Politics can often skew decisions that should be taken on their merits. Yet, as Choate's account also shows, even wise men and their money can easily be parted by sharp consultants, who can pass through the green baize door knowing that their clients cannot peep through the keyhole. Much of Japan's success, he unwittingly reveals, has been achieved by the diplomatic pressure used by all foreign states. The slick programmes and vast fees may have contributed less than is apparent to those outside government, who cannot see how policy conclusions are actually reached.
Choate shows up the hypocrisy of former Administration members who oppose the Japanese publicly but take large fees for acting for them behind the scenes. It is less the revolving door than the temptation placed in the paths of hitherto ethical men and women that he criticises. Yet lobbying is not a peculiarly Japanese speciality. Most foreign governments (remember Britain's lobbying over Concorde landing rights?) and an enormous number of domestic interests also throw apparently blank cheques at Washington lobby agencies. Choate catalogues the foreign clients of lobbyists but ignores their much longer US client lists. Is it any better to act for the National Rifle Association than for the Cote d'Azur Development Agency, to take one name from his appendix?
While the book's premise is questionable, its conclusions are both clear and surprising. "Fewer than 30% of the CEOs of America's 150 largest corporations even try to affect the policies of their own Government," claims the author. The Japanese take more trouble to find out how the US system really works, and who can make it work for them. Choate argues that US corporations must learn to out-lobby the Japanese. So what, therefore, is so reprehensible about the conduct of the latter?
There are usually two sides to any story. Only the shortest of memories will have forgotten how declining western industries successfully sought tariff and quota protection to counter the greater efficiency of Far Eastern competitors. Perhaps efficiency has turned into dumping and state-aided advantages enjoyed by only a few industries here, but both sides should still be on the record. This book should be read with caution.
(Charles Miller is head of The Public Policy Unit, a political and economic consultancy.)