4 minute read

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region - Joe Studwell

I really liked this book, it seems somewhat more relevant today than 2013 when it came out. Both because it’s predictions about China in its epilogue can now be evaluated, but more so because industrial policy is at the heart of this book, something which is high on the agenda in Washington, Brussels and Beijing at the moment. Studwell’s point is very simple - successful economic development from poor subsistence economy is threefold: 1) Land reform where family farming is promoted over large scale agriculture. 2) Industrial policy with export discipline enforced from the government to develop domestic technical know how. 3) Financial institutions to enable and promote the two above.

And then he goes through the cases of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Interesting for me as an economist who do work in economic history was that Studwell loves to say that economists at the time (and perhaps still) got economic development wrong, and that economic historians got it right. His favorite is the German economist and political theorist Fredrich List. I’ve heart about List before, but was not familiar with his ideas in any depth. I guess however that he will become more fashionable again in this time of nascent nationalism. I will say that the book was pretty provocative, or at least thought-provoking,in many regards. While Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are undeniable success cases of economic development, there is something that from a distance appears quite miserable about them. Fertility is low, growth have stagnated, relations to its regional super-power is bad and it does not seem so dynamic anymore. Don’t get me wrong I would not like to be Malaysia over South Korea but I’m not very optimistic about East Asia in general. The other thought is that there have been fairly few recent growth miracle economies following the trajectory of say South Korea and Taiwan after WWII. Perhaps one would say Poland or some of the Baltic States after ‘91. I but they have not really taken the “Studwell-List” path, have they? They have joined the EU with a commitment to competition and more classical economic liberalization. And why have so few African countries done it? Bad advice and preasure from the IMF and World Bank? It seems to be one of Studwell’s explanations anyway - perhaps now that the economic paradigm in such institutions are changing there will be a nationalistic, protectionist growth miracle happening soon?

Invitation to a Banquet: The story of Chinese Food - Fuchsia Dunlop

The main reason I wanna go to China is for the food, and the main reason I wanna eat Chinese food in China is because of Fusiha Dunlop! This is however the first of her books I’ve read and it was great! For some reason the culinary tradition is really a great lens into the history, anthropology and culture of a society. My main takeaway was that the Chinese take vegetables seriously, that modern Chinese cooking is a bit spoiled by MSG (Dunlop is hoping for a counter-movement, which very well could happen) and that the variety of Chinese cuisine is huge!!

Bohusläns historia by Tomas Andersson Part I Part II

I picked up the new popular history book “Bohusläns historia” in two volumes, one before Bohuslän became Swedish in 1648, and the the Swedish period. This is a typical “popular science without footnotes” kind of book and it was great for an overview. The author is an archeologist by training and I think it came through in the way that the first part was the most interesting. He also made the case why a history about Bohuslän is necessary. In national state centered history writing the most interesting or important parts of Bohuslän’s history is often left out. Swedish history tends to focus on the part that was Sweden in historical times and Norwegian/Danish history focuses mostly on what is modern day Norway and Denmark. I was also intrigued by the retelling of Icelandic sagas and early medieval chronicles that constituted a large part of the second part of book I. However I wonder how a more scholarly work would have valued the sources.

The modern scholar: the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas - Peter Kreeft

Not a book really, but I digested it though Audible, so it kind of counts. I became interested as I’ve been reading The name of the rose as a slow pace (not quite done) and it is full of references to medieval philosophy. I’ve also known that Aquinas is the most important philosopher between say Aristotle and the enlightenment (which is a long period) but I had virtually no concept about what it was all about. So what did I lean? Well professor Kreeft, who is both a scholar and a fan of Aquinas really made the point that Aquinas is all about synthesizing reason and faith. It seemed like a good project for its time. It was also amazing to just take in the scale and scope of the philosophical project, Aquinas really wanted to explain everything and I guess that is why it became so popular. I liked the stuff about Gods existence and discussions about Gods nature. It definitely made me more convinced of a divine creator!