Agents of Influence Essay - Critical Essays

Agents of Influence

Pat Choate, a Washington-based political economist, begins this book with a joke by Senator Lloyd Bentsen. One day Bentsen told his wife he would be meeting people who determine America’s future. “Oh,” she quipped, “you’re going to Tokyo?” According to Choate, American laughter about such stories ought to be extremely nervous. Aided and abetted by Americans themselves, Japan increasingly gains control of the U.S. economy. In the process, the author contends, the United States forfeits too much of its own destiny.

Although foreign investment has often helped the United States, Choate finds the Japanese presence revealing much that is ominous. The problem is not simply that Japan will be the largest foreign investor in the United States by 1995, nor even that by 1999 Japan will control more American assets than Britain, Holland, and Canada combined. The difficulty is Japan’s shrewd exploitation of the problematic reality that “political power in America is a commodity that can be acquired by the highest bidder.”

Choate emphasizes how Japan gets political as well as economic clout in the United States. The Japanese concentrate on “diplomacy, lobbying, politicking, and propagandizing” by enticing self-interested Americans to do such work for the them. Far from acting illegally, the Japanese have learned how to play “the American economic game by American rules.” Choate regrets that they are winning.

Choate’s “agents of influence” are American as well as Japanese. Thus, this book’s primary thrust is not “Japan bashing,” but rather criticism of Americans’ willingness to sell their own country if the price is right. Choate offers concrete public policy suggestions to restore better balance to American priorities. But their implementation, he concludes, depends on reinvigorating “civic virtue” that restrains individuals from sacrificing the national interest of the United States for the sake of self-interest.