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Chris DeMuth Jr. is the founder of Rangeley Capital LLC. Rangeley is an investment firm that focuses on event driven, value-oriented investment opportunities. Rangeley Capital and his value investing forum, Sifting the World (StW), search the world for misplaced bets. Rangeley exploits them for... More
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  • Cutting Through The Multicultural Nonsense 20 comments
    Aug 1, 2014 6:10 PM

    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.

    Soichiro Honda

    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)?

    Meanwhile, if you want to see a Japanese saw in action, you can get your own here. If you want to save $7, you can sign up for their newsletter in the lower right corner of their home page.

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Comments (20)
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  • bazooooka
    , contributor
    Comments (3689) | Send Message
    Great story all around. Luckily, your grandfather didn't go into the car business or we wouldn't have your shared insights.
    1 Aug 2014, 07:36 PM Reply Like
  • Anyoption
    , contributor
    Comments (1367) | Send Message
    That story is just insane! Definitely one of the biggest blunders of all time. But a great lesson nonetheless of the power of innovating when everyone says it won't work. Thanks for sharing!
    1 Aug 2014, 10:46 PM Reply Like
  • Anyoption
    , contributor
    Comments (1367) | Send Message
    Oh, and as far as "foreign designs" go, I'm not sure if this counts, but I find the German language far more effective than English. I lived in Germany for a couple of years almost ten years ago and I still find myself at a loss for the English word for something, but the German one comes quick to mind.
    1 Aug 2014, 10:48 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (11430) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » A language advantage that I admire is having nouns precede adjectives (as in French but not English). This means that you can start thinking about the thing itself before learning of how it is modified. It is harder to think about modifiers first.
    2 Aug 2014, 08:09 AM Reply Like
  • earljr1
    , contributor
    Comments (526) | Send Message
    You reminded my of one of my 4 year old's favorites--the German Mary Poppins.

    4 Aug 2014, 04:00 PM Reply Like
  • Tollsforthee
    , contributor
    Comments (442) | Send Message
    Nice article. And their cuisine is completely superior to ours as well in my opinion.
    1 Aug 2014, 11:43 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (11430) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » I am crazy about Japanese food. Delicious and I tend to feel much better afterwards.
    2 Aug 2014, 08:07 AM Reply Like
  • connellybarnes
    , contributor
    Comments (556) | Send Message
    Awesome story about Honda! But it seems like your grandfather still had a good career.


    I guess the optimum career is having no boss, unlimited funding without fundraising (no need to do grants or talk to investors), being able to make what you want, and work with smart people. E.g. an investment partnership closed to outsiders, or a research lab in a monopoly company. But reality is all compromises. People idolize founders but forget that founders have many bosses and do much fundraising.


    I always liked Japanese Zen houses and gardens. I like the interplay of light with contemplative designs.
    2 Aug 2014, 02:43 AM Reply Like
  • Biological
    , contributor
    Comments (1909) | Send Message
    Very interesting story and, particularly, the tools. Fascinating.


    Also fascinating is the story of Japanese whiskey. They are very good, especially the single casks bought at the distilleries in Hokkaido (my friends brought me some: one of them (a 15 year old) is probably the best whiskey I have ever had - and I have tried many; I also admire Lagavulin 16, followed by Talisker 10 and Evan Williams (Red Label, sold only in Japan, coincidentally)):



    I recommend two books:


    The Enigma of Japanese Power:



