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Asian Godfathers

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Asian Godfathers

Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia

Atlantic Monthly Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Southeast Asian tycoons prosper with government-approved monopolies in an economic system that looks open and is closed tight.

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The Western world views the economies of Southeast Asia as “Asian tigers,” and sees Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines as hubs of free trade and innovation. Not so fast, warns Asia expert Joe Studwell. What appear to be sleek, streamlined economies are more like rickety old jalopies that creak with cronyism and secretive monopolies. In this enlightening, searing attack, Studwell pegs Asia’s ruling tycoons or “godfathers” as charming billionaire throwbacks who ruthlessly control business empires with the permission of corrupt, ever-shifting governments, prospering as the populace struggles. Studwell does a masterful job of synthesizing a sprawling topic. getAbstract recommends his book to anyone who’s considering investing in or doing business in Southeast Asia.


Building Wealth for Billionaires While the Masses Struggle

The Southeast Asian nations of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines – plus the city of Hong Kong – have produced a large number of billionaires. Forbes magazine’s ranking of the world’s richest people lists eight Southeast Asians among the 25 wealthiest people on the planet. These titans of industry and finance include Li Ka-shing of Hong Kong, Robert Kuok of Malaysia, Dhanin Chearavanont of Thailand, Liem Sioe Liong of Indonesia and Kwek Leng Beng of Singapore. In recent decades, Southeast Asia has produced scads of billionaires and multimillionaires. Its capitals boast soaring skyscrapers, high-tech factories and every component of modern infrastructure, all reflecting the high growth rate of the “Asian tigers.”

Indeed, the Asian tiger moniker helped create a myth of fast rising, efficiently run economies. Yet for all the economic success enjoyed by a few extremely wealthy oligarchs, the rising tide hasn’t lifted all boats. Most workers struggle. In Southeast Asia, a $500-a-month laborer is considered well-paid. Why is there such a contrast between the godfathers’ riches ...

About the Author

Journalist Joe Studwell edits the China Economic Quarterly and is a director of a research firm. He has covered China for The Economist and wrote The China Dream: The Elusive Quest for the Greatest Untapped Market on Earth.

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