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How Asia Works Paperback – May 20, 2014
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
I found the book to be quite compelling. . . . Studwell’s book does a better job than anything else I’ve read of articulating the key role of agriculture in development. . . . A good read for anyone who wants to understand what actually determines whether a developing economy will succeed.”Bill Gates, Top 5 Books of the Year”
Pithy, well-written and intellectually vigorous . . . Studwell’s thesis is bold, his arguments persuasive, and his style pugnacious. It adds up to a highly readable and important book.”Financial Times
Provocative. How Asia Works is a striking and enlightening book A lively mix of scholarship, reporting and polemic.”The Economist
"Very readable.... A fascinating and thoroughly deep account."Bloomberg Radio
Gripping Readers will find Studwell’s informative and balanced report eye-opening.”Publishers Weekly
Studwell paints a vivid picture of business life in the region. If a copy of the Korean edition finds its way across the demilitarized zone to Pyongyang we may find we have yet another Asian Tiger in our midst.”Management Today
A solid blend of the descriptive and the prescriptive, with plenty of lessons that will be of interest to Asia hands, investors and policymakers.”Kirkus Reviews
Perhaps my favorite economics book of the year. Quite simply, it is the best single treatment on what in Asian industrial policy worked or did not work, full of both analysis and specific detail, and covering southeast Asia in addition to the Asian tiger winners.’ Definitely recommended, you will learn lots from it, and it will upset people of virtually all ideologies.”Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
An interesting analysis of policy decisions that have and haven’t worked . . . a handy guide for anyone interested in one of the world’s fastest developing regions.”The Economic Times (India)
Studwell’s latest book, How Asia Works, is also his most ambitions. . . . Declining to make broad pronouncements or dovetail with doctrine, Studwell demonstrates that the way Asia works isn’t quite as simple as we ever imagined.”Smart Planet
"A landmark work."Asia Times (Bangkok)
Bold and insightful. . . . Essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the ingredients for economic success.”The News International (Pakistan)
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This book absolutely nailed it when it came to telling me what I wanted to know. This book answered my questions directly and explained how the economics and politics worked in northeastern Asia and what didn't work elsewhere.
The most important premise in the book is the need for land reform to fund industrialisation.
By 'land reform' he means distributing land equally among farming families, by taking it off the big landowners.
Land reform does not come easily:
In Japan the first (and initially successful) reform was after the Meiji Restoration, and the second immediately after the Second World War.
In Taiwan it followed the defeat of the Kuomintang (KMT) by the Communists in China. Initially Communist land reform in China was popular with the people, and the KMT were forced to copy it in Taiwan to achieve some popularity with the locals.
In South Korea Syngman Rhee's government resisted land reform until it was nearly swept into the sea by Kim Il Sung's invasion. When the South Koreans retook Korea, they found Communist land reform was very popular with the farmers, and were forced to accept it.
The ensuing agricultural boom gave these governments the cash to fund industrialisation. Studwell shows how they largely got it right, by copying the 19th Century Prussian model.
(In China and North Korea the agricultural boom ended when the Communists collectivised the farms.)
In South East Asia land reform never took place, probably because events were not dramatic enough to force it to happen. Consequently large landowners live very well, while ordinary farmers are very poor, and agricultural productivity is low.
In describing industrialisation, Studwell compares the successful Japan/South Korea/Taiwan model of competition between state supported companies (with the creative destruction of the failure of some) and the discipline of serving export markets versus the failure to introduce competition and export discipline in South East Asia. The outcome is exemplified by Toyota/Honda/Hyundai versus Proton.
The failings in South East Asia described in this book are pretty much as described in Studwell's earlier "Asian Godfathers".
'How Asia Works' attracted a fair amount of criticism here in Hong Kong for appearing to advocate financial repression (paying derisory interest rates on household savings, enforced by exchange controls) and state planning - we have a very good vantage point of this process in China, and worry about the effects - for example an uncontrolled shadow banking system and misallocation of easy credit by State Owned Enterprises.
Studwell does not advocate this as a universal panacea - he points out the problems that South Korea had, and that they were lucky to get away with it - and that the system gets a country to a certain level of development, after which it is necessary to modernise - which may not always work - as in Japan.
His conclusion is that South East Asia will probably never fulfil its potential, and that China might.
This book offers a helpful political-economic model for those attempting to understand Asia generally, and, most importantly, China.
Although his historical exploration of the Asian experiences is appealing and informative, I am not sure if the suggested policy implications are right. For instance, it is not clear when or why a country must switch from its developmentalist strategy to a more market-friendly regime. In addition, it appears to me the author has understated political stage (South Korean development was based on a dictatorship).
All in all, any person interested on Asia or in topics of economic development must read this book.