    The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
    2 Aug 2014, 02:52 AM Reply Like
  • connellybarnes
    , contributor
    Comments (556) | Send Message
    Lagavulin is delicious! Haven't had that since grad school, where my friends claimed I was drinking "paint thinner." I will have to check out the others you listed.
    2 Aug 2014, 03:16 AM Reply Like
  • Biological
    , contributor
    Comments (1909) | Send Message
    No paint thinner at all! Lagavulin and Talisker are from west Scotland ("Islay"), as opposed to the Highlands (or Speyside), and they tend to be "smokey" due to the malted barley being dried, smoked, with peat fires. But you can not really go wrong with Scotch whiskey - try Strathisla, its beyond good. I do love Bourbons, and Tennessee Whiskeys, as well. Different, with much corn and rye with the latter leaving a sometimes harsh on your throat, for sure. Lovely. Enjoy!
    2 Aug 2014, 11:17 AM Reply Like
  • ellaruth
    , contributor
    Comments (1090) | Send Message
    I give you a Gomer Pyle triple thank you. I do admire the men like Colonel Shultis, and also Douglas MacArthur, who did such a fantastic job in Japan. Unfortunately these great men receive no to little press or commendation from the left wing media.
    Unfortunately the Republican seemed to distance itself from MacArthur, which I believe it one their horrible mistakes. MacArthur, would have made a tremendous president of the United States.
    Thank you for sharing, I do strive to care for and appreciate people from all backgrounds. However, I do believe in core values that can and should cause us differentiate between quality.
    Thanks Again
    2 Aug 2014, 09:29 AM Reply Like
  • TheSandman
    , contributor
    Comments (162) | Send Message
    I will ponder your question while doing agrarian work today.


    Here is a converse answer (what of our tools are superior to other cultures): chopsticks! Why does anyone still use them for (e.g.) rice-based dishes? They even have the agricultural pitchfork (fork) and shovel (spoon), yet they persist with inefficient sticks while cutting down vast forests for the disposable implements.
    2 Aug 2014, 11:49 AM Reply Like
  • sogreat
    , contributor
    Comments (78) | Send Message
    A lot of chopsticks are made of bamboo which is very easy to source and replace. I have heard that using chopsticks trains your brain too.
    3 Aug 2014, 09:48 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (11430) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » I love chopsticks. They also pace eating better. Maybe it is just because I am less coordinated with them, but I think they make me slow down, which is healthier.
    4 Aug 2014, 05:59 AM Reply Like
  • TheSandman
    , contributor
    Comments (162) | Send Message
    Oh don't get me wrong, chopsticks have their place: sharpened, soaked in water, and used as skewers to grill meat and veggies on the grill, for instance!


    With the calories I must consume just to maintain my weight, I don't have time to eat slowly -- at least not if I eat healthy.
    4 Aug 2014, 02:02 PM Reply Like
  • Leftfield
    , contributor
    Comments (4070) | Send Message
    Very interesting stories.


    I had an encounter with admiring the tools plus the general design and workmanship on a used Honda I bought recently while changing a tire on it today. Even the jack itself is a beautiful device!
    2 Aug 2014, 10:37 PM Reply Like
  • arbtrader
    , contributor
    Comments (554) | Send Message
    By law, every single house in Israel has a solar water heater on the roof. at first I thought it was some orwellian tree-hugger requirement.


    However, the benefits to society of not having to import energy and export valuable dollars which probably fund hostile neighbors who may cut supplies,etc, are enormous. Brilliant.


    We value free choice and the cost/benefit for us is far higher here where energy is very cheap and local. But many countries have high energy costs and don't use the same system. Just about any island, for example.
    4 Aug 2014, 12:01 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (11430) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » That policy also takes pressure off of peak usage which is the very expensive part of electric generation, since the sunniest days are also expensive days for generation.
    4 Aug 2014, 12:04 PM Reply Like
  • connellybarnes
    , contributor
    Comments (556) | Send Message
    I think multiculturalism is interesting. I remember in elementary school studying Australian Aborigines, native Americans, Greek mythology, Nazi Germany, etc. We learned a lot about different cultures, and I particularly like Aboriginal dot art.


    But as kids, we didn't learn that much about the underlying economic properties of those countries, which among most people in this world who are pragmatic and money-oriented is more interesting. If I had a kid I might try to redirect any multicultural studies into a comparative study of what factors make countries rich or poor on a per-capita basis. Factors could include economic and political freedom, political system, leading industries, natural resources, religions, etc.


    Why is Luxembourg so rich? Hint: it's not agrarian farming. Why are North Koreans so poor?


    You could also go through different groups of people in the countries and make such analyses also. Possibly a road map for kids to get rich, or at least to understand how the world works.


    I suppose that's not really what people are getting at when they say multiculturalism but it's more quantitative. I like facts and statistics :-).
    4 Aug 2014, 12:23 PM Reply Like
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