How Asia Works by Joe Studwell
  • Title: How Asia Works
  • Subtitle: Success and Failure In the World's Most Dynamic Region
  • Author(s): Joe Studwell
  • Publisher: Open Road + Grove/Atlantic
  • Year: 2013-07-02
  • ISBN-10: 0802193471
  • ISBN-13: 9780802193476


“How Asia Works” by Joe Studwell is a compelling and thought-provoking book that explores the economic success and failures of various Asian countries. Studwell dissects the developmental strategies employed by countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China, providing a comprehensive analysis of how they transformed from impoverished nations to global economic powerhouses. He argues that contrary to popular belief, these countries did not achieve success through free-market ideologies, but rather through a combination of state intervention, land reform, and targeting specific industries for development. Studwell’s meticulous research and analysis shed light on the specific policies and practices that facilitated rapid economic growth in Asia, presenting valuable lessons that can be applied to other developing nations.

Through engaging prose and concrete examples, Studwell challenges conventional economic theories and exposes the flaws in Western development strategies. He emphasizes the importance of nurturing smallholder agriculture as a means of poverty reduction, sustainable growth, and building a foundation for industrialization. The author delves into the successes and failures of Asian countries, providing a nuanced understanding of the complexities involved in achieving economic growth. “How Asia Works” is an enlightening and thought-provoking book that challenges traditional economic thinking and provides valuable insights into the keys to Asian economic success.

Book Review

Title: Uncovering the Keys to Asia’s Economic Success: A Review of “How Asia Works” by Joe Studwell

Joe Studwell’s “How Asia Works” offers a remarkable exploration of the economic transformation experienced by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. Studwell presents a compelling argument that challenges conventional economic wisdom and elucidates the factors behind these countries’ unprecedented growth. By dissecting historical evidence and developmental strategies, Studwell reveals the crucial role that state intervention, land reform, and targeted industrialization played in their success.

Studwell begins by debunking the myth that free-market policies were the driving force behind Asia’s economic boom. Drawing extensively from historical data, he shows how Japan’s rapid ascent was aided by strategic government intervention and support for certain industries. The author highlights Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which played a pivotal role in identifying key industries, providing subsidies, and coordinating efforts to ensure success. This approach was adopted by other Asian nations like South Korea and Taiwan, leading to comparable results. Studwell emphasizes that these East Asian countries effectively employed industrial policy to nurture key sectors, ensuring they gained a foothold in the global market.

Importantly, Studwell demonstrates the significance of land reform in catapulting Asian economies forward. The redistribution of land to rural farmers plays a central role in poverty reduction and enhances agricultural productivity. Studwell cites the example of Taiwan’s “Land to the Tiller” program, which redistributed land to smallholders, resulting in increased agricultural output and subsequently financing industrialization. This approach yielded similar results in South Korea and China, showcasing the crucial role played by land reform in creating a strong foundation for economic growth.

Furthermore, Studwell examines the Asian developmental model in contrast to Western prescriptions. He critiques the “Washington Consensus” and its focus on liberalization and deregulation, arguing that it fails to recognize the importance of developmental state intervention. Contrary to the Western belief that small-scale agriculture hinders progress, Studwell showcases how smallholder agriculture can be a catalyst for economic growth. By significantly improving the productivity and income of rural farmers, countries like Japan and South Korea were able to establish a domestic market and create a solid base for industrialization.

Studwell’s wealth of research, comprehensive analysis, and engaging writing style make “How Asia Works” an illuminating and thought-provoking read. The book challenges conventional economic wisdom and offers valuable insights for policymakers and development practitioners. By highlighting the successes and failures of different nations, Studwell provides nuanced understanding of the complex factors that contribute to sustained economic growth.

In conclusion, “How Asia Works” is an indispensable resource for anyone interested in understanding the keys to Asia’s economic success. It sheds light on the power of state intervention, land reform, and targeted industry development in transforming impoverished nations into global economic powerhouses. By questioning traditional economic theories, Studwell offers valuable lessons that can be applied to other developing countries. This book is a must-read for those seeking alternative perspectives on development strategies and the potential for sustainable growth in the global South.

Word Count: 499

Target Audience

The book “How Asia Works” by Joe Studwell is targeted at a wide range of audiences interested in economic development, policy-making, and the Asian success story. It is recommended reading for the following audiences:

  • Policymakers and Development Practitioners For those involved in shaping economic policies and strategies, Studwell’s analysis of the Asian developmental model offers valuable insights. The book highlights the role of state intervention, land reform, and targeted industrialization, providing practical lessons for designing effective policies that promote sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

  • Students and Academics “How Asia Works” is highly recommended for students and researchers of economics, development studies, and political science. It presents a wealth of empirical evidence and in-depth analysis that can deepen understanding of the complexities of economic development, challenging conventional theories and opening up avenues for further research.

  • Business Leaders and Investors The book provides valuable lessons for entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investors interested in understanding the Asian market. Studwell’s exploration of industrial policy and targeted industries sheds light on how specific sectors can be successfully nurtured and developed, offering insights that can be applied to investment strategies and business decisions.

  • General Readers Interested in Asian History and Economics “How Asia Works” is accessible to general readers interested in the history and economics of Asia. Studwell’s engaging writing style, coupled with his extensive use of historical anecdotes and examples, makes the book an engaging read for those with a curiosity about the region’s economic transformation.

In conclusion, “How Asia Works” is recommended reading for a diverse range of audiences. Whether one is interested in policy-making, economic development, academic research, business strategies, or simply gaining a better understanding of the Asian success story, Studwell’s book offers valuable insights and challenges traditional economic assumptions, making it an essential addition to any library.