Asian Godfathers by Joe Studwell

Asian Godfathers by Joe Studwell 1

Asian Godfathers is a book that delves into the lives of the tycoons who control the economies of Southeast Asia. The author, Joe Studwell, exposes the secrets of these billionaires and how they make, build, and hold onto their fortunes. He argues that greed, corruption, and excess were partly responsible for the Asian Financial Crisis and that the tycoons have long been beneficiaries rather than instigators of economic growth.

Studwell compares the success of North-East Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, which focused on creating indigenous, globally competitive manufacturing companies, with the failure of South-East Asian nations like Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, which outsourced their cheap labor to foreign businesses. This created the illusion of development through rapid growth but without the emergence of indigenous global competitive companies to fall back on. The inherent fragility of this system was brutally exposed when the Asian Financial Crisis hit.

The book also highlights the tight relationship between governments and the Asian Godfathers, resulting in the blatant plundering of assets by governments able to get away with it because they gave the Godfathers what they wanted. The book describes the Suhartos in Indonesia and Marcos in the Philippines as ‘kleptocracies.’ The book also talks about the seamless merger between government and Godfather in the form of the tycoon-politician or its institutionalization, such as with the functional constituencies in the Hong Kong Legislative Council, there to represent business/Godfather interests.

What I Liked

Super-smart book and very accessible. I grew up in Southeast Asia, so the book put some disparate pieces together for me. Fascinating read.

What I Did Not Like

It’s a bit niche and a specific topic, but it’s worth reading even as a stand alone business book.

Share via...

Similar Posts