I have disparaged our schools' focus on multiculturalism in the past and find it easier to glamorize the Third World when one has not seen much of it personally. Many of the successes of countries that have most successfully and quickly modernized over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries were simply the results of westernizing. While there are many rural and poor areas of the world left untouched by western business practices, one can dress, speak, and act with western manners in most any business capital of the world with little problem. It might not be perfect, but it can get by.
Japan has always been a fascinating counterexample - so much of what is great and successful about Japan has developed completely separately from western influences. My grandfather, a fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II, lived in Japan and worked to rebuild it after the war. Without any security and without any threats, he worked alongside people who he had recently fought to get factories back up and running. He started off with their respect and in many cases that mutual respect grew into friendships. The same Japanese warriors who were willing to lay their lives down for their emperor were happy to work with former enemies after the emperor asked them to. There are few examples of their discipline or devotion anywhere in the west.
Col. Donald C. Shultis, my grandfather
One of the businessmen that my grandfather most admired from his time in Japan was Soichiro Honda. It was American B-29 bombers that destroyed one of his key factories in 1944, but Honda expressed no animosity towards America or Americans. Instead he worked side by side with my grandfather to get the business back into operation.
In fact, in one of the great business blunders of all time, my grandfather stayed in the military, turning down an offer to become Honda's partner building motorcycles and automobiles. Years later, his friend showed him plans for his first car and asked if Americans would like it. "Nah" said my grandfather, "too small". Honda S500
When I was a child, my grandfather told me how he felt - that he wanted his friend to be a success but that he was sorry for him because selling little Japanese cars to Americans just wouldn't work. Oops.
I love Japanese design and aesthetics nowhere more than in their tools. While my favorite wire cutters are German and axes are Swedish, most of my favorite tools are Japanese - especially their saws. They developed completely separately from western design. While western saws cut on the push and the pull, Japanese saws cut only when pulling. This allows for thinner blades that don't need to stand up to the pressure of cutting while pushing. Here is what I mean: So, the cuts are both faster and finer. Building a new boat this summer, my family used all Japanese tools. Here are my kids sanding away after epoxying the wood:
The wood was entirely cut by hand without any power tools. The work was clean, quick, and precise. It is more efficient because it requires less brute strength. My Japanese saw is one of my favorite designs that has managed to completely bypass western competitors. Here is my Japanese saw:
I will let you know if the boat it built is seaworthy, but my view is that it is better in every way and it is a mystery how its design has not replaced our own. Do you have other examples of foreign designs that are clearly better than what we still use in America? What is your favorite (and we're supposed to be a free enterprise meritocracy so why hasn't it taken over yet)?