In a stunning rebuke to a large group of naysayers, Jim Rohwer convincingly argues that the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 was not a turn for the worse; rather it was short-lived and helped rid Asian markets of many of the problems that were holding it back. Now, while most analysts go wild over the American economy, Rohwer provides the key insights into why America is due for a slowdown while Asia is poised for tremendous growth and opportunity. Jim Rohwer has long experience in Asia as both a journalist and a business executive. The highly informed account in Remade in America comes from his own on-the-ground observation and analysis, as well as knowing all the major players in business, government, and the media in both America and Asia. Telling, in-depth interviews with people ranging from Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, and Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, result in deep insights into Asia's great potential. The future of Asia is as much about the United States as it is about Asia, for the forces that revolutionized the American economy in the last twenty years provide the clues for what is to come in Asia.
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November 05, 2003
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Excerpt from Remade in America by Jim Rohwer
ASIA, ANTS AND ECONOMICS
Late in the summer of 1998, when it looked as though the whole world's financial system was being blown apart by the shock waves generated by Asia's financial crisis, I took a week off and went to a remote beach in Southeast Asia. For one thing, it made me tie my own hands so that I couldn't fool around with my investments at a time when nobody understood what was going on. Besides, sitting around financial centers listening to economists and analysts had told me next to nothing about why Asia had collapsed in the first place and about whether and how it was going to be rebuilt. Maybe getting away would give some perspective.
Something odder did. Late one afternoon, as I was sitting in a beach chair watching the sea, some young boys started playing a game that involved kicking a ball around. At one point it went astray and, chasing it, one of the boys ran by me and accidentally kicked a nearby anthill apart. Mass panic. Thousands of ants ran frantically and randomly all over the place with no apparent clue what they were doing. Some chased after the already gone intruder. Others, I supposed, were trying to protect the queen. After awhile the panic subsided a bit and the activity seemed more purposeful and systematic, directed at restoring order. This was familiar. It's what Asia itself had been looking like for the previous year.
Appearances, I later learned, were more than skin-deep. One quality of ant societies is that any individual ant is likely to communicate with any other individual to get a job done and, although the workers specialize by caste and their activities are subordinated to the needs of the whole society, they are democratically open to suggestions by anybody else in the colony. This works not just among ants at a certain level but between levels in the ants' special sort of hierarchy: orders do not just come down -- though when they do they are obeyed -- but information from the lower units also freely goes back up to influence the decision-makers. And the highest purpose of the colony is not to protect the interests of the clutch of individuals at the top who direct its activities but instead the welfare of the colony as a whole. It sounded like the way Asian companies worked -- those in Korea and Japan as well as the family-run firms in the Chinese part of Asia -- and also how most Asian societies worked.