Asian Godfathers | Joe Studwell

Summary of: Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and South East Asia
By: Joe Studwell


In ‘Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and South East Asia’, Joe Studwell dives into the world of the ultra-wealthy tycoons who rule Southeast Asia’s economies. This captivating book unveils a rarely seen side of Asia, with its booming economies and dysfunctional systems, where powerful individuals rise to prominence as tigers, but don’t always act with a tiger’s ferocity. This book summary will explore the system of oligarchs who dominate markets, thrive within monopolies and enjoy rare privileges, while their workers toil away in modest circumstances, struggling to make ends meet. Throughout the summary, the core elements of Southeast Asia’s unique economic and political landscape will come to light, along with the distinct identities of the godfathers themselves.

Southeast Asian Billionaires

Southeast Asia is home to several billionaires, with eight featuring on the Forbes ranking of the world’s wealthiest people. While these oligarchs have enjoyed economic success, it hasn’t benefited the region’s working class who continue to struggle. The godfathers of Southeast Asia’s booming economy owe their success to political relationships that grant monopoly concessions rather than innovation and competition. Political structures created during the colonial era have hindered the region’s competitiveness, and businessmen who profit from growth but don’t lead it drive Southeast Asian economies. While not tied to organized crime, these tycoons are godfathers due to the male power, aloofness, mystique, back-room dealing, and charm that make up the Asian tycoon story.

The Secrets of Asia’s Godfathers

Asia’s godfathers are masters of playing both cultural and political games to maintain their wealth and power. They rely heavily on the goodwill of political leaders while avoiding pledging true loyalty. Their businesses are often based on monopoly control, but they create myths of humble beginnings and rising to success based on hard work. They are multilingual, culturally adaptable, and reward hard work with extramarital affairs. However, their empires often crumble by the fourth generation. The godfathers maintain strict secrecy and expect fawning media coverage, but they reflect rather than shape local economies.

Asian Godfathers

The book describes how most of the godfathers in Southeast Asian countries build their empires by establishing monopolies, protected markets, and cartels. They rely on gambling monopolies, agricultural monopolies and basic food products that enjoy government protection. At the heart of every godfather’s empire is a concession or license that gives rise to a monopoly. They tend to be well-educated, cosmopolitan, polylingual and thoroughly insulated from the humdrum cares of their supposed kinsmen. The book also covers how competition is rare in any segment of the region’s markets, Cartels and tight government controls are the rule, while ironically, the outside world views these economies as bastions of free trade.

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