Newley.com

Newley Purnell's home on the web since 2001

Tag: joe_studwell

The Best Books I Read in 2016

2016 12 30books

I read many books this year, and as faithful readers know, I’ve been sharing my notes from some of them under the heading “Book Notes.”

I’ll break down my picks according to two categories:

My favorite book published this year:

I read Cal Newport’s “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” over the summer, and its insights have stuck with me.

In brief, Newport, a computer science academic, stresses the importance to our careers of doing uninterrupted, sophisticated, value-added work, and avoiding distractions like social media.

Common sense? Yes.

But in a world where information of dubious quality and technologies engineered to monopolize our attention seem to proliferate by the day, it’s a timely reminder that we must focus on activities that distinguish us from our competitors.

My full notes are here.

My pick for the best book I read this year*, regardless of when it was published:

It’s been around for nearly a decade, but Joe Studwell’s “Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia” was a revelation for me, because it provided historical context for what I’d seen all around me during my time in Thailand and Singapore.

Studwell’s thesis: The region’s dysfunctional governments have given rise to its billionaire godfathers.

In turn, Southeast Asia has produced few, if any, truly global brands because the region’s biggest firms simply take advantage of monopolies or licenses, don’t really innovate, and thus aren’t internationally competitive.

My full notes are here.
*Okay, I’m cheating here: I actually read this book in November 2015, but that’s pretty close to 2016!

Book Notes — ‘Asian Godfathers,’ by Joe Studwell

Note: I have long kept, on index cards, written notes about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.

2016 06 01 asian godfathers

Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
By Joe Studwell
Published: Oct. 2007
Read: Nov. 2015
Amazon link

Brief recap: An incisive look at how Southeast Asia’s godfathers got rich by exploiting the region’s dysfunctional governments — and how local elites have used godfathers, in turn.

One of the best books, if not the very best, on the region that I’ve encountered; should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the history of modern Southeast Asia.

My notes:

  • The region’s godfathers — largely Chinese and Indians — emigrated to Southeast Asia before World War II, taking advantage of opportunities for concessions and monopolies from local political elites in exchange for not seeking their own political power. Typical godfather behavior would be, for example, to bribe local politicians for lucrative monopolies, which they then used to build their own fortunes. Local elites got a steady stream of incoming cash in return, and weren’t challenged in the governmental sphere.

  • Southeast Asia and Hong Kong have very few global brands because they employ “technology-less industrialization” — entrepreneurs seek rents and have monopolies, so don’t need to improve productivity or become globally competitive.

  • The economic landscape in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong is “shaped by the interaction of two historical forces: migration and colonization.” That is, migrants came to Southeast Asia and began building their riches by taking advantage of colonial systems.

  • Thailand’s Thaksin was a godfather who committed the sin of political ambition — and alienated his fellow godfathers.

  • Studwell is highly critical of Singapore despite the fact it is known globally for good governance and its outsized economic development. He argues that its small size makes comparisons with countries irrelevant, and that both the city-state and Hong Kong show that small cities with deep water ports and good banking facilities were always destined to flourish in the region, despite their very different political models. “As relatively easily managed city states, with highly motivated and purely immigrant populations,” Studwell writes, “Hong Kong and Singapore perform a simple economic trick: they arbitrage the relative economic inefficiency of their hinterlands. In other words, business comes to them because they perform certain tasks — principally services — a little better than surrounding countries.”

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén