Extremes are fascinating. (see, e.g., RelativityPlusAstrophysics, 29 March 2000) Imagine the fundamental processes going on inside a proton, at near-infinitesimal distances and timescales ... visualize the center of an exploding supernova ... consider phenomena near a temperature of absolute zero. Or, if you prefer, stand beside a giant redwood. Read the label on a Kikkoman bottle of soy sauce, "Since 1630". Dabble your toes in the ocean and look out across infinity.

Along the extreme dimensions of time and money, many years ago I became captivated by the notion of Zaibatsu --- the ancient family-owned financial powers ("money cliques") that at their peak controlled a third or more of the Japanese economy. Mitsui ... Sumitomo ... Mitsubishi ... the names ring with the rattle of sword against woven cord armor. One Zaibatsu, I remember reading, took its name from the three wells on the original family homestead. Another traced its origins back over the centuries to a samurai who quit fighting and opened a bookstore. (And of course, there's that letter Z which never fails to resonate with me.) For a while I was, you might say, in an intellectual way a sort of Zaibatsu groupie.

Whatever happened to the Zaibatsu? Some are still around, though they don't secretly control the government of Japan any more (maybe! --- some conspiracy theorists argue that they've just become cleverer about not getting caught at it). They've lost their dominant position in banking, heavy industry, and trade (or again, perhaps they've merely become more subtle in their string-pulling). Perhaps the Zaibatsu went the way of the big industrial revolution families of the West, the barons of steel and rail, the houses of banking and finance. I suppose it's all for the good ... though without them, there's a bit less magic in the world.

TopicOrganizations - TopicEconomics - 2002-01-13

(correlates: GradePointAverage, DimensionsOfVoting, KipTheDragon, ...)