WE WERE A BIT long-winded the other day and overshot our appointed space for an editorial headed "Japan as Teacher." Unfortunately, what was cut was the point of the piece. We flatter ourselves to think that some reader might want to learn the point, if any. So we shall try again.

Competitiveness, we said, is the new byword of the Reagan administration. It was signaled in speeches by Richard Darman, deputy secretary of the Treasury, and Malcolm Baldrige, secretary of commerce. It was echoed by Paul Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. In terms of U.S. manufacturing, many of the innovations that have led to an increase in competitiveness in recent years - such things as the just-in-time system of inventory control and quality circles - have borne the label, Made in Japan.A number of Japanese companies, among them Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi, have established plants in the United States. Was it farfetched, we asked, to expect that the increase in U.S. exports when it inevitably comes similarly will stem from Japanese initiative?

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