How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region

By Phar Kim Beng
Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena
Twitter: @indo_pan

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Joe Studwell is an astute political and economic observer. There aren’t that many of his kind in the region; who can look beyond the headlines of the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. He really knows how the insidious forces of Asian economy — — or crony capitalism — — works.

Not surprisingly, the book was named by Bill Gates, a voracious reader, as one of his top 5 books of the year, and also The Economist’s Best Book of the Year; both of which are impressive accolades.

More importantly, Joe Studwell has written a primer known as “Asia’s Godfathers.” In it, he explains the unsavory ties between the politicians and the businessmen, especially the manner by which both try to rub the back of one another, to capture the economic rent and resources of the state; often in the guise of promoting privatization, when in fact the whole process was more akin to privatization.

Indeed, in the 1980s and 1990s, many in the West came to believe in the myth of an East-Asian economic miracle, with countries seen as not just development prodigies but as a unified bloc, culturally and economically similar, and inexorably on the rise. In How Asia Works, Joe Studwell distills extensive research into the economics of nine countries — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China — into an accessible, readable narrative that debunks Western misconceptions, shows what really happened in Asia and why, and for once makes clear why some countries have boomed while others have languished. A lot of the stories revolve around the cozy ties between Asian politicians and tycoons. They helped each other to hijack the contracts and concessions of the state.

Impressive in scope, How Asia Works is essential reading for anyone interested in a region that will shape the future of the world. It is also an important book on how politics precede economics in Asia — — not the other way around.



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