Rather than try to ``outsacrifice the Japanese,'' Americans can make the U.S. economy competitive again, Fallows urges, by tapping our native talent for disorder, constant change, mobility and entrepreneurial zeal. An Atlantic correspondent living in Japan and Malaysia since 1986, this former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter bolsters his thesis with firsthand comparisons of Asian societies and our own. His points are well-taken, if not particularly new. In the book's anticlimactic, weakly argued second half, Fallows blames America's stagnation on an ``inappropriate, static, Confucian-style merit system'' whose elements include restrictive professions, IQ tests and channeling of students along predetermined academic tracks. To open up the professions, the author would ease licensing requirements in nursing and medicine, and permit hiring of public school teachers even if they have not completed formal training. He also calls for easing restrictions on immigration, making Social Security benefits partly taxable and tying welfare subsidies to work. Author tour. (Mar.)
Fallows has spent the last few years living in Japan and Malaysia with his wife and children, reporting with geniality and penetration for Atlantic Monthly and National Public Radio. Unlike writers who saw ``Vietnam'' as a geographical metaphor for America's humiliation and ``Japan'' for America's decay, Fallows draws from Asia the lesson that America, while gathering and respecting global experience, should nevertheless trust its own instincts in order to recapture national greatness. By turns witty, meditative, and clarifyingly analytical, this is sure to inform national debate, as did his National Defense ( LJ 6/1/81).-- Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, Ill.