerates any legal immigration. And whose powerful, secretive bureaucrats, not elected politicians, have long wielded the real political and policy-making power. Moreover, anyone with any meaningful knowledge of Japan  knows that such features have marked Japanese culture and society for centuries.

Please keep in mind that I’m not making these points to criticize or to praise Japan’s choices, but to make clear how utterly off the wall Ignatius’ claim is – and how revealing it must surely be that it made its way into an essay by a prominent foreign policy commentator in a leading American newspaper as easily as an observation you can sail as far as you want on this planet without fear of falling off an edge.

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