Joe Studwell. The men who control the economies of S.E. Asia are unimaginably rich and powerful. They gamble at golf for US$2 million a hole. This is – for the. Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and South-East it comes from and – as Joe Studwell shows – how destructive it can be. Asian Godfathers. Joe Studwell. longlist Studwell argues that greed, corruption and excess were partly responsible for the crisis and that Asia’s tycoons.

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Every armchair Asia specialist knows about the remarkably small group of tycoons who wield such enormous power in the region. What many of them don’t know, or choose to ignore, is the way this power is exercised, where it comes from and srudwell as Joe Studwell shows – how destructive godfafhers can be. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is its demolition of the myths that surround these men – and, yes, they’re all men.

If women appear on the godfather stage it’s always in the role of wife, mother or daughter of one of the Asian tycoons who, according to Forbes magazine, constitute a third of the two dozen wealthiest people on the planet.

In countless hagiographies they’re portrayed as outstandingly shrewd business people, often rising from rags to riches with a strong benevolent inclination.

And in Asia there’s an unpleasant tendency to explain their success in racial terms because so many of these tycoons are overseas Chinese. The most dedicated propagators of eugenic myths the prize here goes to Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, claims Studwell say that gldfathers provides the key to understanding their inherent abilities.

Studwell crushes these stereotypes with enthusiasm. He argues that race doesn’t explain the concentration of Chinese tycoons; it’s connected with the success of awian, much in the same way that immigrants have flourished in other parts of the world.


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More fundamentally, Studwell questions studwekl the Asian godfathers have been the real driving force behind the region’s success and concludes that ‘it is small-scale local businesses and the hard work and thrift of ordinary Southeast Asians that have driven development’. The tycoons, on the other hand, have prospered through rent-seeking activities – ‘at xtudwell heart of the average godfather’s empire is a concession or licence that gives rise to monopoly or oligopoly activity’, he writes.

It’s a thesis convincingly sustained as Studwell travels the region pointing out raw material concessions here, infrastructure projects there and government-granted monopolies more or less everywhere, which eliminate competition and are licences to studwel money.

While the stuwdell were busy with their monopolies, the real revolution propelling Asia into the world market economy was provided by competitively priced and well-made exports.

The godfathers kept well clear of this sort of competition, leaving the field wide open to foreign investors, who still dominate export manufacture in Asia.

Then there’s the question of godfather benevolence. Sure, they spend a lot of time setting up charitable funds, almost all clearly labelled with their names. But when it comes to dealing with subordinates, including family members, they can be extraordinary bullies.

It’s easy to be carried away by Studwell’s quick flowing prose, but as he sweeps along he brushes past a key question of how exactly these tycoons leapfrogged from the crowd of other businessmen to a position where they were able to get their hands on all these highly lucrative concessions.

He usefully reminds us to be sceptical about the many rags-to-riches claims that surround these tycoons, pointing out, stuewell example, that two of Hong Kong’s most prominent godfathers, Li Ka-Shing and Cheng Yu-tong, came from humble backgrounds but got their first step on the ladder by marrying their boss’ daughters.

Yet from there it took something more than mere nepotism to push into the premier ranks of business leadership. Studwell underestimates the genius of men such as Li Ka-shing when it comes to deal making and trading godfathegs this explains how they got to the point where godfather status propelled them much further. It’s a missing link in a compelling story. And it’s that genius for making a deal that led the godfathers to understand that the really crucial deals had to be made with politicians who had the power to grant the lucrative concessions.


Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and South-East Asia | South China Morning Post

Only rarely, as in the case of Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra, have they directly sought political power for themselves. Instead, they got what they wanted from alliances that have survived crashes and changes of government.

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